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Can One Person Save a Marriage?

  • Dr. David B. Hawkins The Relationship Doctor
  • Published Oct 19, 2023
Can One Person Save a Marriage?

Editor's Note: Do you need sound, Biblically-based advice on an issue in your marriage or family?  Dr. David will address questions from Crosswalk readers in each weekly column. Submit your question to him at

Dear Dr. David, 

My husband left six months ago and at the time we had only been married two years. I thought the two years were wonderful, with the usual amount of fights—nothing terrible. He said his reason for leaving was that we didn’t get along and can’t live this way anymore. 

My husband still calls sometimes just to talk, and says that he still loves me. He says there is not another woman. I’ve asked him if he’s willing to go for counseling, and he refuses. 

We dated for several years before we got married so I don't understand why he says we suddenly don't get along. I don’t think the problems were that significant, but obviously I must be wrong. Can one person save a marriage? ~ Confused

Dear Confused,

There is not a simple answer to your question, but rather several things to consider.

Clearly, the problems were significant enough to make your husband want to leave. People have different tolerance levels for conflict, and that appears to be the case with you and your husband.

It is positive to note that your husband continues to want to talk to you. That suggests there is an existing bridge between you, and that bridge is an opportunity for a stronger and healthier relationship.

While you cannot make your husband come back to you, nor can you control him in any way, you can effectively manage your behavior. Notice that I emphasize the word, effective. There is an immense danger of not effectively managing the times you might see or hear from him.

Consider the fact that your husband is upset about his perception that you two did not get along. This is important information. While you seem to disagree with him, perception is everything, and you must be sensitive to how he sees things.

Since you seem to disagree with him, I wonder how you are handling his perceptions. Again, the danger is to disagree with him, adding insult to the injury. Most couples handle these challenging times very poorly, tending to bicker or fight, since both are feeling hurt and wounded.

Setting aside your troubled feelings, have you actively listened to him, validating his perceptions, even if you don’t agree with him? Have you made it clear that you’re willing to discover and empathize with his feelings, even if you don’t agree with him? Have you sought out his point of need? There may be powerful opportunities to attend to him in his time of difficulty.

Additionally, I can’t emphasize enough the power of your interactions with him. Consider every time you see or hear from him an opportunity to make a positive impression on him. Each encounter can either be a building block, or stumbling block, in your relationship.

Finally, remember why he fell in love with you several years ago. Take time to re-member---attach yourself to those qualities---and show them off to him. This may feel unfair, or perhaps even like work, but try not to settle into feeling like a victim. This won’t be attractive to him.

While these actions won’t guarantee his return, it certainly increases the odds that he’ll think twice about what he’s missing, and in the process, you’ll know that you did everything to save your marriage.

David Hawkins, Ph.D., has worked with couples and families to improve the quality of their lives by resolving personal issues for the last 30 years. He is the author of over 18 books, including Love Lost: Living Beyond a Broken Marriage   Saying It So He'll Listen, and  When Pleasing Others Is Hurting You. His newest books are titled  The Relationship Doctor's Prescription for Healing a Hurting Relationship and  The Relationship Doctor's Prescription for Living Beyond Guilt.  Dr. Hawkins grew up in the beautiful Pacific Northwest and lives with his wife on the South Puget Sound where he enjoys sailing, biking, and skiing. He has active practices in two Washington cities.

Photo credit: © Getty Images/Marjan Apostolovic