How to save a marriage when your spouse doesn’t want to try

Q: My spouse has given up on our marriage. She wants a divorce. I don’t. What can I do to win her back? – Desperate

Dear Desperate:

I wish I could give you three surefire ways to winning back the love of your life. Unfortunately, they just don’t exist. It takes two people to have a good marriage, but only one person to end one. Quite often, once people make the decision to end their marriages, they make a mental shift that prevents them from seeing any good in their marriage. Their minds are made up, so they focus all of their mental attention on the reasons why their marriage isn’t working and do not allow themselves to see a single reason to try one last time.

This is a tough mindset to break, but it’s worth trying. This is what I recommend.

Step 1

Set up a time to talk about your marriage. It should be a time when you are both relaxed. The kids should not be around. No one’s favorite show should be playing on TV. Definitely don’t do it if either one of you is pissed off. You need to both be calm.

Step 2

Ask her to give it one final try. Negotiate for an extended warranty on your marriage. You can’t talk her into loving you, but you might be able to talk her into trying by saying something like, “Will you give me four months of your time? During these four months, I promise to do everything I can to become a man you would like to be married to. If, after four months, you see no improvement, you can leave and I will not try to stop you. If, after four months, however, you see some improvement, we can extend the trial date another four months and another four months and so on.”

If she agrees, move on to step three. If she refuses, there’s really not a lot you can do.

Step 3

Launch a marriage project. Because your spouse is the one who has given up, your initial four months are going to have to be lopsided in favor of doing everything possible to make her happy. This might not be fair, but it is what it is. Get over it. Ask her to make two lists. One is a grievance list. She should make this list first. On it, she should write down everything that makes her feel disappointed in her marriage. It should be a list like:

1.    I don’t feel attracted to you.

2.    We have nothing in common.

3.    I feel suffocated.

Her list might be really long. Expect that. It’s also going to hurt. You need to be ready and open for that, too.

Her second list should be everything she expects from a perfect marriage. It might go like this:

1.    Someone who adores me.

2.    Someone who makes me feel beautiful.

3.    Someone I’m attracted to.

And so on.

Resist the urge to argue with her about these lists. Your knee jerk reaction will be to say, “But I do all of those things. I’m the perfect husband!” If she agreed with that, she would not want out of the marriage. More important, the moment you start to defend yourself is the moment she goes back to deciding that the marriage is over. Stop defending your actions. Stop trying to convince her that you are the perfect spouse and she’s blind if she can’t see that. That hasn’t worked for you, right? What you need to do now is become that perfect spouse for her. You need to build a cocoon around yourself and, during the next four months, evolve from the slimy little worm that she thinks you are and into the butterfly that you know you can be.

Take those lists one item at a time and talk about how you can become the man she wants. Diligently work on becoming that person. Take the initiative. Don’t expect her to save your marriage. Remember: she’s given up. You’re going to have to be the big person here. Again, it might not be fair, but it’s reality. Get over it.

Step 4

Don’t ever become complacent and don’t ever assume that your efforts are working. Continually check in with her. For instance, let’s say she wants more romance in her marriage. Let’s say you do that by sending her flowers every week. Let’s say she hates flowers. Then your efforts at creating more romance are falling flat. You need to constantly get feedback from her. You need to work hard on getting to know her, on understanding her, and on learning everything you can about her.

And you have to work hard on your consistency. You absolutely cannot relapse during these initial four months. You really need to show constant improvement in order to win her over. You’re going to have to become a new person. There might come a time when your marriage starts to work and your wife seems like she loves you again. It’s really important to not get sloppy during this phase. Keep giving it all you’ve got.

Step 5

Assuming everything goes well and you are able to extend your marriage warranty beyond four months, you’ll eventually want to work on things that make you happy, too. Slowly address these issues, one at a time.

Good luck!


Do you have advice for Desperate? Leave a comment.

This post was sponsored by Dotty Evens, a marriage counselor who is a lot like me. There was a time when Dotty wasn’t happily married. Like me, she did everything possible to change that situation, and she succeeded. She has a wonderful e-newsletter that offers her tips and tricks for a happy marriage. In each issue, she answers a frequently asked question about marriage, such as, “How can I rebuild trust after infidelity?” She offers great advice, and it’s free. If you sign up for the newsletter, you get a free, bonus report that details the 5 tactics she used to save her marriage. Sign up for the newsletter here to get your free report. You can also connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

292 comments… add one

  • hurting like hell January 25, 2015, 5:19 am

    Dear Bleeding Heart,

    I read through your mail and my situation is similar to yours. We have been together for 7 years and got married for the last 2 years. This is our second marriage together. We were once very happy together doing things that we enjoyed, though he was living apart from me and we only met each other like every fortnight due to work commitments. We enjoyed every single moment together and everything was wonderful.At that point of time I was working for the government though salary was minimal but we lived within our means and we were happy. As years went by, he has helped me in my work and he sacrificed his own time to be with me so that I could build my career and eventually I had my own private practice and money was not a problem anymore. He loved my parents and helped my family whenever he could. He was a perfect partner, caring and loving me unconditionally. Something happened along the way and he was accused of many things which were not his fault and that strained the relationship between my family and him. As I was sandwiched in between them I was so stressed up and constantly we had arguments because of family matters and accusations were thrown at him. I had put work before him, along the way I took him for granted. Due to stress of work and family matters I often lost my temper became defensive and said hurtful things that hurt him so much. Many times this happened and eventually I would apologise and said I would changed. I promised him that I would change my character and became the person I was before however I did not changed as I have promised him before. I took things for granted and thought he would forgive me when I blew my top however this time he took it badly and wants a separation. He refused to take my call despite countless begging and asking for forgiveness. He said he was too hurt and that had numbed him completely and he has lost his feelings for me all together. He said we could be good friends and remained civil.to each other but never husband and wife anymore. He doesn’t believe that I could change because he has given me so many chances and I was always the same old person who would accuse and said hurtful things to hurt his pride and dignity.

    During the separation I sat down and analysed my own self and realised I had blew my chances and I had given him false hope and promises. He has totally lost his confidence and trust in me. This episode has taught me a big lesson and I now realised what big mistake I have done. I missed him tremendously, and want to make it right this time. He wanted a divorce and asked his lawyer to draw up the papers. I wrote him email.and beg for a final chance but he refused to do so. I could not sleep nor eat properly thinking about him. I could not accept the fact that how could my husband who has loved me all this time could become such a distant person with no more feelings for me. I admitted my mistakes and beg him to give me a final chance to change myself to become the woman he once loved before. I really want to change for the better but he refused to budge. All the hopes and dreams and the home that we built together vanished in front of eyes. Money is not everything and without someone to share it with it is meaningless. I do not know what to do anymore, how to move on with my life, I have to put on a brave front and a false smile each time I work with people but deep inside I regretted all the hurtful things I have said to him. If God is forgiving and never abandoned his children, why can’t my husband give me this chance. I have never strayed in my life, love and worry for him all the time, always pray for his safety during his work away from home and think of him all the time. I am not bad wife but my weakness is I’m impulsive and I could not control my defensive mode and said hurtful things when I’m angry. I regretted every single moment since then and want to save this marriage. This is our second marriage and I do not wish to have another breakdown in marriage for both of us. I want to change for the better but he refuses to listen nor give me this chance. Please anyone tell me what to do.

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