If your spouse is contemplating a divorce, you may be desperately trying to say and do the right things that will keep that from happening. Unfortunately, desperation makes it difficult to think clearly and logically about the situation. In fact, you may be doing exactly the opposite of what you need to do to save your marriage.
When you are faced with the knowledge that your spouse wants to leave you, it is normal to go through a range of emotions -- disbelief, anger, hurt, and despair. However, acting on those feelings usually leads to behaviors that alienate your spouse even further from you. As a marriage counselor, I’ve worked with countless people who want to keep their marriage intact, yet end up making matters worse by doing the following:
1. Lashing out in anger. Of course you’re angry -- but you must keep your anger in check if you want to have any hope of reconciling your differences. At this point in your
marriage, your spouse is in no mood for another angry dispute.
2. Preaching or lecturing. Deciding whether or not to end a marriage is painful for most people. It does not help when you accuse your spouse of being selfish, unfair to the
children, etc. Also, don’t dismiss your spouse’s feelings by attributing them to stress or “not thinking clearly.”
3. Minimizing or rationalizing your undesirable behavior. If you know your spouse is unhappy about certain things you do (or don’t do), making excuses or trying to downplay those behaviors send a clear message: “I don’t think I’m doing anything wrong, and I have no intention of changing.” This message only confirms your spouse’s belief that things won’t get better.
4. Launching a counterattack. Most likely, your spouse is not the only one who is unhappy - you have complaints about him or her as well. But now is not the time to verbalize those complaints in an attempt to “even the score.” Remember, your spouse is not in the mood for arguing, and your criticism will only make divorce more likely.
5. Making threats. Never threaten to “make things ugly” if a divorce takes place. You don’t really want your spouse to stay with you out of fear, do you?
6. Making promises you have no intention of keeping. If you have a history of making promises but not following through on them, your spouse has simply stopped believing
7. Pressuring your spouse for intimacy too quickly. You might think that being more affectionate, or having sex more often, is the way to win back your spouse’s love. But
if your spouse “needs space” right now, don’t try to force intimacy on him or her. If you have already separated, let your spouse decide if and when the time is right to
move back together. Your spouse needs to have faith that the marriage will truly improve, and that you are not simply looking for a “quick fix” to make things appear better on the surface.
Above all, do not ignore your spouse’s feelings or hope that he or she is not really serious. To save your marriage, you must stop doing the things that have made your
spouse withdraw from you, and do more of the things that your spouse wants and needs from you. If you can follow this plan of action, you will demonstrate your commitment
to his or her happiness.
Karen Barton, MFT, is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Santa Clarita, California. She can be reached at 661-373-5522, or at email@example.com.