How to stop a divorce

January 14, 2019

Many years ago I wanted out of my marriage. Desperately wanted out. My husband felt differently and – fortunately for us both –  eventually did the things necessary to give me the time and motivation I needed to want to re-engage in our marriage.

Being in a marriage you desperately want to save and knowing your spouse is ready to call it quits, is one those situations I wouldn’t wish for anyone. It’s gut-wrenching.  But if you’ve found yourself in that very place, know you aren’t alone. Many have walked this path before you and despite what you may think at the moment, there can be HOPE for a relationship like yours. But first, you have to stop the divorce.

Focus your effort inward

When your spouse wants out but you want to stay married, you have three options.

  • Option 1: Accept the divorce and move on
  • Option 2: Attempt to change your spouse’s behavior and/or mind
  • Option 3: Address how you show up in the relationship

Option 1 is the ‘white flag’ move. It’s the very last resort if your goal is to stop the divorce and restore your marriage; but nevertheless, it is a choice you have. Most of our marriage rescue clients come to us after they’ve tried – and failed – at Option 2. This isn’t surprising because Option 2 doesn’t work! It’s usually the most ineffective and damaging option of the three – to both of you and to the marriage. Why? Because it focuses on something you cannot control (your spouse) and involves desperate behaviors like begging and pleading, which serve only to build more resentment and make you less attractive to your spouse.

Most successful marriage rescue attempts follow Option 3, focusing on how you show up in the relationship. This certainly was true in my marriage. I got in trouble because I focused on trying to change my husband. When I couldn’t do that, I became hopeless and wanted out. My husband’s reaction to my wanting out was, at first, to focus on changing my mind. That obviously didn’t work either. Nothing changed for either of us until he turned his focus inward and started changing himself. He realized he didn’t like the way he was showing up and made an effort to do something about it. He began to show up differently and I took notice, and it in turn caused me to change how I felt about him and about our marriage. This change in my husband was a crucial first step in saving our marriage, and it likely will be for you as well.

Being relationship ready

If your spouse is wanting out of the marriage, you need to wisely discern the circumstances so you can choose an appropriate response. Notice again, my focus is not on what your spouse does or doesn’t do, but instead, on how you respond.

When your spouse wants out of your marriage, generally any scenario boils down to one of you – or both of you – not being relationship ready.

Being ‘relationship ready’ doesn’t mean you have it all together and don’t make mistakes. If that was the case, none of us would be relationship ready. It’s simply the term I use to describe someone who is equipped with enough relational skills and maturity to function effectively in the relationship. It will always be easier to point the finger at how your spouse isn’t relationship ready than it will be to honestly self-assess and turn the mirror on yourself. A skilled coach or counselor can help you do this very important step.

Here are some of the most common scenarios I see. Often, more than one of them is at play for a couple.

Your spouse is acting irrationally without any obvious reason

It could be a mid-life crisis. Perhaps an undisclosed affair. Or, it may be a spouse who simply feels they have fallen out of love with you but can’t really tell you why. They may say “I like/love you but I’m not in love with you.” This can leave you baffled as you try to pinpoint when the feelings changed. I generally find the root cause in this scenario to be the spouse’s unrealistic expectations of you or the institution of marriage, and thus they are constantly feeling disappointed.  Or, your spouse has fallen into that self-absorption trap that seems to be a growing problem in our society.

The key factor is to determine whether or not your spouse is usually characterized by this level of selfishness. If they are, you may want to spend your time working with someone to figure out why you are drawn to people who take so much from you and give so little in return. But, if it seems like your loving spouse has lost their mind and is acting incredibly different than before, you want to be very intentional with how you respond. Avoiding certain behaviors (for instance, begging them to stay) is as equally important as doing the right things – remaining kind and loving but firm, setting boundaries that protect you and the relationship, and allowing them to suffer whatever consequences come from the decisions they make.

If you struggle with conflict, this is going to be especially challenging work for you because you have to be willing to make your spouse very uncomfortable. There is a way to hold up the mirror without attacking, blaming or shaming and we can show you how to do that.

Your spouse is involved with someone else

Whether it’s an emotional or physical affair, this is an incredibly painful place to be. Do you wait it out? Certainly no one would blame you for going. But if you want to try and save your marriage, your response to the affair is incredibly important. You’ll need to be an expert at setting healthy boundaries. Some clients use an ultimatum and you can read more about these here. Sometimes the ultimatum works to draw the spouse back to the marriage, but it can also backfire. Your partner may be in limerence, believing they are in love with the affair partner and not be ready to make a choice. Waiting it out is another option but can also be very difficult to do. Discernment counseling or coaching is a process we use to help couples make the tough decision of whether or not to work on their marriage.  

Your spouse has had it with your behavior

Perhaps you’ve been ignoring or downplaying their pleas for change. You’ve minimized or ignored their hurt or distress caused by your actions (or inaction) until they’ve shut down and pulled away. You‘ve used and abused them – whether it be verbally, emotionally or otherwise –  for years and they have finally hit their limit.

Being able to see your own contribution to your spouse wanting to leave the marriage requires painful insight and a willingness to own your mistakes. I recommend you ask your spouse for time to look at your stuff and to understand how you contributed to this outcome. You may not get that time, but do the work anyway. This isn’t about manipulating your spouse so they will come back. This is real work to change decades of thinking and behaving in ways that weren’t conducive to being in a relationship. Don’t fall into the trap of making some change and then expecting your spouse to immediately forgive you and want to reconcile. Rebuilding trust takes time.

Will it work?

This is only a quick glance over some of the intense work we do in marriage rescue. Prospective clients regularly ask about success rates and I understand why. They want to gauge their “odds” before they invest their time, energy, and finances on their hope for reconciliation. The truth is it is impossible to give accurate measures of success as each relationship is unique. But I can tell you this… if you do the work, the process itself is a win/win. You’ll either save your marriage or you will make yourself ready for a healthier, happier relationship down the road.  You will also have the peace of mind knowing you’ve done absolutely everything you can do to save your marriage which will save you doubts and regrets later.

For those of you that want more detailed help in stopping a divorce and rescuing your marriage, you can check out our The Marriage Rescue Triage Toolkit, a PDF ebook available for purchase and immediate download which gives you 20 tools and other resources to use to re-engage your spouse. Or, if you want customized one-one-support for your specific situation, you can contact us to learn more about our personalized coaching services.

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