Stages of Readiness for Divorce

Typically at the beginning of a divorce, the two spouses are at very different stages of readiness for the divorce process. There is usually one spouse that we characterize as the “Leavor”. This is the one who has been contemplating the divorce for some time and is now letting the other spouse know that they have decided to leave the marriage.

Then there is the spouse we characterize as the “Leavee” or “Left”. This is the one who is being left by their spouse. Typically they have only recently learned that their spouse wants to terminate the marriage.

Because ending a relationship is a difficult decision to make, the Leavor spouse often has been thinking about it for months if not years. Because they have had time to come to their decision, they have also had time to deal with their grief over the end of the relationship, time to contemplate their future as a single person, and time to start planning for the next steps in their life. Because they are the one making the initial decision to leave, they are by self-definition at a stage of readiness for the next steps.

On the other hand, the Left spouse has just learned of the other spouse’s decision. They are therefore typically just entering the stages of grief, of having to contemplate being single, and of having to start planning their new future. It can be a time of great fear as well as uncertainly. It is going to take this spouse some time to catch up with the Leavor spouse in terms of readiness for the divorce process.

It is helpful if the two parties can recognize how being at these different stages can affect how they act and how they look to the other. Because the Leavor has had time to deal with their own grief, they tend to be calmer, which can be perceived as cold, indifferent, or calculating. Because the Left spouse has had far less time to deal with their grief, they are likely to be much more emotional, which may be perceived by the Leavor as irrational, unstable, or vindictive.

To allow the Left partner time to catch up, it may help to initially slow down the process, to not expect quick decisions or understanding. This may be a time for the Leavor to tap back into the grief they experienced earlier to better empathize with the place their partner is in. It is a painful time for both parties, so giving each other some space before moving forward can leave both in a better position to start talking about next steps when ready.