How to Deal with a Passive Spouse During Divorce

You may have heard of the four communication styles people tend to use in their everyday lives: the passive style, the aggressive style, the passive-aggressive style, and the assertive style. Unless you and your spouse are both assertive, you’re bound to have some communication breakdowns – especially during times of stress or conflict.

While some people’s communication styles can vary based on the situation, most fall more into one style than the other. These communication styles carry over into divorce cases, and sometimes, they create unnecessary roadblocks and frustrations for the person who just wants to dissolve their failed marriage and move on with life.

Although “aggressive” spouses are notorious for creating conflict and stress in divorce, passive spouses can prove to be just as mentally draining, especially if you go into your separation unprepared. Let’s take a look at dealing with a passive spouse, starting with a key sign that they fit this communication style.

You’re almost always the “do-er”

Do you find yourself needing to take care of… well… just about everything – especially related to a couple of things (including your divorce, if you’re in the process)? You likely have a passive spouse. 

Regardless of who initiated the divorce, you and your soon-to-be-ex likely have well-established roles in your relationship. Most of the time, you will both continue to fall into these roles during the divorce. This often involves one spouse being the “do-er” (taking initiative) while the other spouse remains on the sidelines watching the situation unfold.

There are many reasons why a passive spouse might assume this role of “watching the world go by” and letting things happen. In some cases, it simply boils down to laziness and indifference. Other times, a person’s fear of conflict forces them into the role of the passive spouse because they worry about rocking the boat with assertive actions that could upset the other person. 

If your partner has been the passive one in your relationship, they aren’t going to suddenly change. In fact, they may lose steam and fizzle out right after suggesting divorce and expect you to take the reins. 

In this scenario, you are the do-er, and you’re left with only one choice: Will you let your partner’s inability to take charge delay your divorce, or will you take charge so you can move on? Our advice: accept things as they are – but refine your strategy.

How to keep your divorce moving (mostly) on your own

Being the one left to do everything and clean up all the messes is never a fun job. You’re always the one who makes the decisions and puts them into action, which places pressure on you to always do the right thing for yourself and others in your life. 

Over time, being the  “do-er” feels less like you’re taking charge and more like you’re doing a dreaded chore you wish you didn’t have to do. It’s an overwhelming, draining position to be in – and it’s something that, ideally, you wouldn’t have to do all the time.  

In the case of divorce, you may have hesitations about simply taking charge and doing everything. Unfortunately, delaying your divorce will only cause more issues. The inevitable waiting game weighs everyone down and takes a toll on your emotional health. This delay can also create significant financial setbacks for you and your soon-to-be ex, which isn’t something anyone wants.

So, whether you want to take charge or not, it’s best to keep things moving along so your divorce process doesn’t stall or get stuck. This may mean you need to “suck it up” and get things moving. Or, it may mean you simply need to map out a smart divorce strategy that turns this seemingly daunting process into something much more manageable for the one doing all the heavy lifting: you.

Devise a clear divorce strategy

Many people view divorce as a huge, terrifying process filled with endless bickering and expenses. However, there’s nothing that says divorce has to be difficult or expensive. In fact, developing a clear strategy as you begin your divorce process can actually ease a lot of the friction that forms during the early stages of separation so you and your soon-to-be ex can get down to business and move on with your lives. 

When it comes to divorce strategy, start by setting some ground rules regarding when, where, and how you will discuss all matters related to the divorce. Create a realistic timeline that makes sense for both of you. If your partner wants to remain ambivalent, that’s their prerogative, but it doesn’t have to be yours. 


Best divorce strategies when one spouse is passive

Collaborative divorce or mediation

Once you establish the basics, it’s time to choose an approach – can you work with your spouse to finalize your divorce, or will you need third-party help? While high-conflict couples often see going to court as the only way to resolve their issues, passive spouses may be more open to collaborative divorce or mediation. Both of these approaches open the door to reducing animosity and finalizing your divorce without conflict or large amounts of deliberation. 

Also, if your ex is unwilling or unable to make decisions alongside you, a mediator may be able to get the ball rolling with their own methods.

Hello Divorce is built on the foundation that any divorce can be handled without ever setting foot in the courtroom (even one with a passive spouse). With our Mediation Divorce Plan, clients receive five focused hours to hash everything out with a mediator. We also offer a la carte mediation services billed by the hour and many other services to help you file all of your paperwork without lawyering up and fighting about every little detail.

Worst-case scenario: default divorce

Of course, if your spouse is insistent on sitting on the sidelines and refuses to even acknowledge your petition in hopes of stalling the process, you can look into options like default divorce as a possible Plan B to your divorce strategy. 

In many states, your soon-to-be-ex has a set amount of time in which they can respond to your petition for divorce, after which the court automatically awards the divorce to you if your spouse does not respond at all. We do recommend pursuing non-default approaches whenever possible, as default divorces tend to take longer and require more effort on your part.

Regardless of which path you take, a clear strategy will help you keep your eye on the prize and prevent your soon-to-be-ex from throwing you off course with their inability to make a clear decision. This will prevent you from burning out or wasting energy trying to make decisions without their help so you can focus on what really matters: building a new life on the other side of your divorce.

Taking care of your mental health when you have a passive spouse

Divorce is never an easy process … and it can be an extremely taxing process if you're doing the majority of the heavy lifting. Therefore, you must set aside time to take care of yourself for your physical and mental well-being. 

A regular self-care plan can help you relieve stress and relax. Some people enjoy exercise, while others find meditation beneficial. Whatever helps you recharge and takes your mind off the current status of your divorce can serve as self-care for you. New hobbies can also be a great release, especially if they involve hands-on activities or a skill you’ve always wanted to learn.

Don’t feel like you have to keep all of the feelings and thoughts you’re having during this time to yourself. That’s also exhausting work to do while you’re going through a divorce. Instead, look for support systems you can utilize to help you vent or work through your emotions. For example, you can plan outings with friends and supportive family members or seek out peer support groups to share your emotions with. 

Most importantly, remember that there are outside resources available to help you do this heavy lifting. Therapists and life coaches can help you navigate the emotional toll of your separation and give you the tools to build a better life on the other side. And, of course, the team at Hello Divorce is here to help you complete the necessary steps to finalize your divorce.

At Hello Divorce, we’ve seen every type of divorce you can imagine, and we’re here to offer practical advice to help you work through your divorce without losing yourself in stress and piles of paperwork along the way. Schedule your free 15-minute intro call to learn more about how we can help.

Divorce Specialists
After spending years in toxic and broken family law courts, and seeing that no one wins when “lawyer up,” we knew there was an opportunity to do and be better. We created Hello Divorce to the divorce process easier, affordable, and completely online. Our guiding principles are to make sure both spouses feel heard, supported, and set up for success as they move into their next chapter in life.