Therapist’s Conundrum: Wife Wants Out, Husband Refuses to Divorce
I am a therapist and am seeing a couple where the woman wants out but the man just refuses to accept the marriage is over. Any suggestions? He also has some mild limited cognitive abilities secondary to a brain trauma. - Confused Colleague
Dear Confused Colleague,
I understand your dilemma. She wants to leave; he can’t understand that she is leaving and can’t let go. This is a painful situation for couples. It leaves both in anguish; she feeling responsible for hurting her mate, he in disbelief as if he’s living a nightmare and he can’t wake up.
Here is what I recommend:
- Be present and help the couple to become aware of the difficulty of this situation. Create an awareness that helps them understand that there are no bad guys in this situation and there is a lot of pain. There is likely a reservoir of some compatibility between the two that could include kindness and caring. This is what you focus on as you remind the couple that they can be good to each other even as they separate.
- I often see one or both of the people in the couple individually to work on certain issues that come up during counseling. I would see the man individually. During the sessions I would work on helping him identify his support network outside the marriage. This could include work, extended family or friends. I would investigate how he functions without his wife. Get him to identify his hobbies, vocations, sports, exercise, clubs and interests.
- I would prepare the husband to talk with his wife again about her leaving. I would have a session where each says what they need to say. If ending the marriage is the preferred outcome I would help move the separation along gently with a soft questioning of what the wife intends to do. This must be done with love and care, delivered with the utmost of respect. No judgment, no opinion, no expression other than total positive regard during this session. Allow time for the couple to grieve together during the session. No need to involve yourself when this occurs.
- I would continue to see the man as he begins to refocus on helping himself during the transition.
All the best,