Help! My Spouse Just Asked for a Divorce (and I Don't Want One)

Tips for Getting Things Back on Track If You Hope to Reconcile

Spouse leaving marriage

Verywell / Brianna Gilmartin  

Whether it seems out of the blue or you have been sensing it for a long time, it is scary to hear your husband or wife say, "I want a divorce." You may be prepared to do anything to save the marriage, including therapy. But your spouse may be saying, “I’m done.”

If you truly want to avoid divorce, you must demonstrate that you are capable of real change. Think deeply about what has gotten you both to this place. What behaviors are you willing to change to get your marriage on track? Think about what your spouse has probably been complaining about for a very long time. What have you been remiss in hearing?

It may seem unfair that you have to do all the changing. For now, yes, you most likely need to do so because you are at a disadvantage. You need to change first. But remember, it’s not over ‘til it’s over. Even spouses that say they want to divorce are often somewhat ambivalent about doing so. That means there is hope.

If your spouse wants a divorce because you have an addiction (porn, substance or other), you had an affair, or you are abusive, you must get your own treatment to work on these. You will have a long road ahead of you to repair the damage you have caused. 

What Not to Do If Your Spouse Wants a Divorce

You want the best opportunity to save your marriage. Many people sabotage this outcome by acting desperate, angry, nasty or vengeful. This is the opposite of what you should be doing. These actions can make it hard to meet your goal of saving the marriage, so work hard to avoid them.

  • Acting out: Do not go wild. Stay away from drugs, alcohol, the bar scene, and flirting (or more) with others. If you really want to get your spouse back, these behaviors will not do it.
  • Begging: Do not plead, pursue, or pressure your spouse. This will have the opposite effect and turn them off.
  • Buying: Do not buy gifts, flowers, and cards to make up or apologize for what you may have done that prompted your spouse to want a divorce. You will not be successful at buying back love.
  • Gossiping: Do not ask family or friends to encourage your spouse to stay with you. Discussing such personal matters with these people will upset your spouse and make things worse.
  • Idealizing: Do not point out all the good things about marriage or about you.
  • Manipulating: Do not say "I love you" or ask your spouse to read books about love and marriage. They are not in the mood for this right now, and it will come off as manipulative or pushy.
  • Nagging: Do not make excessive phone calls and send lots of texts to your spouse, especially if this has not been your pattern prior to the recent rupture. Do not act desperate or needy.
  • Neediness: Do not trail your spouse around the house like a sad puppy. In fact, do not act like a sad puppy at all.
  • Reminiscing: Do not try to get your spouse to look at your wedding pictures, talk about your early dating days, etc.
  • Spying: Do not spy on your spouse by following them in your car, checking their emails, cell phone, and bills, and so on. You need to build trust, not destroy it. 

What to Do If Your Spouse Wants a Divorce

Try these proactive steps to repair your rift and help your partner change their mind about divorce. Ultimately, the goal is not only to avoid divorce, but to improve the health of your relationship.

  • Act as though you will move forward with confidence. Commit to doing this regardless of whether or not your spouse stays with you.
  • Allow your spouse to come to you with questions or concerns. Sincerely let your partner know that you want to save the marriage, and then be patient about any discussions on the topic. During any discussions, be an active and engaged listener.
  • Be your best self. This is not the time to fall apart, go into a rage, or get vengeful. Muster up the best attitude you can.
  • Behave respectfully toward your spouse. Have self-respect as well.
  • Do not engage in arguments. Don't take the bait if your spouse tries to get you to argue. You may even have to walk away. (If your spouse claims that you “always walk away,” state that you would be happy to stay and have a civil conversation. Then do it.)
  • Get help. Read self-help or self-improvement books or see a marriage counselor. Divorce Remedy by Michelle Weiner-Davis (available for purchase on Amazon) is a good book for your circumstances.
  • Give your spouse some space. Don't question them about their whereabouts or schedule.  
  • Keep busy. Continue your day-to-day activities, and maybe even add some new ones: Go out with friends, family and your children. Visit a place of worship, try a new hobby, get some exercise. Continue living, despite what happens with your marriage. You may invite your spouse to join you, but do not react negatively if they decline. Do not change your intended plans.
  • Keep up with your appearance. You may feel very down and bad about yourself, but ignoring basic hygiene will make this worse (as well as being unappealing to your spouse).
  • Let your spouse see you as content. Your mood will be fluctuating, but find an outlet for difficult feelings that isn't your spouse. Often, this is a therapist or counselor.

A Word From Verywell

Making positive changes, regardless of whether your marriage ultimately works out or not, is always a good idea. Chances are there are some behaviors or traits you have that would be problematic in most relationships. Working through them will help improve your ability to connect and communicate with a romantic partner (whether it be your current spouse or someone new).

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