Why Is Divorce So Hard

The Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale states that divorce is the second most stressful event that a person can experience in their lifetime, ranked behind the death of a spouse or the death of a child.

Why is divorce so stressful? Why is it so painful? Why is it so hard?

Many of you reading this will be divorced, be going through a divorce, contemplating a divorce or know somebody in one of those three positions. Virtually nobody is untouched by divorce and its effects. Whether you were a child of divorced parents, whether you are supporting a friend through his or her divorce or whether you are a professional advising in relation to divorce, divorce impacts upon people and society in many ways and is always known for having a cost. A cost in terms of pain to the participants, a cost to the children shuttled between two parents, the cost of lawyers, the decrease in living standards, the pain of having the intimate details of your life put through the court process, the comments and queries from friends, neighbours and colleagues, the pain of having to choose one divorcing friend over another, the disruption, the agony – why is it so hard?

Governments around the world have sought to make divorce easier to reduce the pain involved. Some are it harder, believing more effort should be made to overcome the vagaries of life, after all, wasn’t it meant to be for richer for poorer, for better or for worse and in sickness or in health? Why have an early get out? Work through the hardships, comments are made such as “look at me and your father we have had our problems but we celebrated our golden wedding anniversary last month” or “nothing worth having comes easy” or “nobody said love would be easy”. These governments have looked at many ways of ameliorating the impact of divorce, reducing the cost, mandating a collaborative approach to achieving divorce and the resolution of the issues, compulsory mediation, courses and training to support the individuals through this difficult time. Hundreds of millions of pounds, dollars, euros have been spent on schemes, commissions, pilots, laws and new regimes to address the hardship off divorce.

They have failed.

Why? Why does divorce remain hard?

Divorce as a process is not hard. It is who is using the process that makes it hard.

Before we expand on that, it is pertinent to consider why does divorce occur in the first place.

According to statistics 45% of marriages in the US end in divorce, 42% of marriages in the UK end in divorce and in France it is 55%. What lies behind these divorces? The grounds for divorce vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction but include adultery, unreasonable behaviour and separation.

What the majority of people do not realise is that the majority of divorces occur because one or more of the parties involved in the marriage is a narcissist. This is not to say that all marriages end because one or more of the parties are narcissists, but the overriding reason for a marriage failing is the involvement of a narcissist.

Where two healthy individuals (i.e normal or empathic and thus not narcissists) are in a marriage they will have disagreements because neither party will live either a blameless life or one which is apart from the vagaries of life. They will have external disagreements about whether President Trump is good for the USA or not, what should be done about the plastic in the seas and did The Big Bang Theory last for one season too many? Those discussions may be energetic, passionate and robust arguments exchanged but those involved will not call one another names, they will not storm off, hit one another, sit sulking or start playing on their phone and start flirting with some random individual from cyberspace. This is because neither party is interested in control over the other individual through any means (because neither is a narcissist), they are not naturally manipulative and they have no need for conscious manipulation owing to their emotional empathy. They just either do not behave that way because of their inbuilt safeguard against such behaviour and/or they mentally check themselves from such behaviour because they have emotional empathy for the other person and therefore will not act in such a fashion.

These couples will also have internal disagreements which will be about such matters as one party is working long hours and the other person feels lonely, the fact they are not having sex as often as they once did, concern about the way one has disciplined a child and similar matters. These internal disagreements will be addressed in a constructive fashion because of the lack of a need for control, the lack of instinctive manipulation and the presence of emotional empathy. They may feel angry, sad or hurt, but they will not operate from an alternate perspective because neither are narcissists. They will listen, acknowledge the position of the other person and find a solution. Moreover, these internal disagreements will actually not happen very often – why is that? It is because of their inbuilt emotional empathy that they conduct themselves in a fashion which does not bring them into conflict with the other person because they do not HAVE to have control of that person, they do not need fuel, they do not react to perceived threats to control. In essence, the way that they are means that not only do such internal disagreements rarely happen in the first place but when they do they are addressed in a constructive fashion.

External stressors may cause temporary aberrations in behaviour. For example, the natural emotional empathy of a party becomes reduced owing to stress, fatigue, financial pressure, worry about a child, ill-health or bereavement. This may cause one party to respond in an unpleasant manner however they soon recognise what they have done, they correct the problem, provide genuine remorse and most importantly of all they do not repeat it five minutes or five weeks later.

Empathic people are not saints. They make mistakes owing to a temporary reduction of their emotional empathy which is caused by external stressors generated by the circumstances of life, a life which is not static. However, these mistakes are limited and moreover are not repeated again and again. Such repetition is the preserve of the narcissist.

Furthermore, normal and empathic people have object constancy. They look at a person’s behaviour in the round. They may find their spouse´s habit of never picking up her underwear, the fact she is a poor time keeper and has a strange whinnying laugh all irritating to him, but they recognise she is a kind person, witty, a great mother, hard-working, loving, attentive and interested in many things that he is. Therefore just because of this one (or two or three irritating foibles or behaviours) the spouse does not create a problem for it. He has emotional empathy (people are different and in the grand scheme of things these are not major issues, I would not like it if she ended the relationship because I left my boxer shorts lying on the bathroom floor every day so I would not do that to her) and he balances the 97 excellent things about her as outweighing by far the three irritating habits she has. He deals with or ignores the slight issues.

Accordingly, it is these marriages (and by extension relationships) which last and are largely excluded from resulting in divorce.

When might such a relationship where there is no narcissist involved result in divorce? An example would be where let us say the husband who is under pressure at work (external stressor) and is not at home a lot as he is travelling. Away at a hotel he drinks too much and ends up having a one night stand (quite probably with a narcissist but that is a separate matter). The husband has a temporary reduction in his emotional empathy caused by drink, feeling lonely, being away from home and under pressure. On return home, his reduction in emotional empathy has passed and his empathic traits of guilt and honesty come to the fore. He confesses to his wife. He is genuinely contrite, full or remorse and wants to preserve the relationship His wife is angry but having emotional empathy knows he is not a bad person, knows mistakes can be made (and this is a fundamental mistake) and understands (but does not condone) what has happened. She too wants the relationship to work and they try.

Unfortunately owing to trust having been broken, no matter how much the wife wants to put the error behind them both she just cannot do so. She wants to but her feelings remain the same, even after six months of trying. She is said, nervous and hurt still and unable to work through this issue and requests a divorce. He is heart-broken, guilt-ridden but understands why. He knows it was his fault (there is no blame shifting here), he knows there are reasons why he did what he did but they do not excuse it and he accepts her request with a heavy heart. Since neither are narcissists, have no need for control, have no need to punish, have no need for fuel, they are focussed on parting ways  in a prompt and efficient way as possible with the minimum of aggravation. One party will not (unconsciously) see the other´s behaviour as a threat to control and respond with an instinctive manipulation. The divorce proceeds and is dealt with amicably. The divorce process is not something which possesses emotions which make it cruel or hateful. That is pathetic fallacy. It is a process. It is the people within that process which cause the problem, not the process itself.

Think of it this way. If you want to walk through a doorway, you open the door and step through. Easy.

If there is a normal person coming the other way, they may zip through ahead of you,  but you still get through without a problem.

If there is an empathic person coming the other way, they will wait to allow you to pass through the doorway first and no doubt hold the door open for you and say hello as you pass by. You get through without a problem and also a smile.

If there is a narcissist coming the other way, control and fuel is required. The narcissist stands in the doorway, holds the door shut, seeks to impose a toll which mean you cannot pass through until it is paid, nails the door shut, coats it with poison or bricks the doorway up. The doorway has not stopped you passing through, the narcissist did.

The divorce process is not hard. It is the presence of a narcissist in the divorce process which makes it hard.

The majority of people who are in normal and healthy relationships will have issues but these very rarely result in the termination of the relationship. When healthy people marry they will nearly always remain together, there will be challenges but they are surmounted because they operate to the same agenda and do not have hidden agenda items of control and fuel (see Why The Arguments Are Never Resolved ) .

Divorces happen nearly always because there is a narcissist involved. The narcissist must control the other person and extract fuel and therefore this results in manipulative behaviour. This manipulative behaviour results in adultery, unreasonable behaviour, abandonment and separation.

Either the victim wants to embark on the divorce process or the narcissist does. It does not matter which party commences it, what matters is that it is a process which like anything else in this world , we hijack for the purposes of extracting our needs. We use the divorce process to exert control over you and gain fuel. If you fight for what is legally yours, this affects our notion of control and we are duty bound to respond through manipulation. Even if you make generous offers, this will feel like control to us, hence you receive a manipulative response. Our sense of entitlement (this is our money not yours/ your money is our money), our lack of accountability (I did not have an affair/I had an affair because she drove me to it/she is controlling and I have enough of her behaviour etc etc), the inherent need for control, our haughtiness, our lack of emotional empathy all combine to make the divorce process hard.

We want the divorce quick, we will delay the divorce, we will not agree with your proposals, we hide assets, we fabricate allegations, we create documents, we dismiss concerns, we dispute experts, we argue over arrangements with the finances, the children and/or ownership of the goldfish. We smear you to family, friends, lawyers, CAFCASS officers, psychologists, social services, the usher or the man in the waiting room. We threaten, we dole out pity plays, we attack in order to ensure we gain control. We will not give you what you want, we have to have what we want because at the heart of all of this are two things – fuel and control.

Most divorces arise because the relationship contains one (sometimes two) narcissists.

The divorce process is not hard. It is MADE hard.

Because it contains a narcissist.

Society has yet to wake up to this.

Divorcing A Narcissist – What To Expect

How To Co-Parent With A Narcissist

19 thoughts on “Why Is Divorce So Hard

  1. Violetta says:

    I don’t know, HG. Some quite normal people might consider a strange whinnying laugh a deal-breaker.

    OTOH, they might be sensible enough to decide that before marrying.

  2. Esther says:

    I remember my narc father who would keep cheating on my mother when i was a kid. The divorce was fairly easy for her, probably cuz she was so fed up with his cheating and was able to cut it fast. On the other hand, my ex narc made it pretty exhausting for me when we were going thru divorce.. So, yes it was purposely MADE hard by him..

  3. WokeAF says:

    My parents were married 23 years.
    There was a rare argument but it was handled quite civilly.
    My father had a drinking problem and I realize as an adult ,it impacted the marriage, even though I was largely unaware of it.

    23 years of marriage- a narcissist moved into our street and befriended my father . My mother and the narcissist began an emotional affair which I sensed and confronted my parents with . Father had his suspicions .Mother denied it,

    2 months of not seeing the narc around the house I thought all was well
    Mother then announced she was leaving to be with the narc.
    She did- and was with HIM for 23 years also and then she died.

    My point is- the divorce was handled in a civil manner. My father was a wreck but he never so much as yelled. He accepted her choice and they divided up the properties, came to child support arrangements, and for the remainder of her life they coparented civilly and were loving and friendly to each other despite my father’s hurt.

    There was no CONFLICT even when a narc broke up the family.

    I always said coparenting w my ex was like a war. I was always trying to reach resolution and harmony- but it’s only since I came to Narcsite do I realize my ex never WANTED resolution and harmony. He may not have the sadistic streak or malice but he can’t HELP but act unconsciously in a manner that perpetuates discord.

    Quite the difference. Makes so much sense now

    1. WhoCares says:

      That was an excellent illustration of the differences between divorce with a non-narcissist and a narcissist. I am sorry you lost your mom.

      “I always said coparenting w my ex was like a war. I was always trying to reach resolution and harmony- but it’s only since I came to Narcsite do I realize my ex never WANTED resolution and harmony.”

      Isn’t it hugely relieving when we come to this realization through HG’s work? I’ve done a comparison for people sometimes who don’t get it – I used to work in academia and the university I worked at was co-hosting (with a second university) a huge Humanities conference. I worked in a support department, with two other co-workers,where I hired students to provide IT, etc., support to profs and visiting guest presenters. That meant coordinating the class schedules of 40 students with the conference schedule spread over the campus of two universities, with reams and reams of Excel sheets, working more than once until midnight (it was the first – and last time – that our department was approved for ‘overtime’ strictly for the sake of the conference) – and I was in my *second trimester* at the time. I tell people that I know how to coordinate shit and THAT experience was less stressful than coordinating a SINGLE access visit with my ex.
      Because in one instance everyone is working towards a common goal – in the other example, the goals are not the same.

      1. NarcAngel says:

        HUGE difference, but we don’t see it initially as Woke says, because starting out, we automatically think everyone wants resolution. It’s quite an awakening to find that is not only not the case, but that there is actually manipulation going in the other direction. Even now when you try to explain that people are experiencing narcissism (outside of here) the responses usually disregard the label and say “but why would anyone DO that”, and just like that – we’re the crazy one.

        1. WhoCares says:


          “Even now when you try to explain that people are experiencing narcissism (outside of here) the responses usually disregard the label and say “but why would anyone DO that”, and just like that – we’re the crazy one.”

          Yes, or we are the controling one, the difficult one…

          I remember a particular email exchange in the beginning with a different lawyer, just starting her practice (she took an alternative job so I lost her, but later got a more seasoned lawyer who doesn’t miss a thing), she was mediating the email exchange for an access visit and we couldn’t get my ex to pick an end time. She finally saw that, during this conversation, I was being accommodating and working *with* the process and that *someone* else was not.
          She finally exclaimed: ” You’re not the one causing this; why is he so DIFFICULT!?”

          I smiled inwardly.

  4. Kris says:

    One of my friends is in this situation. She’s horrible and manipulative. He’s kind and giving and reacts. I hope it gets less for him. But, I bet it won’t…

  5. Lorelei says:

    I’ve said a dozen times that the divorce package should be mandatory as an educational piece to legal students, judges, etc. It saved me tons of hassle. My friend is in over 100k on a divorce and no where near finished. It’s sad. That is university for one of her girls—gone.

  6. surfinsybil says:

    As always, your insight is dead on. I have always been an introspective, free-thinking person and have analyzed human interactions… seeing the good and bad… and seeing what works and doesn’t work. I knew that something was going wrong with the institution of marriage, but I couldn’t figure out the source.

    By the time I was 8 I declared that I wasn’t going to get married. But, when I graduated from college and had a career planned… I got dumber and went against that lifelong rule.

    Well, I’m on the other side of narcissism now… thanks to you HG. Now I am studying to learn a new way of living. I am reading and listening to your works as fast as I can to get caught up. Understanding what’s the true source to problems with society and facets of it like marriage, I want to know what I can do to help at least my part of the world.

    Yes, society does not currently understand that dynamic between narcissists and empaths. The “good doctors”, attorneys and court system need to incorporate this knowledge into their systems. And as I have said to you previously, YOU are the man that I believe will one day single-handedly change the world of psychology and counseling.

    As always, I’m sending my love and fuel to you.
    Thank you for all your hard work… and patience.

    1. lisk says:


      Ha! There it is again: another smart young person breaking a promise to herself once she got older (“dumber”).

      I wonder: Is it possible to apologize to the younger self?

  7. WhoCares says:

    Thanks for speaking the truth, HG.
    Should be mandatory reading for all professionals assisting the divorce/family law/child custody process.

  8. Witch says:

    Family law judges are some of the worst people at recognising narcissistic manipulations. They will entertain the narcissists demands and allow the freak to drag the divorce on and on. If someone is being disruptive and applying for an order every week, surely you must be able to tell that this person is taking the piss?

    1. Witch: Like likes Like: Birds of a feather flock together. It`s only natural. Lots of Narcissists in the court system. There is power there. Power is control. To Control is to Cope for Narcissists. The court system is infested with Narcissists. People better get their own tools together before they go to court: Like what HG Tudor is offering, including his works on Narcissists in the workplace. And his works on how to make requests of Narcissists, to aid one in making requests of the judges involved, one`s own attorney and any prosecuting attorneys, all whom may be Narcissists or highly Narcissistic, in order for one to to have a fighting chance to be able to `Swim somewhat safely amongst the Narcs.`

      1. Witch says:

        Agreed PSE!
        What may stop HG’s work from becoming as widespread as it should be is the “narcissist” label.
        Certain professionals and public services won’t necessarily be able to send people to this site because it would be viewed as “unethical” to diagnose the problem person with a personality disorder, if you are not a mental health professional.
        I pray for the day HG is featured on “good morning.”

        1. Violetta says:

          You just want to see what he looks like!

          1. Witch says:

            😆 you got me!
            Nah in all honesty that’s pointless. I just want the world to be rocked. If HG comes out then there is a greater chance of his work becoming mainstream.

          2. NarcAngel says:

            I hope to see his work become mainstream also, but I do wonder some days if I’ll see it in my lifetime lol.

          3. Witch says:

            I said good morning when it’s actually this morning 😆
            I’m so tired

          4. Witch says:

            It needs to happen in my lifetime cause I know I’m younger than HG and so he might bite the dust before me!

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