Can One Spouse Save a Marriage? (Part 2)
Introduction: To understand this column, if you have not already done so, you should read my last column first.
There, I printed a letter of a woman who was trying to save her marriage without her
husband's help. She was very discouraged and was probably about to leave him. After
answering her letter, I printed T.C.'s letter, a husband whose wife had actually left him
after trying, but failing, to get his attention. I printed no response to T.C.'s letter because
I thought it was obvious: Men should take their wives' complaints seriously before their
wives give up on them! But I received so much e-mail by men wanting to know
how I responded to T.C. that I decided to do another column with a sample of these
letters. Here, the question is, if your wife has left you, can you save your marriage? Some
day I'll do another column on what to do if your husband has left you. I know it's sexist,
but my answer is not the same for both situations.
Dear Dr. Harley,
I am in exactly the same position that TC describes in his letter that was printed in your
June 17th column. Unfortunately, you did not print your response there.
I am still very much in love with my wife. We have a 21 month old son whom I adore.
She is an educated woman with a very responsible career. Now, even after a year of
marriage counseling, she wants a divorce. My wife is in total lock-down; she refuses to
discuss the situation with me. I had thought the sessions were working, but she says she
was just pretending so as to avoid conflict.
How can I save this marriage? I gave her a book but she refuses to read it. The only
people she talks to want her to divorce me and therefore drive a bigger wedge between
us. But I know I have changed over the last year, and I know I can be the loving and
supporting man I was at the start of our relationship 10 years ago. I realize I've made too
many large withdrawals from her "Love Bank", but I've been trying hard to make deposits
for some time now. Is there any way I can break through her shell and get past the
influence of her friends? I want to save my family.
The truth is, you are in a better position to be your wife's husband than anyone on earth.
You are married to her and you are the father of her child. The reason she wants a divorce
is that the disadvantages have far outweighed the advantages for so long that she has
made this very painful decision -- for her it is painful! But it is even more painful for her
to remain married to you.
The solution is for you to see to it that her relationship with you is painless and clearly in
her best interest. You must eliminate every situation where she has been uncomfortable
(including your trying to get her to stop talking to her friends), and replace it with things
you do that meet her emotional needs. Granted, since she is in the state of Withdrawal,
at first she will not want you to meet her needs, so she may not give you much
opportunity. But the reason she is in Withdrawal is that you are doing and saying things
that cause her to raise her defenses. Stop trying to straighten her out and start making her
life enjoyable! Then she will lower her defenses, emerge from the state of Withdrawal and
allow you to meet her needs.
You've been to marriage counseling for a year, and yet she is divorcing you. Was the
counselor as surprised she left as you? I'm sure your counselor has a few suggestions
based on his or her observations that will help you see what it was that your wife is
running away from. Find out what it is she is most afraid of if she would return. Perhaps
she thinks you are responsible for her having lost her self-esteem, her identity, or being
depressed all the time? If so, what does she think you could have done that would have
prevented that from happening? Are you disrespectful toward her? Do you threaten her?
Do you make demands? What do you do that makes her unhappy? Whatever it is, learn
to overcome it.
You need to understand what she is going through, and try to accommodate it instead of
change it. Be her best friend, not her adversary. The child you have in common is an
undeniable and life-long link to her heart that will bring you back together again if you
demonstrate your care for her in the respect you show for her. In most cases I've seen like
yours, wives are willing to talk to their husbands on the telephone because there is safely
in distance. Call her regularly just to see how she is doing and ask her what you can do
for her. When she is comfortable talking to you on the telephone, you may suggest seeing
each other, but don't push. Let her take her time. Prove to her that you care more about
her feelings than your own, and you will not do anything to hurt her again.