Emotional Divorce

What is an “Emotional Divorce” and the Top Reasons for One?

Sometimes the decision to divorce is a practical one, steeped in logic and rational thought; while other times divorce is a messy, complicated, and downright emotional thing. Maybe you know this because you’ve experienced it before or are currently living it. Or maybe your only knowledge of divorce comes from late-night television and bad movies.

Whether you see the signs of divorce plainly or in hindsight, the end of a marriage can be gut-wrenching. Like those bad movies, we only wish we could take away all the bad and boring parts of the divorce process and edit it all back together again to bring you right to the end. Unfortunately, we don’t possess those powers any more than you do. But what we can do is ground you with a bit of perspective and help you feel a little less alone. If you find yourself somewhere on the fence contemplating divorce, it might be helpful to know that you’re not the first person to feel the way you do now. We’ve focused on the 10 most common and practical reasons for divorce in a previous post. For this post, we’re focusing on the emotional divorce.

We know some of you may be thinking that all divorces are emotional—and you’re right about that. But while all (or certainly most) divorces tug at our emotions, not everyone makes the decision to divorce for emotional reasons. Some of the more common reasons for divorce come down to finances, distance, or religion. These are practical and cultural concerns. They are tangible. Sometimes those practical concerns make the end of a marriage feel a little “easier” when you’re around other people, with their many questions, judgement or even, sympathy. With an emotional divorce, however, everything feels more mysterious, amorphous. You might tell your friends and family you’ve become different people, but they look at you and all they see is more of the same. You want to explain how behind closed doors things look different than they do on the outside—the arguments and the resentment. But doing those things feels a lot like opening up rooms inside yourself that you’ve long since closed off to others. We understand. And if this sounds like you, read on.

And for the sake of conversation, we’re defining an emotional divorce as one that can challenge, break, and even extinguish your emotional attachment to your partner.

1. You’ve become different people

It happens over time. Sometimes you grow together, and sometimes you grow apart. One day you were both fans of poetry and, as silly as it sounds, watched all your favorite shows together, but then one day your partner started getting way more into video games or fantasy football and now, rarely spends quality time with you. Both of your interests have changed, and you no longer have much to talk about nor much interest in what each other is doing. It’s hard to feel the same way about someone when they aren’t the same person you’ve married—when they’ve transformed into someone you probably wouldn’t have dated in the first place. It happens. There’s no one thing that causes this, but you may wake up one day and ask yourself, who is this stranger and how could I ever learn to love him?

2. Cheating—yes, this is emotional

Cheating does happen in the physical realm and can be related to a whole host of pragmatic problems (say distance or sexual incompatibility), but this falls into the realm of emotional problems because it can fundamentally change the way you feel about your partner. Even if you are willing to give him another chance and work through it, the emotional damage is done. Trust issues (another practical reason for divorce with strong ties to the emotional) are now a given, and you might never be able to trust your partner again.

3. Lack of intimacy (not just sexual)

Your partner never talks to you anymore about their day, and their preferred form of communication with you is generally restricted to affirmative or negative grunts when you ask if you’d like pizza for dinner. They don’t want to cuddle anymore. They don’t ask how you are or even seem to care. The hopes, dreams, and aspirations you two once shared seem to no longer be subjects of conversation. While this can leak into your sexual relationship, that’s not always the case, which makes this lack of intimacy even more confusing. If you feel like your partner is withdrawn and nothing you’ve done can bring them back to the intimacy you once shared, there’s not much more you can do to salvage your marriage.

4. Resentment

Your partner bought a new car while you’re still struggling to pay off your daughter’s braces. You were promoted at work and are making significantly more than your partner, who seems upset by this. Your partner seems to think that all your skills come so naturally to you and makes underhanded comments. Resentment is a real thing that can ruin relationships, and when one or both partners are keeping a tally in a relationship, resentment tends to build and become hard to get rid of. Being resentful of your partner or having your partner resentful of you (or a mixture of the two) is no way to carry out a marriage nor build a loving partnership.

5. Constant heated arguments

It can be nice to come home to a calm, peaceful, silent house with a caring partner there to support you. But if you and your partner argue over everything at the drop of a hat, that imagined peaceful environment might never come to be. A lot of times arguing like this can be mistaken for passion and, to a point, arguing is a sign that you are committed to working out the differences in your relationship. But long, heated, and constant arguments that never resolve themselves are not a sign of a healthy or happy relationship. Worst of all, constantly being at battle with the person who is supposed to be your pillar and partner through life can leave you emotionally drained and keep you from investing yourself in your relationship. If you are divorcing and worry that the anger is going to follow you, you’ll want to read Axe the Anger after Divorce in 4 Steps.

6. Insincerity and dishonesty (outside of cheating)

Some people are compulsive liars, and sometimes we end up married to someone who thinks it’s okay to tell little white lies all the time. While the level of insincerity and dishonesty can vary by relationship and even by partner, there are some telling signs. If you can’t trust your partner to pay the bills on time and not spend the money elsewhere, or if you know your partner will make promises they’ll never follow up on, then you have a fundamental problem of trust in your relationship—one that affects you emotionally. It’s not only distrust at play here, but the false pretense that leads to false hope that maybe your partner will change this time and the inevitable disappointment that happens 9 out of 10 times when they don’t.

7. Jealousy and insecurity

This can seem reminiscent of trust issues, but jealousy and insecurity are really their own thing. If your partner constantly questions why you are with them or uses self-deprecating humor as a way of questioning your commitment to their relationship (e.g. why’d you marry me? I’m so awful. Haha.), you may see signs of jealousy down the road. This jealousy might not just be about time spent with your friends or coworkers—this can even extend to the attention you give to family members, pets, or your hobbies. The insecure and jealous person wants your time and attention—and anything, not just another person, that takes that attention away can make them upset and jealous. Unless you want your relationship to be all about your partner and spending every moment of every day reassuring them, this might not be a relationship worth keeping and can be downright exacerbating.

8. Losing yourself in your relationship

Your partner loves fish, so you eat it on Fridays. You can’t remember your favorite food. You’re wearing green to support the Packers even if your favorite team is the Patriots. Your partner needs you to move across the country and leave your job, your family, and your friends to pursue his dream and you do it—no questions asked. But now you are realizing that you don’t know who you are anymore and that your life has suddenly become about supporting your partner and not about a partnership.

9. Your relationship isn’t satisfying—in fact, it’s a drain

You’ve had a long eight-hour day, and you’ve just picked the kids up from drama club. You’re already tired, but when you get home, you know that your day isn’t over. Your partner asks about dinner but has made no effort to cook even though they arrived home before you. Your partner complains about laundry not being done or the kitchen not being clean enough but doesn’t lift a finger to help. They want to vent about their day at work and monopolizes the conversation so it’s only about them, leaving you with extra emotional baggage and no outlet for your own frustrations or feelings. This isn’t a relationship anymore—you are a cook, maid, nanny, and therapist who must also work outside of the home to keep your finances afloat. Sometimes being on your own is less draining in these kinds of situations because you’re already doing all the work anyway.

10. You’ve fallen out of love, and it’s not coming back

Maybe it’s one thing on this list or maybe it’s a bit of everything, or maybe it’s none of the above, but you just aren’t feeling in love with your partner anymore. You don’t think you can be a couple. It happens. It’s okay to acknowledge. To feel best about your difficult decision, you might check with a therapist or a coach to see if this may be linked to depression or another life event; or for ideas on exhausting everything before you call it quits. But if the love just isn’t there and isn’t coming back, there’s no partnership to salvage. Love is the foundation of marriage, and if it’s gone and you’re sure you can’t learn to love your partner again, then it’s time to figure out how you will live differently. You must get educated on what your change choices are.

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 Annie’s Group, our virtual divorce education, support and coaching class for women thinking about divorce or beginning the process. Learn what your choices really are. Schedule your 15-minute chat to find out if this education is right for you, where you are in your life, and most importantly, where you want to go.

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