Feel like the victim in a divorce?

When your spouse or significant other initiates the divorce or separation—and you want to stay married—a great many emotions wash over you: fear, anger, and helplessness. You may also feel humiliation, guilt and shame at being left. It’s easy to lash out at your spouse and make them the bad guy.

When a significant relationship breaks up, the parties go through the same sort of grieving process as when a spouse or significant other dies. In fact, mental health professionals say that grieving a divorce or breakup of a long-term relationship is harder because the other person is still alive and there is hope that the relationship can be saved.

The definition of why people divorce that makes the most sense to me is that the marriage or the relationship was not working for the one who leaves the marriage/relationship. This is not the other party’s fault. One reason divorce or breakups are so hard is that the relationship was working for the other party. The parties are emotionally in very different places and want very different things.

The courts, lawyers and professionals want to help divorcing or separating couples work through their emotions and develop a plan to get on with their lives. From the professional perspective, the marriage/relationship has broken down, regardless of whose fault it is. As people work through their grief, they generally come to recognize problems in the relationship that they could not see while they were content in their committed relationship.

Parties in victim mode often impede the negotiation process

Often the most difficult divorces or separations are those where one party cannot move beyond feeling like the victim. “Victims” refuse to accept that their marriage has deteriorated over the years. They shift the blame for the marriage/relationship breaking up to the other spouse. As victims, they are not required to adjust to the new situation. Instead, in their minds, it is the leaving spouse’s responsibility to “fix” the situation.

They will not take responsibility for making the necessary changes to help them and their children adjust to the changed living situation. Sometimes they block necessary changes. They may demand that the leaving spouse continue to support the family at the same level as they had during the marriage. They refuse to accept the reality that the level of income that supported their family in one home cannot support their family at the same level in two homes. Rather than accept that they will have to add to the family income if they wish to retain their life style, they demand that their spouse find more money than they can earn. Victims sometimes refuse to leave the marital home that they cannot afford to sustain. In severe cases, victims can attempt to turn the children against the leaving spouse to coerce the leaving spouse to provide more money or property.

Early in the break-up, victims gain quite a lot of sympathy. However, those who support them will become tired of their helplessness over time. Most of the support network knows that life is full of adversity. Healthy people need to adjust to the downturns.

The support network, including lawyers, judges, mental health professionals and financial advisors are trying to help you move forward in a productive way. The professionals understand the grieving process and that it takes time to work through these emotions. They also understand that each party’s grieving process is different. When their efforts to help in constructive ways are continually met with resistance and opposition, and statements like, “It’s his fault. Why do the children and I have to move from our home, change our lives, and down scale?” or “I hate her for putting me in the position,” the support network weakens. Victims can close all options for negotiating a settlement and leave one option for completing the divorce: court. In court, judges sometimes put victims in the situation of having to make very difficult choices. If the “victim” will not participate in the process, the judge will make the decisions for him/ her.

The best way to deal with the divorce/break-up is to accept that while it’s a terrible blow, you will get through it. Rely on your positive support network to help you fashion a new life, which can be happier and more satisfying than the relationship that ended— if you let it.

Getting stuck in the victim mode means you are looking back. Which is bigger—the rear view mirror or the windshield? Once you work through the grieving process, you’ll find it is easier to look forward. Doing so will let you make your own choices rather than having change imposed on you.