"Nathan says he doesn’t love me anymore.” Julie said bluntly.

“When I try to get him to talk about it, or to listen to what I feel, he shuts down. The closest thing we’ve had to a conversation was his explanation of how much better off the kids and I will be if I don’t fight the divorce.” She paused, looked away as if she were trying to find the words to describe something that could not actually exist, and continued. “He asked if I understand the financial and social penalties he will make happen if I get my own lawyer or cause any difficulty. I can’t even talk about this with my friends or he will make things miserable for me. He hints that he may try to get full custody of our children if I don’t do just as he says.

“You may think I’m a fool, but I still love him, even though in my heart I know there’s someone else. I know who she is. When I asked if he was involved with her, he yelled at me, then became very calm and told me that I should have my head examined.

“I’m afraid to do anything to make him angrier. The only thing that can save us now is a miracle. I’m praying that God will change his heart and make him back into the man he used to be.”

I replied that if I were in her situation I would pray for something quite different.

“Rather than asking God to change Nathan,” I said, “I believe you’d achieve better results by asking him to help you change some things.”

She jerked upright, glared at me, and unleashed her pain and frustration. How dare I imply that this was her fault? How could I think she was the one who should change? Was I implying that Nathan was justified in deserting her for another woman?

I explained. “I do not blame you for Nathan’s affair. What he is doing is wrong. Even if you were not the perfect spouse…as if anyone could be the perfect spouse…it would not justify his adultery or abandoning your marriage. Please do not hear anything I say as an indictment of you.

“My point is that you cannot change him. The only person you can change is you. However, certain changes you make may lead him to make changes. The changes I suggest are not intended to either blame or correct you; they are designed to bring him to his senses.

“In relationships, our emotions and actions affect the other person either positively, neutrally, or negatively. Positive effect draws them to us. Negative effect pushes them from us.

“Burn these four words into your conscious thinking. Positive attracts. Negative repels.

“Nathan has moved away from you and continues to do so. However, if you make certain changes, you may create positive effects that attract him to you again. It may help to think of it this way: Which actions make you attractive? Which actions make you unattractive?

“The changes I suggest may not work, of course, but our experiences with thousands of marriages convince me they are the best chance you have.”

Julie made the changes I suggested.

Nathan reacted with intense anger and dire threats.

I had warned her that the changes likely would affect him negatively at first, temporarily pushing him further away. I explained that because Nathan wanted out, he would be negatively affected (repelled) by anything she did to delay or obstruct his departure. Therefore, she should expect him to escalate his emotional abuse in effort to make her again compliant to his plans. When he did, she wavered, but she stood strong. She forced herself to focus on long-term effects of her changes, and refused to allow herself to be discouraged by his short-term responses. She knew he might never come around, but she understood that those changes were her best hope.

Perhaps most importantly, she grasped the crucial role those changes would play in benefitting her personally, whether or not he returned.

This story ends well. Eventually Nathan dropped the divorce and reestablished relationship with Julie. It took work, but together they mended their marriage and healed from their hurt.

Maybe you or someone you love needs to make similar changes to prevent or stop a divorce. If so, the suggested changes follow. Contemplate their potential positive effect on the departing spouse. Moreover, think through carefully the benefits they generate for the life and future of the abandoned spouse.

Change Yourself

Crying, begging, arguing, criticizing, demanding, and manipulating have a crucial commonality. They never cause a departing spouse to change his mind and stay. Instead, they propel him away more rapidly.

To attract rather than repel, demonstrate competence and confidence. If your spouse wants to end the marriage, tell him that you love him and that you will fight for your marriage. However, do so with strength and dignity, never weakness and desperation. Any action that appears clinging or controlling makes you less attractive emotionally, mentally, and physically. If you wish to create doubt in his mind about why he is leaving you, stop every negative behavior and develop every positive aspect of yourself. Demonstrate to him that though you love him and wish him to stay, you will survive and you will prosper even if he leaves.

Human nature leads us to desire what we do not – and, possibly, may not – have. If your actions indicate that you will take him back under any condition and that you will do whatever he wishes, you are not desirable.

Make yourself desirable to him by changing yourself in ways that benefit you even if he does not return.

Change yourself physically by improving your health and appearance. Eat as you should. Exercise diligently. Every day groom yourself well and dress confidently. Will it cause him to turn back? Possibly. If it does not, it is still the best thing you can do for yourself.

Change yourself intellectually by expanding your mind. Marital problems often debilitate thinking and reasoning. Read widely. Enroll in an online course. Seek conversations with learned, wise, or innovative thinkers. The effect on you will be extremely positive, and that is extremely important for your sake. Additionally, it may cause your departing spouse to see you from a different, and more attractive, perspective.

Change yourself emotionally by seeking people and experiences that evoke positive feelings within you. Laugh. Explore. Enjoy the deep comfort of feeling accepted and cared about. Find the fun that life offers, even if fun appears impossible. There is a reason no perfume company names its leading fragrance Misery. People avoid misery. They are attracted to joy. Heal your misery by developing inner joy despite your circumstances. “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit saps a person's strength” (Proverbs 17:22, New Living Translation). Sometimes that particular medicine not only makes the person with the cheerful heart better, but also heals a marriage.

Change yourself spiritually by deepening your relationship with God. Trying times often serve as the catalyst for a profound level of spirituality and communion with the Divine. That gives you strength in every aspect of life. It also may force your deserting spouse to develop a deeper understanding and appreciation of you.

It may be that none of these changes lead your spouse to change as well, but they benefit you now and in your future. Often, they do have the desired effect on the spouse as well.

Change the Circumstances

You serve yourself and your life poorly if you allow fear of your spouse’s anger or threats to control you. Take charge of your life and do what is best for you. If you have children, do what is best for them.

Do not think that placating her demands will lead her to change her mind and stay. Departing spouses typically manipulate. They make their desertion less painful for themselves if they convince you not to seek help and comfort from your friends, or to protect yourself by legal counsel.

If you wish to save your marriage, do not yield to manipulations and threats. Stand strong. Take legal action to protect financial assets. Demand fairness and equity. Develop a support group for your emotional, spiritual, and other needs.

Do not behave arrogantly or meanly, but in every way demonstrate independence and confidence.

You never hear someone describe an attractive person as fearful or weak, because those are not attractive traits. If you are to have any hope of saving your marriage, be strong. That makes you more attractive.

Remember, even if it does not bring her back, you are doing the best thing for yourself.

Also, if you pray, ask God to create negative circumstances that alter your spouse’s plans. Motivated by love, not meanness, ask God to cause negative situations such losing her job, developing problems in her relationship with her lover, or losing inner peace.

A NOTE OF CAUTION: Hurt, anger, and frustration often blur judgment. Fragile, bruised, or exhausted emotions need balance from levelheaded mentors. Never do anything – offering a prayer or implementing the suggestions that follow – that could cause harm without first seeking counsel from wise, learned, and deeply spiritual people. That often means disregarding advice from family and friends angry with your spouse for hurting you.

Change the Consequences

Typically, a deserting spouse tries to leave the marriage with as few negative consequence to himself as possible. He hopes to maintain good financial status and reputation with everyone, especially friends and family. You hurt yourself and your children if you purposefully say or do things to hurt him. However, helping him keep his behaviors and actions secret benefits neither you nor him.

If infidelity exists, ask your church leaders to intervene and call you spouse to accountability. If your spouse is addicted, immoral, or violating the law, consult your wise advisers and then seek the right help for yourself or your children with no hesitation, even if doing so might hurt him.

Seek qualified legal representation that not only protects you and your children, but that forces him to face the consequences of his actions. Be wise, not vindictive. Focus on rescue, not destruction.

There is no kindness in allowing – or helping – anyone do destructive things to himself or his family.

Genuine love calls people to accountability. If that leads to his “hitting bottom,” it typically is far less severe than the bottom he will realize if he continues on the wrong path.

Having to face the consequences of one’s actions often motivates a person to stop those actions and do the right thing instead.

Change the Future

Our experiences with thousands of couples indicate a probability that the suggested changes gradually will positively affect your spouse. You become more attractive. When you become more attractive than the person, situation, or thing that your spouse was leaving you for, you will witness positive changes within her.

If your spouse suggests that you try to work things out, insist that your marriage will not resume as it was. Staying together without solving the underlying problems that led to the marital discord is like living in a minefield. Things may go well for a while, but danger lies nearby.

Give grace, mercy, and forgiveness, but insist that you together get professional help to understand what happened, why it happened, what your relationship needs, how to overcome your difficulties, and how to develop a deeply loving marriage.

Do not stop being strong if she wishes to return. That is the time to be stronger than you have ever been, and with love and graciousness repair your marriage to make it what it should and can be.

If your marriage is in trouble, click here to learn about  a marriage seminar that saves marriages that are in crisis. 

Joe Beam is founder and chairman of Beam Research Center, an organization that provides marriage help to hurting couples. He is a best-selling author and popular speaker on marriage. For information on Joe's seminar for troubled marriages, call (866) 903-0990 or click the link above.

Publication date: July 20, 2012