How to Stop a Divorce

“I want a divorce.” 

It’s one of the most alarming sentences a married person can hear. And — in one way or another — it means that your marriage is about to change. 

But it doesn’t always mean that your marriage is about to end.

In my experience as a couples counselor and discernment counselor, I’ve learned that when your spouse asks you for a divorce, it breaks one of two ways: it either leads to a “transformational crisis” where couples make positive and often long-overdue changes to their relationship, or it’s the beginning of the end.

The good news is that you’re here, looking for answers. That’s a sign that you’re trying to achieve positive change. Now all you need is the tools to do it.

So, if you’re wondering, “How do I stop my divorce and save my marriage?” Then read on, because the rest of this article contains our online marriage counseling team’s best advice on how to stop a divorce from happening. 

How to Stop a Divorce and Save a Marriage

Today on the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast, I’m going to be giving you some real-world advice on what to do if your husband or wife asks for a divorce.

How you handle yourself in the hours, days and weeks after your partner has asked for a divorce can make all the difference as to how things unfold. 

I believe that you often can stop a divorce from happening if you are able to stay in control of yourself and rise above the immediate emotions of the situation. (Particularly if your partner asked for a divorce as a “cry for help” and not as a serious, premeditated action.)

Listen to the podcast for some insight into why divorce happens, and to get practical anti-divorce advice on how to handle yourself if you want the best shot at saving your marriage

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In this episode: How to Stop a Divorce, we’ll discuss:

  1. Understanding the psychology behind why divorces happen, and what’s going on in the mind of a husband or wife who’s asked for a divorce.
  2. What to say when your husband or wife asks for a divorce.
  3. What NOT to say when your husband or wife asks for a divorce.
  4. Specific things you can do to reignite hope and healing for your marriage.
  5. How to create a path forward, to not just stop a divorce but create real and lasting positive change in your marriage.

When You Can’t Stop a Divorce

Sometimes, your partner asking for a divorce is an opportunity for growth and change. But, unfortunately, there are other instances where one partner has decided that they are done, they are filing for divorce, and you can’t stop them.

If this is true for you, I have advice for you too.

For starters, in these instances, you need to compartmentalize your feelings and get into “survival mode.” There are practical steps that need to be taken in order to ensure your long-term financial safety and the wellbeing of your children.

To give you some guidance on the next practical steps forward, I’ve enlisted the support of my colleague, professional divorce mediator Denisa Tova. She’ll be giving you some insight into the process of divorce, and the steps you can take to ensure that your divorce process is as collaborative, civilized, and healthy as possible.

I am hopeful for you, that you’re able to use the relationship advice I share about how to stop a divorce and turn things around. If that is not possible, I hope that you can find a healthy path forward for both of you.

I hope that all the advice helps you find your way through this confusing, and scary time, and that the path forward is one of growth for you — no matter how things unfold.

With love and respect,

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

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How to Stop a Divorce

Free, Expert Advice — For You.

Subscribe To The Love, Happiness, and Success Podcast

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: This is Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby, and you’re listening to The Love, Happiness, and Success Podcast.

[Intro Song: Door by Nice as Fuck]

Dr. Lisa: That’s the band, N-A-F. I will let you Google the acronym and their song, Door, which I thought was super appropriate for our topic today. Because today, we are going to be talking about something really serious and something that affects more marriages than you would think, actually, and that is what to do when someone starts talking about divorce. In particular, I want to give you some ideas about how to stop a divorce potentially from happening and save your marriage. That’s our topic today on The Love, Happiness, and Success podcast. 

If this is your first time listening to the podcast, welcome. I’m so glad that you’re here and that you found me. The Love, Happiness, and Success podcast is all about helping you have a better life, feel better, have better relationships, and do good things in the world. That is what we’re all about. Each of our shows here are on that theme. I’m your host, Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby. I’m the Founder and Clinical Director of Growing Self Counseling and Coaching in Denver, Colorado. I started doing this podcast a while ago just as a way of throwing little nuggets of hopefully helpful information out into the world in hopes that they would find you, and help you, and support you on your journey of growth. So I’m glad you’re here. 

I also would like to thank all of my regular listeners. I have heard from a number of people lately, I have just gotten the nicest emails from people, just telling me how the podcast has impacted their lives in some ways, and that just makes me so happy. I actually looked at the reviews for the show recently; I hadn’t done that in a little while. I was just so thrilled to read all of these wonderful things that people were saying about this show. It just, it really makes me happy that the show means so much to so many of you. Thank you so much for not just the kind words, but also your willingness to share those reviews publicly because this is how the show finds its way into the minds and lives of other people. So thank you very much for doing that. 

If you get anything out of this episode or others, I hope that you would consider leaving a review for the show, too. It’s a way of passing it forward. So, thank you. So we’re—I have quite the show for us today—but before we jump in, a couple of very brief announcements: wedding season is already underway, believe it or not, it’s January, and people are already thinking about premarital counseling. We have our Lifetime of Love Premarital and Relationship Class. Super excited about that. We’re having classes every month between now and June. So if you’d like to learn more about that, you can come to our website, growingself.com. We’re also going to be launching an online version of that class that I’m really excited about. That will be coming out hopefully sometime in February. I’m going to try to time that around Valentine’s Day so keep listening for that.

If by any chance, you are on the other side of the divorce experience that we’re going to be talking about today and are struggling at all to let go and move on, I do have a new resource for you. I have an online breakup recovery program called Heal Your Broken Heart that has been, from the responses that we’ve received, so far. It just launched last month, actually. We’re getting a lot of feedback from people that it’s been super helpful to them. So if you’d like to learn more about that, that is breakup-recovery.com. Of course, if you have anything you would like to share, or comments, or suggestions for show ideas that would be helpful for you, please get in touch with me. You can email us, hello@growingself.com. Our website is www.growingself.com and you can track me down on Facebook or Twitter at Dr. Lisa Bobby. So there’s that. Okay, that’s enough. 

Let’s talk about our topic today. What to do when your husband or wife asks for a divorce? And how to handle yourself in such a way that you have the opportunity that isn’t a door slamming shut-in-your-face. It is potentially the opportunity for new growth in a relationship. So, the first thing that I would like to just talk through with you is a little bit about how and why people get to that place. I’ll be putting on my marriage counselor hat because I think that understanding why that happens can really give you a lot of insight. Also, just more power and control on how to handle that effectively if it does come up. We’re also going to be talking about different kinds of divorce announcements because there are different flavors of this. Again, my intention as a marriage counselor is always to help people work this out whenever they can. There’s often the case when I have one heartbroken person sitting on my couch saying, “My husband wants a divorce, but I don’t. What do I do?” So I’m going to be giving you the same advice I would give that person.

The other thing that we’re going to be doing on the show today, as scary as this is to think about, there are times when things have deteriorated to the point where no matter what you do, you probably can’t stop that train. To help you just think through the next steps and options, I have actually enlisted the support of my friend and colleague, Denisa Tova. She is a Denver-based Divorce Mediator. She’s the one who helps people just with the nuts and bolts of what happens next if divorce is inevitable. So she’s going to be speaking with us a little bit later in the show to give you some practical advice for just what to do if you are faced with a situation from a financial perspective, from a shared custody perspective. So that is coming, also. 

Marriage Ideals

So first of all, let’s talk about just why this can happen in the first place. People all get married with the very best of intentions. It’s funny, I was actually at a premarital event. It was actually a bridal showcase where hopeful fiancés were wandering around, eating hors d’oeuvres, and drinking drinks, and looking at dresses and flowers. One of my colleagues, Jessica Small, and I were there to do a big premarital counseling presentation around, “Okay, so here’s how you have a great relationship.” Just thinking afterward, all of these sweet couples, and fresh-faced, and so excited to be with each other, and get married, and all going into marriage with such good intentions, and so much hope, and just wanting the best for each other, for themselves, for their lives. Just thinking from my chair, as a marriage counselor, talking to the same couples, 10 or 15 years later, how much things can change over time. 

Ideally, people will be going into marriage with a great deal of intention and, also, educating themselves on the things that they can do to make their relationship happy and healthy. It’s also true that inevitably, people have conflict, they have differences, they are at different levels in their competencies with their ability to communicate and stay in the emotional ring with each other. Over the course of years, if people fall into negative patterns with each other, where they’re not growing and changing and working on things, it is often true that sooner or later, one person will get so fed up and frustrated that they either ask for or threaten a divorce. 

A Cry For Help

In my experience, as a marriage counselor, this can break one of two ways. Whenever somebody starts throwing the D-word around, it either leads couples into this transformational crisis, where they can make really positive and, honestly, often long-overdue changes to their relationship. Or depending on how you handle it in that moment, it can be the beginning of the end, really. There are two different kinds of divorce announcements. The first kind is the passionate kind. There has been a fight or someone has been crying in the bathroom and they come storming out and they’re like, “I can’t do this anymore” and they’re like, “I want to divorce.” It’s precipitated by an event and there’s a lot of emotion around it. Not that people aren’t quite serious in the moment that they are very upset. They’re like, “Why am I still doing this? This is stupid. It’s not getting any better, blah, blah, blah…” So all of that is very heartfelt, and, maybe, true that in that moment, “I actually do want to divorce.” 

But when it’s that passionate, connected to an event like, “Things aren’t going well and I don’t want to do this anymore,” kind of thing, that is actually really positive. That is the best kind of divorce announcement that you can hope for. Because it’s a cry for help for the relationship. Somebody is saying, “I’m upset, I’m hurting, I don’t want to live this way anymore. Something has to change.” But they’re giving voice to those emotions. I think they’re using the D-word as the all-caps. When they’re talking to you, they’re trying to communicate, “This is how upset I actually am.” This is a good thing, and being able to handle these moments well, as I’m going to teach you how to do, this is where it all starts to get better even as crappy as it is to hear that coming out of your beloved’s mouth. It can lead to good things. 

A Serious Situation

There is another kind of divorce announcement that is much more insidious and scary. There are situations where—I have this one person who starts coming in to see me, and what we talk about is how unhappy they are in their marriage, and how they’re very ambivalent about it. They don’t know if they want to stay married or not. We often spend months talking through options, and what are your opportunities to make it better, and the answer when somebody is done is usually some variant of, “Oh, I’ve tried that. It won’t work. They’re never going to change. This is impossible to fix.” Sometimes, they have already emotionally and/or sexually connected with a different person, and that also contributes to their just absolute done-ness with their partner. 

But no matter how this goes, when somebody has been thinking about it and working through it, and really emotionally detaching from the relationship for months and months and months, before they calmly say, “I think it’s time for us to separate.” That is a different animal. When someone gets to that point and is talking about divorce, they are out of the pool in a pretty serious way. Even if you do go to marriage counseling at that point, it’s often three to five perfunctory sessions where the person who’s done is sitting on the couch with their arms crossed rolling their eyes, and it’s like it doesn’t even matter.  

So they can say they went to marriage counseling, but they’re not engaged with it. They’re not trying anymore. They don’t care anymore. They don’t hate their partner, usually, they often, as part of their ambivalence, are like, “You know what? I think that this would really hurt him or hurt her. I feel badly about that.” That can be one of the things that keep them from talking about it for as long as it does. So it isn’t that they hate them. They just really don’t want to be married anymore. 

That is a very sad situation because that’s a hard thing to fix. If your partner is talking about divorce and throwing plates against the wall and all this, that’s a good thing. It’s really that, as I’ve talked on this podcast before, it’s when people stop fighting with you, and they stop trying to fight for change, and to make things be different, and to put themselves out there and have super serious conversations about things. When all that stops, sometimes, it can feel to the other person like, “Oh, things are getting better.” They’re actually not. They’re really planning their exit. 

So just take this for what it is. When people finally do break up or divorce, it’s because they have stopped believing that any change is possible for the relationship. They have stopped believing that you can be different. They have stopped believing that they can be happy again with you. They’ve really created this very powerful narrative in their mind around what this is and what it isn’t. They also, oftentimes, really idealize what their life after the marriage is going to be like.  Again, also, if there’s an affair situation involved. 

So I just wanted to paint you a picture of those two different scenarios. If it is the second scenario that is happening in your life right now, I want to tell you how sorry I am. That is just, it’s crappy and it’s hard, and I hope that, even if you can’t do anything to repair the relationship in marriage counseling at this point, I sincerely hope that you have some support in your life just to work through this because it’s a very difficult situation. If you are like other people who are just, I don’t want to say just because it’s still crappy and hard. But going through a relationship crisis of the more emotional variety, I want you to know that there is help for you and that there are things that you can do to make this better. 

The reason that I wanted to put this out into the world now is that I’m recording this podcast in January. While these things can happen at any time of year, what we know just statistically, is that most divorces actually happen in March. Believe it or not, but the gears of divorce start grinding away, the machine starts to turn on in January. A lot of people, even though they’re not feeling good about things prior to the holidays, they’ll sit on stuff because they don’t want it to be a big dramatic thing over the holidays. Also, I think with the New Year upon us, people are making resolutions and getting clear about their goals, and, “What do I want the rest of my life to be like” and it’s, “I don’t want it to be this.” I think those two things combined can lead to people having some pretty dramatic conversations about their relationships in January. 

Brakes On The Divorce

So if that is happening in your relationship, here are a few tips just to take. The very first thing to do when your partner is very upset, when they’re telling you how unhappy they are, is as hard as this is in the moment because it’s the most natural thing in the world to get hurt, and to get angry, and to get defensive, and to get reactive, and like, “No, that’s not what happened!” and “You’re being irrational!” and fight with them about what they’re trying to tell you. If you want to save this relationship, step number one is to just get out of yourself for a minute and put all of your energy into seeking to understand your partner’s point of view as non-defensively as you can. So what this looks like is, “Thank you very much for telling me that you feel this way. I didn’t know that you were as upset as you are. I feel badly that you are upset.”

This takes us to step two here, which is to let your partner know that you are willing to work on it with them so, “Thank you for telling me. I hate it that you’re feeling this way. I am willing to do whatever we need to do so that you don’t ever feel this way again.” Understand that your partner is hurting, whenever, even if they seem angry. Anger is always a secondary emotion. Whenever people are angry, they’re either—underneath that—feeling hurt, or they’re feeling scared. Chances are, if in this kind of situation, your partner is probably feeling some of both. 

The more empathy that you can have for them, even if they’re being angry with you, is understanding that they’re in a place of pain and a place of fear and talking to that part like, “Wow. This really has been hurting you. You know what? I know that you have tried to talk to me about this before. I thought that it was getting better,” or whatever your truth is. “Maybe, I didn’t really understand how important this was to you at the time.” But whatever you do, let them know that you’re taking them seriously. You understand their pain. You are hearing them, and whatever they’re saying is getting into you, and that you are willing to work on it with them. That working on it with them part is really important because that is what doesn’t happen. When it does turn into a divorce situation, never forget that when people are done, it’s because they’ve stopped believing that change is possible. So whatever you do, communicate that change is possible. 

Also, another step is to focus on the positive aspects of your relationship; not to minimize what your partner is saying, so not be like, “Oh, well. It can’t be that bad because we just had sex last weekend and it was just fine.” Whatever it is, don’t minimize it. But instead, focus on the positive aspects of the relationship, because if somebody is in a really bad place and they’re thinking about divorce and fantasizing about escape fantasies, it can be really helpful to bring them back to the good parts that you guys have together. 

So as you’re saying, “Thank you for telling me how you feel. I didn’t understand this fully. I am understanding this more. I understand that you’ve been in a lot of pain and I appreciate how brave you’ve been in telling me this. I’m totally willing to work on this with you, and I want to work on this with you. Because we have so many wonderful things going for us. We have a beautiful family. We have 10 years together. We have such a good time. I know that maybe, we haven’t been having as good of a time lately because of all these other things. But you know what? It’s time for us to make some changes in our relationship and really take care of each other again, and be there for each other again, and have fun with each other again. I am going to, I know that I can do a better job of being a better partner for you. I know that you’re telling me how much you’re hurting right now, and that means that you want to work on this with me, too. So let’s do that.”

Nothing that you just said right there will matter at all. Your partner’s probably gonna be standing there with big, hopeful doe eyes glistening with tears, as you’re saying all the right things that they want to hear. But if you don’t follow through with what you’re saying, it is going to be so much worse for them so do not let them down. Do whatever you have to do: if it’s getting involved with marriage counseling, if it is sitting down with them on the couch in the living room and being like, “Okay, let’s–Here’s a notepad. Let’s list out the things that we need to be different and write it down and turn it into action.” 

Because if you don’t follow through with what they’re saying, their trust in you and in the relationship will be even further damaged. It will be harder, and harder, and harder for you to fix this because the next time they come to you and they’re like, “I don’t want to do this anymore.” You’re like, “Oh, no. We’ll work on it.” They’re like, “You know what? I’ve heard that before.” So don’t give them anything that supports that story, that this is hopeless, okay? You want to give them hope, and not in your words, but in your actions so you have to follow through. I cannot emphasize that enough. 

What Not To Do

Also, I want to talk briefly about things to not do when your relationship is in crisis. These are often the things that feel easy to do in the moment when somebody is coming at you and with a lot of anger. Whatever you do, don’t get defensive. Do not tell them that they’re wrong for feeling the way that they’re feeling. Even if you do see things differently, this moment is not the time to be making a case for why you’re right and they’re wrong, okay? They’re talking about divorcing you. They have the cards so let’s just put that aside. Certainly, when this changes, when you guys back away from the edge, and hopefully get into some good marriage counseling or start working on this, then it’s totally appropriate for both of you to be talking about your feelings. Your partner might be saying, “These are the things that I’m not feeling good about.” Of course, for you to say, “Well, you know what? These are also the things that would help me enjoy the relationship more or be a better partner for you.”

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t have a voice. I’m saying in the heat of this particular moment is not the best time for you to be getting all defensive. The other thing that you should absolutely not do is launch a counterattack. This can be an almost visceral, automatic reaction for a lot of people if they have stuff like, “You did this wrong,” and “I’m happy about this,” and “Then you X-Y-Z. And I can’t believe blah, blah, blah…” To be like, “Oh, yeah. Well, remember when you–” Whatever it is, and then it turns into just this unproductive crap show where each of you are trying to make the case for who is a bigger jerk, and that is so not productive. 

Again, it feeds into your partner’s story that, “This is hopeless. It’s never gonna change. Why do I even bother talking to him? He only fights with me when I bring stuff up. So I shouldn’t even say anything at all.” That is what you don’t want to have happened; it’s that icy silence where they’re silently deciding that they’re done with you. That is the drum of a divorce looming on the horizon, okay. So stay in the ring emotionally and use those communication skills.”

The other worst thing you can do with this situation is when you refuse to discuss the issues like, “No, no. That’s not that big of a deal,” or just refuse to talk. I’ve heard that happen before, too. I’ve seen it happen before. Then, of course, minimizing or rejecting what your partner is saying in any way. Take them seriously. Let them know you’re listening to them. Let them know you care about how they’re feeling and let them know that you’re willing to work on it. 

The saddest one of my role as a counselor, I’ve seen a lot of sad things, also a lot of happy things. There are amazing times when people are able to mend their relationships. Actually, just this past week, I got a wonderful email from a man that I had worked with a while ago who was in a difficult situation with his relationship and worked through it. I got a baby picture of their brand new baby. Things do work out wonderfully. Those are always so joyful. 

One very sad situation that I was in a while back was with a man who was later in life, he was probably in his 70s, and his wife had left him. He was so upset and he would just sit on my couch and cry. He would say, “You know what? She tried to talk to me about this stuff. In 1985, we went to marriage counseling, and she tried to talk to me about this stuff,” and he’s like, “You know what? I never took her seriously. I just never believed that this would happen.” He was in his 70s and looking down the barrel of being single, now in his golden years against his will. He loved his wife very much, and he didn’t want it to happen. But he didn’t handle the opportunities that she was giving him to fix the situation in a way that was productive, and constructive, and made her feel hope for the relationship. I don’t want that to happen to you. 

That is why I’m sharing these stories with you and these tips with you. So, again, I know that these things are hard to do when you’re feeling angry, or when you’re feeling hurt. But if your partner is expressing serious things to you right now. You know what? It’s January; you can still fix this. You still have time, so listen to them, talk to them, and either get into marriage counseling, or do, it doesn’t have to be marriage counseling, but do something productive that feels like change for them and for you so that you guys can both strengthen your relationship, and recommit to your life together, and avert this. Also, if there’s any way, and I know that I talked about this all the time so I won’t belabor this too long, but sooner rather than later. The quiet premeditated divorce thing; that often happens after years of repeated frustrations, and failed conversations, and lack of follow-through. That doesn’t just come out of nowhere, okay. Nobody gets married to get into that place. 

If things have been feeling uneasy or uncomfortable, and there isn’t talking about it, please get some help sooner rather than later. Because if it’s earlier in that, if it’s three years into being unhappy, as opposed to seven years of being unhappy, you might still have hope. There might still be enough there that you can turn this around and reconnect with your partner, and reconnect with the good parts of your relationship, and the parts that brought you guys together, and to be a couple, and to be a family. That is my hope for you. 

So there’s some advice on what to do if you get a bomb thrown at you anytime in the near future. Now, as promised, I also want to include my friend, Denisa Tova, into this conversation because there are situations when a divorce is going to happen and you can’t stop it from happening. That’s where my jurisdiction ends in some ways. I help people try to fix their relationships. I can certainly help people with the emotional fallout of coping with the loss, and healing their broken hearts, and figuring out how to rebuild their lives, and recreating something positive out of the ashes of that marriage. That’s what I do. 

However, in terms of the nuts and bolts of papers to file, and forms, and legalities, and what to do, the only concrete advice that I really ever give my clients is to stay the heck away from lawyers if you possibly can. No offense to any of you lawyers that might be out there listening, I know there’s a place in the world for you. But when it comes to family law, what I see from my spectator’s chair—we know with clients going through this—when people get lawyers involved, it becomes extremely adversarial very, very quickly. 

When you have lawyers “acting on your behalf to protect your interests”, they are perceived by your partner as aggressive and hostile and they’re a proxy of you. That then makes your partner very upset with you and they stick their lawyer on you. Then it turns into two lawyers tangling and that turns into tens of thousands of dollars being siphoned out of your family. But it also destroys any last shred of an amicable relationship that the two of you may have had. People going into a divorce or like, “Well, he’s not a bad person. I want the best for him. I want this to be fair. I want it to be easy.” By the time lawyers get involved, it’s like, “I hate him.” 

So please try to avoid that if you can. The best option is always to get in touch with a competent mediator who can bring the two of you into a room together, and have productive conversations where it is fair to both of you, and you’re solving problems together. Particularly if you have children together, and are going to be co-parenting together, you are going to be in each other’s lives for a long time. You need to be able to have civilized conversations with each other. You’re going to need to communicate about plans, and make decisions for your children, and still operate as a family in some ways. So, going the route of a mediator can help you preserve that functional partnership that you’re going to need as you go into your future. Okay, that is where my advice stops. So I’m going to stop. Now, let’s talk with Denisa Tova of Fair Colorado Divorce.

So Denisa, thank you so much for your willingness to join us today on the podcast. I’m so interested to get your expert opinion on behalf of people who might be listening and struggling with this issue. So first of all, tell us a little bit about yourself and your background. You’re a professional mediator, but tell us a little bit more about what you do so people get a sense of who you are and what your role is.

Denisa Tova: Sure. Yes, I am a Divorce Mediator. Well, first, I am not an attorney. I have a financial background. I am a by-trade; I’m a Certified Financial Planner, Certified Divorce Financial Analyst. A lot of, many, many years in the world of finance, but in the last 15 years I have really devoted my career to assisting people with the divorce process. About the same time, I’ve gotten my mediation training. Back then, I was asked by my divorcing clients and their attorneys to review settlements. I have also gone through my own transition and I realized there were a lot of voids to be filled in. That’s why I followed my passion, which was to use my financial expertise, if you will, my gifts and talents, and just assisting people through this transition.

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, no. That’s so awesome. I just love how much of yourself you bring into this process, and clearly, knowledge and expertise but in all our conversations, one thing that has always stood out to me about you is how much you really care about your clients and what they’re going through. That is why I refer so many people to you, Denisa.

Denisa: Thank you, and likewise. 

Dr. Lisa: Listen, where I wanted you to join so what– From my perspective, as a marriage counselor, people come to us when they want to repair their relationship. But unfortunately, as I’ve been discussing in earlier portions of this podcast, a lot of times, people, they wait too long; either they have their head in the sand, they’re not taking their partner’s concerns as seriously as they should, or what always breaks my heart is that people delay marriage counseling because they are afraid of the expense and all of this. They let things go, and then what happens, oftentimes, is that one person really just stops believing that change is possible and that hope is possible. 

They, oftentimes, spend a period of several months working themselves up to this point. Unbeknownst to their partner, of course, but then they finally do ask for a divorce or say, usually along the lines of, “I don’t want to do this anymore,” and the D-word gets thrown on the table. From your perspective, say our hypothetical person has just had that happen. Their partner says, “I don’t want to be married to you anymore.” What is their first step? Just from, I’m in charge of the emotional relational department but in terms of legalities or financial considerations. That’s the biggest thing for a lot of people around divorce is what is going to happen to me financially. That’s a huge amount of stress. So the first hours or days after getting this news, what would you advise someone to do?

Denisa: Yeah, that is tough news certainly, and you are in this emotional fog and trying to make sense of what really needs to happen. There’s that fear of the unknown looming over you. I think, first and foremost, before you even dive in into gathering all of your financial information, and I’ll speak to that, is really, you have to understand that the way you choose to resolve this conflict, especially when children are involved, will just set a tone on your future relationship, co-parenting relationship with your soon to be ex-spouse, so think carefully. 

Many times, when we feel so hurt, we think that we need to seek vindication in courts. So see if you can just approach, I know this may sound kind of strange, but divorce intellectually, and be a little more pragmatic, and really think long-term. So I would just say, think about, have the big picture in mind and figure out what’s really worth fighting for, and don’t sweat the small stuff. People, oftentimes, they’re so stuck on things like cars, and the big screen TV, and the little stuff but, oftentimes, it has nothing to do with the stuff or the money. It’s, again, really all those emotions behind it. 

Mediating A Divorce

So that’s why I’m saying if you can, I strongly encourage people to stay engaged with their therapist while they’re going through the process so the therapist can help them lift that fog. When I am working with them, we can focus on economics. From the practical point of view, this is really the time when you need to get into the driver’s seat, especially if you are the spouse who has not been involved in the financial decision making, this is your time to become empowered and start gathering some financial information. Get organized. 

So to give you an example, take an inventory of all of your accounts, your bank accounts. So look for the most recent statement for all of your bank accounts, your investment accounts, retirement accounts, your debts, your credit card statements, your mortgage statements, car loans, student loans, and write all of those account balances. I have a spreadsheet and you can organize it and you can, at the top, you can start by estimating the value of your home, and then listing all of your account balances for your bank accounts, and your investments, your retirement accounts. Then below that, list all of your debts just to have that on a piece of paper, nothing fancy. 

Then the other very, very important piece is you will need to understand what it is going to cost you to live on. This is really probably the most fearful piece for both people. This is where I encourage people to put together a reasonable forward-looking budget. When I say reasonable, not a bare-bones budget, not a one that has a lot of financial fat in it, if you will, just reasonable stuff. It will be different than would you have been accustomed to spending because you are now splitting your financial household in two. 

So do your homework, if you think you will want to be out of the marital home, and most likely you will rent for a while; do your research, find out what the local rents are, write it down. When you, if you have to get your new, switch a cell phone provider, write that cost down. What is it going to cost you and your children in terms of groceries? Let’s assume you have your children half of the time and your own car insurance. So start writing these things down. So that’s really the first step from the financial standpoint for you to take.

Dr. Lisa: Boy, that’s so much, though. I’m just sitting here from my chair as a therapist thinking about the emotional condition that people are in where they are devastated, and scared, and freaking out, and can’t think straight, and forget to eat. Then just thinking about the transition of like, “Okay. Let me find my bank account statements and make a spreadsheet.” I’m just thinking to myself how much people probably need you or someone like you in those moments to be like, “Okay, here’s what I need from you by Tuesday?” Is that part of what you do for or any kind of mediator would, I guess, help organize them as to the practical aspects of what needs to be done?

Denisa: You know, that’s a great question. That’s something that I do, but not every mediator does. There are different mediators. The basic job or role, not a job, the basic role of a mediator is to assist two parties who are going through divorce really come to some sort of a mutually acceptable agreement around finances and parenting. Some mediators will help you with pieces of this divorce process. I help people with the entire process, and having the financial background, and having co-parented also. I’m really thorough. I understand that this is the piece where people get super anxious. So that’s why I send them this whole laundry list of financial information. I help them, I direct them where to find that information, how to get it to me, and then I organize it. 

When we do meet in mediations, I make sense of it. Because you have to recognize, many mediators say, “Well, I’m a neutral person.” I don’t see myself as neutral; I see myself as balanced. Because if you have one spouse who has never made any financial decisions, let’s say a stay-at-home parent who has taken care of the family, and then you have another spouse, who is the breadwinner, and very confident when it comes to money, you have to bring the homemaker spouse up to speed regarding the finances. 

This is where a lot of education comes into place before he or she can even make an informed decision. What does this mean? If I don’t even understand the basic difference, I should say, “Excuse me, if I don’t understand the difference between a 401k or the pension that my husband has, how can I possibly know if this is an equitable or fair settlement for me?” That’s why this is where I believe education comes in.

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, no. I could see how powerful that would be a huge part is just helping people understand what’s really at stake. So finances aside, in my experience, the other thing that people are, of course, most focused on in these moments is the well-being of their kids. A lot of people have concerns about their soon-to-be exes’ parenting style, and what shared custody is going to look like. What is the first step for people who are thinking about a parenting plan? Do you send them something to, again, help them organize themselves and talk through these things? Or how do people even figure this stuff out if they’re not talking? Because that can be the situation sometimes, too. How do you help people around co-parenting?

Denisa: Absolutely. Well, first and foremost, again, it’s helping them understand that how they choose to resolve the conflict will have a tremendous impact on their children. During my initial consultation with both, I purposely, when someone calls and is interested in the mediation process, get both spouses on the phone at the same time so that I can share that information. I make it very clear. This is what I’m particular about, I call it tough love as a parent, and having gone through it, I say, “You know what? The trust may have been broken in your relationship. You each have a different view in terms of how the other should parent, perhaps yes or no? But the child has the right to be loved by both of you.” I say to them that, “Basically, starting a war is easy, but ending, it’s really tough. You don’t want the children to be collateral damage. When you drag it out, you do inflict irreparable harm.” 

That’s the preliminary discussion; it’s just set to a tone with them guys. We will, now, when we approach the parenting plan, again, emotions aside, we almost have to approach it as a project, when we’re focusing on overnights and decision making, and holidays, vacations. All of these, excuse me, all these different pieces. But what, also, I think eases their mind is when I say, “The parenting plan is a live document; you can always update it, and you will have to adjust it. 

It has to fit the parents’ schedule as well as the children’s schedule because if the parents are stressed out, the children will be stressed out.” So we brainstorm ideas, and we may put something that’s in a room, and see how that works while they’re going through the mediation process. Let’s say for two or three weeks and then we may come back and say, “You know what? This didn’t work so well. Let’s adjust that parenting time,” and just move along. Sometimes, if the conflict is really deep, and there are some sticky issues, I do encourage people to continue and work with therapists, post-divorce on the co-parenting piece.

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. That can be huge; just to have a place to talk through things productively without it turning into a yucky, yucky fight. This is what I love about, in particular, you, Denisa, is just how thoughtful, and how, I think, comforting you are to people, and really helping them be able to collaborate. But that’s, I think the advantage of mediation over lawyering up is because it, hopefully, has that opportunity for people to work together. 

Now, let’s talk about another situation. So whenever I am having conversations with people that are contemplating or experiencing a divorce, it’s always, “Do mediation.” Sometimes, though, the other person is convinced that lawyers are the way to go. What is your advice to someone who has been blindsided by divorce, and whose partner may have already taken unilateral steps to contact a divorce lawyer and start doing it other ways? Is it still beneficial for them to call a mediator like you to try to work this out more collaboratively? Or is there a point of no return for that thing?

Denisa: Oh, not at all. I have many of these conversations. Sometimes, it is really, people approach it from the standpoint of, “I just don’t know. I am stuck, and I’m so hurt, and I’m so scared that I need someone in my corner.” That someone, the knee-jerk reaction is, it has to be a bulldog attorney who will fight for me. But when I had these conversations, either with a spouse who would rather settle this amicably, but really needs some talking points for the other spouse, who would now, is thinking about hiring an attorney. 

We talked through it, and I explained to them, “Well, let’s talk about reality and what can you most likely expect if you hire attorneys.” So I will explain the differences. I say, “With mediation, you get to control the outcome and the cost. When you hire attorneys, you are losing your voice, and you’re losing your control, and things can escalate very, very quickly.” Now, I’m not saying attorneys are bad people. There are some awesome attorneys, and there is certainly a place for them. But there’s really no reason to even, if you look at the divorce, it’s about money, and it’s about parenting. There’s really nothing legal about divorce. 

Now, when everything is written up, and before things are filed, if people ask me, “Should we have it reviewed by an attorney?” I would never say no. There are some fabulous attorneys who actually honor mediations and who can review mediated agreements. So there’s always a point to reverse and go to mediation. For some people, they’re also afraid that with mediation, they may be leaving something on the table, and therefore they should have an attorney. 

I also demystify that and say, “No. On the contrary, because of the thorough upfront homework and due diligence that I do, and to ensure that you fully understand all the information while you’re negotiating with your spouse, you’re not leaving anything on the table.” We’re also looking post-divorce. Whereas during the legal process, there’s so much emphasis on just discovering current income, current assets, current debts. There’s really not a focus on what happens after divorce. But throughout my process, we do take that into consideration. So you have a better chance of making sure that you’ve considered every possible scenario during mediation, than if you hire attorneys and go to war with your spouse, thinking that you will be vindicated in court.

Dr. Lisa: I know. Just observing that from my chair is trying to be a supportive person for people going through this. Oh, Denisa. It is a smoking ruin in the end. People in the same room with each other and tens of thousands of dollars. It costs 250 bucks to get your lawyer to return an email for some people, it’s just—

Denisa: Oh, it is. The average cost of a litigated divorce in the state of Colorado, it’s $20,000 per person. But here’s the other piece that I think is really important and resonates with people: I explained to them that Colorado is a no-fault state. Sometimes, there is a feeling that because my spouse asks for a divorce, or because he or she did X, Y, and Z, therefore I’m entitled to something more when I hire an attorney. That is not true. The courts, basically, they have their own definition of fairness. Just because you did X, Y, or Z, you’re not necessarily entitled to more than your fair share. So those are all some helpful things, too, for people to understand. But again, as you said, when emotions are involved, sometimes it’s hard to send that message and let that sink in. 

Dr. Lisa: Well, I get that but I’m just grateful for people like you to be able to support people if they do get to a point where they’re not willing to work on the relationship anymore. They’ve really made up their mind, just that there’s another place for them to go to get guidance that, at some point, is out of a marriage counselor’s hands. Well, this has been just so helpful. I think what I appreciate so much about talking to you is that you really talk about the nuts and bolts of what is involved in getting a divorce. I think, a lot of times, people approaching this tend to think about divorce as solving a problem, that they will feel freer somehow, they will not feel as unhappy with their lives because of the presence of their partner. 

But I think really understanding more about the nitty-gritty of what exactly is involved to get from here to there can be eye-opening for a lot of people. I really appreciate you sharing this. Just out of curiosity. So we are both in Colorado, isn’t it? But people all over the world listen to this podcast, and I have clients all over the place. Is it ever okay for people in different states to get in touch with you? Or are you licensed to work in Colorado, and that’s a boundary for you?

Denisa: Oh, not at all. I actually do have clients all over the United States. Many times, I do Skype mediations. It’s certainly not as effective as in person. But there are many situations where the situation is quite simple, and it can be resolved very effectively through Skype or phone calls. So, no, absolutely. I am definitely operating outside of Colorado as well. 

Dr. Lisa: Well, if that’s the case, why don’t you go ahead and share your contact information with anybody listening who might be interested in getting in touch with you? Also, is it okay for people just to call and just have a conversation even if they don’t know exactly what’s going on?

Denisa: Absolutely. I take quite a few inquiries during the day and it’s my mission is to direct people to resources and not everybody is ready for the next step. Just so for people at least to have the right information, and that just makes me really happy to do that. So my phone number is 303-625-4071. There’s also a lot of information on my website, which is tovaqdroservices.com

Dr. Lisa: Okay. I’m going to put all of this on the post for this particular podcast, too, so that people have access to it. But I’m so glad that you do that for people. That’s what we do a lot of, too, it’s just free consultations because people don’t even know what they want, or what they need, or whether or not something is appropriate. Just being able to redirect people to the right resources is a big piece of what we do. I love that you have that same spirit for your practice as well. So Denisa, thank you so much just for sharing your time, but also, your wisdom with my listeners. I know that this was valuable for a lot of people. Thank you, I appreciate it. 

Denisa: Thank you very much. Thank you.

Dr. Lisa: Okay, so there’s good advice from Denisa about things to think about and things to do if you are in the situation but, again, I hope that you don’t ever have to be. Because remember, no one wants to get divorced. Nobody wants to get divorced. Even people who are getting divorced, don’t actually want to be divorced. They are trying to fix a problem that they don’t know how else to solve. They don’t know how to fix the problems in their relationship. They don’t know how to repair the bond. But if you can give your partner back that hope that this can be fixed, that there is a path back to happiness together; they will almost always gladly take it. 

I hope that this podcast has been helpful to you. Also, if we can do anything to help you, don’t ever hesitate to get in touch. We have lots of marriage counselors on our team with a great deal of experience in this area. We’re available to meet with you in Colorado and also online if you live outside the state. You can always get in touch with us for a free consultation, www.growingself.com, if you’re interested in that. Otherwise, yeah, stay tuned for the next episode of The Love, Happiness, and Success podcast.

[Outro Song]

 


Episode Highlights

  • Marriage Ideals
    • It is always fascinating to watch to-be-married couples before their marriage.
    • Ideally, people get married with intention, and they work through their situation without hating each other.
  • A Cry For Help
    • One situation when a divorce is announced is when one partner gets emotionally charged by events and blurts out that they want a divorce.
    • This is a better situation in that this can be treated as a cry for help.
    • If there is enough effort on both sides, changes can be made by both parties to make the relationship work again.
  • A Serious Situation
    • Another situation is when a partner quietly broods over the matter and announces that they want a divorce.
    • This is usually already a final decision because the partner has already made their decision and will only go through the formalities of trying to save the relationship.
  • Brakes On The Divorce
    • Empathize with your partner: appreciate that they’re letting you know what the problem is, and let them know that you will act on changing it.
    • Make sure to follow through with actions, because otherwise, trust between the two parties will only decrease.
    • Focus on the positive aspects of your relationship.
  • Mediating A Divorce
    • There are many factors to consider, such as your financial situation and children’s custody.
    • If you can, avoid lawyering up. This might make things less amicable as the lawyer “fights for you” and can be viewed by your partner as an act of aggression or assertion.
    • Make sure, especially if you have children, that you can co-parent and be around one another.

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9 Comments

  1. Thank you so much for this podcast. It has been an invaluable resource for me. I’ve listened to it more than once in an effort to strengthen my marriage after my husband’s serous and unemotional mention of the desire to separate. We are working through this and have a glimmer of hope. Thank you for the guidance you provide as I navigate this crisis.

    1. Melissa, I’m so glad that this was helpful. I get a lot of feedback from people that this particular episode was eye opening for them, and provided direction as their relationship was on the brink. I really help that this guidance helps your relationship get back on track. But also, as I’m sure you know, relationship advice from podcasts and articles you find online is not a substitute for effective couples therapy. Authentic relationship repair work is hard to do. It sounds like you are very motivated to save your marriage, and I sincerely hope that you get professional support to help you grow back together again. All the best to you, Lisa Marie Bobby

    1. Well, the key to stopping a divorce and saving your marriage is to WANT to. Then you can put your energy into engaging in the kinds of behaviors and communication that will help you reconnect. However, what I think I’m hearing between the lines here is that you are feeling like this might be a lost cause. In that case, the work ahead of you would be to determine if there is enough her for you, given your partner’s limitations, to make you want to invest the time and emotional energy required to save this. Wishing you all the best, whichever path you choose to take. Lisa Marie Bobby

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  3. Thank you so much for this podcast. It has been an invaluable resource for me. I’ve listened to it more than once in an effort to strengthen my marriage after my husband’s serous and unemotional mention of the desire to separate. We are working through this and have a glimmer of hope. Thank you for the guidance you provide as I navigate this crisis.

  4. Melissa, I’m so glad that this was helpful. I get a lot of feedback from people that this particular episode was eye opening for them, and provided direction as their relationship was on the brink. I really help that this guidance helps your relationship get back on track. But also, as I’m sure you know, relationship advice from podcasts and articles you find online is not a substitute for effective couples therapy. Authentic relationship repair work is hard to do. It sounds like you are very motivated to save your marriage, and I sincerely hope that you get professional support to help you grow back together again. All the best to you, Lisa Marie Bobby

  5. Well, the key to stopping a divorce and saving your marriage is to WANT to. Then you can put your energy into engaging in the kinds of behaviors and communication that will help you reconnect. However, what I think I’m hearing between the lines here is that you are feeling like this might be a lost cause. In that case, the work ahead of you would be to determine if there is enough her for you, given your partner’s limitations, to make you want to invest the time and emotional energy required to save this. Wishing you all the best, whichever path you choose to take. Lisa Marie Bobby

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