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How to Survive a Divorce You Don’t Want | Essential Tips and Techniques

Anna Khmara

Anna is a certified life transformation and relationship coach with an in-depth focus on positive psychology and transactional analysis. Using her 3+ years of experience, she helps her clients understand the essence of the problem, build self-esteem, establish healthy relationships, find harmony, and manifest their dreams into reality.

Divorce does not always happen by mutual consent. On the contrary, it is not uncommon when only one spouse wants it, and the other suffers the consequences.

So is there a way to survive a divorce you don’t want and stay sane in such extreme circumstances?

The comforting news is that you are not the only one experiencing this stressful family life event. There are several techniques you can use that will help you start from a clean slate.

The most effective ones are described in this article, so read on to learn how to get through a divorce when you don’t want it.

What If I Don’t Want a Divorce? What Are the Ways to Prevent It?

If you’re wondering how to stop a divorce you don’t want, consider two aspects of the issue – legal and psychological.

From the legal point of view, there is nothing you can do to prevent your marriage dissolution if your spouse starts the divorce process.

The times when you could stay married for as long as you wanted are long gone. Prior to no-fault grounds being introduced in California in 1970, people could file for divorce only if the other spouse did something wrong.

“The common ground for divorce was some form of cruelty,” says Allen M. Parkman from the University of New Mexico.

Thus, the initiator was always an innocent party, and the other spouse was a villain. If a spouse wanted a divorce but couldn’t state any faults, the marriage would go on.

Now, family law in all 50 states allows no-fault divorce, where any person can end their marriage without a substantial reason. They only need to indicate “incompatibility” or “irretrievable breakdown” in their petition.

From a psychological perspective, there is still hope to save your relationship if your spouse is not entirely sure about getting a divorce.

First, try to openly discuss your marital problems and the reasons for the decision to end your relationship.

The author of ‘Save Your Marriage,’ Shirley Cole, advises being honest, calm, and mature during this conversation. “It may be that your spouse wants to make things work but is at the end of their tether and feels like perhaps divorce might be the only option,” she says.

If you understand exactly what your spouse is angry about, maybe you won’t have to deal with divorce when you don’t want it in the first place.

Depending on your situation, your spouse could agree to give your marriage a chance. Just remember to avoid promises that will be difficult or inconvenient to keep in the future. If you promise to abandon harmful habits, change your religion, be more caring, etc., stick to your words.

Otherwise, you will undermine trust in your relationship, and it would be hard to restore it.

What If I Don’t Want a Divorce?

Tips to Get Over a Divorce You Don’t Want

During and after a divorce, a person is very emotional and often does rash acts that only add problems to an already complicated situation. Below are essential steps to help you survive this challenging period of your life and maintain your dignity during the entire divorce process and afterward.

Know when to step back

You can’t make a person love you. So if you see that your husband or wife is adamant and wants to get a divorce, don’t make a scandal. Shouting, anger, and tears are not the best helpers in dealing with this situation.

Dr. Lee Horton, a family therapist, describes many instances from his practice when spouses who wanted to prevent their marriage from a breakdown worsened things by allowing their negative emotions to take over.

“They lash out at their partner in anger or diminish themselves through a desperate effort to win back their mate,” Dr. Horton says, “Such unbridled emotion leads to greater emotional distance.”

If nothing helps make your spouse change their mind, do not humiliate yourself by begging them to stay. It’s time to accept reality and shift focus from chasing the past to your current and future well-being.

Managing your emotions will help you get through a divorce you didn’t want with your head high.

Accept that your marriage wasn’t a failure

It’s time to break the tradition of perceiving divorce as a marriage failure. It’s one of the dangerous myths that society cultivates to keep married couples together.

“When the vow ‘‘till death do us part’’ was formulated, it was in Biblical times when people didn’t live long,” says Terry Whitman, Ph.D. In the earlier days of the marriage development, people’s lives used to be of short duration – 35-40 years. No wonder they only had one marriage.

These days, the average life expectancy is much higher. In 2019, it was 78.8 years for U.S. citizens, according to CDC.gov. So, the rule of a once-in-a-lifetime marriage is not applicable anymore.

Once you realize that you did everything you could to save your marriage, it would be easier to accept the divorce you didn’t want and forgive your spouse and yourself.

Your marriage lived through good and bad times, and it was a part of your path. So there’s nothing to feel sorry about. Instead, be grateful for the experience and move on with a positive outlook.

Discuss divorce with a limited circle of friends and family members

In this challenging period, you need the support of people who understand you and want to help you recover from a divorce you didn’t want. But your desire to speak out and share your feelings can backfire if you reach out to the wrong person.

Also, be prepared for some people (colleagues, neighbors, etc.) to ask what is going on and at what stage your divorce is. Of course, many of them will do it with the best intentions because they think you need to talk to someone.

As a result, you will have to plunge into negative emotions over and over again for days on end. You need to keep in mind that continuous discussion of negative experiences might prolong the feelings of stress and prevent you from moving on. So don’t turn it into a habit.

Discuss divorce

Don’t rush into new relationships

You will find different opinions about how long you should wait to start dating again. It all depends on your reasons. If you find someone who interests you, take your time to get to know them.

Your self-esteem should not rely on whether you are alone or dating someone, living together or married.

On the other hand, do not rush to enter into a new relationship immediately after the divorce if your sole purpose is to ease the pain or prove to your ex-spouse that you are better off without them.

First, you need to put everyday things in order. For example, deal with basic needs such as normalizing daily activities and socializing with the outside world.

Then, start dating when you’re emotionally ready and genuinely feel that new love will help you move on after a divorce you didn’t want.

Find a new purpose

One of the common fears among newly-divorced people is that they won’t put the pieces of their past life back together. But, in reality, many of them become happier and more successful after the marriage ends if they find a purpose in life.

Getting a divorce when you don’t want it can undermine your self-confidence for some time, but don’t let it become your new normal. Now is the time for you to think about who you are and what you want from life.

Look for activities that can provide a sense of purpose or that bring you joy. It doesn’t matter at the moment if it is something connected to your career or your hobby. Begin doing things that you were postponing because of marital duties.

Choose a few of those forgotten desires and dreams and start fulfilling them. Be sure to outline a timeline. For example, decide what you want to achieve over the next year and break your goal into small steps.

A clear plan will help you focus on new achievements and stop thinking about the past.

Stop obsessively analyzing your mistakes

Memories of mistakes are often even more harmful than the actual events you have experienced. If you can’t control those memories and continue replaying them endlessly in your head, you won’t be able to feel good again and move on.

There are a couple of techniques that can help you survive a divorce you didn’t want.

The first thing you need is to accept the fact that you cannot change the past. For example, imagine that you missed your turn on the road and cannot go back. Now you must only go forward and pay more attention next time.

The second method is called the thought-stopping technique. On average, one person has 4,000 thoughts a day, with a new idea coming every five seconds. More than half of them are negative ones.

To stop the flow of negative thinking, you can use a distraction, such as talking to other people about something other than your divorce, or go on vacation with your friends or children and have a quality rest.

Positive thinking and some time away from a familiar environment will help you heal from a divorce that you didn’t want and forget about your troubles for a while.

Write your thoughts in a journal

Several studies found that writing about traumatic events (also called “expressive writing”) improves mental and physical health in the long run.

Start a notebook and pour your strong feelings onto its pages. Find 5-10 minutes a day to write down thoughts that disturb you. It is the only way to reduce their intensity if nothing else helps. It’s all a part of the long healing process.

Remember that you’re not working on a novel, so don’t be too harsh on yourself because of grammar. The essence of this exercise is to get rid of obsessive thoughts and to move on from a divorce you didn’t want, not to pass a literacy test.

Do not think long over words and phrases. Instead, just write and have fun. Then, when you go back to your recordings a few days or weeks later, you will look at things differently, for example, more positively or with less criticism.

Write your thoughts in a journal

Talk to a family therapist if necessary

Getting over a divorce that you didn’t want is usually more painful than when both you and your spouse want freedom from your relationships.

If your emotional pain persists, you may need to seek professional counseling. But you don’t want the first family therapist you come across. Instead, you need someone who has experience with similar situations.

If the therapist you find has little experience with these situations, they will try to explain your problems in general terms. So, it is better to look for another specialist when your consultations turn into long stories about your tough childhood (because “it’s the source of all your problems”).

Don’t expect understanding from your spouse

You probably won’t like this last piece of advice, but still. The spouse who’s leaving and the one left are often at different stages of divorce acceptance. The initiator usually experiences the first wave of emotions long before the conversation with the other person occurs.

Leavers “have disembarked from the emotional merry-go-round, made a decision, and are no longer expending energy in futile battles and patch-up attempts,” says marital therapist Sharon Wegscheider-Cruse. So, when the other spouse finds out about the decision, their partner has already moved on to the next chapter.

Since the partners have different emotions at the time of the conversation, it can be difficult for them to hear each other and agree on things. Thus, looking for support from your spouse won’t assist you in coping with divorce when you don’t want one.

Create a support group with friends and family because your partner doesn’t have time or desire to make you feel better. They are moving forward to a new life, and so should you.


The more complicated and more prolonged the divorce process, the more time and emotional resources you will need to heal from it. There will be several things beyond your control, and there will be other ones you can influence.

But, if you accept your divorce as an opportunity to improve your life and become stronger, you might be grateful for the change in a few years.


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