"Everything I do just seems to drive him further away. I know God can save my marriage. But John wants a legal separation so I'm giving him one. I figure it would be better not to fight him and that if I go along with him it will calm him down so that later we might be able to repair our marriage." With those words, she ended several minutes of describing her marital situation.
She had called our office to ask about our workshop for troubled marriages and somehow had gotten me rather than one of our team who normally helps callers. I listened to her politely, interjecting a question here and there. As she ended with the words above, I responded carefully.
"Based on the things you told me, it sounds as if he may be manipulating you to get what he wants...and I fear that what he wants is not the best thing for you..."
She cut me off before I could finish. She had made her mind up and that was that. The reason she called was to let us know that she and her husband would not be enrolling in our workshop for troubled marriages.
I thanked her for her call, cradled the phone, leaned back in my chair and sighed deeply. Because of my experience from more than twenty years working with troubled marriages, I knew she made the wrong decision, and that unless God did indeed intervene in some spectacular way, her marriage will end. She thought she followed a wise course of action that would lead her husband back to her. Instead, my experience shouts that she followed a foolish course of action that all but ensures he would not.
Every day our team talks with people who wish to salvage their troubled marriages. For most of them, their mates do not have the same desire. Sometimes the other spouse is "madly in love" with someone else and wants a divorce. Other times the other person has felt controlled and dominated for so long that all they can think of is getting away as far and fast as possible. The reasons vary, but most often, the situation with those who call is that he or she desperately wishes to save the marriage but the other partner does not.
From our experience with thousands of couples, I offer the following suggestions. First the things not to do, then the things that you should do.
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Do Not Cling
Nearly everyone tries it, but hardly anyone succeeds. Trying to keep the person you love from leaving you by pleading, begging, arguing, demanding, apologizing, or manipulating typically fails terribly. Some throw thousands of words at the other in person, by text, email, and sometimes through other people. They tell the other that they are sorry, that they forgive, that they will change, that no one could ever love them as they do, that they are destroying their children, or any other thing that they think will stop the other from leaving. Others cry, not only in pain but also because they hope to evoke compassion. One woman said, "I followed him to his car and banged my head on our concrete driveway until blood flowed like a river. And he STILL left!" Some get sick or "accidentally" hurt themselves, hoping that will trigger a rekindling of the love lost deep within the departing spouse.
Rather than drawing the departing person back, clinging behaviors usually propel them away faster. There are several reasons that it does. One is that no one who clings, begs, or whines is attractive in any sense of the word. Another is that clinging behavior implies that you will take the other back no matter what they do, thus removing any reason for them to stop their abandonment.
Do Not Collapse
Rather than clinging – or, more often, after finally giving up on clinging – some people provide the departing spouse permission to do whatever they wish. Some ignore or tolerate inappropriate behaviors. Others agree to separation or terminating joint accounts. Typically, they yield because they think that if they do not, the departing spouse will become angry and things will become worse. In actuality, they very likely are easing the departing mate's transition into divorce.
Often departing spouses demonstrate anger and frustration if their mates do anything that deters their departure. They use their anger to manipulate with threats such as, "If you don't go along with me, I'll make things very hard on you...I'll fight to take the children...my lawyer will take you to the cleaners...I'll tell people you care about that..."
In response to threats, tantrums, and manipulations, often a person gives in. They rationalize that it will make things better. The truth is just the opposite. Giving in typically leads to the same results as giving up.
Do Not Control
If you try to keep your marriage together by demanding, dominating, or dictating, you will fail.
No one wants to be controlled.
If a major reason your spouse wants out of your marriage is that you have exhibited controlling behaviors, this is your wakeup call. Stop now and demonstrate that you will treat her with utmost respect and equality. Quit forcing your opinions. Quit the habit of haranguing until your mate yields to your point of view. Never again, tell your spouse what he/she feels...or should feel. Allow your partner to be, think, and feel even when you do not like it.
If you think (or know) that your mate is unfaithful, tracking or following will backfire when you are caught.
Clinging causes the other person to pull away, collapsing helps them leave faster, and controlling disgusts them with you. None of these helps your cause if you wish to save your marriage.
What will help?
Consider these suggestions.
Do Be Patient
Patience buys time.
No matter how difficult, take life one day at a time. Make decisions one by one. Overcome obstacles separately. Start with matters you can do something about. Patiently work out how to deal with situations or problems that seem overwhelming. Take time to seek wise counsel.
If your spouse seems in a hurry to move toward dissolving your marriage, do not join the race. Time is on your side. If your mate is involved with someone else, enough time will begin to erode the intensity of the emotions in that illicit relationship. If your spouse is dissatisfied with the way life has been with you, enough time provides you the opportunity to demonstrate changes you are willing to make.
When you feel you may do something rash through anger, pain, or frustration, ask yourself, "If I do this, how will I feel about it in ten days? Ten months? Ten years?" Do not sacrifice your long-term future for a short-term emotion.
For every action you make, your spouse will have a reaction. Positive actions instigate positive reactions. Positive actions provide a possible future for your marriage.
Do Ask a Trusted Third Party
Do you know someone that your departing spouse holds in high esteem? If so, ask that person to intervene in your marriage. It may be a pastor, a friend, her parent, or even one or more of your children (if mature). Ask the person(s) to spend time with your mate, to listen to her, and to do everything possible to influence her to agree to marriage counseling or our intensive marriage weekend workshop. Our experience is that often a spouse who absolutely refuses counseling or a workshop when asked by a spouse will agree, if reluctantly, when urged by a third party that they deeply care for.
If your spouse agrees reluctantly, do not become frustrated and refuse because of his lack of desire. Rather than being upset that your mate does not desire to save your marriage, rejoice that he is willing to go to counseling or a workshop in spite of his desire to end the marriage. Over the past twenty years, I have seen marriage after marriage salvaged when a couple came for help though only one spouse wanted to save the marriage.
Do Provide a Perk
If you want to try marriage counseling or attend a marriage intensive workshop such as our Marriage Helper 911, you may be able to convince your reluctant spouse to attend by offering something if she does. Many times in our workshop, for example, people have told me that the only reason they came was that their spouse offered some concession in their pending divorce in return for their coming. Almost universally, I hear that from a person who during the workshop concluded that he wanted to stay in his marriage. "I didn't want to be here. She said if I came, she'd agree to _____ when we divorced. I'm glad I came. I see how we can work this out."
If you offer a concession, make sure it is one that you are willing to give. Do not withdraw it after your spouse keeps her end of the bargain. Offer it only if you are willing to give it in exchange for a strong opportunity to salvage your marriage.
Do Prove You Have Changed
Rather than focusing only on the faults of your spouse, admit your own weaknesses. When you begin working on improving yourself in those areas, you benefit yourself. You also make strides toward salvaging your marriage.
Whether your spouse notices and affirms the changes, ignores them, or scorns your efforts, keep on growing in those areas. Even if your marriage ends, you become a better person. However, those changes in your behaviors may well influence your spouse in very positive ways though at first they may appear to have the opposite effect. Keep on, no matter how she reacts.
It takes strength to work at saving a marriage when your spouse wants to leave. Stay strong. Find a support system of people who will encourage you and who will be optimistic about the possibility of reconciliation.
Focus on taking care of yourself. Exercise. Eat as you should. Start a new hobby to keep your mind from obsessing on your troubles. Get involved in your church. Get individual counseling. Whether your marriage makes it or not, you need to provide for yourself spiritually, emotionally, mentally, and physically.
Actually, as you do, you also do the things that have the strongest likelihood of causing your spouse to realize what he will lose if the marriage ends.
While no one can make another's decisions, my experience with thousands of couples leads me to believe that if you follow these suggestions, you have a greater chance of salvaging your marriage. Of course, each situation is unique. Therefore, feel free to contact us to ask questions about your circumstances, if you wish.