Dr. Val Farmer
Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

Desperate Spouse Promises The World, Now What?

September 17, 2007

The worst time to get someone to change his or her mind is just after they’ve made a decision. A decision to divorce is not made lightly. For some, the decision has been years in corning. The agony of getting to that point is devastating.

You have laid down the ground rules. You have limits. You respect yourself whether your partner does or does not. No more insults to dignity. You are gaining self-confidence. You have taken charge of a painful situation.

For you, the evidence is in. The verdict has been made. The loss has been accepted. Your mind goes forward and builds a scenario of happiness that doesn't include the spouse. The bonds of commitment no longer bind. At last, in your mind, you have tasted relief and hope.

Much to your surprise, there is only one monkey wrench. Your spouse is reacting to you with new respect. He or she finally seems to be listening. Your spouse seems to be changing in ways you never dreamed possible. Is it real? To admit the possibility would cast doubt upon your decision to leave.

If ever there was a time when it was tempting to be close-minded and deny the changes, this is it. Who, in his or her right mind, would want to go back and relive the past? Emotionally, you have crossed the point of no return. It would be so much easier not to look back, not to try, not to want to try.

You ask the question, "How do you get to the point of trying again in your marriage when way down deep you don't want to?"

To the person who wants to leave:

- Give it time. It took a long time to get to the point of taking a stand. Waiting a little longer doesn't mean you are giving in or going back to the way things have been. The burden is on your partner for creating the changes. You may have to endure the pain of living in an emotional limbo until you get the answers you need.

You have every right to be skeptical of the "changes" you see. Time will tell if you are getting another snow job.

What are you waiting for? What do you really want? The foundation of love is respect, admiration and trust. You are waiting to see if these feelings return. If they do, then feelings of love will begin to grow.

- Set aside the new dreams. The dreams and fantasies about the new life you had envisioned for yourself will not help at this point. You needed these dreams to enable you to put your foot down irrevocably. However, they will interfere with an honest examination of what is happening "now."

Another relationship will detract from your ability to give an honest appraisal of your spouse. If this is to be any kind of honest test, don't let divided loyalties confuse you. If you have started one, end it until you have given your marriage a complete chance.

- Try counseling. Put your partner to the test by entering marriage counseling and having his or her new behavior discussed with an objective third party. In this atmosphere of open communication, you'll learn more of what you need to know. This doesn't mean you are deciding to recommit yourself. It does mean you are going to learn as much as you can about what is going on with your partner before you make a final decision.

To the person making the change:

- Change for yourself. Make the changes for yourself and for your own reasons, not to please your mate. If you don’t feel you have a problem or if you don't want to change for yourself; this will probably clinch your partner’s decision to leave.

- Be patient. Be patient with your spouse's skepticism and lack of acceptance of your changes. You cannot judge what he or she maybe feeling. The worst thing you can do is find fault with your partner for feelings you may have helped create.

- Back off. Don 't shower your spouse with attention and affection. He or she isn't ready for it and it will only make matters worse. It can't be the way you'd like it to be. At least, not right now.

- Avoid pressure of any kind. Your genuine changes may come across as self-serving manipulation. Let your changes speak for themselves. If they are accepted, fine. If they are not, you are doing all that you can do. Your efforts to control the situation will only backfire.

- Be glad you are different. Your life will be better because you realized some important things. You cannot control how open your companion will be with you at this point. It is your respect for yourself that counts.

- Be prepared to let your partner go. Your willingness to grant him or her this freedom is a genuine communication of respect. If your relationship is ever going to have a chance, your partner will need to know you respect and understand that his or her happiness really matters - no matter how it affects you.