How Did I Get Here — What Did I Do Wrong?

When you’re blindsided by your partner asking for a divorce, it’s all too easy to spiral into confusion, shame, and self-recrimination. Instead, take this as an opportunity to learn about yourself and work toward self-love.
A young upset male African character hugging their knees, a pencil eraser erasing a scribble hovering above them, the process of recovering after a great loss

There are no two ways about it — falling in love is a rush. Love has been described as a drug, and this isn’t far from the truth. When you experience that tug of attraction toward another person, your body is flooded with feel-good chemicals like dopamine, oxytocin, and adrenaline that fuel euphoria and make you feel alive. It can be an addictive feeling, and the more you’re together, the stronger your bond will grow.

When you’re consumed with love, you never want the feeling to end, and it’s only natural to take the next step and get married. While love is the ideal basis for a romantic relationship, it may not be enough to sustain a marriage, especially when difficulties arise or if you and your partner have insurmountable differences.

Even so, you may be surprised when your partner asks for a divorce seemingly out of nowhere. You might feel blindsided and wonder how you got to this point. You may wonder what you did wrong. While marriage requires two willing participants working together, there’s no reason to automatically conclude that a request for divorce is your fault or that blame is equal, even if that’s what your spouse tries to tell you.

Sometimes marriages simply don’t work out. People can grow apart, misunderstandings and hurts can stack up, trauma or loss can tear a relationship to shreds, and even love may not be enough to hold you together if you simply aren’t compatible.

Although your initial reaction may be to blame yourself and start combing through your life to understand where you went wrong or what you could have done differently, the reason your spouse is asking for a divorce might have very little to do with you. Whether your partner fell out of love, there was a lack of commitment, or events conspired to damage your relationship, you may have done everything right.

The question is: where do you go from here? The place to start is by determining why your marriage didn’t work and then taking the time to understand if you played a part, even if it was simply denying that your relationship was deteriorating, so you can move forward with better self-knowledge and the skills to create healthy and fulfilling relationships in the future.

Reasons People Seek Divorce

Love has a lot to do with why people get married, but it might have nothing to do with why they get divorced. Even people who still love each other may be unable to continue living together. A lot of things can get in the way.

When your spouse asks for a divorce, and you don’t see it coming, it’s natural to feel hurt, confused, and overwhelmed by many emotions. One way many people cope is by trying to understand what happened.

Your mind will seek answers as a way to bring structure back to a situation that is beyond your control. As humans, we are averse to uncertainty and the unknown, and we seek cognitive closure, or answers, to create a sense of order and comfort. Your spouse may or may not be forthcoming about the reasons for seeking a divorce, but any number of common explanations could apply.

Incompatibility or Irreconcilable Differences

Among the most common reasons people seek a divorce is that they simply aren’t compatible or they face serious disagreements that make it impossible to remain united. People change over time. New knowledge and experiences can affect our perspective, our core values, and our goals. When wants and needs shift, or if they were never truly aligned, it can lead people in different directions.

Poor Communication or Conflict

These days, there’s a growing conversation around love languages. One spouse may feel loved through physical affection, while another might need quality time or words of affirmation.

Even more difficult is the fact that many adults don’t know how to express what they want and lack a robust emotional vocabulary to explain how they feel. This, in turn, can lead to misunderstanding, disagreement, and conflicts that drag a relationship down. Additionally, constant fighting can put a real damper on physical and emotional intimacy, which would normally reinforce feelings of love and commitment.

Lack of Commitment or Infidelity

Are humans meant to be monogamous? It’s an ongoing debate. What’s true, though, is that adults can choose to be with a single partner. When you’re in a relationship where your partner is unable or unwilling to commit, you may not only be hurt and disappointed, but your partner might feel guilt, shame, and self-loathing, none of which are ideal for building and maintaining a strong relationship. In short, the emotional toll may be too much for one or both partners.

Financial Problems

Financial difficulties like major debt can be incredibly stressful, leading to arguments and putting strain on your relationship. This is especially problematic if one party is responsible with money and the other isn’t, and it can be compounded by other issues like poor communication.

Trauma or Loss

It’s not unusual to be unprepared to cope with traumatic situations or major losses. They can totally derail your life and leave you dealing with anxiety, depression, or even PTSD, for example. Some couples may go through a trauma or loss and come out stronger, supporting each other.

Others, perhaps lacking necessary coping skills, may turn on each other and resort to blame, resentment, or other negative emotions and behaviors. Particularly difficult for many couples are struggles with infertility or the loss of a child, which can be devastating for both partners.

Addiction or Abuse

Relationships where one or both partners are involved in addiction and/or behave in abusive ways are unsustainable. These situations are unhealthy, often resulting in codependency and skewed power dynamics that put one partner at a distinct disadvantage. While it’s not unheard of for people to overcome addiction and patterns of abuse, these situations can be dangerous and may require immediate separation while help is sought.

Can You Salvage Your Marriage After Your Partner Asks for a Divorce?

Just because your partner asks for divorce doesn’t mean you’re ready to give up. When you’re surprised by a split, you may still have strong feelings of love and attachment, and you might be committed to honoring your marriage vows.

Although your partner has clearly reached a tipping point, there may be some hope if you can both agree to attend counseling and work through problems together. However, you may want to prepare yourself for outcomes like your spouse saying no to counseling or counseling failing to save your marriage.

Tips for Moving Forward

If your partner is unwilling to work with you to salvage your marriage, or you realize at some point that the situation is hopeless, your next step is to figure out how to move forward with your life and make the best choices for yourself. The good news is, you don’t have to do it alone.

Tap Into Your Support System

Divorce is a relatively common occurrence, but you may still find yourself grappling with feelings of isolation, depression, and the shame of failure. Even if you know some of these feelings are unfounded, it may hold you back from reaching out to loved ones.

Now, more than ever, you need the support of your family and friends, so don’t be afraid to ask for help, even if you just need someone to talk to or watch a movie with, or you could use a hand with meals or household chores. The people who love you want to help, so let them. Chances are you’ll have the opportunity to pay it back one day.

Work With a Therapist

It’s incredibly difficult to be an objective observer in your own life. When your partner asks for a divorce, seemingly out of the blue, you may feel like you’re drowning in confusion and self-doubt.

Speaking with a professional therapist can help you to better understand how your marriage fell apart, why you didn’t see it coming, whether you played a role, and what you can do differently moving forward. You can learn to better care for yourself, spot unhealthy behaviors, act in your own best interests, and nurture strong relationships.

Consult With a Divorce Lawyer

Not every divorcing couple needs to bring lawyers into the mix, but if you and your partner can’t resolve issues like division of assets or spousal support, you may need some help. Matters can become even more complicated if children are involved.

Not only could you find yourself in a tug-of-war over custody and child support, but you must face the fact that you’ll potentially be dealing with your ex for the rest of your life. Consultations can help you find an experienced and skilled attorney to help you look out for your best interests.

Speak With a Life and Divorce Coach

A lawyer can serve as your advocate, guide, and legal support when you’re going through a divorce, but you might need additional help when it comes to figuring out what you hope to achieve by the time your divorce is finalized. A life coach specializing in divorce can help you create healthy goals, reach satisfactory conclusions, and gain confidence.

Get Help With Parenting Coordination

A lot of pain and negative feelings may persist in the wake of your divorce, which can make it incredibly difficult to interact with your ex-spouse, even if you’re committed to preserving the best interests of your children. 

A parenting coordination expert can help you develop strategies to remain civil and ease the process for yourself and your kids. This professional also specializes in planning custody arrangements and coordinating parenting efforts and decisions concerning shared children.

Focus on Personal Health and Wellness

The old saying is true: if you don’t take care of yourself, you can’t take care of anyone else. Whether you need to say no to some obligations to take a mental break, have a spa day, or devote time to foundational efforts like diet and exercise, investing in your own health and wellness is always time and energy well-spent.

Get Your Life Back on Track

When you’re blindsided by your partner asking for a divorce, it’s all too easy to spiral into confusion, shame, and self-recrimination. Instead, take this as an opportunity to learn about yourself and work toward self-love.

With help from family, friends, and professional service providers, you can come out the other side stronger, healthier, and more confident. Make sure to peruse the public resources offered by DivorcePlus, and take advantage of the professional services available through our platform.

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