“Dear Divorce Coach, I don’t know where else to turn. I’m so unhappy in my marriage, but I am too afraid to divorce. I don’t even know if I can trust my own feelings or myself. And, if I can’t even do that, how can I make a life-altering decision like ending my marriage? How can I wreck everyone’s world?
The truth is that I have been unhappy, even numb, for years. But our kids were still in school, and I didn’t want to throw their lives into chaos. Growing up is hard enough.
My husband and I are civil. There’s no abuse of any kind, and, to the best of my knowledge, there’s been no infidelity, no cheating.
He has always been a good father to the kids, although I know they always wanted him home more. And God knows I could have used more help taking care of the kids and the house.
But I long for so much more than just being ‘civil.’ I’ve longed for an emotional connection for most of my marriage, but my husband doesn’t relate to “feelings” or these needs of mine. We talk about his work and the kids, but he closes off when I initiate any personal conversation.
It’s as if we live in the same house but don’t know one another anymore. We might as well just be roommates.
We haven’t had sex in almost eight months. I feel ashamed saying this, but I really don’t want to have sex with him. If I don’t feel valued and loved on an emotional level, so how can sex possibly feel natural, let alone good?
I find myself daydreaming about life without him—doing what I want to do, picking up hobbies I used to love, not having to clean up after him, or even meeting new men.
I admit to having started communicating with an old classmate on Facebook. We liked each other years ago, and it’s clear, he’s not happy in his marriage either. He’s like a breath of fresh air. We can talk about anything, and I feel heard and seen. My ideas, my feelings, my dreams, they all matter… just not to my husband.
So yes, I even catch myself envisioning life with this person instead of with my husband. And I know that has to be a signal that something isn’t right.
I have no one to talk to about things relating to our relationship, and I feel completely alone. Sometimes I wonder if I’m crazy or just plain selfish. Shouldn’t I just suck it up?
I have asked my husband to go to couple’s counseling with me, but he refuses to go. And how much good can I do for “us” by going to therapy alone?
When I think about it, there are several reasons that I am too afraid to divorce.
First, I was a stay-at-home mom until five years ago. But even then I worked only part-time at a low-wage job. My husband was the major breadwinner. How will I ever support myself now? And how much of my lifestyle would I have to give up?
Second, I am so worried that my children will hate me and never understand why I left their dad.
Third, I don’t have a clue where to begin. How do I start a divorce right under my husband’s nose? And how on earth would I afford it?
Finally, I’m afraid that I will be alone for the rest of my life. I’m not young anymore. Is it possible to start again in middle-age?
I am well aware that marriage isn’t all sunshine, flowers, and romance. But is reasonably happily ever after an unrealistic expectation?
I would be grateful for any advice you can give me.
Too Afraid To Divorce
Dear Too Afraid To Divorce,
Before I respond to your questions, I want to assure you of two very important things:
You are not crazy. And you are not alone.
Divorce, and what leads up to it, can be very isolating. Because everyone’s situation is unique, it’s easy to fall into believing that you are alone. And problems-on-the-homefront isn’t the usual topic of choice in social settings.
But I assure you, you are not alone.
Perhaps it would be a bit of consolation to know that nearly 70% of divorces are initiated by women. Like you, women are more likely to assume the emotional burden of marriage. They are also more likely to feel held back by it.
At the same time, overthinking when to leave your husband—especially when there is no abuse, addiction, or infidelity—is easy to do. You get inundated with all the whys and what-ifs. And there’s nothing like “a good day” to throw your whole thought process into confusion and self-doubt. A lot of women tell us how confusing it is, how guilty they feel when their spouse is not a horrible person, but a “good guy.”
My advice is always predicated on taking orderly, strategic baby steps in the right direction.
Your first task is to decide if your marriage is salvageable.
If it is, then you and your husband will have to get onto the same page and get the help necessary to save your marriage.
If it’s not, then starting the process of divorce will make sense to you.
Are you in a bad marriage? Only you and your husband can make that final evaluation. But you mentioned a few things that are red flags for me.
First, you said you’re not having or even desiring sex with your husband.
Second, you said you are fantasizing about life without him.
Sometimes mentally extracting yourself from your marriage can give you a temporary reprieve from your unhappiness and anxiety. But it’s not indicative of or conducive to a healthy marriage.
And finally, you mentioned befriending someone from your past and feeling the emotional intimacy you don’t have with your husband.
The danger in developing even an emotional closeness to someone outside your marriage is complex. Not only will you confuse your own decision process, but you could risk the final terms of your divorce settlement. Stay focused on your marriage (or the process of ending it) without seeking another relationship.
Right now you are still in decision mode. You’re contemplating divorce, not actively pursuing it. And that can leave you feeling ungrounded, spinning, and overwhelmed. It’s understandable that your battle cry is stuck on “I am too afraid to divorce!”
Let’s go back to that feeling of being alone. All the advice I can give you is rooted in this imperative:
Don’t let yourself believe you’re alone. And don’t attempt to do this alone.
Those baby steps I mentioned? The first one is to collect information. Learn about the divorce process, the laws in your state, the timeline for divorce, and even what to expect when you tell your kids.
I have your first reading assignment: “8 Things Divorced Moms Want Divorcing Moms to Know”. You will never get better insight into the divorce process than you will from women who have gone through it.
While you’re learning from and leaning on other I’ve-been-where-you-are women, you’re going to notice a comforting and awakening constancy. Help is always available for those who ask.
In the course of asking and receiving, you will build your own support system. And it will be there for you long after your divorce is final.
If you decide to go forward with a divorce, you will need to establish the right people around you, your team of experts—legal, financial, emotional, practical, custodial, etc. A divorce coach can walk you through the checklist of must-do’s and their timelines and even help you assemble the right people, because she’s seen other women like you and has learned what is normal, what is not. And a word to the wise? A lot is normal, so take heart.
Your concern about affordability is a common concern. Believe it or not, there are options for women who believe they can’t afford a divorce, including ways to make divorce cheaper. Your life’s well-being and happiness should never come down to the ability to pay for the help you need.
Divorce comes with costs, both financial and emotional. But it also heralds in unfathomed possibilities and positive changes.
The time after your divorce is your time. It’s a critical time for reflection, learning, adapting, dreaming, and rediscovering yourself.
It’s also the time to become your own best friend and advocate, remembering that you have the support that has been with you all along. Before you know it, “I am too afraid to divorce” will become “I’m going to be just fine.”
If you can embrace this period with fearlessness, trust, and curiosity, you may surprise yourself when you emerge ready to love—and be loved—again.
Stay committed to yourself and the life you deserve,
(Divorce Coach at SAS for Women)
SAS women are those amazing ladies you meet who are entirely committed to navigating divorce — on their own terms. If you are considering or dealing with divorce, you are invited to experience SAS for Women firsthand and schedule your FREE 15-minute consultation. Whether you work further with us or not, we’ll help you understand your next, black-and-white steps for walking into your brave unknown — with compassion and integrity.