Leaver vs Leavee: Two Perspectives on the Marriage's End

Same marriage; two very different perspectives

Posted May 30, 2010

In last week’s article, I shared an  example of a woman (Mia) who made a few attempts to let her husband (Carl) know that she was unhappy in the marriage but he didn’t hear her for whatever reason, or he simply didn’t take her complaints seriously.

When Mia had had enough and was literally walking out the door, Carl finally heard her, but due to the fact that he had not taken her earlier laments to heart, the news that she was done with the marriage was shocking to him. 

From Mia’s perspective, she had told Carl a few times that she was unhappy and he “should have known” that she would leave if things didn’t change. From Carl’s perspective, things in the marriage weren’t all that bad and Mia was just “doing what women do” by trying to change him.

So, now they have passed the breaking point and Mia has already made up her mind that she and the kids are leaving. She wants the divorce over with as soon as possible. Carl is stunned and angry. He wants to be given a “second” chance and he wants to stall the process as long as possible in the hopes that Mia will realize the mistake she is making.

Mia is rushing while Carl is dragging his feet. How is this dynamic going to end up?

Because I have seen this happen so often, I can tell you that it will likely end up with a highly contentious divorce in which each person sees the other as purposely trying to hurt them.

Mia will see Carl as being obstructionistic and Carl will see Mia as cold-hearted.

If each person could set aside the story they have going of how the other is trying to hurt them and try harder to understand the other person’s perspective, they might have a shot at minimizing the negativity. 

Easier said than done, perhaps, but here are some dos and don’ts if you find yourself in this situation:

Leaver Dos

  1. Understand that he really didn’t hear you - regardless of how much you think you have tried to tell your spouse that you were unhappy and wanted out of the marriage, if your spouse is shocked when you tell him you’re leaving, understand that he didn’t hear you!
  2. Be clear and make sure that your spouse hears you now - if you have one last glimmer of hope that the marriage can work before truly exiting, be as clear as possible with your spouse that you are serious about leaving and make sure he hears you. Be clear if you are leaving as well. Some people comprehend better when they are told important information; some comprehend better when things are written down. Communicate in both these ways to your spouse to increase the chances that he will hear you.
  3. Be patient - if you can understand that your spouse is not as far along the grief process as you are and that he needs more time to integrate what is going on, you will likely have a better experience. 
  4. Get outside help if needed - a neutral third party can do wonders in helping you both understand the other person’s perspective more clearly and can help minimize the damage you and your spouse may do to one another.

Leaver Don’ts

  1. Don’t push - the worst thing you can do (for you and your spouse) is to try to force him to cooperate in a process that he is not ready for. 
  2. Don’t assume that your spouse is trying to hurt you - while malice may be one possibility, there are other reasons why your spouse may be dragging his feet. If you can see that he is truly hurting, you may ease up a bit which can do wonders in creating a better dynamic. 


Leavee Dos

  1. Get as much support as possible - you will need more support now perhaps than your spouse and this is no time to be proud. Seek help in the way of clergy, therapists, friends, books and 12-step programs.
  2. Believe her - if she says she tried to tell you but you didn’t listen, believe her. Think back on all the talks you’ve had and try to see the signs she was giving you from a different perspective.
  3. Accept the reality - chances are that you will be getting a divorce, regardless of how unfair it is or how blindsided you feel. Accepting and liking are two different things. You don’t have to like this reality but the more you fight the fact that it is happening, the more you are actually creating a much worse experience for you, your spouse and your children. (This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t fight for your marriage, but when it’s clear that there is no chance of reconciliation, it’s important to move on.)

Leavee Don’ts

  1. Don’t punish your spouse - when you act spitefully or try to hurt your spouse the way you’ve been hurt, you prolong the pain and make everything more difficult. You’re entitled to feel angry but channel it properly - exercise, journal, scream into pillows or talk about it.
  2. Don’t assume your life is over - more often than not, the person who has been left by their spouse goes on to have a better life than they could have imagined (and better than the spouse who left them). Some suspect that that this is so because the leavee has more to work through, therefore does more work which, in return, has a reward of resolving past hurts and going on to have healthier relationships.