Setting Healthy Boundaries: Saving a Marriage When One Spouse Want A Divorce

June 13, 2023

I get asked a lot how to save a marriage when one spouse is leaning out or is contemplating divorce. Everybody’s situation’s different, but what I’m seeing a lot lately is very concerning to me.

Sometimes when a spouse is on the verge of divorce, they will engage in behaviors that are not conducive to working on saving the marriage. For example, they may move out or begin a physical or emotional relationship with someone else outside of the marriage. What I see that is concerning is that the spouse who wants to save the marriage is being overly accommodating of this behavior that doesn’t support working on the marriage. They may continue to have sex even though their spouse is having an affair with someone else. Or, they prepare dinner and let them eat and stay for a while, before they leave to go back to the affair partner.

For some of you reading this, it is going to sound really foreign to you. You’re thinking “I wouldn’t do any of that. If he(she) doesn’t want me, I don’t want them.” That’s good and fine, but there are a lot of people who are in this situation who really don’t know what to do. They are scared to stand up for themselves, for fear they will push the leaning out spouse away for good.

They feel exhausted, stressed, and anxious. They want to save their family and they’re willing to do just about anything to make that happen. The problem with this is that nothing looks more unattractive in a relationship than desperation. If you want to save your marriage, there is space for being somewhat available, but if you resort to desperation, your actions are working against you. Allowing a partner to have really bad behavior that’s unchecked without any consequences is about as desperate as you can be.

Why Healthy Boundaries Matter

I want you to think about it this way: Boundaries protect relationships. They protect your self-respect and they are also extremely attractive. Trust me on this.

When your partner is caught up in the idea of not being sure if they want to be married anymore, they can push all of the boundaries. The more that you lay down and let them ignore the boundaries and run over you – even though it’s counterintuitive to you – the less attractive you are.

What a Healthy Boundary Might Look Like

For those of you with a partner who is physically or emotionally gone but keeps you hanging by saying things like ‘I’m trying to work my way back into the relationship, but I just haven’t yet.’ Or, ‘I just need more time.’ or even, ‘I’m trying to work on myself and trying to understand why I feel the way I do now.’ I want you to hear this.

Your spouse is giving you just enough breadcrumbs to keep you trying.

All of those points may be valid, but there comes a time – and sometimes it’s really early on – when you have to have enough self-respect to say, “I get it. If you don’t want to be in this relationship, then you go figure that out. When you’re ready to come back, let me know. If I am still available and if the door is open, then we can talk about it; but until then, we aren’t going to have the best of both worlds.”

As stressful as that might feel in your situation, because you do want to save your relationship, it may be just the thing your spouse needs to hear to re-engage with you. Having those healthy boundaries and taking care of yourself can be enough to cause your spouse who may think they want out of your marriage to stop and pay attention.

Fighting the Battle with You

Remember, there was a time when I wanted out of my marriage. I engaged in behavior that wasn’t showing my husband a lot of respect because, quite honestly, I didn’t have a lot of respect at that point. But the day that he told me he would give me the space to figure out what I wanted and needed, but in the meantime he expected me to treat him with respect or he would help me pack my bags, was the day he got my attention in a very different way.

If you’re in this situation, it’s a hard battle to do on your own. We have a team trained specifically for this situation and all the different varieties that can show up when working with unique, different relationships. If you want to maximize the opportunity you have to restore your relationship – even if it may feel hopeless at the moment – I hope you’ll give us a call.


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