My Husband Wants a Divorce. What Do I Do?

By Cheryl Dillon, Divorce Coach

Equitable Mediation Verified

Original Publish Date: June 26, 2014

Last updated: May 15, 2024


Not once in your life did you ever think you’d one day be thinking to yourself, “My husband wants a divorce, but I don't. What do I do?”

But here you are. And you’re reluctant to divorce because you're scared of what the future holds for you and your kids.

In this article, we'll explain exactly what your next steps are.

You'll learn:

  • 3 things you’ll want to do to make sure your children are protected.
  • How to empower yourself to tackle the stress of divorce you don't want.
  • Why mediation is the best method to reduce stress, pain, and anxiety of divorce.
  • And what stay-at-home moms should consider.

Let's get started.

What to do when your husband wants divorce

Research has shown it takes a spouse on average more than two years to go from thinking about separation or divorce to actually telling their spouse they want one.

Meaning this was probably not a snap decision or something your spouse took lightly.

So unless your spouse is willing to go to marriage counseling or discernment counseling, or engage in marital mediation to try and repair your relationship, there’s not much you can do to stop divorce proceedings from happening.

Because when your husband tells you he wants a divorce, it means you’ll both be getting a divorce.

Your spouse is well within his rights to get a lawyer, go to court and file divorce papers. Starting ugly litigated attorney-driven divorce process.

You’ll then have no choice but to go out and get your own lawyer, and off to battle you'll go. Putting your kids squarely in the cross hairs of what will most certainly be a disastrous situation.

But as a parent, is that really the best move for you and your kids?


My husband wants a divorce but I don't. What now?

As much as you’d the situation to be different, or as much as you might still love your husband, there may be nothing you can do to save your troubled marriage and avoid getting a divorce.

If that’s the case, here are 3 things you’ll want to do to make sure your children are protected. And you get what you’re entitled to.


What to do when your husband wants divorce: Get Educated

if-husband-wants-divorce-get-educated-emsYou’d be surprised at how many reluctant divorcing spouses think if they ignore the divorce or separation, it will just go away. But as you just learned, that’s not the case.

And the consequences of burying your head in the sand are disastrous.

So if you are going to get a divorce, it’s in your and your children’s best interests to learn what your divorce options are so you can choose a peaceful divorce solution.

And get educated on the divorce topics that will need to be discussed and agreed upon in the process.


What to do when your husband wants a divorce: Get Empowered

When women find themselves facing the prospect of divorce or separation, they often go from feeling sad, scared or shocked to feeling empowered.

But it’s important to understand what I mean by empowered because it can mean two entirely different things.

There’s the first way which has you all fired up and angry!

So you go out and hire the toughest, meanest, divorce attorney there is. And your goal is to get revenge or destroy your spouse in the process.

"I don't want a divorce and I can't believe my husband wants to divorce me. I’ll show him! I'll give him a divorce case he'll never forget! He has no idea who he’s messing with! I'll make him sorry he wants to end this marriage."

Sure. That’s one way to go.

But when it comes to getting a divorce that’s best for you and your children, this is the worst thing to do. This route will undoubtedly leave you bankrupt. Financially and emotionally.

The second (and better way) to be empowered is to take control of the situation.

Instead of placing your future in the hands of a complete stranger like a family law attorney, the court or a judge, you choose to keep your future in your own capable hands.

After all, who knows what’s best for you and your kids better than you?

No one.


What to do when your husband wants a divorce: Choose Mediation.

mediate-when-your-husband-wants-divorce-emsHere's what to do if your husband wants a divorce... Instead of being a victim and letting the divorce happen to you, get empowered!

What’s the best way to do that?

Mediate your divorce.

If you mediate, you'll get to control the process and its outcome. And get what you’re entitled to.

Worried about the financial security of your children?

You should be if you’re counting on the child support formulas calculated by the courts. The calculated amount of child support represents the minimum amount of financial support you and your spouse have to pay.

The minimum.

Is the minimum really what you want for your kids? Of course not.

Don't let a family law court or judge tell you how it’s going to be.

And if you think you need a divorce lawyer to get you the alimony or spousal support you think you're entitled to, guess again. You might wind up spending so much on the divorce that there's no money left for you or your kids.

Think it doesn’t happen?

Think again.

Don’t let it happen to you.



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6 Challenges Facing Stay-at-Home Moms Whose Husbands Want Divorce - and Tips to Overcome Them!

This next section is an interview with Irene Schreiner, LMFT. Irene is a marriage and family therapist based in Downers Grove, Illinois who works with couples and individuals to teach them the skills necessary to have great relationships as well as how to heal the damage caused by bad relationships. Her practice specializes in empowering individuals to be the best versions of themselves so that they can also be amazing significant others.

I had a chance to sit down and talk with Irene about the unique challenges a stay-at-home mom often faces when her husband wants a divorce and some tips on how they can begin to overcome those difficulties in order to move forward in a confident and empowered way.


My Husband Wants a Divorce But I Don't


Irene, based on your experience, why do you think it's more challenging for a spouse who is a stay-at-home mom to move forward with divorce if her spouse initiated it?


Well, Cheryl, I think there are a couple of components to it.

The first one and probably most obvious is financial insecurity.

husband-wants-divorce-i-don_t-emsTypically, a stay-at-home mom has been out of the workforce for multiple years so her resume is not up-to-date and neither is her earning potential. So there is usually a fear of, “My husband wants a divorce, what should I do? I don't want a divorce. Now what? How am I going to make a living? How am I going to take care of my kids?”

So, I think that part is very fear-based from a practical perspective.

There's also a feeling of unfairness.

Sometimes, the decision to stay home is driven very much by the woman saying to her husband, "I want to be a stay-at-home mom. This has been my dream for years. This is what I want to do," and her spouse agrees to it.

Other times, it's a joint-decision because both spouses think that it’s better for the woman to be there for the kids at all times.

The couple makes a joint decision for the husband to be the provider. There is an agreement in the marriage that says, “I will take care of you and it's okay and safe for you to walk away from your job, to lose earning potential, because we have this verbal contract, this plan."

Or they’re consciously deciding, "We'll invest our money into furthering your (the husband's) career." Either by investing in his degree or investing in his career. She goes to social business events with him when it's after-hours.

For years she contributes to the image that he is trying to create.

Suddenly, she's put all this work in that can't really be financially quantified and now her husband wants divorce and is wanting to break that contract and walk away.

And when that plan or that contract gets thrown out, it feels unfair.

Additionally, while those women are stay-at-home moms - which is a full-time job in and of itself - they're also taking care of the marital home and household.

They are what I call a “secretary of the house.” They do all the errands. They make all the appointments. They tend to also help boost their husband's career by being able to stay home with the kids - which allows him to spend more hours at work.

I often talk about the triangle of identity when you are married with kids.

What I mean by that is you're an individual who has your own interests, you're a couple who is focused on the marriage and being a wife or being a husband, and then you're parents focusing on taking care of your children.

Stay-at-home moms - and actually I think all women do this to a certain point- have a tendency to step away from their individual identity and invest more into being a mom and being a wife.

As a result, over time there's potential for her identity to be very caught up in being a mom and/or a wife, and she loses her individual identity.

So when her husband wants divorce and all of the sudden says, "I don't want to be married, I want out," that can send her into an identity crisis of, "I failed as a wife. What does that mean for me?

He's taking away this identity that I've developed and without it, I don't have a lot of other friends. I don't have other support networks." So, I think that all jointly comes together to create that difficulty for her.

Additionally, because women tend to be the emotional voice of the relationship, I think a woman often times will feel blindsided when her husband asks for divorce.

The husband may not have been talking about, complaining or voicing his dissatisfaction clearly or on a regular basis.

He might have brought it up for a little bit and the woman feels like she's working on things and then the husband stops complaining and so it feels like he is completely happy again.

From what I've seen in my practice, men tend to suffer a little bit more in silence, verses continually bringing things up.

And so that added piece of feeling blindsided makes it very difficult for the woman because she feels betrayed.

husband-asked-for-a-divorce-emsShe wonders, “Where did this come from? What's going on? What could I have done differently? What made that decision happen?”

There's an even greater feeling of being betrayed if the husband has cheated in some way.

Either in an emotional way or physical way with somebody else. Those feelings can come up for the wife even if the husband started dating someone during the divorce process or shortly after.



But what makes divorce for stay-at-home moms different than women who work outside the home?


Well, in addition to what I’ve shared already, I think stay home moms are more isolated in a lot of ways.

When you’re a working mom, you are out in the world.

You're seeing people and you're having what I would call, "non-mom moments." You're able to talk about other interests that you might have.

You are able to make friendships that are not based around your children.

Kids are wonderful, but they do take up a lot of time and being a mom is a full-time job.

my-husband-wants-a-divorce-now-what-emsOften times, which, I think, unfortunately is a caveat of our society, women can feel very isolated and very alone because they feel like, "I don't want to ask this person for help because they might think I'm a bad mom because I'm a stay-at-home mom and I shouldn't have to ask for help."

I think there's often a lot of misconceptions around a stay-at-home mom and the fact that she should just be able to do it all.

You're not working so you should be able to do it all. And people don't realize the level of demands that a stay-at-home mom can be under.

At times, they will have a hard time staying connected with other friends that aren't moms because those people might have developed other interests or think that they can't connect with the moms.

So then they're not reaching out as often to schedule time to get together. They don't have the opportunity to go grab a lunch date with a friend as often.

If they haven’t been actively maintaining those relationships all along, it can feel daunting to have to rebuild them or create new ones.


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Are there any other challenges that are unique to stay at home moms and divorce?


Again, the financial piece.

Obviously, just not having the resources to get a job immediately.

If their resume has really not been updated. If they don't feel like they've got marketable skills.

I often hear from women in this position that they doubt themselves because, again, they think, "All I am is a mom." The emphasis is on the, "all" and not realizing how much that actually means and how much they've actually accomplished in their life.

At that point they again fall back on the, "it's not fair my husband wants a divorce" piece and so they can feel more like a victim because they feel so powerless in the situation of, "You have all the money. You're making all the decisions."

Something else I've heard from women in my office even within the marriage when she is a stay-at-home mom - is, "My husband makes all the money."

So even though, "Yes, he wants me to do these things, I feel bad asking." Or, "I feel bad asking him not to go to those late-night meetings because, really, he's the one making all the money, so he'll be able to make that decision." Or, "I feel bad asking him not to go on those golf trips," because, again, he makes all the money.

And on the flip-side, they also feel bad saying, "Hey, I'd really love a girl's weekend." Because they feel like they haven't earned it and so over time this contributes to the loss of their identity and makes them feel more powerless and then once the husband says, "Okay, I want out of the marriage," then there's a certain aspect of indignation.

You know, "I feel betrayed. I don't want a divorce. We made this plan. You're breaking our contract. I trusted you with this and I gave up these things and now look where I am and how unfair is that?"

Accepting your husband wants a divorce


What are a few tips or divorce advice for stay at home mom so she can start feeling more confident and empowered?


It's very much about working on their identity. Identifying their thought process.

Eliminating that feeling of, "I'm a victim" and instead looking at what they bring to the table.

Looking at what they have brought as a whole to the marriage over the years. Helping them realize that they've contributed a lot. Internalizing that just because this person - their husband wants a divorce, doesn't mean that their worth is lower.

A few simplistic things they can do right away are to sit down with a career counselor or even a temp agency to work on their resume to see what kind of skills they have that are actually marketable.

I think moms would often be surprised how often the things they do on a day-to-day basis actually will transfer into the career world.

I encourage them to take some classes in things that they're interested in.

Focus on finding themselves again.

Finding out what their passions are; what they like to do. I hear that a lot from women out there, "I ask what do you like to do?" And they'll say, "I don't know. You know, I haven't thought about that in years, so I don't even know what makes me happy." So working on that is huge.

During that process they should also look at the marriage.

They need to ask themselves, "Have I been happy?"

"Even though it feels unfair that my husband is all of the sudden saying, 'Hey, I'm out,' is there a benefit to seeing how I also maybe wasn’t happy and let me take a look at this marriage?"

"Was it really working for me past this agreement of, 'I'll stay at home and we'll work on your career,' and things like that?

They may come to some realizations that surprise them.

Finally, start getting information.

Really learning their options. Seeing what they are entitled to financially.

Seeing what they can do moving forward.



It seems like a lot of this has less to do with the stay-at-home mom spouse feeling like things are great in the marriage, and more to do with her fear, anger, loss of identity, feeling blind-sided, betrayed and powerless.

So it makes sense for her to work on reconciling those things and then really start to figure out who she is and what she wants and whether or not the marriage was serving her either.


Exactly. Because sometimes they'll hold on to something, like pride, that prevents them from moving forward.

One of the things I commonly see with men is that they don't leave the relationship just to be single. They leave because they see potential for being in another relationship. And sometimes that can be going as far as an actual affair, but, often times it can be just as simple as, "A girl flirted with me - that felt good and I realize that I am still marketable."

And so, I think if a woman feels like she's being "traded-in," or betrayed, then out of pride, hurt and anger, she's going to hold on to something and she's going to fight and want revenge. Instead of saying, "Okay. That was awful. Let me focus on myself and my healing."

By focusing on revenge, she's actually continuing to hurt herself.

In her mind, she's keeping him stuck and punishing him, but she's really keeping herself trapped as well.


My Husband Wants a Divorce But I Don't. What Can I Do?


So how does a stay at home mom get a divorce? And what would be some benefits for her to mediate instead of going through a traditional lawyer driven divorce process?


Well I think if her husband is open to it, divorce mediation creates a lot less damage than litigation with divorce attorneys.

So I would advocate for mediation.

But I think that, as we've been talking about, the theme of powerlessness and being empowered is big. When we imagine a divorce lawyer we think, "They're going to protect me. They're going to take care of me. They're going to fight for me."

However, in reality, divorce attorneys are limited by what the legal standards are. The divorce can often have a lot of conflict and a cost lot of money.

And so with mediation I actually believe she'll have more of a voice, because it's now two people sitting down and instead of trying to win, it's, "Let's see what the best situation is."

If it’s not a confrontation, the husband might be a lot more open to actually negotiating. And as a result, she (the wife) might walk away with more in the settlement than what she thought she would get. 

when-your-spouse-wants-out-mediate-emsAdditionally, her focus should be on the kids, which is, "What's going to be the best situation? Can we be creative and determine what the best plan for the kids is?"

Because I do think another fear that I didn't mention earlier for stay-at-home moms is, "I spend all this time with my kids and now I'm going to have to split my time with them." And that's awful for her.

So with the help of a good divorce mediator, I think she and her husband can negotiate something that feels much more comfortable, better for the family and safe for everybody using divorce mediation.


If you are a stay-at-home mom facing divorce in DuPage County, Illinois, you can learn more about Irene and the work she does by visiting: Solid Foundations Therapy.


What to do When Husband Wants Divorce:

If you're a SAHM and your husband wants a divorce, the choices you make before you start the process are critical.

But you can only make smart choices if you take the time to get ready for divorce by getting educated and preparing for divorce first.

That's exactly why we created an online course - to help you do just that!


Because people who prepare do better in divorce!

Enroll Now



Other Useful Resources:

Cheryl Dillon, Divorce Coach

Written by Cheryl Dillon, Divorce Coach

Cheryl Dillon is a divorce coach, relationship expert and co-founder of Equitable Mediation. Cheryl earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Connecticut and is a Certified Life Coach. She completed formal training at The Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching (iPEC) – an internationally recognized leader in the field of coaching education. Having gone through a painful divorce of her own in 2002, Cheryl knows first-hand the turmoil ending a marriage can have on an individual's emotional well-being. Through her divorce coaching programs, Cheryl has helped countless men and women survive and thrive before, during and after divorce.