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  

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Whether it seems out of the blue or you had sensed it coming, it can be scary to hear your spouse 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 make your marriage work? 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. But when your spouse has hit their limit and you're the one who wants to make it work, you will need to make the first moves toward real change. But remember, it’s not over 'til it's over. Even spouses who say they want to divorce may be somewhat ambivalent about that decision. That means there may be hope.

If your spouse wants a divorce because you have an addiction (which includes behavioral addictions like those to gambling or pornography as well as substance addictions like those to alcohol or drugs), you had an affair, or you are abusive, you must get treatment to work on the issue. 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 the opportunity by acting desperate, angry, nasty, or vengeful. These behaviors are 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: Behaviors such as using drugs, alcohol, getting caught up in the bar scene, and flirting (or more) with others won't help you work things out with your spouse in the long run.
  • Begging: Pleading with, pursuing, or pressuring your spouse can have the opposite effect and turn them off.
  • Buying: Buying gifts, flowers, and cards to make up or apologize for what you may have done that prompted your spouse to want a divorce probably won't resolve the real issues. You will not be successful at buying back love.
  • Gossiping: Asking family or friends to encourage your spouse to stay with you may make things worse. Discussing these personal matters with these people may just upset your spouse.
  • Idealizing: Refrain from just pointing out all the good things about marriage or about you.
  • Manipulating: Saying, "I love you," or asking your spouse to read books about love and marriage could come off as manipulative or pushy.
  • Nagging: Avoid making excessive phone calls and sending lots of texts to your spouse, especially if this has not been your pattern prior to the recent rupture. Refrain from acting desperate or needy.
  • Neediness: You may be overwhelmed with sadness and can only express this feeling towards your spouse, but do your best to not act needy towards them.
  • Reminiscing: Do not try to get your spouse to look at your wedding pictures, talk about your early dating days, etc.
  • Spying: Following them in your car, checking their emails, cell phone, and bills, and so on can break rather than build trust in your relationship. 

What to Do If Your Spouse Wants a Divorce

Try these proactive steps to repair your rift and encourage your partner to 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.
  • Don't 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 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 don't react negatively if they decline. Don't change your intended plans.
  • Keep up with your appearance. You may feel very down and bad about yourself, but ignoring basic hygiene can further impact your mental health.
  • 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, a therapist or counselor can provide a safe space to process your feelings.

How to Handle Next Steps

You might be wondering the best way to proceed. There are a few immediate steps you could consider if you and your spouse have discussed getting a divorce.

  • Try relationship/couples therapy: See if your spouse might be open to going to couples counseling with you to identify and work on the issues in your relationship. Therapy, both as a couple and as individuals, could help you understand if there's a way to move forward together and reconcile what's causing a rift.
  • Consult a lawyer: Even if you hope to reconcile, it may still be a good idea to speak to a lawyer to see what implications of a divorce could mean for you from a legal perspective.

Going through or considering a divorce can be emotionally distressing. In order to stay mentally strong, remember to practice self-care and reach out for support. You may also consider seeing a therapist on your own or joining a support group.

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).

2 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Psychological Association. Healthy divorce: How to make your split as smooth as possible. Created 2013.

  2. Mental Health America. Coping with separation and divorce.