Why Is Divorce So Hard to Get Started?

Why Is Divorce So Hard to Get Started?

It’s so easy to get the relationship started. Infatuation and love just course along on instinct, never missing a beat. Even when there are stumbles, as there always are, you somehow know how to fill the potholes and move forward. But what happens when those “stumbles” turn into roadblocks, dead ends, and impenetrable traffic jams? Why is divorce so hard to get started when your marriage is stuck or even sliding backward?

Let’s make one thing clear upfront: divorce is a harrowing experience, even if you can’t get out the door fast enough. Simply navigating the process can be like having a second full-time job. 

Add in careers, children, separation, emotions…well, you get the picture. It can all make you reconsider what you’re already sure of.

It can make you overthink when to leave your husband or even ignore signs you may be in a toxic marriage.

So what is it that makes your feet feel like lead when it comes to divorce? Why is divorce so hard to get started, even when you know you “need” to do it?

Let’s crawl inside the thought process and just let the reasons, realistic and practical or not, flow….

  • You and your husband haven’t taken steps to repair your marriage.

Perhaps one of you is more emotionally tuned in and willing to seek professional help, while the other doesn’t see the need.

Relationship expert John Gottman has found that couples wait an average of six years before getting help. Six years can be a prison sentence when you’re unhappy and don’t know how to turn things around.

If you and your spouse haven’t made the concerted effort to work on your issues, you may be haunted by the possibility that you are simply “giving up.”

  • Your entire identity is tied up in who you are as a wife (and mother).

    Perhaps you spent your younger years dreaming of marriage, children, and a white picket fence.

    Visions of perfect children, work-life balance, weekly date nights, and a walk-in closet bursting at the jams with a “together woman’s” wardrobe.

    And sex. How could we forget the “we’ll never get tired of it” sex life? Who would agree to walk down the aisle if the dream of intimacy were replaced by the reality of exhaustion, stress, and age-related changes?

    And what if you have devoted your life to “managing your home,” Ubering kids everywhere, and supporting your husband’s career aspirations?

    Whatever has defined your life during your married life now stands to come unraveled. And, if you have “lost yourself” in the course of your marriage, you may feel consumed by a “What will I do with my life?” trepidation. 

Watch the short video on Divorce and Women: One Woman’s Journey and consider if you identify with SAS Cofounder Liza Caldwell’s story of what kept her in an unhealthy marriage–and more, what she did to help herself change the course of her life.

  • You have religious convictions against divorce.

“What God has joined together, let no man put asunder.” That’s a tough commandment to simply cast aside, especially if your religious beliefs are central to your life.

Some faiths have strict rules about divorce and remarriage. And, if you are still at an age where you want to be in a marriage, you may fear that you will spend your life alone.

  • Your marriage isn’t all bad, and your spouse is a decent guy.

    If your marriage is marred by abuse, addiction, criminal behavior, or serial infidelity, divorce may not be such a difficult decision.

    But what if your husband is decent? How do you divorce a nice guy? He, like you, has his flaws and shortcomings; but he has good values and is a good father.

    You may be struggling with unhappiness and lack of marital satisfaction, but you still care for and respect one another. You feel stuck and don’t know what to do or how to do it. Divorce guilt and its myriad permutations are keeping you stuck.

  • You fear feeling (and looking) like a failure.

    Why is divorce so hard to get started when a marriage is failing?

    Sometimes the answer lies in your fear of personal failure. After all, you have spent all those years investing your time and energy into the “success” of your marriage.

    Now, if you end your marriage, you might feel as if you have failed as a wife and mother. And “failure” is a heavy burden to carry into a new life.

  • What will people think?

    Ugh. Your family. His family. Your friends. Neighbors. Your kids. Your kids’ friends and their parents. The world!

    What are people going to think? What are they going to say, ask, assume? Will they judge you? Will you lose your relationships?

  • Why is divorce so hard to get started? Because it’s literally so hard to get started!

    If you’re going to go through with a divorce, you need to be certain. (Are you really there yet?) you need to be committed to a time- and detail-sensitive process.

    You need to research, collect information, secure legal and financial help, and possibly even formally separate. (If you crave structure and are ready for it, we’ve got you covered with our ultimate “55 Must Do’s on Your Modern Divorce Checklist.” )

    And you are always at the mercy of your individual state’s laws.

    If starting the divorce process sounds like a frightening prospect, familiarize yourself with these things to do if you’re thinking about divorce.

  • How will your children react and adjust?

    If you are a parent, this may be the biggest concern of all.

    You know a divorce will turn your children’s world upside down and inside out.

    You know you have to tell them before things get too far along and they start wondering what’s happening.

    Lastly, you know life is never going to be the same in terms of being a family.

    And their lives as children are never going to be the same.

    They will rarely be with both their parents at the same time again. You will never see them every day and every night again.

They may suffer emotionally, behaviorally, academically, relationally, even physically.

What if you have a spouse who insists he will fight for full custody?

What if you are married to a personality disorder, and you worry about how you will go on to deal with coparenting with a narcissist, for example?

And that if you have been the one taking care of the kids while he builds his career, and you now have to coparent? (Read “How to Prepare for Divorce if You are a Stay-at-Home-Mom”.)

Your children’s welfare no doubt tops the list of concerns when it comes to initiating a divorce.

It should likewise be one of the strongest motivations for making sure you have done all you can to work on your marriage before calling it quits.

Final Thoughts

There are countless answers to the question Why is divorce so hard to get started? Some are obvious in their pragmatism – money, process, religious beliefs, and rules – and some are buried in emotional nuance.

In the long run, what matters most as you explore the possibility of divorce is your honesty in answering the questions about your hesitation.

Divorce is nothing to rush into, especially if your marriage is salvageable but crying out for a deep cleaning and some TLC.

Likewise, if you have reached the point of conviction that your marriage cannot or should not be saved, fear should not keep you stuck.

You really are the one with the answers. But support is always available to help you find them.


Since 2012, SAS for Women is entirely dedicated to the unexpected challenges women face while considering a divorce and navigating the divorce experience and its confusing afterward. 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.


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