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 restored.
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 marriage.
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 control again.
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.