If you’ve been suffering from an undiagnosed case of Considering Divorce Syndrome (CDS) — where you keep revisiting the prospect of divorce in your head — there comes a point when you must decide whether to break the cycle of indecision or continue living in a painful limbo replaying what you know but doing nothing about it. Make no mistake that choosing to remain in the place you know, spinning in that cycle of Considering Divorce Syndrome, may feel safe. Yet research shows, the cumulative effect on your body can be very real and life-threatening, too. The fact is for you to recover your health, your clarity, your very sense of self, you are going to have to do something. If you’ve found your way to this post, then you’ve likely already made that decision on some level. You may know it’s time to end your marriage. But what you’re not sure about is how to leave your husband*.
After you decide something has got to change, and it may mean leaving him, it’s important to maintain your momentum — to keep pushing forward — smartly, so you have no regrets. Humans excel at getting comfortable. We rationalize and look for reasons that form cracks in our resolve. Fear seeps in. Fear tries to keep us from falling apart by telling us not to move at all, by telling us that what we should really be afraid of is the unknown. The devil we don’t know. But fear does nothing for us except hold us back. Fear is not enough of a reason to stay in your marriage.
You need a game plan. We’re here to help you determine the best path forward because you already know all the whys—now you need to understand exactly how to leave your husband.
Commit to leaving your marriage with integrity
Get educated and understand what your decision could look like. Do not waste your precious life hoping your marriage will repair itself, or that you must know with 100 percent certainty that you want a divorce to find out what is truly possible for you.
Begin by taking safe, appropriate action. Write down the most important questions you have about getting a divorce.
Review your questions, and find the professional who can answer most of them
Do this well in advance of making any real decisions, like yelling “I want a divorce!” to your husband. You’ll want your ducks in a row (those ducks being organized finances, knowing the laws in your state, what to say to your children, etc.) before you unleash your husband’s (emotional, possibly retaliative) reaction to your decision.
Back up. The fact is you have questions … and you don’t know what else you don’t know.
Going directly to a lawyer is not our suggested first step. (No kidding, you say! Having read that we are divorce coaches …) The truth is lawyers are expensive and they are not trained to give you the total picture of what you’ll likely go through and need to decide about, to navigate smartly AND recover healthily from divorce. Besides, do you know what kind of legal model you might use to best resolve your marriage issues? Are you really a candidate for mediation? Getting educated on what your choices are first, will help you choose the right lawyer to consult with. It will save you money and also empower you to discover answers from other people who may be more aptly trained to support you and your kind of questions.
A divorce coach is the generalist who can give you the overview you need and also, the specific black and white next steps that make most sense for your unique circumstances. And their professional rate is far lower than an attorney’s. Chances are, a divorce coach can also present you with a menu of lawyers you might consider based on her experience of other clients using them. You can find coaches online who will give you a free consultation (be sure to look for coaching certification and divorce experience).
But if you’re focused strictly on the legal aspect of getting a divorce, then you may want to read 10 Things to Know Before Meeting with a Lawyer and then schedule a consultation with a divorce attorney. If you’re only concerned about assets, how you are going to divvy things up, how will you handle the debt? contact a certified divorce financial analyst.
Anyway you slice it, you need to move from an internal conversation with yourself (as well as midnight Google searches on “how to get a divorce?”) to an external conversation with someone who understands the process of divorce—an expert on the topic who can give you the answers that you need for your story.
If you are super strapped for cash, and you wonder how much will a divorce cost? Can you even afford one? Google your state or city’s divorce services, your city or state’s bar, and see what comes up (this isn’t exactly the best route, but it is a route). Many states offer reduced rate or free legal services to women who can prove income qualifications.
Warning: Anecdotal information from other people (how your neighbor’s friend’s second cousin got screwed by her Ex) does not help you understand what is possible for your life. Plus, talking to a professional is confidential and more objective, whereas Betty next door might tell Barbra, Alexis, Jen, and Meredith, the whole neighborhood, you brought up the big-bad D-word in conversation.
You’re going to need to develop strategies to block, deflect, and set boundaries
Speaking of Betty next door (you know that neighbor or family friend who likes to gossip), you’re going to need to either block conversations with well-meaning but unhelpful people or learn to deflect well and setup boundaries with notorious boundary-crossers.
Here are three helpful techniques to block, change the subject, and establish boundaries with people in your life who are like Betty.
Betty: “So, I hear you’re getting a divorce. Did your husband cheat on you?”
Block: “I don’t really want to talk about my divorce right now. How about we focus on the neighborhood watch meeting?”
Betty: “If you needed someone to talk to, I have a very sympathetic ear. Wanda leaned on me throughout her entire nightmare!”
Deflect: “I’m glad to hear Wanda trusts you so much. How has she been lately?”
Betty: “Do you really think it’s going to happen? I mean is it official? Did you try couple’s counseling first?”
Set boundaries: “We are officially over, but I really don’t want to talk about the stages we took to get to this point.”
If Betty makes repeated attempts, keep giving her repeated answers: I don’t want to talk about my divorce right now. I don’t want to talk about the stages we took to get to this point. I don’t want to divulge the details you are asking.
And if things progress and get far too obnoxious, you can always “lose” Betty’s number or be “far too interested” in other people’s lives at group functions and avoid Betty all together when she clearly doesn’t get the message.
Get your papers and statements organized
While what you need for divorce varies from state to state, you can search Google for the best documents to organize for a divorce. A lawyer or a financial person is going to need to look at some of those documents you’ve gathered to give you black and white answers and projections—information you will need for long-term planning and decision-making now.
If finding out if you should divorce includes giving every chance to reviving your marriage, for the sake of your heart or, at the very least, your children, consider discernment counseling to help you determine how to best progress forward.
Shore up your resolve on Should You or Shouldn’t You Divorce? and take an action step: listen to our free video class that helps you reframe this question AND also, how to avoid the 4 big mistakes women make in divorce. Suit up and slay Considering Divorce Syndrome.
Attend consultations and take classes
Gain a better understanding of what you’ll be going through with your divorce by joining an educative support group or class. If the group is facilitated by a professional, many of your questions might be answered and you will feel less alone, less isolated, less crazy. Whether you choose to explore discernment counseling or not, as a modern woman looking at her future, you deserve to know your rights and what you are entitled to. Coaches, experts and teachers understand that you might be smart, but you don’t know the process of divorce and what to expect. They don’t judge. They understand your situation and help you learn and feel empowered.
Take in the information at home
Let what you’ve learned mull over in your mind and see what new questions or concerns pop up later. If you are still undecided and some of your questions have been left unanswered, you can always call back the pro you met with, look for another professional for help, or seek a second opinion from another pro in the same industry. A child therapist, for example, would be better positioned to suggest the best things to do to support your kids through divorce. A financial professional who deals with divorce, would be better trained to answer your pressing questions about money.
Be sure to ask your therapist or divorce coach for direction if you feel lost or numb to the process of divorce
This becomes especially important if you start to feel that you are shutting down. You need help addressing what anxieties are causing you to feel ambivalent to your own divorce. You need solid steps and actions to take while getting a divorce or you could be facing a very rough future.
Leaving your husband is not a zero-sum decision
It’s rare that anyone facing divorce will feel that, 100 percent of the time, she is making the absolute best decision. Instead, you will feel fed up and will reach a tipping point that tells you that it’s time. And even after you’ve made that decision and you follow through, you may have days where those feelings waiver. Knowing what you do know and acting smartly is another great reason to consult with a divorce coach through this process.
Your head and your heart aren’t always going to agree during this process
Today your head says divorce and your heart is screaming YOU STILL LOVE HIM! Tomorrow your head listens to your heart, but then your heart decides it’s not happy. Thoughts and emotions are going to clash, collide, agree, disagree, shift, and change throughout the process of divorce. Putting yourself on a set path and following through is your best plan for health and improving your life; you can’t wait for your heart and your head to align. It will happen eventually, however, if you do the work.
Be sure to develop a divorce plan with a healthy strategy
Really be sure to ask yourself: do you know what a healthy divorce looks like? You can start to form a picture by reading books on what makes for a healthy, smart divorce, or work with a divorce coach. Either way, you’ll need to commit to a divorce with intention and compassion not only for your children and your future Ex — but for yourself.
Compassion for the self starts and continues with an understanding of who you are and an acknowledgement of your thoughts, feelings, and emotions.
Your emotions, those un-boxable feelings exist for a reason. Learning to listen to your wants, needs, feelings, fears, and hopes is what you need to do right now. Understanding that they are there, and why, helps you reframe them, do something with them and also detach from them so you can effectively navigate the black and white part of the divorce. Learning to acknowledge and detach will also help keep you on a healthy path to your newly single, independence.
The decision to divorce is painful but so is the journey to reach that decision
There are things you can do to help yourself through the pain and overwhelm once you’ve accepted, you must leave your husband. It begins with the conscious decision to set an intention. How do you want to do this? With the greatest integrity, smarts and compassion for everybody — including yourself — is a choice. Will you choose that? More steps are related 1) gaining a better understanding of what your options are, 2) knowing that no choice (except your commitment to your intention) is going to be the absolute perfect or right choice (sometimes it might feel like you’re picking the least bad in a slew of terrible choices), 3) getting educated in the process of divorce specifically in your state and for your circumstances, 4) and looking for help through direct feedback consultations, classes or support groups will support your intention in the most healthy, anchoring and life-affirming way. On that we give you 100 percent clarity.
Remember: no matter what that little voice inside your head says, you’re not trapped. Tell your fear, there are ways out and you are going to find them.
Since 2012 smart women around the world have chosen SAS for Women to help them through the emotional and often times complicated experience of divorce. For emotional support and structured guidance now, consider joining SAS’ Annie’s Group, our all-female divorce support and coaching class for women thinking about divorce or beginning the process. Annie’s Group teaches you what a woman must know (emotionally, practically, legally, financially) about divorce. Schedule your 15-minute chat with facilitator and SAS Cofounder Liza Caldwell to learn if this education is right for you and where you are in your life. To keep the safety and confidentiality of the group, space is limited.
*We support same-sex marriages. For the sake of simplicity in this article, however, we refer to your spouse as your “husband” or a “he.”