Breaking Through the Guilt: When You Want a Divorce and Your Partner Doesn't


A young couple argues in front of their daughter because one partner wants a divorce but the other partner doesn’t

Six tips for working through the guilt when you want a divorce and your partner doesn’t


Key takeaways:

  • Allow yourself grace as you go through the stages of grief

  • Be compassionate

  • Keep the lines of communication open

  • Find out why your partner objects to divorce and provide counter-objections

  • Give your spouse time and space to come to terms with the end of the relationship

  • Consider individual or joint therapy to help you process this tough time

Going through a divorce is one of the most stressful events someone can experience. Even if the split is mutual and peaceable, the process can be overwhelming and disruptive. Breaking up can upend every aspect of your life, from finances to living arrangements to parenting. The divorce process becomes even more challenging when one partner wants it and the other partner doesn’t. This can create feelings of guilt for the party who is initiating the breakup.

If you’re going through a divorce, you’re not alone. Divorce is common in the United States and it’s estimated that nearly half of first marriages end in divorce or separation.

There are many reasons marriages end. Personality clashes, finances, falling out of love, infidelity, lack of equality in the relationship, unrealistic expectations, or a lack of commitment can all be drivers behind a divorce. Even if getting a divorce is the healthiest option for your relationship, it can still create feelings of guilt when you have to be the one to pull the plug on a relationship. Here are six tips that can help you cope when you want a divorce but your partner doesn’t.


1.. Allow yourself grace as you move through the stages of grief


It’s totally normal to have difficult or negative emotions during this challenging time. It would be abnormal if you didn’t have some sort of emotional reaction. The loss of a relationship, even one that’s past its prime, is much like a death. There is a grieving process that you’ll go through as you mourn your marriage.


Grief is a very personal process. Allow yourself space to move through the grieving process. Allow yourself to feel the feelings that come up for you without judgment, whatever they may be.


It’s normal to feel guilty if you’re the one who had to initiate the divorce and it’s also normal to feel guilty if your partner was reluctant or unwilling. It can make you feel like you’re “the bad guy” or as if you’ve wronged your partner somehow by wanting to end the marriage. Recognize that this is a normal, natural response and that these feelings will eventually subside.


The stages of the breakup process are linear but grief isn’t. You will move through the various stages on your own timeline. Guilt is just one of the many stages of grief that include shock and denial, pain and guilt, anger and bargaining, depression, the upward turn, reconstruction, and finally, acceptance and hope.


Remember that no feeling is forever and that all will pass.


2. Be compassionate


When only one person wants a divorce, the initiating party needs to realize that they may be met with resistance from their partner. Resistance may take the form of emotional escalation, anger, denial, and/or reluctance to be an active participant in the divorce process. Try to extend compassion to your partner and recognize that this is a time of heightened emotions for them.


As the person initiating the divorce, it’s important to clearly convey why you’re doing so, and provide insight into your thoughts and considerations that went into making the decision.


3. Keep the lines of communication open


Clear communication is important during divorce – and it can help heal the wounds. Listening to your partner’s concerns about the process is important. Since you are initiating, it may be helpful to validate your spouse’s feelings and acknowledge the hurt, pain, and possibly even surprise that they may be going through upon finding out that you want a divorce.


Keep the lines of communication open and clear. Ask your spouse what kind of concessions can be made during the adjustment period to help them handle the situation better, as well as what things might be helpful as you two navigate the often messy process. An honest, open, dialogue and active listening can help you understand where your spouse is coming from.


4. Find out why your partner objects and provide counter-points


You probably won’t need to ask to find out why your partner doesn’t want a divorce. Still, hear them out. What do they object to? Is it because of financial reasons? Or because of the children? Listening to their concerns will help you address them compassionately.


For example, if the argument is to “stay together for the kids,” research shows that it’s not divorce that is the most damaging to children but growing up in a conflict-filled home.


By providing counter-objections that address your spouse’s concerns, he or she could also decide that it is in everyone’s best interest to proceed with the breakup and do so in a peaceful way, as an active participant.


5. Give your partner time and space to come to terms with the end of the relationship


Just like you will need to move through the stages of grief, so will your partner. He/she also needs to mourn the loss of the marriage. Their mourning process may be complicated by the fact that they didn’t want a divorce – and that’s okay.


As you already know, grief is a personal, non-linear process, which means that their grieving process may look much different from yours. Give your partner the same grace that you extend to yourself. Practice non-judgment and know that although the journeys may be different, the end goal is the same: acceptance.


6. Get support from a qualified, caring therapist in the South Florida area


Divorce is undoubtedly a heart-wrenching, challenging, and difficult process. Having the support from the right professionals can create a huge shift. While there’s nothing that can make it a pleasant process, therapy can help make it an easier process. Individual or joint therapy can be tremendously beneficial during this troubling time.


The team at Love Discovery is ready to welcome you with open arms. If you’re ready to get started in therapy to help you process your feelings, make an appointment with any of our therapists today. Feeling hesitant about how we can help? Call 786.571.4636 for a free 20-minute consultation.


We are here to help you improve your mental health and support you through this tough time.