Divorce may often be a painful and complicated process. When we’re leaving a lousy guy, the choice can be easier. We tend not to doubt what we want when all we want is Out. But what if we need to divorce a nice guy?
What if we’re wed to a good man, one who does marriage so much better than all the Horror Story Husbands we hear about?
He’s not a drunk or a cheater. Instead of condescension, infidelity, or abusiveness, he’s kind, loving, and devoted. He hasn’t lost three jobs in one year; he’s stable and good with money. Far from being indifferent to the children or annoyed by them, he adores them and raises them well. He’s fit, handsome and he thinks we’re gorgeous.
The required fields are checked off. Everything about him tips the scales into the “good egg” box, and you know you never have to worry about him.
But you also know you’re unfulfilled. So, how do you divorce a nice guy?
This is where the concept of divorce becomes so much murkier. You are married to a stand-up guy. Maybe you even still love him as a friend. Perhaps he is your best friend. You trust him, you respect him… you just don’t want to be his wife anymore.
The attraction, the connection, the pull to him has fled the bedroom. Something is calling you out of the marriage and you can’t continue to rationalize it away. But you can’t bring the ax of divorce down on your vows, either.
The Gamble of Marital Security vs. Personal Fulfillment
This inner conflict is normal and far more common than we realize. It’s also trickier to get out of because there’s no bad guy to rally against. But some women who take this gamble become the bad guy. They become the brunt of criticism by friends and family, particularly those who are highly pro-marriage.
People ask them why they’re throwing their marriage away. These people might strongly suggest therapy, or they might tell the “Bad Guy” woman she’s being fickle or selfish. According to this “conventional” view, staying married is the ultimate goal. For them, happiness can be sacrificed. And it takes an authentic, courageous woman to leave a perfectly good marriage and a perfectly good man.
It takes knowing ourselves well, and it requires the understanding that our soul’s most foundational nourishment lies within us. Perhaps it means deciding what we want, not what we think we should want.
How History Has Affected Divorce
It also helps to recognize that many of the practical reasons for sticking with a passionless marriage no longer exist. Few options existed for women in the past. In the early 1900s, American women were still legally designated as property. By the 1950s, the Betty Crocker generation still tended hearth, home, and children almost exclusively, with only a small percentage of women working outside the family dwelling.
That is not the case anymore. Relatively speaking, there are fewer barriers between American women and their careers. These careers often bring them excitement, social identity, and value beyond the picket fence, as well as the ability to make their own money–and plenty of it, in many cases.
That means that if they are unhappy in their marriage, they are not financially stuck in it. They can divorce even when their husband is otherwise a “nice” and financially supportive guy.
Women now do not have to settle for a good provider who can keep a roof over their head simply because he’s willing and able to do that. They have the power to leverage themselves out. They may feel awful about divorcing that really nice guy, but feeling guilty about something doesn’t mean we are actually at fault.
Comparison Kills: Her Story is Not Your Story
“Women confide in me all the time that once they start researching divorce and hearing others’ horror stories about being abused, or mistreated, or how they’ve endured years living with a ‘narcissist,’ women in less dramatic situations feel their power dwindle and their guilt mount. How can they divorce a nice guy? Shouldn’t they just suck it up?” said divorce coach and SAS founder Liza Caldwell.
Guilt-stricken women describe their situation as platonic. They like their husbands but just aren’t sexually compatible with them. Instead of a union, the marriage feels like living with a roommate. And, in the midst of all this stifled uncertainty, guilt, and dissatisfaction, women may become passive-aggressive with their very nice guys. By staying in the marriage because they feel they should, they run the risk of becoming not-so-nice themselves. And in doing so, render an emotional disservice to their mate. This is how many come to divorce the typical “nice guy” husband.
Yearning for a Balanced Marriage
In some cases, women even feel sorry for their husbands. Perhaps he doesn’t make as much money as she does, or he is more in love with her than she is with him.
Women can often empathize… almost to their detriment. Pity is not love, and it is even less an aphrodisiac. A sense of emotional obligation is a strong tether to break, though.
“The ability of a woman to empathize with others, to stay in that place of constant caregiving to others, can be the death of her individual progress,” said Caldwell. “And while a part of her might be okay with sacrificing herself, what she doesn’t see is that she’s not showing up whole for the ones she is caregiving for.”
“Women feel guilty, not justified, undeserving to act in any way that prioritizes their own needs or well-being. If they are mothers, I will often ask them: if their children were in this same situation, what would they tell their kids to do?”
“Then, women have absolute clarity,” she said. “They say, ‘I’d tell my daughter she deserves to be happy.’ So then, it’s really a question of us honoring ourselves, and valuing ourselves and our own lives as dearly as we tell our daughters and sons to do.”
Leaving Your Best Friend
My partner of 13 years was a very good friend and an amazing man in many ways. He was intelligent, deep, forward-thinking, well-employed, good with money, MacGyver-smart about fixing things, honorable, very funny, talented, athletic, attractive, great in bed, and the best listener I’ve ever met. By all standards, I divorced a nice guy.
I know. Most of you are probably wondering if you can get his number.
Of course, he had his faults. He could be a U.S. Grade A Prime *%#hole. But overall? My Ex was a very good guy whom I loved.
A mate may fit well with one phase of our personal growth but not another. I don’t regret the decision to end our partnership, but I do regret some of my decisions leading up to it. By the time I made the choice to leave, it was the best one and has put a high dive under my self-development. But there were times before that–critically important choice points–where I could have made more effort. I could have been much more self-examining, more fearlessly committed to my own evolution. This could have made our commitment to each other stronger, our partnership richer. We also might have come to the same end result, but now I will never know.
And having done some good Man Training for his new wife was, for a while, cold comfort.
It’s important to make sure we know what is really driving the choice to leave a good man. We need to honestly evaluate if we are the source of our own unhappiness. What are our real Primary Motivators, our true Deal Breakers? If our ego’s neediness is pushing this decision, it’s more likely we may regret the decision later. Refusing to deal with ourselves first, before looking at our husband’s effect on us, is a mistake. If we don’t confront the ways that we make ourselves unhappy, they will come back to bite us down the road.
How many women are blasé about their marriage and cope with it by stepping out and having an affair? Is that fair to your Nice Guy? Does staying in a marriage and being unhappy, passive-aggressive or a grudge-holder serve your Nice Guy? If you are not fully in the marriage and he is, is that fair? Does he deserve it? Or does he deserve the chance to meet someone who will meet him fully and lovingly, as he deserves to be loved? For many, the answers to these questions tell them that it’s time to divorce their nice-guy husband.
What about what you are modeling to your children? How can you advise them to follow their own authentic selves and seek happiness compassionately with the world if you are not living that, too?
No one outside ourselves can “make us” happy, at least not for long. Lasting happiness only comes from within, and only from being fully and authentically present with ourselves.
“Forever Love” or an Ever-Evolving Love?
Modern marriage takes a lot more flexibility than the original “institution” it was built for. People are beginning to shift the idea of marriage into one that allows for renegotiation. We are recreating it with a sense of dynamic yet committed impermanence. Instead of thinking in terms of “forever,” we are thinking in terms of ever-evolving.
This is what we are seeing develop from a mixed bath of infidelity numbers, the Living Apart Together trend, ethical non-monogamy, or not marrying at all but still engaging in loving, monogamous companionship.
We are pioneering a new marriage paradigm and recognizing that even “nice” and “good” may not last. What and who works now may not work later if each spouse is not growing into their potential and fully authenticated selves. And hopefully, we are learning to allow for that and accept it with grace.
Jennifer Bent is a freelance writer, former print journalist, and feature writer living on the West Coast. Nicknamed Verbose at a young age, she loves wordcraft but has to keep a short leash on her fondness for the profane. Jennifer enjoys compelling content and the liberty to write about interesting contributors and innovative ideas. Connect with Jennifer at email@example.com.
Since 2012, SAS for Women has helped women face unexpected challenges that arise while considering, navigating, and rebuilding after divorce. SAS offers women six FREE months of email coaching, action plans, checklists, and support strategies for you, and your future. Join our tribe and stay connected.