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What to do When Your Spouse Wants a Divorce

There’s nothing more terrifying than finding yourself being rejected by your partner or spouse. Whether you’ve noticed the warning signs that they’re thinking of leaving or you haven’t, I want to share with you some sure-fire ways to address the damage that’s been done and win back your ex by being the partner they want and deserve. By the end of this article, you will be well equipped with some helpful tips on how to deal with your marriage when your spouse wants a divorce, but you don’t.

“You know it’s never fifty-fifty in marriage. It’s always seventy-thirty, or sixty-forty. Someone falls in love first. Someone puts someone else upon a pedestal. Someone works very hard to keep things rolling smoothly; someone else sails along for the ride.” -Jodi Picoult

Perhaps you’ve seen a separation coming for a while now and haven’t known how to prevent it, or maybe the news that your spouse is leaving you has come completely out of the blue. Either way, don’t panic. I’ve got some simple and easy-to-implement methods that you can try today that should slow down–and eventually stop– your spouse’s emotional and physical withdrawal from you.

“But what if (s)he’s determined to leave me?” you ask. No matter. Unless you’ve committed an unforgivable act (and I’m talking multiple affairs or violence against them), putting these actions to use and committing to them long-term can earn you back your spouse’s love and affection, whether they’re interested in making it work or not.

Please note: If you have committed an unforgivable act, my advice is to let them go and learn from your terrible mistake. They deserve happiness and security, and you have work to do on yourself if you’re going to deserve those things again, too.

So. Let’s get started.

Listen and Learn

No matter how hard it is to hear, your partner has some criticisms about your attitude and/or behaviour that are causing them to be unhappy. You might feel like you’ve heard these complaints a thousand times, but if you’re truly committed to preventing a separation, guess what? You’re gonna have to listen to them again.

When you’ve given your spouse all the time they need to tell you how they’re feeling (without blowing up at them in your defense), tell them that you’ve heard what they have to say and that you intend to work on those issues–effective immediately–because you don’t want to lose them.

However angry your spouse is at you, hearing these words should be a pleasant surprise to them. But don’t expect them to actually believe you straight away (after all, you’ve got this far unsuccessfully). It’s likely that even if they’re pleased to hear your promises, they are going to be sceptical about whether anything will actually come of them.

“What you do is what matters, not what you think or say or plan.” – Jason Fried

Take action

Now you need to prove that you’re as good as your word. Once you’ve fully understood where your spouse is coming from–and I mean fully, because the more you know (no matter how hard it is to hear in the moment), the better equipped you will be to address the problems and hopefully erase them from your relationship–only then should you begin to take action. The best way to explain this stage is with an example:

Molly is a bit of a “negative Nancy”. She’s always complaining about her job, her body, and even her friends. She complains so much that it’s hard for Scott (her husband of three years) to even distinguish what’s truly a problem in her life and what’s just straight up pessimism.

Scott is so tired of Molly’s constant unhappiness with every aspect of her life that, even though he loves her very much, he’s decided he can’t take it anymore, and is intending to leave her.

girl sitting on the ground reaching for her spouse who is walking away

When Molly learns that he wants to separate, she is frantic at first. She quickly decides that she should try to understand exactly what it is about their relationship that Scott is unhappy with because she loves him and she doesn’t want to lose him. When she hears what he has to say, she’s devastated.

Scott tells her that she:

  • complains daily about how she is “bullied” at work, that nobody listens to her ideas, and says that she wants to quit, yet despite Scott earning good money and encouraging her to find a job that will make her happier, she never follows through;
  • tells him all the time that she’s unhappy about her weight and dislikes her body, yet never works out or does any exercise;
  • is generally a pessimistic person who doesn’t seem to derive any pleasure from anything, no matter how hard Scott tries to make her happy by giving her love, taking her places, and buying her nice things.

Sounds exhausting, right?

It’s hard for Molly to hear. The truth is that she has some very valid reasons for why she is the way she is. In fact, here are the real reasons Molly has been hard to live with lately:

  • If she’s honest with herself, Molly’s confidence has been undermined by her experiences in this job to such a degree that she’s terrified she won’t be good enough for another job. Because if this, even though she’s very unhappy, she stays where she is and endures her colleagues’ mistreatment.
  • Molly had a miscarriage a year ago, and ever since she has felt depressed and unmotivated, which has affected her body and her moods. Despite knowing that she feels very sad inside, she thinks she’s putting a brave face on it because she doesn’t talk about the loss of their baby.   

We can all appreciate that these are very good reasons for being a bit of a dark cloud, but whether Molly has been completely honest with Scott about why she’s sad or not, the point now is that, while she has every reason to be sad, she’s not taking care of herself or her relationship, and that places her in the camp that needs to make a change.

She needs to think long and hard about how she can change her patterns of behaviour if she wants to keep Scott as her husband and be happy again. She can do this in the following ways.

  • Talk to a professional: We can’t always identify the things that are holding us back by ourselves. Oftentimes it helps a lot to talk one-on-one to someone neutral outside of our relationship to help us figure out a) what we need to work through and b) how to work through it. A professional counsellor is an excellent way to assess the patterns of your behaviour that aren’t serving you any longer.
  • Talk to a friend: Not everyone can afford counselling, and good friends can be great counsellors, anyway! They know you (and maybe your spouse) well, and whether they’ve said anything or not, they see when you’re struggling and likely have some valuable insights and suggestions to help you through tough times. They also make you feel good about yourself.
  • Make a change: Once you feel that you understand your spouse’s complaints and you can honestly appreciate why they feel that way, it’s time to make some changes. In Molly’s case, she’s going to have to take a bold leap, either by quitting her job or starting a workout regimen. It’s probably best to make just one big change first, so that you don’t feel completely overwhelmed and are able to maintain your commitment to it. In Molly’s case, going to the gym regularly is probably the best place to start for several reasons:
    1. It should help with her mood and general attitude, as exercise releases endorphins which are guaranteed to make you feel happier and more confident
    2. It will address her body complaints which will make her feel more confident and comfortable in her own skin
    3. When she begins to feel more happy, sexy, and confident, she will have a more positive outlook on life and feel better able to stand up for herself at work. She will also have more confidence in her abilities to find a new and fulfilling job.

Don’t push

None of these changes are going to happen overnight, but if you are committed to keeping your spouse and making your life better in the process, it’s important to be consistent and patient with yourself and your spouse. Even if your spouse sees you making these efforts, you can’t expect them to change their mind in a week, or even a month.

The conditions that led them to want to leave you continued for a while, so you have to appreciate that it will also take a while to undo them. This means that at no time while you are working on yourself should you say things like, “Are you staying now?” or “But I’ve done all this work! You have to forgive me!” You cannot push someone into taking you back or forgiving you, and the more you try to do that the less likely they will be to do so.   

Be kind and receptive

While you should not be pushy when it comes to your spouse’s feelings or decisions, you should listen to them. At some point, if not several, your partner is going to want to talk things through with you. You are making changes, and that changes their situation, too.

Being in a loving and mature relationship doesn’t mean being honest with each other sometimes, but all the time. While you are busy making steps to be a better spouse, don’t forget to be a spouse! Listen to them, be respectful and considerate of them, and be kind to them.

And there you have it! It really is that simple–in theory anyway.

Of course it’s more challenging in reality, not least because emotions are running high. I hope that this article has answered some of your questions as to what to do if your spouse wants a divorce (but you don’t).

Wishing you the very best of luck!