It happened to Kris Humphries, it happened to Tom Cruise and it happens to people like you and me.
Being blindsided by divorce.
It seems odd — how can a spouse have absolutely no clue that his or her marriage is in trouble? Wouldn’t there be warning signs — a lack of interest in sex, emotional withdrawl, more fighting?
It’s hard not to marvel how Katie Holmes pulled it off. Just 11 days after she filed for divorce from Tom, the couple announced they’d reached a divorce settlement and a child custody plan. That’s pretty much unheard of, but it’s most likely because Katie had been divorcing Tom for a long time before she told him, “I want out.” She had an exit plan, he got blindsided.
She isn’t the only one.
It doesn’t seem fair to drop a bomb like that on your partner, even if you’re no longer in love with him or her. Yet, that happens quite a bit, especially to men. While two-thirds of all divorces are initiated by women, 26 percent of the husbands say they, like Tom had no idea, while just 14 percent of women were caught off-guard.
What’s going on? How can so many men be so unaware that their marriage is in trouble? Or are they aware, and are just ignoring it or tolerating it?
I can see how the majority of women wouldn’t be blindsided (although certainly enough are). Don’t take this the wrong way, but women tend to be more in tune with the danger signs of a problem marriage. We see trouble and we start blabbing about it with friends, maybe even professionals, and ask for help in a way that men don’t, for whatever their reason. Some researchers suggest women invest more energy and resources into maintaining our relationships (and thus might resort to finger-pointing when a relationship ends because we blame our partner for not investing as much into it as we did).
You probably have had friends who’ve talked nonstop about their marital woes; maybe you yourself have done that. Maybe those wives have hinted at their unhappiness with their hubby or a need to go to counseling or a desire to work on the relationship.
But not always.
Women are good at what “Divorce Court” judge Lynn Toler calls “The False OK”:
I think a lot of women tell the very same lie for years on end. They say “okay” when they don’t mean it. They tell their husbands, “everything’s fine,” even when it’s not. “Keeping the peace” is what they call it. They are, they tell me, getting through the day. It is all about the argument they simply do not want to have. … I think there is a whole group of women out there who don’t do well with conflict. They are the ones with a happy husband because he always gets what he wants and she doesn’t seem to mind. But what he doesn’t see are all of the collected hurts stored up in her emotional closet. Not because she doesn’t ever get what she wants but because that lopsided equation makes her feel unloved.
Then, she reaches a point of no-return and she drops the bomb: “I want a divorce!”
Is Judge Toler right?
Susan Pease Gadoua, my writing partner in The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels, calls it a “hit and run.” She considers it “the most hurtful, hateful and heinous way’ for someone to announce he or she wants out.
Honestly, I don’t know of any good way to say you want a divorce. I certainly don’t think women have it figured out any better than men do; in fact, just thinking about divorce is a heck of a lot more stressful for women than it is for men.
Still, by the time many women ask for a divorce, they’ve been talking to divorce attorneys or divorce coaches, or attending divorce seminars. In other words, they were plotting an exit strategy. And once you have a strategy in place, the marriage is pretty much doomed.
A divorce doesn’t happen overnight; it’s a long process even if just one person is privy to that process.
As psychotherapist, author and collaborative divorce coach Micki McWade says:
The sad fact is that by the time a partner asks for a divorce, it’s often — but not always — too late to save the marriage. The initiating partner has turned an emotional corner. … She may have wanted change for a long time but was refused. He may have warned her that he wasn’t happy but she didn’t pay attention. Eventually, when requests have been ignored for too long, the person wanting the change shuts down emotionally. The relationship has gradually eroded away, abraded by disappointment. He or she becomes discouraged and eventually gives up.
When those difficult words came out of my mouth — after a year of attempts to salvage the marriage, therapy, self-awareness work and many, many walks in the wilderness — I hadn’t developed an exit strategy or talked to an attorney or divorce coach. Maybe that was foolish or maybe I was lucky; no one was blindsided. We didn’t have a drawn-out contentious mess, but we didn’t have things squared up in 11 days either.
- How did your divorce get announced?
- Did you/your former spouse have an exit plan?
- Do you believe that by the time you/your former spouse asked for a divorce it was too late to save the marriage?