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.