How to divorce when there's so much love left
September 25, 2016 9:48 AM   Subscribe

We love each other so much and haven't been married long, but he's not willing to try to fix things and I feel like we have no choice but to move towards divorce.

My husband and I have been together for four years, married for about a year and a half. I'm 32/f, he's 36. First marriages for both. We had an intense romance at the beginning and he was super eager to get married. The last year or so of our marriage hasn't been bad, but it hasn't been great. We've drifted apart. There's been no abuse or betrayal, and there's no one else in the picture. But it's clear we have some different emotional needs and we aren't very good at communicating. He's been emotionally checked out. We both acknowledge our roles in this, and we started couples therapy about 6 weeks ago. But by the time we got there, it felt like it was too late. Although our differences seem workable and our communication issues feel fixable - and frankly, kind of textbook (we read "Hold Me Tight" and a LOT resonated) - my husband has expressed that he doesn't actually want to work on our marriage. I felt therapy was helping, but he's already too disconnected. He said that he loves me tremendously and there is so much good here between us, but things haven't felt right and he doesn't want to spend his life with me. He says he has been trying and he just isn't feeling it. Heart meet knife.

I take the commitment we made really seriously and believe marriage is forever, and it's so early on in our married life that I feel like he's giving up. I'm not happy in this relationship right now either, but I don't feel good about divorcing when we haven't really given it our all to work through our problems. But I also don't want to be with someone who doesn't want me, and I can't force him to want to work this out. Our split is pretty inevitable here. He says he's sad that he doesn't feel differently and knows he will miss me terribly, but he feels this is the right thing to do. I suspect there are deeper issues lingering for him here that he's way too scared to address and it's not just about improving our communication skills. He's mentioned that maybe we should do a trial separation but honestly, I'm not sure it would change much. I know in my heart that it's over and I am a crumbling mess.

But there's a part of me (denial probably) that's like " guys LOVE each other. A LOT. You're compatible in so many ways! You won't actually divorce, you LOVE each other too much!" I intellectually get that people who love each other divorce all the time. But I'm really struggling to make sense of it all. This has all felt almost annoyingly loving and tender. I wish we could hate each other, but we don't. We love each other immensely and we share so much good stuff. My husband is an amazing person and if he changed his mind tomorrow and decided he wanted to try to work through this, I would do it in a heartbeat. I'm finding myself hoping that he'll change his mind, that he'll take the long view here and feel like it's worth it to give this a real shot. But I know that will end in disappointment.

How do you get through the end of a marriage to someone you respect, like, AND love deeply? How do you move on? The thought of losing this wonderful person in my life is absolutely devastating. I can't imagine my life without him in it. I've read tons of random internet stuff about divorce but nothing has felt helpful so far, and the only people I know who've divorced had pretty rocky breakups and felt fine with detaching from their exes. But nothing about this feels fine. We're still living together, we haven't talked about next steps with that, and that's a whole other Thing.

Can we stay civil? How much contact is too much? Can we ever be in each other's lives in a real way again?

Any help/stories/insight would be so helpful.
posted by blackcatcuriouser to Human Relations (16 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Ask your therapist if they are comfortable doing divorce mediation, and if not could they make a recommendation. This is a real thing people do (it's more common when there are kids or other high-stakes factors like a shared business, but you can still do it without those issues) and helps with a communication framework that can prevent things getting ugly.

Also get a therapist of your own, obviously.

If you are the kind of person this appeals to, you can try to frame it as releasing him to go do whatever it is he needs to do in the world, and maybe for now just remember that it also frees you up for whatever chapters are next in your life too. In time you will begin to look forward to them, and you don't need to force yourself right now. It's okay to feel how you feel, and it doesn't do you any favors in the future to try to shortcut past the grieving stage, because it'll come back to get you later if you don't process it now.

There is no way to answer questions about future contact now. Your life will be so different a year from now you might as well be packing to go to Jupiter. Those things will get worked out as you go, and they will evolve over the months and years and there will probably never be a "this is how we are now", just a "this is how we are for now". There is literally nothing you can do right now to ensure any specific outcome later.

Focus on the now, and the next 3ish months. Maybe one day the two of you will be great friends, but not until after you get through the divorce and grieving and solidifying of new separate lives, so you might as well get started.

(You know, Gwyneth Paltrow took an undeserved amount of shit for the phrase 'conscious uncoupling', which is actually a concept that existed before she said it. It's about carefully taking apart the relationship instead of blowing it up, and it doesn't mean nobody ever gets angry or sad or scared or hurt, but it is a means of getting to the other side with as few regrets and permanent damage as possible.)
posted by Lyn Never at 10:06 AM on September 25, 2016 [4 favorites]

Lots of marriages end when one spouse is happy, and the other just falls out of love or fidelity or both.

If your husband were a better man, he would have left and filed for divorce, and you'd already be out meeting new, interesting, and hopefully better men. The marriage would have been like the loss of friend in a car accident -- a unexpected tragedy, but by its nature quickly over and done with.

Unfortunately your husband is not such a better man, and is instead dragging this out in hopes that he gets you to agree that you ought to get divorced, that you're both better off, etc. This can be dragged out for ages of useless therapy and fighting.

Do yourself (and ultimately him) a favor, move out and file for divorce and don't play his games any further.
posted by MattD at 11:19 AM on September 25, 2016 [37 favorites]

I had to learn to tell myself that no amount of me loving my spouse better, longer, harder, or differently was going to make my spouse love me the way I wanted to be loved or the way that I loved spouse. Which is to say: I had to realize that I couldn't make someone stay with me, and that I didn't, in fact, want to be in a marriage where I was pleading, negotiating, convincing, waiting for someone to want to be with me. The fact of their wanting to leave was the fault line where I could see that we had a fundamental, unbreachable difference in how we felt about each other and what we thought about both our marriage and long-term committed relationships more generally.

And then, when it was all over, I eventually met someone I never feel like I have to convince to be my partner. And that, as they say, has made all the difference.
posted by pinkacademic at 12:15 PM on September 25, 2016 [48 favorites]

I'm sorry that you're going through this. It's so upsetting to hear that your spouse doesn't want to work on the marriage (btdt).

IMO, that is your cue to go. It's okay to still love someone and divorce them. This marriage isn't right for you, and he doesn't want to make it right.

As far as what is right for you long term - I've never been friends (or really, even friendly) with an ex - but I know that's not the experience for everyone. Just start working on right now and figure it out as you go. You'll know pretty quickly what you're comfortable or not comfortable with.
posted by getawaysticks at 12:49 PM on September 25, 2016 [3 favorites]

Reframe it. He doesn't love you THAT much if he's so unwilling to try to fix things. He's just afraid to be alone.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 1:27 PM on September 25, 2016 [13 favorites]

My divorce was amicable. I told him I was tired of hurting him and of being hurt and I wanted a divorce.

Sometimes loving someone means walking away because it is the only kind option left. And that beats the hell out of the vindictive, spiteful divorces where people prove they still care so much by trying to destroy each other.

That's the wrong kind of caring.

One of the problems is that language is messy and imprecise. The word love is both a noun and a verb. The noun describes a feeling. The verb describes an act of caretaking. Very often, the person with the feeling of love is the object of the loving actions of another. Those loving actions are not always effectively reciprocated. This is part why you get song lines about choosing betwwen the one you love and the one who loves you.

What do you mean when you say you love this person who does not wish to stay with you? I think you need to sort that out privately (not in this Ask on the internet).

Real love is symbiotic. It is about two people taking such good care of each other that it fosters deep mutual emotional attachment. That is not what you have.

So, I think you have some personal sorting to do.

You absolutely can divorce someone you still genuinely care about, respect and wish well. I did. I do not regret it.

posted by Michele in California at 1:39 PM on September 25, 2016 [11 favorites]

You might find that you need to separate before you can get angry, and being angry seems like it would be both justified and healthy, at least for a little bit. It's sure as hell motivating.

But whatever turns out to be the right emotional path for you, I don't think you can start it while he's still lingering around for some cruel reason.

I'm sorry this is happening. You sound like someone who's capable of the sort of loving relationship you deserve and want, but it can't be with someone who doesn't want to show up. It will be hard, but you sound like someone who can do this.
posted by schadenfrau at 2:18 PM on September 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

My first wife and I went through something similar. By the time we got ourselves into couples therapy, she had already pretty much decided the relationship was past saving.

We went ahead and did a few sessions of couples therapy anyway, where the goal wasn't "fixing" the relationship — it was helping me understand where she was coming from and why she was calling it quits, and working out whether we were going to be able to stay friends or not or what.

I found that helpful. Might be worth considering for you guys.
posted by nebulawindphone at 3:28 PM on September 25, 2016 [7 favorites]

I'm so sorry. There's not much you can do right now except to find your own therapist to try to accept that what he's telling you is the truth:

He said that he loves me tremendously and there is so much good here between us, but things haven't felt right and he doesn't want to spend his life with me. He says he has been trying and he just isn't feeling it.

There are all kinds of ways you can frame his behaviour and I get how tempting it is to do that, but what's really crucial right now is that you take him at face value and learn to accept what he is saying. I would separate quickly, and put some real distance between the two of you, and I would do that with the help of a therapist.

I think we're trained to believe that emotion = devotion and that loving someone covers all problems. It doesn't. I married my best friend. Everyone around us thought we were the happiest couple we knew. It fell apart because my inability to have biological children meant I could never be the wife he wanted and how much he loved me didn't matter at all. I wasted a lot of time because I literally couldn't believe it was happening. The best advice I could give you is to believe it, accept it. Separate, divorce and work on yourself.

It's not fair that you need to do that emotional work when he's the one with the problem, but that is what it is. Move out.
posted by frumiousb at 3:46 PM on September 25, 2016 [3 favorites]

I am so sorry you're going through this. Your feelings seem very normal to me--a dear friend of mine split up with her husband of 10 years a couple of years ago, and she has said all the things you have said, especially "I take the commitment we made really seriously and believe marriage is forever, and it's so early on in our married life that I feel like he's giving up. I'm not happy in this relationship right now either, but I don't feel good about divorcing when we haven't really given it our all to work through our problems."

But despite this, they have still been separated for nearly two years and will be divorced soon. He just did not want to be with her anymore, and really, she (like you) deserves to be with someone who wants to be with her. That's the very lowest bar for a good relationship, really--I mean you can have lots of other great things but it's never going to be good if the other person doesn't want to be with you.

We're still living together, we haven't talked about next steps with that, and that's a whole other Thing.

Please please please find a way so you are not living together anymore. After he told her he didn't want to continue working on their marriage, my friend's ex-husband inexplicably saw no problem with continuing to live in the same house for months, until she finally told him if he didn't want to be married to her anymore he really needed to move out. It only got more painful for her every day, because it messed with her head--Why is he still living with me if he really doesn't want to be with me anymore? Wait, maybe he still wants to be with me and will tell me any day now he's changed his mind!--because it gave her false hope for a reconciliation that never came. Her emotional state improved immeasurably when he moved out because she could get started on rebuilding her life and not being in limbo anymore.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 4:26 PM on September 25, 2016 [11 favorites]

Love has many, many facets and forms. I was with my ex-wife as a couple for nineteen years. We divorced rather quickly after all that time. It was amicable, and I would say in some ways I still love her dearly, but it is not at all the same love as when we met, or married, or moved states together, or persisted, or many other times through those years. It is no longer a love that wants to share every moment together or desires to be physically close, but it is still a love that gives me warmth when I see that she is happy. That is a love I wasn't able to fulfill any more at the end of our marriage and occasionally focusing on it helped me keep clarity through the divorce.

Since I went through this four years ago, I'll give an honest shot at answering your questions. I hope it helps in some way.

How do you get through the end of a marriage to someone you respect, like, AND love deeply? We started by clearly separating, and letting people know rather quickly. Within a couple weeks of that decision we were not living in the same place. Beyond that, one day at a time, with an eye on the logistics. You need to make a clear decision and then implement it. The emotions will be wracking and horrible, but if you know where you are headed you can keep an eye on that and not react to the moments in anger or destructiveness.

How do you move on? Don't rush it. It's okay to hurt and mourn. Do things you enjoy that you had put aside because your partner was less enthusiastic. Give yourself permission to be silly, or transgressive, or whatever thing you are not when you are hold up someone else's relationship interest.

Can we stay civil? Absolutely. It helps to make some physical/emotional distance and come together for specific purposes such as sorting of things or managing assets. We decided to jointly prepare our divorce papers and to hire a lawyer to represent us only jointly and help us talk through what legal things we needed. Not advice I'd give most people, but an anecdote that it can be done and can work out. Actually, from that experience I still trust my ex-wife to handle this with me more than I ended up trusting the lawyer to get the details right.

How much contact is too much? I needed about nine months of very minimal contact. (I also ended up having another short relationship and lots of first dates in that time, which says more about me and where I was than any sort of universal advice). Then we very gradually began seeing each other in social and professional settings again. We never unfriended each other's families on Facebook or things like that. There were hard moments, but I made a decision that I didn't want to invalidate the time we had spent together. It's a big part of my life and I still cherish the connections.

Can we ever be in each other's lives in a real way again? Yes! I'm living proof. We both sit on a professional committee, travel to the same game conventions (2!) annually, attend the same friend's parties, etc.

Feel free to PM if you want to ask more. I doubt I really have answers, but sometimes just talking helps.
posted by meinvt at 4:37 PM on September 25, 2016 [9 favorites]

I was your husband, and my ex-husband was you. We separated a couple of times before divorce felt like a thing I could actually deal with, but once it did, that was that. We communicated in different ways, we needed and wanted different things, and there was no reconciling that.

We had to get as much physical space as possible to begin to get a handle on it, to break the habits of being together. First step was to stop sleeping in the same bed (I slept on the sofa and stayed out of the house as much as possible) and then to stop sharing living space altogether. This should probably be your priority. Things got much easier once we weren't living together and we had space to think.

After that it was a case of the conscious uncoupling, as mentioned above. Picking apart our joint life and figuring out who dealt with what. For various reasons most of it (primarily renting and then selling the house) fell to me, and this felt fair enough given I was the one who wanted out and I had the bigger financial investment. It was hard and we cried a lot but we managed to keep it civil and keep each other's welfare in mind. We never hated each other, though I resented the hell out of him for a while. We stayed friends on all social media etc and kept that loose connection while we both sorted our lives out, and then gradually rebuilt some closer contact as we both found our feet and new partners and new lives. We are still very good friends, almost in a sibling way these days.

I'm sorry, this is so hard. It will get better.
posted by corvine at 6:23 AM on September 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

Married for about a year and a half.
The last year or so of our marriage hasn't been bad, but it hasn't been great. We've drifted apart.

That is like a drifting rally car. That's rapid; some may argue too rapid to even be defined as drifted.

The good news is that your husband showed you his complete lack-of interest in being an engaged and dedicated partner after only 6 months. Think how much of your life he could have eaten up and wasted. But 6 months in he stopped working, now a year and therapy later, he wants to make no effort to even right the ship.

Love is just part of good marriage. A requirement, but not an anchor that will overcome all else. But it can be hard to see that. You don't see a lot of questions like "I want to leave but he's just so good at communicating about money!" because love is the emotional part and it's the part we romanticize all our life.

But there are a lot of people to love and some of them will also be good husbands. This guy isn't. What a miracle that you know that so fast.
posted by French Fry at 10:11 AM on September 26, 2016 [3 favorites]

Well, I'm sorry for what you are going through -- I am sure it is hard. Fundamentally, marriage is a decision that needs two people's agreement, but divorce is not. It sounds as though your husband has already made a decision. If he will admit that you two have a lot of love but he will not really commit to trying to work things out within the marriage, I personally agree he is not taking your marriage vows seriously enough. But my opinion changes nothing. If that is how he feels, and he doesn't change his mind, you will get divorced. You cannot change or control that, which sucks.

When my former wife decided she wanted to get divorced (5 months in, after 10 years of dating), she told me she still loved me, and I could not for the life of me understand why she would not at least try to work things out in that case. (She was also against therapists.) Because I took her at her word, instead of saying "ok," I spent months trying to convince her that if she actually did love me, then we should try to work it out. In retrospect, this was not the right approach, and it made things a lot harder for me.

Focus on what you can control. Exercise regularly and try to sleep well, etc. I would also urge you to agree to any sort of separation which will get him out of the house ASAP. You don't need to agree that divorce is the best path forward. You can simply say that from your point of view you could try to work through this, but if he doesn't feel the same way then you need to start preparing yourself for that.

The only helpful advice I got while getting divorced was from an older friend who told me "it gets better." And it does. You will be ok on the other side of this, whatever the other side looks like for you. I am, in the end, very thankful for how it worked out. Best wishes.
posted by _Silky_ at 10:41 AM on September 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

Exactly what pinkacademic said. Exact same thing. I was only married for 2 years. My ex-husband treated me well for about 3 months before he started acting as though I weren't there. I spent years pleading with someone to act like they cared, to act like they actually loved me, they didn't want to try. We divorced and I was convinced I was damaged used goods and would never be happy again. A year and a half later I met my partner. 4 1/2 years later I feel so terrible for old me. I am with someone that acts like I'm the most precious thing in the world. Someone that makes me feel loved, wanted and paid attention to. Someone who loves me the way I love them. I wish I could have told me back then how amazing life would eventually be.
If someone doesn't want to try you can't make them and you it will break your heart to go through that. You will get through this and things will get better. You don't deserve to feel like this.
posted by shesbenevolent at 11:09 AM on September 26, 2016 [6 favorites]

i was in a relationship for ~11 years, not married because gay marriage wasn't legal at the time. one day, she said she wasn't happy. i said, "let's do therapy!" she said she wasn't interested, that she was done. it was heartbreaking for me and i had no idea it was coming.

we lived together until our lease was up a few months later. we did some friend stuff together. it was hard, but we still cared about each other, and there was no point in hating each other and being awful. did i say some mean things? yes, but i was hurting very badly, and apologized later.

we are still friends. i still care about her a great deal. we text all the time.

i still get sad that i "failed" at what was supposed to be a forever relationship, and i still cry sometimes about the loss of what could have been, and the guilt over times i wasn't a great partner.

but as with everything, time (2.5 years) has made it easier.

just because a messy evil fighty divorce is what the stereotype is, doesn't mean that's what your divorce needs to be like. it can be friendly and amicable, and after a few months of "breathing room" you can start being friends again. it really is possible.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 8:39 AM on September 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

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