The Damaging Effect of Threatening a Divorce

“Cry wolf often enough, and you eventually get eaten by the wolf, even if the wolf is you.”
― Kris Kidd


The Damaging Effect of Threatening a Divorce


Are you undermining your marriage by threatening to leave? Do you throw around the “D” word without really meaning it? 

Most of the time, when a person threatens to divorce their partner, they don’t mean it. Before they know it, throwing the “D” word around can become a habit. What they don’t understand, is that this form of “crying wolf” about divorce can have a very damaging effect on their relationship.

I do this more often than I’d like to admit. Why?

The Damaging Effect of Threatening a DivorceIt could be that your attachment to a person you hoped would love you unconditionally, feels tenuous and threatened by deeply rooted insecurities. Much of this can be very subconscious. You may have a quarrel or disagreement and become triggered by a fear of being abandoned, or rejected. So you decide to take a preemptive strike, and you threaten your partner by using the “D” word.

What happens next is you often don’t get what you were hoping for, such as a profession of their love, a reaffirming of their commitment to you, or some reassurance to assuage your insecurity.

Instead, it can feel like you’ve weakened the foundation of your marriage a bit. Still, it happens again. On another day, in another moment of feeling the same vulnerability. Sometimes, making this threat can become a form of self-sabotage.

What is Self-Sabotage?

One definition of self-sabotage “is the act of destroying or damaging something deliberately so that it does not work correctly,” (Merriam-Webster). You may consciously or subconsciously believe you’re unworthy of love, belonging and happiness. Therefore, you may not trust these feelings in your life or from your spouse. You worry that the truth of your unworthiness will be revealed.

Maybe your relationship is going TOO well, or perhaps your marriage has hit a bump. Either of these scenarios is capable of driving you right back into your old beliefs. Because you don’t trust your worthiness, you start a self-fulfilling prophecy toward a divorce or break-up.



A Desire to Create Movement in Your Relationship

There may be other reasons you resort to threatening your spouse with the “D” word. Perhaps it comes from desire and frustration to affect some movement in the relationship, especially when you’re feeling stuck in an unhappy pattern. It can also be used as a form of manipulation to affect change.


There can be subtle differences between why you think you say it, and what you mean by saying it.


Why You THINK You Say It

1. To get your partner’s attention. Sometimes it’s just that simple.

2. To convey how frustrated or hopeless you may feel. When other avenues of communication don’t seem to be working, you may resort to using a threat.

3. To hurt your partner before they can hurt you. You may be feeling vulnerable, or uncertain of their love, so you lash out.

4. To defend against your insecurity in the relationship. Feeling insecure in a relationship can point to unresolved childhood wounds. If this is a pattern for you, therapy can help.

Why You’re REALLY Saying It

You’re feeling unseen and unheard.

You feel unworthy of love and caring.

Feelings of anger toward your spouse for not making you feel emotionally safe in the marriage.

You’re afraid your partner is going to leave you.

What You Can Do to Stop this Damaging Habit

There are healthier ways you and your partner can affect positive change in the relationship. You may benefit from some counseling to help equip you with tools and knowledge you may not have. You can:

Before You Throw Around the "D" Word (Divorce) in Your Marriage, Consider This.1. Work through old childhood wounds. In counseling, you can work to resolve past hurts that may be affecting your marriage and causing you to act out in unhealthy ways.

2. Create a safe space to communicate your feelings with your partner. Learn healthy ways to communicate sets up a foundation for a close, connected and loving relationship.

3. Ask for what you need. Instead of expecting your spouse to be a mind reader, get comfortable with sharing your feelings and asking for what you need. In counseling, you can practice ways to do this that make both of you feel safe and heard.

4. Commit to the understanding that words are powerful. Use them wisely. Recommit to the promise that you will choose your words carefully when talking to each other.


Healing old wounds, and creating a new and healthier way to communicate with each other will vastly improve your relationship satisfaction, and in turn, your marriage.




Hi, my name is Jamie Daniel-Farrell. I’m a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist with a practice in Westlake Village, CA. I provide counseling services for individuals and couples both in-person and online for California residents. If you and your spouse are locked in unhealthy communication patterns, I would be happy to help! Please feel free to reach out or to call me at:





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