You want to save your failing marriage, but your spouse has made it clear that he or she wants out.
As a matter of fact, maybe they’ve already filed for divorce. Maybe you guys are separated and living in different places. Or maybe you’re still living in the same house, but saying, “Nope, it’s over. We’re done.”
What do you do when despite all that… you still want your marriage to work? They don’t want it, you do.
It all boils down to one of the most asked questions we get:
“Because my spouse doesn’t want this to work, is there hope?”
Yes, there is always hope. I know you might not believe it. I know that because so many people who’ve come to our three-day intensive workshop were in a situation where one spouse said, “There is no way on earth we’re going to make it.”
Yet through the years…More than 70% of those people have worked their problems out and stayed married.
When you consider the fact that 80-90% of the people that walk in the door, at least one spouse is saying, ‘No way, I’m out of here”… well, the odds are in your favor. You might ask…
“So if there’s hope… how long do I keep fighting for? When should I give up?”
There are three reasons why you should give up on a marriage:
- Either one or both people have remarried.
- If your spouse has passed away.
- If one of the spouses is involved in a destructive behavior that they are unwilling to stop.
I don’t know how to help put a marriage like that back together without putting somebody in danger. Now, if that person were to stop, I would say there’s still a possibility. For example, I read a report the other day in one of our meetings that somebody who had been divorced for 6 years…is now coming to our workshop to see if they can put things back together. They and their spouse just started dating again and said, “Let’s see, let’s go back through this workshop and see if we can fix this. “
They were one of the couples that came to the workshop and it didn’t help them save their marriage. They ended up divorced instead. But now six years later they’re saying, “Well, now that we think this might make it. You know, they were teaching pretty good stuff. Let’s go back to that and see what they’ll help us do today.”
Here are some other stories of hope and advice we have from callers with questions just like yours:
Caller #1- Does it take two to save a marriage?
“My wife filed for divorce. She committed adultery, and it seems that she can’t forgive herself. So she doesn’t want to work on the marriage. I’m not sure what to do about it. I don’t want to lose my marriage. I’m trying to do everything possible, but I just need help.”
I hear this question a LOT. People often say to me, “but you can’t do it alone. It has to take two people in order to save the marriage.”
But here’s the truth–It only takes one person to begin to do things differently, to hopefully change the trajectory of where the marriage is going.
What you need to realize, is you’re going to have to begin this work alone. It’s going to feel like a lonely journey for a period of time, but just remember you have an end-goal of getting your spouse to come back around.
So since you can only control your own actions, and not your spouse’s…Let’s figure out what you can do in your particular situation.
There are two possibilities of what could be going on here:
First, it might literally be the case that she’s dealing with so much guilt. She’s thinking, “How can you love me? How can you forgive me? I can’t even forgive myself.”
If that’s the case, there’s still things that can be done to help her.
Of course, there’s another possibility, which is that she’s saying that as a way to get you to leave her alone when she says, ”You can never love me again.” Only you can decide whether she’s being sincere with that statement or insincere.
Either way, don’t let that panic you. It’s just one of many obstacles that exist out there.
He said, Kimberly, “What can I do?” As we go to the rest of these calls, listen carefully because we were talking about several things that you can do, but let’s get to another caller as we go through this.
Caller #2 – Is it too late to save our marriage?
“It’s been over four years since my wife left. My question is we’re still married, but legally separated. She has her own house now, we have our own separate lives. She tells me she never wants to be with again. Is it too late to save our marriage? How can I gain traction?”
Let’s talk about this for a minute. She’s been gone for years. I understand the pain it causes you and know that hurts. But don’t panic. As mentioned before, we had a couple recently reconcile even after 6 years of divorce!
The fact that after four years, you still want her back ,indicates that you love her very deeply. Based on the experience we’ve had with thousands and thousands of couples, four years apart does not necessarily mean you can’t come back together.
So what can you do that can influence her to possibly turn this thing around?
The best thing you can do is to focus on your attraction.
There’s a process to falling in love. At Marriage Helper, we call it the “LovePath.” The first step of the LovePath is attraction.
Attraction goes much deeper than just the first time you meet, you decide if someone’s attractive or not. It’s something that continues to be true every morning that you wake up, you choose to do the things that will be attractive.
What does that look like?
First of all, for you to feel attractive and be the most attractive you can be.
Secondly, to continue to attract your spouse towards you through your actions.
So if your wife is in a separate house and all of those things are separate, but you still have some communication…One of the best ways to attract her back is by focusing on these four areas of attraction that we call PIES.
It means becoming the best you can be physically, intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually.
People only leave a relationship if they think they’re going towards something better.
They typically want to leave if there’s something pulling or pushing them away. They’re not going to come back to the relationship that they were in… unless they believe it is better than what they’re currently experiencing.
So, to start to attract her back…
The first thing to do is to become that “better” thing for her to move toward. And how do you do that? By working on your PIES.
And don’t think of it like, “based on how she reacts to this, that determines whether I’ll keep doing it or not.”
You should do it for you. So that you have confidence you’re the best you that you can possibly be. That’s where it starts. If you want to start gaining traction, it’s there.
Caller #3- I don’t know if my husband signed the divorce papers, should I ask him?
“My husband and I have been separated for 15 months. Divorce mediation was seven months ago. I signed the settlement papers over a month ago and email them to him. He hasn’t brought them up at all, and I don’t know if he signed and filed. Should I ask him? He also told me he recently started attending church two weeks ago.”
Well, that leads us to another thing we talk about on the love-path. It has to do with acceptance. Being able to accept a person where he or she is now. That can be difficult to do, especially when they don’t act, think, feel, or believe the way that you want them to.
When it comes to that acceptance part, what you want to be as a safe place. That means you don’t start tough conversations that don’t need to be initiated right now.
So when you ask, ”He sent these things to me. I signed them. I sent them back. I don’t know what happened after that. Shall I ask about them?”
It’s better not to ask for now, even though it’s tough.
I know it’s frustrating, because in a sense you’re living in limbo. You don’t know if he’s proceeding or if he stopped. You don’t know if he’s changing or if he’s gone forever. I get that that’s a miserable place to live. But what do you gain if you ask him about it?
If you ask him about this and he’s not ready to discuss it right now, you may motivate him to take an action that he’s not ready to take otherwise. He may put up a wall and feel that you’re not a “safe” space.
So my suggestion would be in learning how to be that safe place.
When you have conversations, listen. Try to understand mentally. Picture yourself getting up and walking around and sitting on his side of the table. That you’re not adversarial that you’re on his side. You care about what he thinks and what he feels.
If you can handle living in limbo for a while to find out what’s happening… be the safe place, which is the second part of the love-path. Be the safe place and let things progress slowly.
If he does talk to you, listen. Don’t challenge. Don’t push. And only ask questions as long as they come across as sincere. But if they sound like you’re setting them up or pushing him into a corner, those things are bad.
You don’t want there to be a negative connotation with every time you interact with him.
So, if you’re bringing up, “Are you going to file?…” Is that really what you want him thinking about in that moment? No.
You want him thinking, “Man I love talking to her. She’s listening. We’re becoming friends again.”
You want him to paint that picture of what things could be like in the future. What you do is what can influence the other person, even when they’re saying it’s completely over.
Caller #4- I’m getting mixed signals, can this be saved?
“Me and my wife have been having our ups and downs about 18 years throughout the marriage. Yes, I have done some things, but recently my wife said she wanted a divorce. She left on November 18th. I started working on myself and she came back home, and saw the changes I’ve made… but she had to go back on the road. She came home again on January 4th, was here for the whole month and we’ve been having fun for the whole month. Every interaction was a positive interaction. She still sleeps with me, in the same bed, naked. I cuddle with her. We are not having sex. She says she’s impressed by my changes. She’s intrigued by the changes. I feel like she’s attracted to me. But now she took another job out of town for three months and I don’t know what to do, because I was pulling her back in. But now she’s gone again. I just want to know can this be saved.”
Despite all of the really positive things going on, your wife still wants a divorce. So, it sounds like she may be battling more of a decision in her mind, and that’s really the issue here.
You live together for a month now she’s gone away again. Does the fact that she’s gone for three months is that great? No.
We wish she were there with you because it was a whole lot easier and better. But when she came back last time, even though she told you no way can’t work, she spent a month with you sleeping naked in the same bed with you and cuddling you. Those are pretty good signs, even if she’s going “no”. Even if she’s doing that, those are really, really good signs.
Hopefully when she comes back, she’ll do it again. Be careful. You said you were pulling her back. We understand that your behavior was drawing her back. Not that you were forcing her back because that always backfires. So, be careful now that you don’t panic a little bit and while she’s gone, because you start trying to control, manipulate, etc. and that’s the worst thing you can do.
If she has contact with you when you’re gone, great. In this day in time, you can actually do it where you can see each other. You can FaceTime if you have the Apple products. You can do Zoom, if you have a computer access. But you can actually have some conversations, if she’s willing to do that.
I wouldn’t push for it more than she wants. I wouldn’t do it to the point she gets aggravated. I’d be very careful of me, very sensitive to watch what’s going on here, but communicate with her and you use the word fun. Keep it fun, have those light conversations, etc. so that if she wants to talk seriously, sure you can do that. Be willing to listen, to really understand, and to care.
If you can maintain contact with her when she comes back, it sounds to me like she may well do what she did last time and she’s back. I admire your patience. You slept in the same bed, naked with a woman that you love and you didn’t have sex because she didn’t want to. Here’s what that tells me about you. Number one, you really love her. Number two, you have the patience to do this the way it needs to be done. So keep that up.
So at this point, you might be fearing, “so do I do more to get her to make a decision quicker?”
Just keep doing what you’re doing. You are doing the right things. At this point, it is her who gets to make that decision. Our spouses have free will whether we like it or not. You can do all the right things, and she may still choose to leave. Hopefully that’s not going to happen, but you’re doing the right thing. So, just keep doing those right things.
Caller #5- My husband wants to divorce and we have to move, should I go with him or stay?
“My spouse is in the military and has told me that when he gets back from deployment, he wants to file for divorce. I have been in schools the last six years and even though I graduated, it’s really hard right now to find a job in the career that I chose. To mention, we have to sell our house because his orders are in another state. I told him that I wasn’t okay with getting a divorce right now because it doesn’t benefit me. So, I would be going with him. He tried to talk me out of it. I told him I would file for alimony. He said, “Fine. When we get there, we’re going to divorce.” Should I be planning on being divorced or should I be planning on keeping my marriage? Because I need to think about me and my son versus my husband’s needs at this point.”
This is tough because of the fact that we don’t know him, and even if we knew him, we’d have to be asking him questions because we’re not mind readers. I’m sure you’re not either.
I’ll often ask people to think in terms of these three questions:
If I do this, whatever this might be, what do I expect to accomplish?
The second question is, what’s the likelihood that that is what I will accomplish?
The third question is what’s the likelihood that something very different is going to be accomplished instead?
In this particular case, you ask yourself the question, “Okay, what if I go with him and hope that he’s not going to divorce me? So, I’ll go with him and what I hope to accomplish is if the kids and I are there, he won’t divorce us.”
Then the second question is, you know him better than we. I mean, he still makes his own decisions and so it’s still somewhat of a guess on your part, but what do you think are the odds that if you go with him, then he won’t do the divorce?
If you think those odds are really good, then maybe you go with him. “We’re here with him and he’s not going to strand us here.”
If you think the odds are pretty bad… then that brings the third question, what are the odds the other thing will happen? “We get there and then he divorces me while we were there.”
Well, will you have the support system you need, will you have the money to get to where you need to go, or do you plan to keep living there? Those are the kinds of questions we recommend that people ask themselves.
What am I trying to accomplish if I do blank? What are the odds good, bad, or indifferent that it’s going to happen that way? What are the odds it’s going to happen the other way?
The other thing I think you should consider is he’s on deployment right now. So it seems like something has happened. I mean, we don’t know the situation. We don’t know him, but is it that something happened on deployment? Either he met someone or he’s experienced something that has just completely shifted his way of thinking?
So as you ask those three questions, put that definitely in there as something that you think that through about.
And always make sure that you protect yourself and your children. I don’t mean by that to the point where you just write off the other spouse immediately, because we are pro-marriage. We want to help people salvage their marriages if at all possible, but at the same time don’t be foolish… because you have a son and he will have certain needs that you need to have money to take care of.
You’ll need to have a support system around you to help take care of all of those kinds of things. So make sure that you have that covered just in case.
It’s always your decision, and even though we talk a lot about doing things that are “pulls” that pull them back towards you…we sometimes recommend you’ll do something the other person’s going to see as a push. Like, “I’ve got to take care of myself and my child. We have to have enough money to survive. Or, “We have food in our stomachs and a roof over our head and clothes on our backs.”
Those kinds of things are what we see that as an essential push, so you’ve got to do it anyway. It’s the right thing to do. Therefore, don’t feel badly if a spouse reacts negatively to that, because it’s something you should do. Telling your spouse’s boss if he or she is sleeping with somebody else at the work, that’s when you need to stop and ask yourself that question, “What do I think I’m going to accomplish? What’s the likelihood that’s going to happen?”
Be careful on that, that you never do any of that for vengeance, because when you do things for vengeance, it winds up hurting you.
Caller #6- My spouse wants to divorce and I don’t. It’s complicated. What should I do?
“I’m going through an unwanted divorce and it’s kind of a complicated situation. My husband has PTSD from serving, as well as TBI. So, it’s hard because it really did seem to come out of nowhere, and because of his issues that he has, it definitely makes it a very complicated situation. My children and I are moving out next weekend, and I try to do everything that I can to save my marriage. We’ll be married 17 years in May. He filed for divorce on December 29th. Any recommendations would be very much appreciated. Thank you.”
My heart breaks for the people that call us. We get calls nearly every day from all over the planet from people talking about all their pain, and it just breaks my heart.
First I want to mention that a traumatic brain injury makes it more difficult. Understand that when people are dealing with things like PTSD or things not quite as strong as that, but things such as depression, etc., it makes everything more difficult.
In a situation like this, we would suggest that you use whatever influence you have. If there are other people in your husband’s life that have influence over him, you can actually get them involved to get them to try to get him to the right kind of help.
Maybe he’s already seeking the right kind of help and if so, that’s really good. PTSD doesn’t just fix itself. Traumatic brain injury, obviously doesn’t just fix itself either, so get to the right kind of physicians or psychiatrist if that’s what’s needed.
While it’s not exactly the same thing, if you go to our website MarriageHelper.com and you type in the word “intervention”, it will actually lead you to a page where you can download a 35 or so page long document that tells you how to do an intervention.
It’s not exactly the same thing here, but it gives you an idea of how can we encourage and how can I involve other people encouraging my spouse to get the help he or she needs for PTSD, depression, anxiety disorder, whatever they might have, because that’s crucial.
Now about you and the kids moving out…That’s the thing I want to speak to. We typically recommend that you do not. If his PTSD and his traumatic brain injury makes it unsafe for you or your children by all means, move out.
But when people ask us, they ask a lot, “What do you think? Should we separate? Should we move out?”
Our recommendations are as follows: You do what you think is best for you. We will not tell you what to do, but you see, when you move out… a lot of the stress is reduced immediately.
I’m sure you’re thinking, “that’s a good thing. Isn’t it?” In one sense yes, but it’s a bad thing in another sense…Because when that stress is reduced immediately, it can reduce the motivation on either you or him or both of you to do the work it is going to take to be able to put this marriage back together.
In other words, a sigh of relief. And because of that sigh of relief, things get a little bit easier.
“Why would I want to go back into that? Why would I want to try to fix that?”
So, we recommend that you don’t separate unless somebody is in danger.
If you’re in danger, absolutely don’t stay there. If you or your children or whoever is in danger, that’s bad.
So yes, that’s when separations required, but otherwise our recommendation is to stay because it’s a whole lot tougher to work it out if you’re someplace else.
Before I leave you, I want to give you a few key takeaways from today’s post:
1) If you want to attract your spouse back to you and make your marriage work, realize that you’re going to do it alone at first. But that shouldn’t discourage you. It is what it is. It actually allows you to begin doing things without waiting to get them on board or to agree to do something with you first, you can begin making changes now. The first thing you can begin to change is by working on your attraction, your physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual attraction. If anything will attract your spouse back to you, that’s it.
2) Begin to accept your spouse, no matter what situation your marriage is in. To accept your spouse for who they are and where they are, even if you don’t agree with what they are doing. Acceptance starts with you being a safe place. So, as they begin to open up, or as you talk, when those opportunities become available, be a safe place, bottom line.
3) The best way to make your marriage work is by being together. So, we recommend that you not separate unless someone is in physical danger or emotional danger.
4) Before making decisions on how you should act, remember those three questions: if I do this what am I trying to accomplish? How likely is that I’m going to accomplish that? How likely is it that something else is going to happen all together?
And if you need more help with your marriage, check out our Save My Marriage Course, or call us at 866-903-0990.
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