Can't We Just Forgive and Forget?
Dear Dr. Harley,
My wife of almost 30 years has filed for divorce. She is intending to move out next month,
and to another state this summer. Neither of us have ever had an affair, nor have there
been addictions, abuse, or financial problems.
She is hurt by my past decisions concerning where we lived (in Europe for a six year
period when she wanted to be elsewhere), how I treated the children, financial issues and,
in general, making decisions without considering her input. It caused her to feel unloved,
unequal, unrespected and unadmired by me. Now almost 10 years later after Prozac and
30 therapy sessions she wants out of the marriage.
When I made those decisions I wasn't aware of the Policy of Joint Agreement or the effect
of my decisions on her Love Bank. I thought I was doing the right thing and that she
would appreciate my leadership in the family. But now I know I made terrible mistakes
throughout our marriage. I've taken several marriage enrichment courses (alone since she
won't go), read several self-help books, and also seen a therapist at least 8 times to see what
I can do to help her and myself. She went with me once but didn't like him because he was
trying to save our marriage. I'm not trying to control her, but no one she talks to seems to
feel that marriages can be saved when a spouse (me) is willing to change his behavior. I
am on good terms with our children and love my wife, but her spirit is shut down.
I still love her but I am beginning to wonder if it is time to stop trying, or is there some
hope or method yet that I have not considered. What do you suggest I do?
I suggest you keep trying to reconcile right up to the day she moves out, then up to the day
you are divorced, and then continue on for about two years beyond your divorce. Your
wife's Love Bank is so far in the red that she probably can't even see the bottom of the well.
But each time you do something to make her feel good, and avoid doing something that
annoys her, your reduce the deficit. She probably hates you right now because her Love
Bank balance is so negative. But eventually, you will have deposited enough love units
to break even. From then on, you will be depositing into the black, and she will like you
again. With more deposits, she will eventually love you, and your marriage will be
Your wife is suffering from deep resentment that developed over a lifetime. She does not
want to forgive you for the mistakes you made during your marriage, and she certainly
can't forget. Her Taker reminds her of her lost years, when she was forced to live
according to your plans and your schedule. It reminds her of the times she begged you
to consider her feelings, and how you ignored her pleas. She is reminded of her
overwhelming feeling of loneliness, and hopelessness that made her consider suicide on
numerous occasions. How could she ever forgive a man who put her through all of that.
It's no wonder your wife wants to make her own choices from now on, and her first choice
is to leave the prison. She has probably been counting the days that your children would
be on their own so she could be on her own. Every effort you are now making to keep her
with you will be interpreted as the same oppressive control that she endured throughout
Your wife is now in the state of emotional withdrawal, which makes it difficult for you to
deposit love units into her
Love Bank. She does not want you to try to meet her
emotional needs because she does not believe you will ever be able to make her happy. She thinks
that as soon as she drops her defenses, you will trap her, and she will be under your
For a while, she may want to regain total control of her life so that she knows what it feels
like. Once she has regained control, however, she may miss what it was you did for her.
After all, none of us can meet our own emotional needs, they can only be met by someone
else. That's what marriage is all about. She may be willing to re-enter her relationship
with you on new terms. If you can meet her needs without it costing her control of her life,
you will have made a deal that will compensate her for some of the pain she has suffered.
From there her generosity toward you may carry her the rest of the way to forgiveness.
Interestingly enough, a sign of her trusting you may take the form of anger and
resentment. If she changes from withdrawal to the
state of conflict (which is an
improvement), she will tell you how angry she is, and blame you for all of her depression.
Her Taker will release its storehouse of resentment. Her shaming of you, and her
disrespect will be hard for you to take, but it will give you an opportunity to hear from her
Taker what she wants from you. You will have an opportunity to make a deal with her
to compensate her for all of the pain she has suffered. If you can get though her attack
without losing too many of her love units in your love bank, you will gain valuable
information, and an opportunity from your wife to implement change.
Read "Negotiating in the Three States of Marriage" in
my Basic Concepts section of the web
site for more information about how states of mind effect your negotiating strategy.
You should also read my book, Fall in Love, Stay in Love. If you read it now,
you can start applying its principles while she is still with you, and follow through on
them after she has left. Pay close attention to the chapters on the Love Busters,
Disrespectful Judgments and
Selfish Demands, because they will get you into a ton of
trouble if you persist in them while she is still around.
My article, in the articles section, entitled "Why Women Leave Men" may also be helpful
to you. If possible, make a copy for your wife to read and see if she agrees with me.
The Policy of Joint Agreement (never do anything without an enthusiastic agreement
between you and your spouse) is the ultimate equalizer in marriage. Your wife's stated
reason for leaving you is that her feelings have not been taken into account whenever you
have made decisions, and she feels like the caboose on a train. All her married life she felt
out of control. The Policy of Joint Agreement will change all of that for both of you, and
if you try to reconcile with care and consideration for her feelings, you and your wife will
have years to practice using it together.