Unnecessary Divorce


I love this phrase, unnecessary divorce. Not a single one of us who has ever considered divorce thought ours was unnecessary. Not unless something convinced us to take another stab at loving the person we vowed to love—and we succeeded.
How in the world can we tell, in the heat of our anger and fear and frustration, whether ours would be an unnecessary divorce? I have a way you might try. It comes from my own awful experience of reaching the conclusion we should, of necessity, divorce, completely unaware our marriage was only one day away from “until death do us part.”
I recited to my first husband, at the age of 34 and thick into dealing with career and motherhood, my long list of unmet needs that night. I thought they justified splitting up. I believed somehow these needs might be better met if we split up. A day later, I had full custody, all the assets, and no drawn-out battle of the lawyers, and I learned how wrong I was about my list of needs.
If your list of unmet needs includes the need to feel safe from violence and psychological manipulation in your own home, skip this one. Seek help meeting those needs first. If you need to get right with your morality and cannot do so in your current marriage, skip it. But if, like me, you feel you desperately need things like emotional support, more income, mowed lawns, washed dishes, more time off the couch and out in the world, more conversation, more help with the parenting, etc., this just might change everything.
I got none of those when my marriage was over. It was eleven years until I even met my second husband. Divorced, you can get them for yourself. But married, you can get them for yourself even more easily. Divorce over such unmet needs qualifies in my book as unnecessary divorce. Once you take those needs off the table, it turns out to be a lot easier to love and be loved.
I won’t write it all out here. You can download a worksheet for free from my Enjoy Being Married website. Look for “Clean Up the Clutter of Unmet Needs” on page 4. Allow an hour or so for the exercise. And please share your insights in the comments below. You might prevent another unnecessary divorce as well as freeing yourself to enjoy being married.

About the author

Patty Newbold

I am a widow who got it right the second time. I have been sharing here since February 14, 2006 what I learned from that experience and from positive psychology, marriage research, and my training as a marriage educator.


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  • Great post! Thanks for sharing your story!
    I witness a lot of relationships headed for disaster when people say that they need certain things from their mate.
    Your right when we let go of that search for needing someone in our partner we are much happier.

  • Hi Patty,
    I clicked on the link for the worksheet and it says URL not found. I believe I’m headed for an unnecessary divorce and would like to try and help myself and my husband take a look at potentially changing out perspective. We’ve both fought long and hard not to lose our home during the financial crisis, both lost jobs and got new ones, our son went off to college two years ago, and it’s been nightmare ever since. It’s like my husband has decided I’m the enemy and he just keeps attacking me with all the things he thinks I’m doing wrong. He perceives things I say completely differently than I mean. For example: Tonight I made us a really nice dinner and he was very late getting home. When he arrived he mentioned he had gone for a drink with friends from work. I said, “Oh, you should have called me to join you.” And he flipped out saying “that’s why I never tell you anything” as if I had attacked him – which I had not. Our night was ruined. I went to bed crying. Seems to be our trend for weeks and weeks now. He just seems to think of me so poorly. It’s so awful. Brenna ~

  • Brenna, that’s a lot you two have been through in the last few years. Sometimes we think we want out of marriage when what we really want is out of our life. We imagine things would be so different if we weren’t married, and most of us are pretty unrealistic about what would change.
    I encourage you to read more on this blog about how to Assume Love. Instead of going to bed crying when you’re blindsided by a mean comment, imagine that you could be 100% certain you are still very much loved by the same good man you married. Now try to explain what might have caused a comment like that. What circumstances might make him mistake your comment for an attack? Why might it have been important to him to have a drink with friends without you?
    While there are plenty of distressing scenarios, remember to stick with the one in which you are *certain* he loves you and wants to remain married to you. You are close enough to him that you know a lot more than you will remember while you’re feeling hurt. Once you focus on this scenario, you just might stumble across a perfectly reasonable explanation for his comment or at least a reasonable and calm question you might ask him.
    You don’t need to act as if this scenario is the truth. You just need to visit it long enough to see if perhaps the reaction is not as shocking and the situation is not as out of your control as you first thought.
    And thanks for the heads-up on the old link. I have updated it so you can download the worksheet.

  • Brenna,
    Please do not give up! There is a book that is amazing to help you respond differently to your husband. It is called, ” The Surrendered Wife” by Laura Doyle. It speaks of situations like yours. It will make a huge difference in how you view yourself and him! Also, “Take Back Your Marriage” by William Doherty is exceptional.
    Divorce is the most painful experience, it is not worth it. It is far worse than people speak of. Work on yourself and it will mean a better you and will help your marriage.

  • Patty,
    My husband and I have been married for three years now. We have a two year old. Six months into our marriage my husband and his parents had a fall out with my parents. He felt disrespected and hurt. Since then he will not let my parents visit me. When I had my daughter he would not even let me take her to see them the first time we went for a visit. (our families live in the same city) We always stay with his family even prior to the issues. He will not let me bring back any gifts or presents from my family not for myself and neither for our daughter. Occasionally he will let me bring an item or two and constantly reminds me of how I am not appreciating his generosity of him letting me visit my parents and allowing me to take our daughter with me when I do go see them for 4 hours. Every time we go for a visit I am allowed to go visit for 3-5 hours depends what we have going on with his family. We see his family every two weeks, but I see my family once a month for a few hours. I am resenting my husband so much that I find it hard to be the loving wife I have to be. We are discussing divorce. I came across your blog and I am wondering can this marriage be saved? It is looking really grim right now as I am feeling so controlled. I know I have made my fair share of mistakes. EM

  • Emina, I am wondering if you live in or come from a culture where the woman traditionally leaves her own family to become part of the man’s family. My daughter-in-law does. Fortunately, I and my son, an only child whose father has died, are both thrilled to consider her family part of ours.
    If a man has grown up believing his wife will leave her family and join his, he is likely to feel his rights have been violated when his wife wants to remain part of her family and wants their children to feel like part of this family, too. If the wife’s expectation has been that she and her new family will remain in close contact with her childhood family, she will also feel her rights have been violated when her husband tries to stop her.
    Every expectation is a premeditated resentment, and resentment corrodes marriages.
    You two need a Third Alternative, an approach to this disagreement that pleases both of you, because his only control over you is your desire to remain married to him. Custody of a two-year-old will almost always be granted to a wife, who is then free to visit her parents or even live with them.
    I hope you will read some of my blog posts about how to find Third Alternatives. You start by creating specifications for what you want and what you want to avoid. Your husband apparently wants your gratitude and your parents’ respect. I will guess he also wants to avoid any harm to the child you share. This one you two can certainly agree on, but you will both need to be specific about the harm you want to avoid.
    In our family, it’s a difference in religious beliefs. I have promised not to allow my grandchildren to do anything that violates their parents’ beliefs about what God wants, even when it’s something I feel is just fine. In yours, for your husband, it may have something to do with the number or value of gifts or with the respect your daughter feels for him.
    Because this involves your parents and his parents, you may need to enlist someone older and wiser, respected by all six of you, to help bring the four parents together to restore their relationship.
    If your wise person is at a loss for how to get people to respect each other again, or if you can’t find a wise person older than them, I recommend the list of 24 character strengths at http://viacharacter.org as a starting point. These are strengths that have been valued in almost all cultures over all of recorded history, not the fad of the month or western vs. eastern. Almost no one excels at more than half a dozen of them. If they are not the ones we’re attuned to, we might not notice their good character or how much they are contributing by being who they are.
    If you can get them respecting each other again, your Third Alternative with your husband might be to have his parents invite yours over while you are visiting. It gives him control over any feared disrespect or bad influence on your child while allowing room for him to build a relationship with them.
    His parents will probably have an easier time rebuilding their relationship with your parents than your husband will. They are from the same generation with a peer relationship.
    Your husband will be much more on guard for signs (even false signs) of their disrespect for him. You can help by contradicting anything negative your parents say about him, by telling them of his triumphs and capabilities and good efforts. You can also help by setting up guidelines with your husband on their gifts and being the one who turns down any they offer that violate those guidelines.
    I hope this helps you find your way through a very tricky and common situation. Once it’s behind you, you’ll have a new skill for dealing with the next “I’m certain my way is the right way” difference of opinion. Please let me know how it goes.

Patty Newbold

I am a widow who got it right the second time. I have been sharing here since February 14, 2006 what I learned from that experience and from positive psychology, marriage research, and my training as a marriage educator.

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