What to Do When One Spouse Wants Out
- Friday, March 17, 2006
Dear Dr. David:
My husband informed me recently that he no longer wanted to be married. He assured me there was no other woman, but he just needed some space. This was a total surprise to me and has hurt me terribly. I am a Christian and do not want to give up on our marriage. I want to fight to keep him. So, I decided to lose weight, change the color of my hair and start dressing the way he likes. I am doing everything I can to make him fall in love with me again.
My problem is that all of these things don't seem to be working. He says he is still not attracted to me, even though I have tried to be available to him physically. He stays away for days and then visits me and the children for a few days. I am doing everything he wants and still it is not working. He said he is willing to go to counseling with me, but I think he is just going through the motions before he asks for a divorce. What else can I do, since I don't believe in divorce? --Brenda
First of all, you're trying too hard, if you can believe that's possible. I sense panic - and your panic is understandable. Your marriage is most definitely in trouble, and you are flailing about like you've just jumped ship into a lifeboat. The problem is, moving about frantically in a lifeboat only increases the likelihood you'll sink. So, what to do?
First, take a breath. Settle down. Your path ahead is going to be a marathon, not a sprint. You need to pace yourself and do things strategically. Acting rashly only sends a message of desperation, and that's not the message you want to give your husband who is currently unsure of you and your marriage.
Second, get support. Since it is a marathon, you need support and wise counsel along the way. Be careful who you choose to listen to however, as Godly counsel is what is needed. There is also good literature on how to cope with this kind of problem, including one of my own books, Love Lost: Living Beyond a Broken Marriage.
Third, many of the things you are doing are actually good—keep them up. Just don't throw yourself at him—he will feel hemmed in, pushed away, and only gives him a greater sense of control. This panicky behavior only lowers his respect for you. He has agreed to go to counseling, which is a very good sign. In counseling, agree upon some "rules" for this season of your marriage, such as no opposite sex friendships/relationships that will distract from the matter at hand. Perhaps agree to date one another with no expectations of fireworks on his part. Attempt to rediscover those qualities that initially drew you to each other—one step at a time. Remember, the tortoise won the race.
Fourth, be in prayer about your marriage and about what you can legitimately do to save your marriage. As the Serenity Prayer says, know the difference between what is in your control and what is not. Be clear about what is your part—which is to become stronger and healthier -- what is your husband's part, and what is God's part. Your husband has a free will—right or wrong, he will make his decisions and have to live with them. You are responsible to make decisions about yourself and how to best cope with these most difficult times. With patience, tempered actions and God working in both of your hearts, your marriage can emerge stronger than ever.
Finally, our trust ultimately needs to be in the Lord, who promises a bright future for you. "For I know the plans I have for you declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future." (Jeremiah 29:11)
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