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

31 thoughts on “Why Is Divorce So Hard?

  1. narcfree says:

    So HG, I am interested in your opinion regarding narcs who have extensive criminal activity hidden. In the interests of leverage in a divorce settlement, I understand that loss of control and exposure would be the two main motivating factors for him. Is the potential exposure of the court insisting on his criminal history being provided during trial (he has several high level jailable offences) enough exposure likely to create fear and motivation to stop the exposure happening? I ask because a regular person would be mortified, but I am interested if that same fear of lifting the veil would be a factor. He is a mid ranger, cerebral, mostly, I would suggest.

    1. HG Tudor says:

      Hello NF, I need more information about the circumstances and also would have a lot of information to convey to you on this specific point and therefore in order to do this valid and interesting question the justice it deserves, you would be best served by organising a consultation.

  2. WhoCares says:

    “I told her I gathered all of her court data over the past year, and she was an embarrassment to herself. I actually have every minute entry from every single hearing of hers. I told her that she never actually “wins”, but she creates protracted cases by preying on those who aren’t intelligent to know any better (like my ex).”

    Wow Anm – you are dedicated!

    1. Anm says:

      I am just a nerd. In the USA, you have to find out if your state has open or closed court. If it is “open”, everything is public information, you just have to know where to look. This was my way of knowing thy enemy. When you go to court, there is a stranger accusing you of this or that, and they dont really know you. Then there is another stranger who determines your fate. Once a month, I would just look over all of my judge’s rulings to see what she was in favor of ruling on. I would pull up my ex’s attorney’s to see what she was doing. It helped me to not take things personally. Most attorneys have a protocol they follow with everyone. If you can find what narrative they will claim about you, you can stop it before it starts. It’s like a game to them, and it’s terrible. My judge right now is only ruling on restraining orders due to covid19. Easy, lazy, job. I hope she’s happy that she doesn’t have to think too hard.

      1. WhoCares says:

        Anm – I have more to say (later) on the topic you’ve broached…but for now:

        I am just a nerd.” – Haha!

        1. WhoCares says:

          Anm, just to clarify. The above reply is in no way disparaging. You are my kind of nerd!

  3. Neha Sharma says:

    Again an excellent post HG… Your intellect never ceases to amaze me

    1. HG Tudor says:

      Thank you.

  4. Anm says:

    Tonight, the narcissist’s attorney sent me an email stating that she was officially withdrawing from our case…. atleast for now. I was about to send her a lengthy, and emotional response. I erased it. I sent her statistics about her own work. I told her I gathered all of her court data over the past year, and she was an embarrassment to herself. I actually have every minute entry from every single hearing of hers. I told her that she never actually “wins”, but she creates protracted cases by preying on those who aren’t intelligent to know any better (like my ex). I gave her all the statistics of how she actually loses, and ruins families, and it won’t happen to my family. It was a bit of a standoff, I dont know if it was fuel, but… I already have an attorney who is taking over my case. This was the last time I would be allowed to email her. I wanted her to know I knew EVERYTHING.

  5. Pingback: Why Is Divorce So Hard? ⋆ NarcTopia

    1. Anm says:

      You probably dont even know half of her regret for failing to protect you. I have worked with numerous people in hospice. I, myself, am a magnetic empath. People will talk about random things with me, and then say, “why did I say all that?”. But the parents who’s children experienced abuse or trauma, go through the most, even if there is ego to sustain. The elderly know their time is short, they usually have already forgiven the abuser for their own personal torment, but they haven’t forgiven themselves for allowing their children to be abused. If you can heal from the past, maybe you already have, you heal the multigenerational effect of abuse. That may or may not be what your mother would want if she were still around. But that is typically what I have seen them want more than anything. Thank you for sharing about your mom. Love and peace to you.

  7. Just Me With . . . says:

    All true. There are a lot of societal “norms” expected and repeated relating to how people should feel and behave during and after a divorce. These “norms” might be fine for two “normal” healthy people splitting up. But they just don’t work when a narcissist is involved, and can be dangerous and harmful. It isn’t healthy for the non-narcissist to remain “friends” with the narcissist. That is not the end game. It’s hard to listen to the Internet go wild with admiration when divorced couples hang out together and when every Hollywood break up statement contains the promise that they will always be friends and love one another, followed by photos splashed all over of ex-couples together and the comments always being “THIS is how divorce is done!” Sigh. All these expectations and criticism for not meeting them — make divorce even harder. And a narcissist will blame his/her ex for not adhering to these “norms” — painting you as the bitter one who won’t be friends even those he has repeatedly tried to foster a good relationship and has no hard feelings. All smoke and mirrors, fed by the public’s need to remove the finality and division that is divorce. Oh well. Yeah, it’s hard.

    1. HG Tudor says:

      Well stated.

    2. WhoCares says:

      Just Me With,

      “And a narcissist will blame his/her ex for not adhering to these “norms” — painting you as the bitter one who won’t be friends even those he has repeatedly tried to foster a good relationship and has no hard feelings.”

      SO true. The narcissist wants to maintain contact (read ‘fuel line’ here) under the guise of fostering a “good” relationship with the non-narcissist parent. Also, in a situation of co-parenting this can paint the narcissist’s desire to communicate with the Empath parent as reasonable and the Empath parent as the unreasonable one simply because they want “no contact”…can be tricky because the ‘norm’ also suggests that it is in the child’s best interest to have this parental collaboration.

      1. Just Me With . . . says:

        Yeah, the suggestion that failure to collaborate is one parent’s failure and damages the child. How about teaching children that it is okay to enforce healthy boundaries, that no one should have unfettered right to drift in and out of your life or space without your express, renewed permission? It’s not good for kids to see a parent disrespected or without a voice and without space. And kids, and especially girls in this society, need to know that you can say no to a man and that you don’t have to endure discomfort or disrespect in order to make someone else feel good. People often asked me when the kids were little whether we do things together. Once I set up boundaries I was very clear telling folks, no, we do things apart. We’re divorced. He sees the kids. But I don’t have to see him.

        I swear if it were up to my ex there would be no boundaries. He would come and go, we would do everything together and everyone — including his new family and and me– would surround and support him. But that wouldn’t have allowed me to have my own life, or heal. And the kids wouldn’t have any life separate from him either, and he wouldn’t let them grow up. Their purpose would be to surround him. And he would still exercise control over all of us. I never wanted to be a sister-wife. The marriage is over. I think back to when I had no boundaries and it was so harmful and dysfunctional and just sick.

        Still, it’s hard to hear what people (without any personal experience) expect and broadcast about the right way to divorce and “co-parent” — a term I have learned to loathe. I have been known to say that we do not co-parent, rather, we bi-parent or parallel-parent.

        Or simply, I’m the mom, and custodial parent. That’s where my focus is.

        Didn’t mean to write this much, but it’s a topic near and dear to my heart — and psyche.

        1. NarcAngel says:

          Just Me With

          Welcome. Great comment. Keep writing – these are important points that need more space and discussion here.

        2. WhoCares says:

          Just Me With,

          No need to apologize. I happen to have a fair amount (sadly) of experience with this topic. And I hear where you’re coming from.

          I understand your frustration with the views of the people around you, or societal views that you and your ex (for the sake of the children) should just ‘get along.’ That’s because most people don’t grasp the reality of dealing with a narcissist. I tend not to surround myself with people who take this stance and thankfully the people in my life right now grasp what my ex is so they do not question my motives etc.
          But even the few that might question it – I have one of two responses to that: “I am neutral on the topic of my son’s father.” Or “Are you responsible for the well-being of this child?” That is usually enough to end those types of conversations.

          “I swear if it were up to my ex there would be no boundaries. He would come and go, we would do everything together and everyone — including his new family and and me– would surround and support him. But that wouldn’t have allowed me to have my own life, or heal.”

          I don’t know where you are at in your “co-parenting” situation or how much of HG’s work you have utilized but before I knew what my ex is, I would have been susceptible to this kind of interaction you describe.

          In the beginning of my court process there was a waiting list for the access services I wanted in my situation but in the interim, and in the best interests of the child, the expectation was that we would make our own access arrangements.
          I had concerns with our child being alone with his father and we had no third party so I took it upon myself to use situations where they could be together, in public, with me present. My biggest mistake (at the time I didn’t know what my ex was and hadn’t encountered HG’s work) was still thinking that his father could be a reasonable human being, at least around other people.

          I allowed “access” to happen at a large public event where some collaborative work of mine would be on display and I would be meeting up with my work colleagues. (It was a cultural event where our son could have fun with his dad and it would still be “supervised”) And it worked out really well – except that, because it was working well, I allowed it to continue to include dinner and drinks, as a group (with work colleagues and their children as well).
          At some point during the conversation, my ex, (in a voice loud enough for me to hear and possibly others, over the background music at the event ) asked if my “boss” was on recreational drugs. I played it cool, knew enough to get out of that situation immediately, and made excuses that it had been a long day, our son was tired etc…and we left.
          My ex made some more similar comments as we left, insinuating that I was also using recreational drugs at this event.
          Once we were far enough away, I let loose my anger and disbelief at his behaviour (one the few times EVER that he got a good dose of verbal fuel from me) because his disruptive behaviour could have cost me future work contracts and I was furious with him for messing with the potential for me to earn an income. He (unconsciously) knew this and I gave him what he wanted; I see that now. And while I would have never done any of that if I had known HG’s work at the time (especially the co-parenting package) I was attempting to meet expectations all around and still under the delusion that he and I could manage “to work together” somehow – haha!
          Anyway, he got his fuel and I realized these arrangements would not and could not work this way. (I would have saved myself loads of trouble if I could have acessed HG’s co-parenting assistance package at that time.)

          You can see that this topic is a little dear to my heart as well. Although, I think my battle is no longer with my ex (I know how to deal with him) but more with societal or legal expectations of what the “ideal” co-parenting situation should look like – as you have touched on.

          1. Just Me With . . . says:

            Just saw another post describing a communication between ex-wife and current wife and bolding stating that this is the kind of relationship every divorced couple should have. It was a joke because it involved alcohol, but query, isn’t the term “divorced couple” a bit of an oxymoron?

          2. HG Tudor says:

            Indeed it is an oxymoron.

          3. Just Me With . . . says:

            I’m like you, I no longer have the battle with my ex, it’s societal expectations regarding parenting and relationships with an ex that annoy me. I don’t have a relationship with my ex-husband. But somehow that is really hard for people to accept. I can’t figure out why they care. It isn’t even about the kids. Maybe other folks just can’t accept an end to any relationship. But that shouldn’t be my problem, they shouldn’t force that on or express it to me.

          4. HG Tudor says:

            Many people do not like people to divorce for selfish reasons, it forces them to choose between two people that they both like.

          5. Just Me With . . . says:

            You know, that I can understand. They want the people who divorced to stay friendly so that everyone can still get together. I get that motivation, even if it isn’t realistic. But what gets to me are the people who express joy when it’s a former couple where they only know one of the people or when it’s people they don’t even know at all but hear that they are still friends and do everything together. The “That is GREAT!” response. And I always want to ask them, why? Why does that bring you joy that a couple who has divorced are still together in many ways. Why? Why does it matter to you? My ex and I had very few true mutual friends. Like none. No one had to takes sides. It’s comments from strangers and acquaintances that perplex me. About me or even celebrities. People need divorced people to remain together. I don’t get it.

          6. HG Tudor says:

            It matters for the reason stated, it means they do not have to make choice between two people they like. They are not pleased for the couple. They are pleased their lives are a bit easier and that is not to suggest that such a stance is bad, it is entirely understandable.

          7. WhoCares says:

            Yeah. What HG said, before me.
            Didn’t see until after.

          8. WhoCares says:

            Just Me With,

            “I don’t have a relationship with my ex-husband. But somehow that is really hard for people to accept. I can’t figure out why they care. It isn’t even about the kids. Maybe other folks just can’t accept an end to any relationship. But that shouldn’t be my problem, they shouldn’t force that on or express it to me.”

            Most people don’t want to take sides. They just want you to ‘get along’ with your ex so they don’t have to make a choice – or if they are forcing their opinion on you, then there is something else at play there.
            Personally, I am not surrounded by such individuals because, in my situation, I did some severe relationship surgery. I honestly cannot allow people in my life who question me on what’s best for me or my child (with regard to his narcissist father) if they don’t understand narcissism. Harsh but true.
            My gripe is with expectations of the legal system.

          9. Just Me With . . . says:

            The legal system created all these “norms” for everyone based on somebody else. And people buy into it. Every other weekend or week isn’t a law or normal for many. My ex didn’t ask for overnights. But the judge assumed he wanted that and asked him in open court. Saying no would have made him look bad and that is unacceptable to a narcissist.

          10. WhoCares says:

            Just Me With,

            “But the judge assumed he wanted that and asked him in open court. Saying no would have made him look bad and that is unacceptable to a narcissist.”

            I really can’t convey how this frustrates me.
            At least not with polite words.

          11. Just Me With . . . says:

            I guess I’m talking about people talking about people they don’t know at all, so they aren’t taking sides, but they state that it is a relationship goal for exes to be public buddies, like when they talk about celebrities etc.and praise them for being friends. That sentiment sneaks into legal decisions and expectations. And it shouldn’t. It doesn’t affect me personally but judges and mediators should not assume the goal is togetherness

          12. lisk says:

            “Many people do not like people to divorce for selfish reasons . . .”

            Or they might want to control the way society looks and functions, as a way of legitimizing their own choices for themselves.

            Or they could be envious of the divorcées.

            Or . . . .

            Selfish! Selfish!

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