They want out and you want to do anything you can to change their mind. The worst thing to do is beg but here is what can work.
“I owned up to my mistakes.”
When *Sarah’s (names are changed) husband Paul asked for a divorce after 10 years together, the 36-year-old Vermonter was shocked. She admitted, “I thought he was under my thumb. I would let him know exactly what he was doing wrong, and wait for him to clean up his act… He always would, until the day he said he was leaving because he was done being made to feel constantly inadequate and like the only one at fault in the marriage.”
Her husband’s declaration shocked her into doing what should be standard operating procedure for everyone in a marriage: Take responsibility for the things you do wrong. Nothing is 100 percent to zero when it comes to apportioning ‘blame.’ There are two people in every relationship. Be accountable and treat your spouse the way you want to be treated.
Also important: Be willing to apologize. Sarah wrote down a list of events over the previous 10 years for which she had blamed her spouse. “I gave him the list and said, ‘I am so sorry I was too proud and pig-headed to tell you I knew I had screwed up as well. If you give me another chance I will work very hard to be different.’”
He did and she did. It hasn’t been easy but one year to the day after Paul asked for a divorce the two went away for a weekend to celebrate. Sarah said, “We consider that the anniversary of our new beginning.”
“I suggested we take a break”
“I was shocked when Stan said he wanted to leave after eight years of marriage,” recalls Ellen, shuddering at the memory. The 40-year-old New York mother of two adds, “I was so shocked and angry my immediate reaction was to throw his suitcases and clothes out the window but instead I took a deep breath, told him I didn’t want a divorce but if he needed some distance I would agree to it.”
This was a wise strategy. Begging, whining, trying to guilt a spouse intent on leaving into staying will not work… at least not for the long term. Strive to be self-confident, honest that you want to stay married, but not clingy, gentle and non-defensive. Of course this is not easy at such a tumultuous time but it will help your partner understand what they might be losing by making a rash decision to sever ties.
Ellen felt the couple had a strong foundation but realized her husband had lately endured a hard time — losing his job, dealing with his mother’s illness — and was reeling. “He assured me he wasn’t having an affair. He just wasn’t happy. I suggested he live in the basement so we didn’t break up the family. That’s what we did. We weren’t functioning as a couple, which was hard, but we did talk, and two months in, started therapy. Four months after that he moved back into our bedroom.”
“I focused on myself.”
After Tara’s husband of 12 years walked out after months of increasing emotional distance, she decided the relationship that most needed attention was the one she had with herself. Explains the 45-year-old Chicago native, “I realized I’d been leaning on Rick to help me feel good about myself, and all that accomplished was to push him away and make me feel worse.”
When your life is at a crisis point, it’s important to rebuild your feelings of self-worth. Until you feel whole on your own, your efforts at connecting with your estranged husband will be out of need and void, not strength. So practice meditation, do therapy, see friends, find a support group for separated people, indulge in hobbies, throw yourself into your career, and definitely work out to discharge energy…
Tara’s husband expected her to fall apart when he left. That the opposite happened helped him see the depths and strengths of the woman who still wore the wedding ring he’d placed on her finger so long ago. She says, “We gradually started seeing each other again and did couples therapy so we wouldn’t make the same mistakes. Nine months after the separation — he never actually filed for divorce! — we reunited.”