“Everything I do just seems to drive him further away. I know God can save my marriage. But John wants a legal separation so I’m giving him one. I figure it would be better not to fight him and that if I go along with him it will calm him down so that later we might be able to repair our marriage.” With those words, she ended several minutes of describing her marital situation.

She had called our office to ask about our workshop for troubled marriages and somehow had gotten me rather than one of our team who normally helps callers. I listened to her politely, interjecting a question here and there. As she ended with the words above, I responded carefully.

“Based on the things you told me, it sounds as if he may be manipulating you to get what he wants...and I fear that what he wants is not the best thing for you...”

She cut me off before I could finish. She had made her mind up and that was that. The reason she called was to let us know that she and her husband would not be enrolling in our workshop for troubled marriages.

I thanked her for her call, cradled the phone, leaned back in my chair and sighed deeply. Because of my experience from more than twenty years working with troubled marriages, I knew she made the wrong decision, and that unless God did indeed intervene in some spectacular way, her marriage will end. She thought she followed a wise course of action that would lead her husband back to her. Instead, my experience shouts that she followed a foolish course of action that all but ensures he would not.

Every day our team talks with people who wish to salvage their troubled marriages. For most of them, their mates do not have the same desire. Sometimes the other spouse is “madly in love” with someone else and wants a divorce. Other times the other person has felt controlled and dominated for so long that all they can think of is getting away as far and fast as possible. The reasons vary, but most often, the situation with those who call is that he or she desperately wishes to save the marriage but the other partner does not.

From our experience with thousands of couples, I offer the following suggestions. First the things not to do, then the things that you should do.

Do Not Cling

Nearly everyone tries it, but hardly anyone succeeds. Trying to keep the person you love from leaving you by pleading, begging, arguing, demanding, apologizing, or manipulating typically fails terribly. Some throw thousands of words at the other in person, by text, email, and sometimes through other people. They tell the other that they are sorry, that they forgive, that they will change, that no one could ever love them as they do, that they are destroying their children, or any other thing that they think will stop the other from leaving. Others cry, not only in pain but also because they hope to evoke compassion. One woman said, “I followed him to his car and banged my head on our concrete driveway until blood flowed like a river. And he STILL left!” Some get sick or “accidentally” hurt themselves, hoping that will trigger a rekindling of the love lost deep within the departing spouse.

Rather than drawing the departing person back, clinging behaviors usually propel them away faster. There are several reasons that it does. One is that no one who clings, begs, or whines is attractive in any sense of the word. Another is that clinging behavior implies that you will take the other back no matter what they do, thus removing any reason for them to stop their abandonment.

Do Not Collapse

Rather than clinging – or, more often, after finally giving up on clinging – some people provide the departing spouse permission to do whatever they wish. Some ignore or tolerate inappropriate behaviors. Others agree to separation or terminating joint accounts. Typically, they yield because they think that if they do not, the departing spouse will become angry and things will become worse. In actuality, they very likely are easing the departing mate’s transition into divorce.