It shouldn’t be a surprise.
Divorce can be such an eye-opening reality for so many married couples, but you still hear stories of people who say they were completely shocked when their spouse asked for a separation.
When you’re looking from the outside in, it can be hard to wrap your head around this. How did they have NO idea that this was coming? How did they live with the same person day after day, the person they married, and still have no indication that their marriage was about to end?
Senior VP of YourTango Experts Melanie Gorman sat down with a panel of professional divorce coaches and asked them, “Are people ever truly surprised that their spouse wants a divorce?”
Experts Cherie Morris, Laura Bonarrigo, Sonja Stribling, and Pegotty Cooper debated the question and their ultimate answer was… NO. (You can watch their wide-ranging discussion in the above video.)
But, if that’s the case, why are some people so stunned when their partner introduces the topic of divorce? Was their spouse living a secret life? Can you blame their shock entirely on denial?
In their video debate, YourTango’s divorce Experts broke down these four common reasons why some married people feel totally blindsided when their spouse asks for a divorce.
1. They don’t process change well.
There are people who thrive on routine. They find security in the familiar. And, all too often, those kinds of people can have a huge blindspot when their marriage starts to struggle.
If pressed, they probably would admit that they knew something wasn’t quite right in their relationship, but they just didn’t know how to process the information OR they just needed a lot more time to process it than their spouse did.
However, that doesn’t mean that they’re actually surprised by the breakup. It just took them longer to acknowledge it. The danger is when those slow-processors embrace the role of the “victim” in the divorce, even when they had just as much warning as anyone else.
2. They stopped being curious.
This is one of the most insidious traps of being married — getting comfortable.
It’s wonderful when a couple can be open and relaxed around each other, but the word “comfortable” can also have a very negative connotation when it comes to marriage. It can mean that you’ve gotten so used to behaving in a certain way that you don’t pay attention to your spouse at all.
When this happens, you’re on emotional auto-pilot. You’re not asking questions. You’re not caring enough to look at your partner and ask, “How are we doing?” When marriages like this go south, the divorce doesn’t come out of nowhere — it was there in plain sight the whole time, but no one cared enough to notice.
We have to remember to stay curious about our partners or else we run the risk of losing them entirely.
3. They stopped thinking of their spouse as a human being.
When you’ve been with the same partner for a long time, it can be surprisingly easy to start thinking of them as a collection of services. She pays half the mortgage, cooks, mows the lawn. He pays the other half of the mortgage, does laundry, and kills spiders on request.
Everyone has roles to play in successful marriages, but, when you start caring more about the services themselves than the person behind them, it’s a big red flag.
When we take our spouses for granted, we turn them into objects. We dehumanize them. We have to remember that our partners are living, breathing human beings and, if we’re not paying attention to their needs as humans — rather than as providers — we’re not going to see the signs of marital discord until it’s too late.
4. They saw the signs and did nothing.
This one happens all the time. How many times have you heard someone talking about their divorce and they said “I knew we had problems, but I didn’t know it was THIS bad”?
Just look at that statement. They acknowledged that they had problems, obvious problems, but did anyone do anything about them? Did they start a dialogue? Did they go to counseling? Did they seek out help?
It’s like seeing the “Check Engine” light on your car, doing nothing, and then acting surprised when your car breaks down a few weeks later. If you’re having problems and you don’t try to fix them, they’re not going to get better. And that shouldn’t be a surprise.
Divorce shouldn’t be a one-sided life milestone. The decision to end a marriage should be a mutual decision and, most times, both parties are painfully aware of the reasons why their union is coming to an end.
If one party feels completely taken aback by the idea of divorce, they need to take a hard, honest look at their relationship with their spouse and ask themselves why they missed the warning signs for such a long time.
If you’re struggling with a divorce or feel shocked that your partner wants to try a separation, please visit the websites of our panel members and contact Cherie, Laura, Sonja, and Pegotty directly. They’re here to help.