When Your Spouse Wants a Divorce: Do’s & Don’ts


Marriage expert Joe Beam shares valuable advice for when your spouse wants a divorce and the do’s and don’ts that you should consider.  This post follows How to Respond to a Limerent (Cheating) Spouse, which discusses specific ways to interact with a spouse who is in limerence.  In the post below, Joe shares “do’s” and “don’ts” for those whose spouses want a divorce for any reason.

Joe Beam, Chairman of  www.MarriageHelper.com

how to respond to a limerant spouse, part 1Every day, our team talks with people who wish to salvage their troubled marriages. For most of them, their mates do not have the same desire. Sometimes the other spouse is “madly in love” with someone else and wants a divorce. Other times the other spouse has felt controlled and dominated for so long that all he or she can think of is getting away as far and fast as possible. The reasons vary, but most often, the situation with those who call is that they desperately wish to save the marriage but their spouse does not.

From our experience with thousands of couples, I offer the following suggestions. First the things not to do, then the things that you should do.

Things You Should Not Do

Do Not Cling

Nearly everyone tries it, but hardly anyone succeeds. Trying to keep the person you love from leaving by pleading, begging, arguing, demanding, apologizing, or manipulating typically fails terribly. Some throw thousands of words at the other in person, by text, via email, and sometimes even through other people. They tell the other that they are sorry, that they forgive, that they will change, that no one could ever love them as they do, that they are destroying their children, or any other thing that they think will stop the other from leaving. Others cry, hoping to evoke compassion. Some get sick or “accidentally” hurt themselves, hoping that will trigger a rekindling of the love lost deep within the departing spouse.

Rather than drawing the departing person back, clinging behaviors usually propel them away faster. There are many reasons this is so, but consider just these two. One, no spouse who clings, begs, or whines is attractive in any sense of the word; he or she evokes pity or disdain rather than desire. Two, clinging, desperate behavior implies that you will take the other back no matter what, thus removing any reason for him or her to stop the abandonment, infidelity, or other.

Do Not Collapse

Rather than clinging (or in some cases after trying it to no avail), some people provide the departing spouse permission to do whatever he or she desires. Some ignore or tolerate inappropriate behaviors. Others agree to separation or to terminating joint accounts. Typically, they yield because they think that if they do not, the departing spouse will become angry, and things will become worse. In actuality, they very likely are easing the departing mate’s transition into divorce.

Often, departing spouses demonstrate anger and frustration if their mates do anything that deters their departure. They use their anger to manipulate with threats such as, “If you don’t go along with me, I’ll make things very hard on you…I’ll fight to take the children…my lawyer will take you to the cleaners…”

In response to threats, tantrums, and manipulations, often a person gives in. They rationalize that it will make things better. The truth is just the opposite. Giving in typically leads to the same results as giving up.

Do Not Control

If you try to keep your marriage together by demanding, dominating, or dictating, you will fail.

No one wants to be controlled.

If a major reason your spouse wants out of your marriage is that you have exhibited controlling behaviors, this is your wakeup call. Stop now, and demonstrate that you will treat him or her with utmost respect and equality. Quit forcing your opinions. Quit the habit of haranguing until your mate yields to your point of view. Never again tell your spouse what he or she feels…or should feel. Allow your partner to be, think, and feel- even when you do not like it.

If you think (or know) that your mate is unfaithful, tracking or following might backfire if you are caught. For more on this, read A Cheating Spouse? Why Hiring a Private Investigator Might Backfire.

While linging causes the other person to pull away, collapsing helps them leave faster, and controlling disgusts them with you. None of these helps your cause if you wish to save your marriage.

What will help?

Consider these suggestions.

Things You Should Do

Do Be Patient

Patience buys time.

No matter how difficult, take life one day at a time. Make decisions one by one. Overcome obstacles separately. Start with matters you can do something about. Patiently work out how to deal with situations or problems that seem overwhelming. Take time to seek wise counsel.

If your spouse seems in a hurry to move toward dissolving your marriage, do not join the race. Time is on your side. If your mate is involved with someone else, enough time will begin to erode the intensity of the emotions in that illicit relationship. If your spouse is dissatisfied with the way life has been with you, enough time provides you the opportunity to demonstrate changes you are willing to make.

When you feel you may do something rash through anger, pain, or frustration, ask yourself, “If I do this, how will I feel about it in ten days? Ten months? Ten years?” Do not sacrifice your long-term future for a short-term emotion.

For every action you make, your spouse will have a reaction. Positive actions instigate positive reactions. Positive actions provide a possible future for your marriage.

Do Ask a Trusted Third Party

Do you know someone that your departing spouse holds in high esteem? If so, ask that person to intervene in your marriage. It may be a pastor, a friend, a parent, or even one or more of your children (if mature). Ask the person(s) to spend time with your mate, to listen to him or her, and to do everything possible to influence him or her to agree to marriage counseling or an intensive marriage weekend workshop. Our experience is that often a spouse who absolutely refuses counseling or a workshop when asked by a spouse will agree, even fif reluctantly, when urged by a respected third party.

If your spouse agrees reluctantly, do not become frustrated and refuse because of his lack of desire. Rather than being upset that your mate does not desire to save your marriage, rejoice that he is willing to go to counseling or a workshop in spite of his desire to end the marriage. Over the past twenty years, I have seen marriage after marriage salvaged when a couple came for help though only one spouse wanted to save the marriage.

Do Provide a Perk

If you want to try marriage counseling or attend a marriage intensive workshop such as Marriage Helper 911, you may be able to convince your reluctant spouse to attend by offering something if he or she does. Many times in our workshop, for example, people have told me that the only reason they came was that their spouse offered some concession in their pending divorce in return for their coming. Almost universally, I hear that from a person who during the workshop concluded that he wanted to stay in his marriage. “I didn’t want to be here. She said if I came, she’d agree to _____ when we divorced. I’m glad I came. I see how we can work this out.”

If you offer a concession, make sure it is one that you are willing to give. Do not withdraw it after your spouse keeps his or her end of the bargain. Offer it only if you are willing to give it in exchange for a strong opportunity to salvage your marriage.

Do Prove You Have Changed

Rather than focusing only on the faults of your spouse, admit your own weaknesses. When you begin working on improving yourself in those areas, you benefit yourself. You also make strides toward salvaging your marriage.

Whether your spouse notices and affirms the changes, ignores them, or scorns your efforts, keep on growing in those areas. Even if your marriage ends, you become a better person. However, these changes in your behaviors may well influence your spouse in very positive ways though at first they may appear to have the opposite effect. Keep on, no matter how he or she reacts.

Do Persevere

It takes strength to work at saving a marriage when your spouse wants to leave. Stay strong. Find a support system of people who will encourage you and who will be optimistic about the possibility of reconciliation.

Focus on taking care of yourself. Exercise. Eat as you should. Start a new hobby to keep your mind from obsessing on your troubles. Get involved in your church. Get individual counseling. Whether your marriage makes it or not, you need to provide for yourself spiritually, emotionally, mentally, and physically.

Actually, as you do, you also do the things that have the strongest likelihood of causing your spouse to realize what he or she will lose if the marriage ends.

While no one can make another’s decisions, my experience with thousands of couples leads me to believe that if you follow these suggestions, you have a greater chance of salvaging your marriage. Of course, each situation is unique. Therefore, feel free to contact us to ask questions about your circumstances, if you wish.

Many professionals can help you if your marriage is in trouble. We will help. Please call us toll free at 866-903-0990 or email us at info@JoeBeam.com.


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  1. Hi Myrna, I think the point about not collapsing is basically that no matter what happens you stay strong and keep your dignity, self-esteem, and confidence. In the end, you should be strong, confident, and grounded no matter what, as you cannot place your worth in his or anyone else’s’ hands. I hope this makes sense, and I wish you the best as you navigate this difficult situation.

  2. I’m confused with the “don’t collapse” part. If I’m not to give in or give up as stated. What should one do if not to try and get along or try cooperate with the situation. I imagine the idea is to keep things amicable. So how do I avoid “Collapsing.” Please help me understand. Thank you.

  3. Ciaran, I am so sorry to hear of your situation. Stay strong for yourself and your children. Connect to a strong faith family. And make yourself the BEST you can be in every area~physically, emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually. You are worthy, and you can and should be at your best whether she comes back or never does. I will pray for you!

  4. I feel I am in this situation. I told my kids that she needed to move to be happy. I never wanted her unhappy. Now she is living with her LO. I hope that this wears off and she will come back. I feel I should be doing something to make that happen. At present I just leave her be with little communication between. I take my girls at every second weekend and each Wednesday. They are unhappy about change but are happy in their childhood.
    I just want my family back together.
    Perhaps you have advice…

  5. My husband told me 3 months ago that he does not love me anymore. He also told me of his plans to move out of our home. He went from being completely disengaged (over the last 3 months) to talking to me again and has somewhat restored the intimacy. He denies that he is having an affair but I know that he is. My question is : Is it appropriate for the mate trying to salvage the marriage to initiate touch and intimacy? There are times when I just want to reach out to him and let him know that I desire him and not wait for him to do so. I am afraid of being rejected but nothing beats a failure but a try. Any advice would be appreciated. Thank you.

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