I counsel a lot of couples that are on the verge of divorce. Many come looking for help in determining whether or not their marriage can be fixed. Most aren't asking so much how to stop a divorce, as they assume they have irreconcilable differences and divorce inevitable.
Some of these partners have been unhappy and thinking about divorce for quite awhile. For others, divorce talk has been triggered by an event such as the discovery of cheating or a series of events like repeated abuse of alcohol. Whatever the case may be, many have little hope that things can actually be fixed. They see counseling as a last step before the final stage -- divorce. It is hard for them to truly believe that they can stop things from reaching the divorce stage.
Regardless of the circumstances, how you stop a divorce is by preventing the need for one. Couples who learn how to communicate better, work at building trust, and foster partnership in their marriages are doing divorce prevention whether they know it or not. Unfortunately, most of us aren't intentional enough about building our marriages to prevent a divorce ahead of time -- we wait until there's a crisis and then get to work fixing our relationship. At this point the work is exponentially more difficult.
At the core of how to prevent or stop a divorce is change. Refusing to change or not changing is the cause of all divorces. This is true for both partners in the relationship. If things are going the wrong direction it is usually a combination of behaviors from both that are the cause. Taking stock of your relationship early on and making changes as they’re needed will go a long way toward keeping your relationship strong. Check out this social media post I wrote about a perfect relationship and I'll explain next how it relates to change.
Maybe you aren't somebody who wants or expects to have the perfect relationship. However, whether we're aware of it or not, we all have expectations of what marriage, our partner, or our lives will turn out like. And when those expectations (sometimes they're unconscious) aren't met, we can understandably become dissatisfied. If this dissatisfaction isn’t addressed it will grow and lead to resentment and other strong feelings that will ultimately causing a couple to drift apart.
Being willing to change is how to stop a divorce. And one of the most important things we can change is our expectations. Unrealistic or unmet expectations are at the root of the majority of marital problems. The failure of expectations to be realized causes disappointment and unhappiness. Many people live with this disappointment allowing it to eat away at them and hurt their relationship. As I wrote in the above social media post,
In couples counseling I find that one of the biggest problems most couples have is dealing with the imperfections in their partner. A common stumbling block to improving the relationship is the focus on changing all of the imperfections of the partner."
Changing unrealistic expectations of our partners, especially regarding past hurts, is vital for relationship health.
You can stop a divorce with 3 little words. No, not “I love you,” (those are important too though). The three words that can stop a divorce are "I will change." You may not know how, and that's okay because there are people out there like me that can teach you. You just need to be willing to change yourself more than you want to change your partner. It's possible that your partner needs to make changes as well, but the only behavior you can really affect is your own. You have to be willing to make the needed changes within yourself and expect that your partner will do the same, or seek the needed help.
I remember working with a couple in divorce counseling a few years ago. The husband hadn't cheated or done anything extreme, but he could be very demeaning and controlling towards his wife. We worked together in couples counseling for a while before she decided to file for divorce when he continued to refuse to make any changes. And he continued this stance while we mediated their divorce without attorneys. Finally, at one meeting about 5 months into the divorce process he finally broke and admitted he needed to change. Sadly, she was done and was not willing to change her decision to end the marriage. Had he only been open to evaluating his own behavior and making the needed changes within himself earlier they would likely still be together
It typically takes both partners being willing to say, "I will change" to stop a divorce from proceeding, but not always. And even though none of us can force our partner to say and do those words, we can certainly influence them by doing it ourselves.
Demonstrating your commitment to the relationship by being willing to make the changes needed about yourself can be very impactful. It can also reinforce to your partner the importance you place on them and your relationship. And although both of you may need to make changes, if there has been betrayal in the relationship or anything that has broken trust, it may require the person who did that to do the work first before the other will be willing to engage. I believe there are always ways that both partners can change themselves for the better. Yet obviously in some situations one partner has more changing to do than the other, such as when they're cheating or are an alcoholic, as described earlier.
If you want to stop a divorce, try working on changing yourself, and start with the words, "I will change." We all can list things our partner has told us that they wish we would do differently and that's a great place to start. Even if you cannot stop the divorce, being willing to change is something that will definitely benefit you in the future.
If you liked this post on how to stop a divorce, you can get notified each time there's a new one by signing-up at the bottom of this page, or follow me on Facebook or Twitter where I post relationship and self-improvement tips just like this.
Editor's Note: This post was originally published November 13, 2014 and has been updated with new information for accuracy and comprehensiveness.
Looking for More? Check Out These Articles
- When Your Facing Separation In Your Marriage And Have To Tell Your Kids
- Here's Help Specifically For Women Facing A Divorce
- When You're Married, Your Problems Need To Be Addressed ASAP
- Get More Divorce Advice