If your spouse is not interested in working on the marriage or wants a divorce, you're probably experiencing a wide arrange of emotions from anger to sadness and fear. It's a painful place to be. It's confusing and it's scary because you're afraid of losing him/her. Although it may seem like a lost cause, there is plenty that you can do to help turn things around, even if your partner seems disinterested:
Give him space- Your first instinct may be to beg and plead for your spouse to work on the relationship. If he's checked out, that's probably the least effective thing to do. Give your spouse space and allow him time to process and figure things out. While it would be ideal to get professional help together to get clarity, it might not be an option at the moment. When you give him space you are showing you respect his right to have his own feelings even if you see things differently. The more you push the more likely he is to retreat and disengage.
Take ownership for your role- The only thing you can do with an unwilling spouse is to change yourself. That means acknowledging your role in the relationship's collapse. You are both equally responsible for your relationship getting to this point. Even if you did nothing but let it coast on autopilot, entropy takes effect and the disconnect grows unless you are actively investing energy. Discover what you were doing that led to an environment that prompted your spouse to pull away. Get conscious about what you could have been doing more of to keep connected. As you become more aware of your role in the relationship, you can begin implementing positive changes. When your spouse sees you shift, he/she may respond in kind.
Stop nagging- One terrible habit that can push a spouse away is nagging. If you are doing it stop it now. It makes sense that you would want to nag. After all, your spouse is not responsive to your requests. Examine the way you are asking for what you need and learn how to ask in a more positive way. When you continue to nag and push, your spouse will want to run the other way.
Zero negativity- In addition to nagging, regular old criticism can be a killer of relationships. Although it may seem normal to criticize, to blame or shame our spouse, such behavior can be extremly off-putting. No one wants to be on the receiving end of negativity. If you are upset about something, it's imperative to learn how to share it in a way that expresses your feelings without putting the other down. Otherwise, it is toxic and poisons the relationship. Removing the negativity will show your spouse that your relationship can be different.
Love languages- Learn how to love your spouse in the way she needs to feel loved. While you may feel like you have shown your spouse love over the years, if you aren't speaking her language, many of your efforts will have been in vain. If you show your love through service such as making her a coffee in the morning, washing the dishes, or putting the kids to bed and her love language is words of affirmation, unless you express your love and appreciation through words, all of your hard work will not necessarily translate into love. Start loving her in the way she needs even if it's not the way you typically express love. She'll start to feel like you really care and it's definitely something you should be doing if you want your wife back.
Catch your spouse doing something right- It's so easy to see when your spouse is doing something wrong. It's much harder to catch when he's doing something right. Be on the lookout for that kind act or word and let him know how much you appreciate it. Instead of feeling like he can do nothing right in this relationship to the point where he has given up, he'll begin to feel recognized and appreciated for all of the efforts he is making. Noticing and appreciating his efforts will remove the resentment and helplessnes and reawaken hope.
Learn how to listen- If your spouse has disengaged she probably is thinking, “why bother?” It often feels like there is no point to engaging in a relationship where one feels unheard and misunderstood. Conversations cease, feelings are bottled up, and anger and resentment seeth forth. When you learn to listen to your spouse by really focusing on her without responding or reacting, she is likely to finally feel that you actually care about what she has to say more than about what you have to say. She can get her words out without fear of retort or invalidation. She can finally feel heard and understood. Learning how to listen even if you disagree is a huge step towards differentiation and acknowledging the otherness of your spouse. When your spouse begins to feel like you really value her as a person, she is more apt to want to be a part of such a relationship.
8. Have compassion- It's hard living with a spouse who is disengaged or contemplating leaving. You want him to stay but you also have a hard time dealing with your own hurt feelings. This, in turn, will often provoke you to behave in a counterproductive way. Break this dynamic by having compassion for your spouse. As much as your feelings are valid, your spouse has their own experience. Neither is right or wrong. As you imagine the pain your spouse is feeling or you think about what might be motivating his behavior, awaken compassion in your heart. Picture that little boy who just wants to be loved and valued. Deep inside that adult exterior there is an innocent little boy. Feel his pain and make sense of why he may be acting out of hurt. This will help you transform the way you see him by replacing judgement with curiosity.
9. Stop the drama- When you are feeling all alone in your relationship, it's tempting to get others involved especially when your spouse isn't interested in working together with you. Beware as the more that get involved, the more drama. This often backfires and serves to push away your spouse even more. While you may want to have a close friend to help you through this, getting family members involved or calling his friends to convince him to engage in the marriage is not always the best idea. Get the support you need but don't create a three ring circus.
10. Give it up to G-d- Ultimately, you can't control another person, their thoughts, feelings or decisions. You can do the best you can to make an effort to be a healthy and loving partner and this may right a lot of past wrongs. At some point, though, we must let go and let G-d open up our partner's heart to allow our positive gestures to penetrate his/her heart. Prayer will help our efforts have greater impact and faith will allow us to feel at peace with the effort we have invested.
Living with a spouse who is unwilling to work on the relationship or even threatening divorce is lonely, scary, and painful. It's quite easy to give up hope as it may seem impossible to change someone else's mind. Suprisingly, there is still a lot you can do on your end to give your relationship another chance. By working on ourselves we can show our spouse the potential and hope for something better and create a safe space where love and connection can once again flourish.
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