Emotional divorce is a sort of a defense mechanism, or purely coping with a threat to one’s emotional well-being. It can happen before or after the legal divorce, and psychologically, it might be more important than the actual signing of the divorce papers. For the spouse who divorces themselves emotionally prior to the legal divorce, it is a sort of an introduction to the inevitable end of the marriage. And for the spouse who divorces themselves emotionally after the divorce itself, it is a sort of a closure.
Emotional divorce and falling apart of marriages
Marriages don’t just explode all the sudden. Although many divorces do seem as if an H-bomb was just dropped, their end was long approaching. And, even though the spouse who gets left behind often expresses their surprise, most often, it is not really a wonder, rather pain and fear.
Marriages fall apart for many reasons. Unfortunately, the majority of issues might have been resolved with one solution – better communication skills. Because rarely any issue is too big to handle if the two who once decided to spend their lives together just sit and respectfully and assertively talk about it, and search for solutions as a team.
Once the couple hits the roadblock and conflicts stop to get resolved, the end of the marriage becomes much more likely. But, even before that, with every hurtful remark that didn’t meet an apology, or every fight that didn’t end in reconciliation and adaptive addressing of the problem at hand, the marriage erodes.
Emotional divorce from the perspective of the walk-away spouse
For many reasons, in unhealthy or eroding marriages, there is a lot of emotional hurt. And couples deal with it in different ways. They almost always keep on trying for some time. But, without an out-and-out change of the basis of the marriage, it is usually inevitable that the spouses, or one of them, begins the emotional divorce to ease the pain and to help his or her wellbeing.
Emotional separation may occur for more than one reason. But, in essence, it is most commonly because the spouse crosses the line between tolerance for emotional stress and the need to feel well again. In other words, after a number of attempts, and a few different approaches, the walk-away spouse usually starts to regain their own individual boundaries, separated from those they shared with their spouse as a couple.
It is also usually that spouse who will initiate the divorce. They will start to be distant, sometimes even cold. They resent the other spouse’s continuous attempts to save the marriage, as they have given up on working on it. They just want the divorce to go smoothly, and after years of trying to fix the marriage, they just want their own happiness now.
Emotional divorce from the perspective of the left-behind spouse
Interestingly, although things would have been apparent to anyone from the outside of the marriage, the spouse who gets left behind is often in shock when the walk-away spouse requests a divorce. This is because they weren’t ready for the emotional divorce yet, they wanted to keep trying to mend the marriage.
The spouse who gets left behind usually still searches for ways to save the marriage, although at that point it becomes impossible. So, they become clingy, often beg for another chance, and their panicky behavior gradually becomes more and more intense. This sometimes reaches the point of rather odd behavior, such as stalking, threatening, harassing, etc.
The left-behind spouse usually goes through severe levels of anxiety over how their future alone will look like. Being single again might sound like a hell on Earth. This is why most of the left-behind spouses try to find a way to postpone the divorce, to stall because they are still hoping that the walk-away spouse will have a change of heart.
What it is that you can do if left behind
If you found yourself in the second position, there are a few things you can (and must) do. First of all, you have to accept the reality. Your spouse has decided, and they decided upon long and careful deliberation. What you need to do now is to accept their decision. It is no longer in your power to fix the marriage, but you can improve the relationship between the new roles of ex-spouses.
The second important thing to work on at this stage is regaining control over your emotions. You cannot push your spouse back to loving you and back to marriage. But you can control your own emotions and reactions, and regain balance for yourself. By accepting the reality, you will begin to heal.