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.

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  • Chris barrett March 14, 2015, 2:58 am

    I have a son from a previous relationship which causes problems for me when I try to see or spend time with him with my wife I love my wife dearly but I don’t know how to maintain my marriage and be a big part of my sons life how can I manage both

  • Debbie Rangel September 5, 2015, 7:04 pm

    How do you get your spouse of 20 years of marriage? He left us for a younger woman. We are devastated. I know that he still loves me and it’s only lust.

  • Sheanne September 7, 2015, 2:08 pm

    Hi my common law partner for 9yrs told me last month that “He love me but im not in love with u anymore.I want to be independent and control my own life if I want to go out with my friends I dont need to check on you and were not compatible. “I apologies and almost begged him to work on our marriage. We went counseling to break our communication habits and our values.He is working on that but his not working on our marriage. I ask him what holds him back of not giving our marriage a second chance and fir the sake of our kids.”He said why do I have to sacrifice myself for the rest of my life if im not happy for my kids.”their is a lots of couple out their that are similar situation with asking him why u dont want to give a chance? Is their someone else? He said no.I dont want to be with you anymore.mybe down the road I will look for someone else and try to go out cause i never dated that much when i meet you.
    Im still hoping to save our marrige but i dont know how? Please give me some advice

  • Gary Brown September 9, 2015, 6:51 pm

    I have visited this page a few times. I really like, for the most part, the ideas behind the concept. That being said, my wife (that I have married, divorced and re-married), is so guarded against me any more. This is mostly because of me being so distant as I was dealing with depression and anxiety for a number of years. Became consumed within myself, neglected my wife and children. Said hurtful things at times. Now more recently I have had an “awakening” inside my heart. It tells me that you MUST save you marriage. You MUST win the love of your wife again. The feeling has been sitting in the pit of my stomach for the better part of 2 wks now. I have written my wife to try and start things in motion. I was honest, open and even hard on myself within its words. Her response was that of someone who has all but given completely up. We are planning to talk about this in person next. I hope, with the help of the advice given above, that I do it the right way and win back my wife who IS MY LIFE.

  • Kris September 20, 2015, 4:13 pm

    I relapsed!! Back in February my wife told me she was leaving. I was completely unaware of any problem and was devastated. After a lot of tears and negotiation I managed to get her to give me time and really managed to pull things back. In fact i managed to get us to a really good place, but then I became complacent without realising and slipped back in to old ways. Last week I found we were back to square one, with her once again telling me we were done. This time however, even though she is saying similar things to last time, I have literally been given four months, I.e till after Christmas to stay in the house. I cannot believe my stupidity at relapsing and pray I can turn this around again permanently, and I am plan to start with myself. I haven’t made her my first priority, so now I am going to follow the above advice religiously and see if lightning can really strike twice. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

  • JP September 28, 2015, 2:13 am

    i am 30 and my wife is 24 now and we have been married for 2 years and we have a 9 months old son.we live in a country where sex before marriage is totally not accepted.

    we met 4.5 years ago and started any other couples we flirted,we kissed and even some physical action.three months later while hiking in the woods we got physical and i accidentally made her lose her virginity with my finger.we never planned this to happen.i was totally scared and didn’t know what to do.she was like “its OK don’t worry don’t let this affect our relation even if things don’t work out don’t let it affect your decision if you are not happy with me” she said this every time i tried to talk to her about what happened and what she wants me to do.

    after that everything was great and we got engaged for a year before marriage.since we got married we had ups and downs like any other married couple and she always says that i don’t talk much when i come home from work and don’t take care of her so much.and yes i am not a talkative person and over simplify things and maybe take her for granted.

    two weeks ago she came to me crying and told me that she was not happy anymore because she tried to fix things so many times and every time she talks to me i get better and things get great for 2 months and then i get back to the way i was before.

    she said she pretended to be so strong all the time even when she lost her virginity and she said she only married me for that reason because she was young and afraid if her parents found out and didn’t know what else to do.and she never told me that before because she didn’t want to hurt me but she couldn’t anymore.

    since we met she always told me that she doesn’t believe in love and she believes in actions and happiness.things were great and she was so happy to be with me and i treated her right and she even said that in a certain period i made her love me because of the way i treated her and now she doesn’t want to give affection and doesn’t want affection in return anymore.she will keep taking care of the house and me and cook for me and take care of our son and everything else just like before but of course no sexual or emotional life and our son will be her only interest and she wants me not to ask for anything more than that.and she is still my wife only because it was a decision she took.

    i am so deeply in love with her and would do anything to fix our marriage but she said that i cant fix anything anymore.and she doesn’t want me to fix anything because i will get back to the same way we are now and she will get hurt she stopped talking to me the way we did before unless it was something about our son and she says that she doesn’t want me to get her involved in anything concerning my own life.

    please help me with some advice what should i do?

  • TJ September 28, 2015, 2:55 pm

    I am 32 years old I have know ln my husband since I was a young girl. We have been married for 4 yrs now an we have a 1 1/2 yr old son. Are entire marriage has been rocky he has cheated I took him back he told me he didn’t want me. We were signing divorce papers and I couldn’t do it so he took them back to make it work this was before the baby. Here we are again in the same position minus the cheating. But he tells me that he doesn’t want to be married to me anymore because he doesn’t see a future in our marriage any more. He said the same things I’m saying now is what I said before to save our marriage an he is not going back to that. I have seeked counciling for myself some thing I didn’t do before . I got us into marriage counseling then I stopped it for a couple of days because I got mad at him now he won’t go back. He said he still cares but he just doesn’t see a future with us. Is there anything I can do to save my marriage. He is my better half we jst didn’t communicate the way we should have.


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