My Partner of 7 Years Won’t Get Divorced!

My Partner of 7 Years Won’t Get Divorced!

I have been with my common law partner for almost 7 years. We met at work, we have had our ups and downs and even split but reconciled a few times over the years. He was going through a process in life. We are very committed and function as a married couple, he is an active stepfather to my teenage children, and we even own a business together.

However, when we first met he was just separating from his wife. Less so than I had been led to believe, hence the processes he went through for the first few years. In hindsight, I wouldn’t have gotten involved knowing what I know now but its irrelevant now.

The problem is that he won’t divorce. He has one son with her who is almost 26 and lives with her (he won’t leave home). She is several years into a relationship and runs a family business with her new boyfriend from the matrimonial property. He has taken small steps like asking her to list the house for sale but closes his eyes to it when she refuses. He pays mortgage and debts for her. He once wrote a separation agreement and she edited it asking for very high spousal support and he filed it away unsigned and unfiled. He kept her on medical benefits until just recently so he has done a lot to ease the transition.

We are looking at some changes in our lives or moving and new jobs that I hesitate to commit to without feeling secure in my relationship, plus I want to get married one day. I’m close to 40 now, my kids are close to leaving home, and I can’t help but wonder if I’ve wasted my 30’s, if my relationship is a farce, or it will never go to the next level, or like I’m living with someone else’s husband.

He won’t discuss it often or in depth. His excuses are mostly the difficulty or money. Money is not an actual stumbling block. He is very smart and capable. When I broached the subject of legality of rights for me, he had a legal notarized will done naming me as beneficiary and power of attorney. He IS capable obviously, but avoids divorce.

Both his wife and son clearly manipulate him through guilt, asking for money as their only communication. I think he revels in feeling needed. I’m just not sure where the boundary line is, have I gone too far over it, am I impatient or irrational or demanding? I’m lost for ways to address it or whether I should walk away from it. I have read your advice to others for years and would be incredibly relieved and honored to hear your feedback.


I feel obliged to say that I’ve written about this topic a number of times before but each case is different.

Sounds to me like you’ve got a pretty good bead on things.

Your boyfriend either wants to be needed, is afraid of being cut off, wants to have his cake and eat it, too.

As I explain in Why He Disappeared, it generally doesn’t matter WHY someone acts a certain way. Getting the “right” answer only means that you know his motives; it doesn’t change his actions at all.

Basically, this is a dilemma that only one person can solve, Niki. And that’s you.

You’re at a fork in the road.

Would you rather continue in this relationship even though you’re never going to get married?

Or would you rather start over and find a man who is available and wants to marry you?

Your guy DOESN’T. Otherwise, he would have been divorced and proposed to you already after 7 years.

Make no mistake, you put yourself in this position by integrating your life with his, starting a business, allowing him to step-parent your children — all without a formal commitment. He got what he wanted. You didn’t.

Your power — as it is for all women in dissatisfying relationships — is to walk.

Your power — as it is for all women in dissatisfying relationships — is to walk.

You’re not trying to negotiate with him. You’re not going to force him to divorce. You’re going to leave and find a man who wants the commitment that you want. If, after you leave, he follows and initiates divorce proceedings, you might have a husband.

If he doesn’t — and I’m betting he doesn’t — you’ll be free to find a man who puts you first and makes you feel safe for the rest of your life.

One word of caution: if you say you’re going to leave and you DON’T leave, you’ve just sent the message that you’ll continue to put up with this indefinitely the way you did for the last seven years. Frankly — and I know it’s not my life and it’s easy to say from afar — I wouldn’t want someone to marry me due to an ultimatum; I’d want someone who wanted to marry me. Yours doesn’t. Please don’t lose sight of that.

Good luck.

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  1. 1

    Niki: deep in your heart, you know you need to go, don’t you? Isn’t that really why you wrote EMK, for his blessing? If you’ve been reading his blog for years, you had to know where he’d stand.

    Your partner is committed to himself — not to you, not to his wife, not to any of the children.

    Here’s why I know this: I’m the wife. Not your guy’s wife, not your exact situation, but 6 years after my husband and I separated, we are STILL not divorced. He’s erected one stumbling block after another. I used to wonder why, but I don’t anymore. Like EMK says, it doesn’t matter.

    He has his own you, a woman who’s turned her life — and that of her special needs son — upside down for him. I haven’t spoken with her, so I have no clue why she stays. She has a lot going for her, but she tolerates it. I feel sorry for her. She sounds like a nice person. She could do better.

    I also know that extricating yourself will be so very hard, probably the hardest thing you’ll ever do, because your lives are so intertwined. Sunk costs are hard to ignore. You will need someone to support you through this, a sibling or friend or colleague or therapist. Reach out for help, you will need it.

    One final thought: you say his wife and son are manipulating him to stay connected. Maybe. Maybe not. Remember, it doesn’t matter — he’s still involved because he wants to be involved.

  2. 2

    The fact that he will not divorce is bad enough, but the fact that he is still so emotionally enmeshed with his wife and grown son would be reason enough for me to leave.

    A son who “won’t” leave home, a separated wife who relies on him financially, and a man who enables all of it.

    If I were Niki, I’d feel like a second class citizen in my own relationship, that my desires and feelings simply weren’t important to my partner. Plenty of people come with ex-spouses and grown children, but many of them manage to set proper boundaries so that they are able to have healthy relationships. It’s the lack of boundaries in Niki’s situation that I would find most concerning.

    It doesn’t sound like there has been any forward momentum with Niki’s man’s divorce. The reasons are nearly irrelevant. One thing is clear though – he doesn’t mind how frustrated and uncomfortable it’s making her feel, or he doesn’t mind enough to do something about it.

    I’d have been very hesitant to tie up my family, my finances and my home with someone who was not yet divorced. But the plus side is that it should be a bit easier to get out of this relationship because there was no marriage. Which is definitely what Niki should do.

  3. 3
    No Name To Give

    Cut your losses and move on.

  4. 4
    Michelle H.

    Succinct and on point, Evan. Your advice is becoming even better. I really liked this post; I find it very helpful. Thank you.

  5. 5

    This is the challenge when you invest so much time. It’s much harder to leave, because of “sunk costs.” You invested 7 years already and want to be able to salvage that somehow, make the investment pay off. As Evan and everyone else here is telling you, it won’t. Not now, not ever. It’s always so much easier to leave when the signs are there early (ie you split up a few times, he ignored your requests for divorce, did not propose, etc.) and make the decision then. You continued to ignore the red flags, over and over and now it’s ten times harder to leave. Hopefully you chalk this up to a lesson learned. The good news is you still have a good chunk of your life left to find a partner who will bring you happiness. It’s hard to leave, you don’t know if you will find someone else with the same chemistry, who knows, you, etc. There are good traits with your current boyfriend or you would not have stayed. But they are not enough. You know what you have to do. It’s not easy, but it’s the only way. If he comes chasing after, I would still be cautious as Evan said. Marrying him might increase your load of troubles given his current situation, the needy ex wife, his co-dependency on her, etc. and you won’t be able to walk away as easily. Cut your losses and move on….you deserve better.

  6. 6

    RUN, do not walk away. At this point, I would say, break up EVEN if he divorces his wife. She and her son really have a hold on him, and a divorce won’t break that strangle hold. Before I got married, I had a very brief relationship with a man who was still hung up on is ex-wife, even though they were legally divorced. He called me his girlfriend, we had a date planned the following weekend, and in the middle of the week he called me and abruptly ended our new relationship, and gave me some weak, lame reasons that made no sense to me. (one reason, he did not like my “decor” ). I was very puzzled, and assumed he had faked the whole boyfriend/girlfriend thing just to get sex. Later I found out that he and his ex wife had gotten back together. I face palmed myself for that, because he did explain his divorce (I didn’t ask him, he volunteered the info) and it sounded like a very high drama, toxic relationship. But I assumed since they were legally divorced that it was over. But apparently it wasn’t. He was very apologetic about leading me on then dumping me, and just sputtered out lame excuses that made no sense. He didn’t want to admit that he had gotten back together with his ex-wife after he told me the gory details of their split.

  7. 7

    People are not the things they say. People are a result of the actions they take.

  8. 8

    There is something not right about him wanting to support a wife, he has been separated from for that many years to that degree.

    Also (and this is speculation as I don’t know all the details), some women will try to take as much as they can from a soon to be ex husband because they don’t see gentle people as deserving of much (and laws may barely be concerned about fairness, only with child welfare). And if he doesn’t fight his corner a bit, this will continue to be a problem.

    Sorry to say it, but leaving seems like the right idea.

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