What to do when your spouse is taking over the divorce

Is your soon-to-be-ex driving the divorce process? It doesn’t matter whether it was you who initiated divorce or them. Sometimes one partner gets into the driving seat and refuses to leave. In this blog, we explore what to do when your spouse is taking over the divorce (and why it happens). 

Are you in a high conflict relationship?

The first thing to understand is whether your situation is high conflict or not. This might be obvious to you and those around you.  If your spouse is being highly controlling, gaslighting you and you are experiencing physical and emotional abuse then you are in a high conflict situation. 

The signs may be more subtle though. It may be that your spouse has never hurt you, or been aggressive to you. But maybe they have always been the ones to make decisions – about money and everything else. You don’t argue, but deep down you know that’s because there’s no point. Your spouse has it their way, and you have spent years toeing the line. 

Or maybe your spouse is saying one thing to you and something very different to others. They appear charming and blameless (quite the victim in fact) to the outside world, when it’s you who has bent over backwards to meet their demands and try and make this work.

High conflict situations can take many different forms. If you’re unsure whether your divorce is high conflict you can read more here. 

If you are in a high conflict relationship then you need to take a very different path to the one I’m going to suggest in the rest of the blog. You will need to maintain strong and secure boundaries and surround yourself with trusted support. I am happy to have a free 30 minute chat about your situation – you can book yourself in here. 

Why are they taking over?

If your divorce is of the standard conflict variety, that doesn’t mean it’s easy! When your spouse is taking over the divorce it feels uncomfortable.  But it does mean you are less likely to be exposed to manipulation and abuse. Before we get into strategies for dealing with your driving-seat-spouse, let’s look at why they are taking over. 

They are feeling insecure

In most situations, when someone starts to take over it is a sign they are feeling out of control. Someone who is secure in themselves and what’s happening has no need to control everything. They can take responsibility for themselves, yes, but they don’t have to worry about doing it all or care about what everyone else is doing. 

So if your soon-to-be-ex is planning schedules, suggesting plans, wanting to do it all themselves, it might be a sign that they’re feeling vulnerable. Knowing this is helpful information – it means you can step in gently and restore boundaries without getting aggressive. More on how to do this in a minute. 

They are trying to help

Perhaps your soon-to-be-ex is setting the pace and getting things done simply because they want it to be over. They might think that they are helping you by taking charge, especially if they’re the ones who instigated divorce. They are setting the agenda to ensure your divorce sails through (they think!). 

But you’re a perfectly capable adult who needs your autonomy! So their ‘help’ is overstepping. If you’re feeling frustrated you’ve every right to be! But before you go in all guns blazing, think about if this might be their motive. If it is coming from a place of ‘helping’ you need specific strategies to respond. Not just to protect your soon-to-be-ex’s feelings, but to ensure the divorce path stays smooth. 

They think they know best

Are you married to someone who has always taken the reins? Particularly when it comes to financial or legal decisions? If that’s the case, when your spouse is taking over the divorce it might be taking charge because they think they’re best placed to. They’re not of course! And it might be highly annoying that they’ve assumed they know best. But if that’s been the pattern in your marriage, at least you can understand where it’s coming from.

Do you need to take back control?

In these three scenarios we can see that your soon-to-be-ex’s motivation for control might not be coming from a dark place. But that still doesn’t mean it’s acceptable. And you don’t have to put up with it.  

Of course, if you are happy with them taking the lead, and feel as though the pace and direction of your divorce are in your best interests, you don’t need to do anything differently. If someone is doing most of the doing and thinking for you, you can play the CEO role and just monitor what’s happening! There’s no need to enter into power plays for the sake of it. 

What’s important here is that you feel comfortable and informed at all times. And if you ever did need to speak up, or slow things down, it’s crucial you feel empowered and equipped to do so. Only you can answer this for yourself. 

But if you feel like your ex is being too pushy, or suggesting things you are not happy with, it’s time to reset some boundaries.

The past is the past

The most important thing you both need to understand is that you are in a ‘new normal’ to borrow some pandemic language. So however it worked in the past, things have changed. 

When your spouse is taking over the divorce, now is the time to point out to them that you are master of your own destiny. You will be having your own ideas and making your own decisions from now on. They might not be used to it and they might not like it. That doesn’t matter. It doesn’t mean you have to become dominant over their thoughts and feelings – you don’t need to take charge of them. You just need to be in charge of yourself. 

If they are trying to help, they may feel rejected if you don’t go along with their suggestions. Again, this isn’t your problem. You don’t need to be rude, or vent your frustration on them (you can do that privately with me or a trusted friend!). Simply acknowledge that you know they’re trying to help but you will take some time to think about it and respond. 

Equally, if they’re feeling insecure it’s not your job to fix them. But this knowledge does mean you can lower your hackles and keep tempers down. Boundaries are important. You can firmly insist you need time to think about proposals and come up with your own, without getting aggressive. They don’t have to like it. But they will have to respect your opinion. 

Put it into practice

Pattern breaking may take some time to get used to. Here are some helpful phrases to have up your sleeve:

“Yes, I got your email. I’ll take some advice and get back to you in a few days.”

“I know you would prefer [x]. I would prefer [y] and here’s why.”

“No, that’s not acceptable to me. I’ll get back to you with some alternatives.”

As a first step, make it a habit to take some slow breaths before you respond to anything. This will give you chance to pause, rather than react automatically in your old pattern. 

And then you can decide if you’re happy to agree, whether you’d like more time to decide, or whether you will come up with a different solution. The important thing is you start to set your own pace, not just fall in with theirs when it doesn’t suit you. 

Do you want to get into the driving seat?

As your coach, I can help you to get firmly in the driving seat. We can unpick what your divorce (and your-soon-to-be-ex) needs from you right now. We can make a plan so you set the tone and pace in a way that facilitates a smooth divorce, rather than raising the aggression levels. 

You’ll know that you have what it takes to navigate divorce your way. 

Book a free consultation to discuss your strategy session today. 

About Emma

Emma Heptonstall, the Divorce Alchemist is the author of the Amazon best-selling book How to be a Lady Who Leaves, the Ultimate Guide to Getting Divorce Ready. A former lawyer, Emma is a family mediator and founder of Get Divorce Ready the online self-study and group programmes. Emma has been featured on BBC Radio, The Telegraph, the iPaper and in Marie Claire Magazine. Emma is also the host of  The Six Minute Divorce Podcast. To find out more visit www.emmaheptonstall.com

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