What to Do When Your Wife Wants a Divorce

by Sheri Oz

Your wife wants a divorce, and you are devastated. She told you she has given up on the marriage because she doesn’t see how anything can change to make it better. Perhaps you are taken totally by surprise, or maybe you had a feeling your relationship was going downhill. But now, before things get even worse, you want to do something to change the tide. You're confused: Some friends may tell you to let her go, and other friends may tell you to do everything you can to keep the marriage together. You don’t want to give up, and you want to know what to do.

Recognize the Depth of Her Unhappiness

Unfortunately, when wives stop asking them to change, many husbands interpret this as a sign that she has finally learned to accept him as he is. What it really means, according to Dr. Michelle Weiner-Davis, author of “Divorce Busting,” is that she has given up hope the marriage can improve and is waiting for the most convenient time to ask for a divorce. That may be when the children have grown or when she can support herself financially. Therefore, you need to recognize that when she tells you she wants a divorce, it is often after she has given up trying to improve the relationship because you have likely not been paying attention.

Apologize for Not Having Understood

If you are saddened knowing that your wife has been suffering in silence while you have been thinking everything was fine, then tell her so. Apologize for not having understood how unhappy she has been. For it to be a meaningful apology, however, you need to understand exactly what she is unhappy about. Psychologists Ryan Fehr and Michele Gelfand, in their article “When Apologies Work,” suggest that when the apology is for specific behaviors, they are more likely to be accepted. Ask her to tell you exactly what your part is in the marriage not working.

Open Up to Her

Psychologist Willard F. Harley, Jr. suggests that the reason behind many divorces initiated by women is that wives feel neglected by their husbands. On his website, Marriage Builders, he recommends that you open up and share more parts of your life with her. Tell her more details about what you did during the day, how you coped with problems and how you feel. Ask her to do the same with you. Intimacy requires you to share your emotions. It may be too little too late at this point, but you should try.

Invite Her to Counseling

If you admit that you don’t know how to change and you need help, she may agree to seek marital counseling to understand what happened to your relationship. Many husbands and wives are open to the possibility of reconciliation even in the midst of divorce proceedings, according to the article "Interest in Marital Reconciliation Among Divorcing Parents." Some of these couples even succeed in repairing their damaged marital relationships. Perhaps yours will be one of them.

About the Author

With an Master of Science in marital and family therapy, Sheri Oz ran a private clinical practice for almost 30 years. Based on her clinical work, she has published a book and many professional articles and book chapters. She has also traveled extensively around the world and has volunteered in her field in China and South Sudan.

Photo Credits

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