When Your Spouse Wants a Divorce

A spouse that is leaving will often delay their leaving or recommit after seeing how serious you are about making changes to impact your marriage.

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There’s not much quite as painful as being in a marriage with someone who doesn’t want to be in it with you. This can definitely be a challenging situation, but it’s not always as hopeless as it may seem.

“My spouse wants to leave me, but I want to fix our marriage. What should I do?”

First things first, respond instead of reacting.

There are a lot of emotions going on, which makes it so much easier to panic and not think clearly. If your spouse has one foot out the door, sometimes the thing that pushes them to make the final step out is your reaction. They’re likely leaving because they are feeling fed up or just—done. Your response can either reinforce their feelings or cause them to take pause.

By no means are you in control of your spouse or whether or not they walk out on you, nor do you want to be, BUT, you are in the best position to be their greatest influence—and it’s your influence that will give you the greatest bang for your buck here.

“So, tell me what to do!”

Okay, what you do now is you lean in and listen. You seek to understand.

You don’t defend yourself and try to argue against their complaints, you simply receive what they share. What your spouse shares is the knowledge that you need. On top of that, we all want to be heard and this is an opportunity for your spouse to feel heard. When you learn what it is they’re longing for you can now identify what they need.

A large part of the mission to repair your marriage in these situations will feel unfair and one-sided, but that’s ok, it is for a much higher purpose right now. Your goal is to seek to understand what their struggle is,  if they offer it because not all will at this point because they may have checked out a while ago. But the bottom line is this—they want out because they feel hopeless. You engaging them and listening is breathing a little bit of hope back in.

Your next step is to make it clear that you’ve heard them and that your intention is to repair your marriage. This may go something like this…

“I am so sorry that you feel that way and that we are where we’re at, but I need you to know that I want to do everything I can to save our marriage. I still want to be married to you.”

And now here’s where it gets challenging… you begin to work on you. You step back from engaging in any usual arguments and you step back from pleading for them to stay, and you begin to create a safe and peaceful atmosphere where you are focused on making yourself a better spouse and individual. After all, a divorce rarely happens as a result of 100% one person. There may be some things you need to improve on that would make your marriage work better, for instance, perhaps you…

Swept problems under the rug… 

Turned to unhealthy coping mechanisms…

Became conflict-avoidant…

Too passive or aggressive with communication…

Learned to withhold how you really feel, or…

Should have put boundaries up a long time ago…

We all have something we can improve upon, and at the very least, getting help and having someone to help you navigate this road will be beneficial.

A spouse that is leaving will often delay their leaving or recommit after seeing how serious you are about making changes to impact your marriage. Starting with you, instead of them, provides a safe place where they don’t feel forced into change and it also gives them something they may very well want to stick around and watch. They may not want to work on your marriage yet, but they may appreciate you moving forward doing the work even when they’re not invested. Your efforts will speak volumes.

Ultimately, if you lean in and listen it allows them to be heard and have a voice, something we all want. And when you share your desire to save your marriage and then apply actions that show that by getting help yourself and making changes without requiring them to change first, it gives them a space place to stay in. In your worst-case scenario where your spouse walks out, you know that you have done all that you could, and it is not on you. Finally, by getting help yourself with counseling or coaching you will come out of it in a more healthy place.



This is an updated edition of a post originally published on Expedition Marriage

Featured Image by Steve Buissinne from Pixabay


The views and opinions expressed by Kingdom Winds Collective Members, authors, and contributors are their own and do not represent the views of Kingdom Winds LLC.

About the Author

Chris and Jamie Bailey are professional Christian counselors and marriage coaches. They run their private practice as well as online ministry, Expedition Marriage, from their home in Fort Mill, SC. They are the parents of three adult daughters and two adorable grandchildren. Together they run weekend marriage retreats, offer guest speaking, one day seminars, as well as run workshops in person and online. Together they hope to encourage Christian marriages and help them thrive abundantly.