My Wife Said She Wants a Divorce – How Can I Change Her Mind?
My wife wants a divorce. Help – what do I do?
One afternoon she suddenly sat across from me, straightened up and said, “I need to tell you something. This isn’t working for me – the way things have been. I’m giving up trying to make it better, and I don’t want to be married to you anymore.”
The news that your wife wants a divorce is a terrible shock. You feel confused, helpless, taken aback; you may panic. Maybe she’s been after you for a while, but you seemed to be getting along well enough. You never imagined she really was THAT unhappy. You never heard “I can’t take it much more of this,” and now she’s ready to go.
Getting this news is a jolt that can leave you reeling and unsure how to respond. You’re shocked to learn she felt worse than you knew. With her admission or ultimatum you’re suddenly able to see how severe the problem is.
Dig Deep and Empathize
It’s important to know what your partner is feeling and thinking by saying she wants a divorce. Is this set in stone, or is there a way to work together? She may have made up her mind, but, in many cases, she still has one foot in the door. If you want a chance to save this relationship, be careful now. You don’t want to shut the door on her foot by fighting and making things worse.
If you feel there’s any chance to turn things around, stand in the “doorway” with her and say, “I haven’t realized, I really didn’t get it, how desperate you were, and now, I’m beginning to get it. Tell me about it.” This is the time to focus on her, empathize and listen like never before.
Be All About Hearing Your Partner’s Needs
It’s not time to say, “Tell me how I can change, so I can keep you.” It’s important to keep your concern about her. “How can I change” is still about you. This is one time when listening is going to make or break your chances of reconciliation.
It is incredibly hard to focus on someone else’s needs when you’re panicked. You will have racing thoughts like: “I’m about to lose the most important person in my life.” It can help to say that too, but you really need to have your heart and mind open to listen.
If you panic, you can’t listen well. You may feel an impulse to fight – after all, your future and your security are in danger. Escalating the argument is like slamming the door in her face. Now is the time to take in how she’s suffering, what she’s angry about, what her hurt is about.
Make Sure She Feels Heard
Make every effort to avoid being defensive. That signals you’re still not listening, and will only cement her decision. Listen fully and carefully. Find out if your partner is referring to substance abuse, addiction, an affair, neglect, or other behavior. Hear and respect her reasons.
You may hear, “You’re always on the computer I’m tired of taking second place,” for example. You need to see what has not been working for her, and ask yourself what new course of action is going to put you on the right road.
If it’s a difficult issue like a long-standing drug or alcohol problem or a series of affairs, what are you going to do about it?
It’s Time to Ask for Help
A crisis such as this is almost always too big and complex to resolve alone. It’s time to get some counseling for you both, and yourself alone if need be. You will want to seek help as a couple. You may also seek individual therapy if there are some long-standing problems, like alcohol or drug use.
Loneliness and unhealthy behaviors are two main problems we see in our practice, that drive relationships to the brink. Often, the wife has been the “pursuer” and pushed for change, but the husband has remained withdrawn for years. When she finally says she wants out, he responds, “Wait. Wait. Wait… What?” It is terribly hard to admit you have not done enough, but it’s important now to act and get help.
If you need help with addiction or substance abuse, treatment for the behavior is vitally important. It’s a hopeful sign when the spouse can say she still loves the clean and sober person you are, just not the user. Relationships pushed to the limit by loneliness have slightly better odds of recovery than those hurt by addiction or affairs. Regardless of the cause, it will take your full attention to do the work that will bring you back together.
Plan Your Support System Together
Building a good support network is important to helping your relationship heal. The couples we see recover well are those who discuss who they’re going to tell that they’re struggling. This is the time tell certain people you need support. You may be uncomfortable to think your wife as told her mom or sisters what’s going on. You may worry “They must think I’m a creep right now.” That’s why its important to have a conversation with your partner about how both of you need social support, emotional support, and encouragement that does not demonize, but that respects each of you.
Interestingly enough, being able to have that conversation with respect for each other is often a tiny repair, because you really have to listen to each other and consider things together. If you have not been talking about what’s important to you for a long time, that’s a healing conversation to have.
Offer Hope, Take Responsibility
Decades of relationship research show that successful marriages don’t depend on certain character traits to succeed. The ways you interact – the patterns you’ve built into daily life – determine whether love thrives or dies. The good news is, the way you interact can be changed. Some people learn too late, and the love they had is just worn out.
Other couples find that it is possible to revive love from the brink of despair. Take time to understand what signs you missed and what you both need to feel good about your relationship. This gives your partner hope. It isn’t easy to admit fault for letting things go for so long. But, by stepping up efforts to listen, learn and repair your relationship, you will learn how to nurture a warmer, more secure bond.
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