Resolution, Not Conflict

The guide to problem-solving.

7 Strong Steps to Stop a Divorce

A map for changing your behaviors that may change your spouse's mind.

save a marriage, save the marriage, causes for divorce
When one partner says "I'm done" ...
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Many spouses ignore for years the alarms of discontent that their partner has been ringing.  None of the complaints sounded like they might end up being causes for divorce.  When their spouse “suddenly” announces that he or she is moving out, wants to end the marriage, or even has filed already for divorce, the ground below shakes like an earthquake. Is there any way, at that last-ditch point, to stop a divorce? 

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Ted announced on Friday to his wife Maria (names changed for confidentiality) that he wanted a divorce.  Maria was shocked.  She had no idea that her husband had been so unhappy.  Yes, he had complained of this and that, but don’t all husbands complain?  By Monday morning however Maria had made a decision.  She would do all she could to stop the divorce.  Here’s the 7 strong steps that she and I (the therapist she went to for help) mapped out together for her.

1.     Prepare for action

If you are serious about wanting to stop a divorce, as soon as posisble, soothe the panic, skip the moping, and make an action plan.  The steps below will guide you to a strong start.

2.    Smother the urge to play victim

“How could you do this to me?” may express how you feel, but it’s likely to be a loser strategy for regaining your spouse’s affection.  Guilting your partner into returning will just win back, if it wins anything, a depressed “I hate being here again” spouse. Not a good way to stop a divorce.

To skip the “poor me,”  flip to “proud me.”  Remind yourself of the positive qualities you can bring to a marriage, and figure out how to show them in their full colors.  Pretty soon you’ll start believing in yourself more, and then

Notice that I said “show,” not “show and tell.”  Let your actions speak louder than words.  Save your words for appreciation of him, not for comments about yourself.  Flattery will get you everywhere.  Self-praise is a turn-off.

Speaking of appreciation, strong people give out lots of positivity.  Smile at your almost-e.  Laugh at the almost-e’s jokes.  Express affection.  Share your gratitude for good things your spouse has done.

3.     Clarify what you need to change

Make a list of all the negative comments that your spouse has made to you that now, with hindsight, you can see were attempts to stop a divorce.  LIst all the complaints, criticisms and angry comments you can recall that you probably see now were about causes for the current divorce attempt.

Check out the list with your almost-ex.  Be sure you left no criticisms out.  At the same time, keep your tone strong, as if you are just checking the list you are bringing to the grocery store.  “No big deal; I’m just beings certain my list is complete.”  No victim and no groveling either.

Once you have your list, think back to your family of origin.  From your Mom?  Your Dad?  An older sibling

The more effectively you can identify where in growing up you might have learned that mistake, the more effectively you will be able to let go of the mistake and replace that habit with a far better one. 

Then map a plan of action for fixing each and every item on your list.

4.     Look your best

Appearance can be a huge factor in the odds of success in stopping a divorce. 

Lose weight.  Rethink your hairstyle.  Pay attention to the clothes you’ve been wearing: throw out those baggy sweat pants and outdated shoes.  Picture how you would look if you were to look strikingly attractive.  If the image isn’t clear, pay attention to attractive people in a clothing store or to newscasters or other well-dressed folks on TV. 

Then figure out how to make that your new personal style.  

5.     Clean up all the old hurts

Find out what resentments and hurt feelings your spouse carries that may have been factors that led to filing for a divorce.  Write out a list of all the moments that your ex recalls with anger or bitterness.  Create your own list as well.

Then go through each item on the list together, one by one, to “find the mis.” That means each of you needs to look for your own part in the misunderstanding, misperceptions, mistakes etc.  No one gets to comment on what the other did that was problematic.  

Just aim to understand what you did that inadvertently contributed to the problem.  Apologize for it.  Then figure out what in the future you can do differently to prevent any repeats. 

Mistakes are for learning.  If your marriage is rocky now, probably you haven't been doing enough earning from your mistakes.

6.     Believe in yourself

To keep up your morale as you plow ahead with your steps to stop a divorce, think about the proverbial little engine that could, whose mantra became “I think I can, I think I can.”  Treasure this mantra, and say it to yourself multiple times a day.

If deep down you believe that you don’t deserve to be loved, you need to change that.  Use “temporal tapping,” a technique for changing self-defeating beliefs.  With the three longest fingers of your right hand, tap in a circle around your right ear.  Tap from front to back, down and around back up, completing a circle, for as many as 10 circles.  As you tap, say aloud, “I deserve to be loved.  I am lovable.  I deserve to be loved.  I am lovable. etc….” 

Temporal tapping reprograms your brain, replacing negative beliefs about yourself  with positive ones. 

Recite your mantra and do you tapping multiple times with your new self-belief multiple times each day, as often as possible until your determination and self-confidence feels strong enough to rely on them.

7.     Learn the skills that everyone needs if they want to be good at marriage partnership

You wouldn’t expect to walk into a courtroom to conduct a trial without first learning the skills of a lawyer.  Yet how much training did you get for the job of spouse?  Probably very little, even though the skills you need to succeed at the job take most people significant training to do successfully.

Learn the four skill sets essential for sustaining a loving relationship: 1) talking together cooperatively 2) making win-win decisions together 3) preventing anger from spoiling your relationship and 4) pumping up the positivity you emanate to each other.  Self-help blog-posts and books or an online course can get you there; sometimes a couples counselor can also be a reliable mentor, but pick carefully to be sure the one you choose can teach you the skills you need. 

 What happened to Ted and Maria?

Maria decided that she would fight with all her energies to win back Ted's heart, repair the marriage, and give both of them and also their children the strong family that they all, at heart, longed for.  She launched immediately into this seven step plan.  

The strategy worked.  There's still more healing to go.  At the same time, within days of Maria's having launched her campaign, Ted called his lawyer to tell him to withdraw at least temporarily the divorce papers he had filed. 

To his credit, Ted realized that a divorce would not heal his years of built-up resentments nearly as effectively as working together with a wife who now was giving her all, with him, to building the marriage of his and her dreams.

Eventually, despite having been unwilling in the past to go to marriage counseling, Ted began joining Maria at her therapy sessions. To his surprise Ted found the help of a therapist more useful than he'd expected, especially for guiding healing from the many major hurts they both had suffered over their years together.

A newly loving spouse, an intact marriage for their children, and no loss of half of the financial assets they both had worked for years so hard to build brought Ted and Maria a joyful outcome to Ted's having filed for divorce,  The turnaround took multiple months of focused attention on making changes, fueled by on-going determination from Maria and willingness to give it one more try from Ted. 

There will be further upsets for sure for this couple. Ted's having filed for divorce followed by Maria's campaign to save the marriage though definitely turned their catastrophe to a blessing.  The earthquake is over. Both Ted and Maria, for the first time in many years, are standing arm in arm on solid ground, and their therapist is beaming.

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Denver clinical psychologist Susan Heitler, Ph.D, a graduate of Harvard and NYU, is author of Power of Two, a book, a workbook, and a website that teach the communication skills that sustain positive relationships.  

Click here for a free Power of Two relationship test. 

Click the Power of Two logo to learn the skills for a strong, emotionally healthy and loving marriage.

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Susan Heitler, Ph.D., is the author of many books, including From Conflict to Resolution and The Power of Two. She is a graduate of Harvard University and New York University.

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