Last time we introduced you to the first two steps of my recommended five-step response to when your spouse wants out of the marriage, but you don’t. The natural temptation when we experience rejection is to hold on very tightly to what we fear we are about to lose, however, when it comes to relationships that is generally the last thing you want to do.
To review, the first step is to “go on the record” with what you think, feel and want from your partner. The second step is to resist the urge or impulse to over pursue. When you play the role of pursuer your partner is much more likely to play the role of distancer – even more so than they might on their own.
Here are the last three steps to consider applying when your spouse wants out of your marriage.
3. Set appropriate boundaries and be willing to follow through with them.
If your spouse is disrespecting your marriage by staying out late on the weekends, pursuing opposite-sex friendships in person or online, using recreational drugs or abusing alcohol it is critically important that you assertively express that you will not accept or tolerate these destructive patterns of behavior.
To passively stand back and watch your spouse engage in behaviors that undermine the marriage relationship and blatantly disrespect you is highly problematic. Although it is still important to demonstrate an appropriate level of patience, love and good judgment, you want to make sure you don’t see yourself as helpless or powerless as this will quickly result in a sense of hopelessness, loss of self-respect and hostility toward your spouse.
Possible consequences for violation of the boundaries you set may include a strategic separation, loss of financial support, disclosure of information to people who have the potential to help your situation and even divorce.
It is not healthy or acceptable for your spouse to “have their cake and to eat it too.” If a married person chooses to live as though they are single it is appropriate for steps to be taken so they more fully understand the consequences of their decision.
It is vitally important that when you follow through with consequences you monitor your attitude. You will naturally experience hurt, fear and anger, but be careful that your emotions don’t turn into resentment and bitterness. These emotions will likely lead to a desire to seek revenge or to punish, neither of which will serve you or your relationship well. Playwright William Congreve wrote, “Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned / Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned.” Women and men alike are sure to do greater damage to their marriages if their attitudes get out of control.
4. Exercise patience, seek understanding and be willing to forgive.
“Patience and forgiveness? You’ve got to be kidding, right? Do you know what they did? How they hurt me? Give me a break!”
Whether you understand your role in the marital breakdown or not you still share responsibility for the problem. More often than not, spouses who pull away from their marriage do so because of long standing unresolved issues that both parties have contributed to. For this reason, be honest with yourself and admit that you may be reaping what you have sown to some extent and if you want to experience reconciliation you will need to demonstrate maturity by being patient, understanding and forgiving. If you owe your mate an apology, offer it with sincerity, humility and no strings attached.
Keep in mind that patience doesn’t translate into being a doormat by accepting abuse, not speaking up, ignoring your boundaries or withholding expression of your wants, needs or desires. It really means that you will do your best to not give up on the marriage, act out of desperation or react with hostility and aggression.
It’s very common to experience multiple offenses while a spouse pulls away from a marriage. Many partners do not begin pulling away or announce that they want out until they are really angry. This anger often turns into aggression, which helps to fuel very hurtful behaviors. By practicing forgiveness you are not ignoring or minimizing your pain nor condoning inappropriate behavior, but rather preventing yourself from emotionally shutting down, giving up or seeking revenge.
Forgiveness will also keep your heart open so if your spouse desires to reconcile you will have less emotional “baggage” to deal with. It will also help you to be more objective, recognize and accept your role in the problems, and ultimately free you up psychologically and emotionally in order to start doing something about the issues.
5. Don’t go it alone – seek help.
When you have gone through an emotional earthquake with almost daily aftershocks, it is vitally important to accept help from someone who is an expert in helping pull people out from under the rubble, attending to emotional wounds and establishing a plan for recovery and rebuilding. An experienced pastor or professional marriage counselor can help you move forward by providing objectivity, a healthy perspective and the encouragement to not lose hope, regardless of the outcome.
Remember, a thoughtful, mature response to the pain of rejection will contribute to the best possible outcome for your situation and help you avoid reacting in ways you may regret long into the future.
Live, Work and Relate Well!