When a couple separates it is often a shock for their friends and family. But you wouldn’t expect it to be a surprise to either of the spouses. After all, shouldn’t there be plenty of warning signs leading up to a husband or wife walking out of their marriage?
We have been providing help and hope for couples in crisis for over 20 years. About half the people who reach out to us for help are frantic abandoned spouses who “never saw it coming”.
There are a wide range of explanations from the spouse who is leaving. And, there are a wide range of responses from the spouse desperate to save their marriage.
Here are 5 of the most common excuses we’ve heard over the years, and 5 of the most common responses–which are usually not effective. After each excuse and response we’ve added a survival tip based on the type of responses that we’ve seen work. With prayer, accountability, the right resources and a good support system, miracles happen. We see it all the time.
This list is not in any significant order. For more help (including books or free resources and ministries in your area please visit our website.)
Excuse #1: “I’ve tried our whole marriage to talk to you, but you never listen.”
Response: Begging and pleading for one more chance, “I’m listening now! You can tell me anything! Just don’t leave!”
Survival Tip #1: Listen, listen, listen. Be quiet. Don’t make promises, don’t beg, and don’t expect this to be an overnight reconciliation. When a husband or wife accuses their spouse of “never listening” there is usually a bit of truth to it. This is the time to change behavior rather than talk and that will take time. Pray silently while he or she is unloading. Once a spouse who has been stuffing for years begins to unleash their frustrations, it can often be the key to a new and better marriage.
Excuse #2: “I don’t love you anymore. I’ve felt this way for a long time, but I never wanted to hurt you.”
Response: The abandoned spouse becomes helpless and hopeless, “I can’t live without you! You can’t do this to me…to us…to our family!”
Survival Tip #2: Respect is an important aspect to a healthy marriage. And it starts with self-respect. To appear helpless and hopeless because someone is leaving will not foster the respect that is necessary to rebuild what has been lost in the marriage. What will start the rebuilding process is a healthy fear and reverence of God. He wants to be #One in our life. A good support system that is faith-based can provide tools for coping and learning new ways to become independent with a focus on God.
Excuse #3: “I’m in love with someone else. It’s been going on for a while. I just want to be happy now and this person makes me happy. I’m filing for divorce.”
Response: “That person is a home-wrecker, an adulterer, not trustworthy, and doesn’t love you the way I do! You can’t do this! I’ll make both of you miserable. You’re going to be sorry!”
Survival Tip #3: This is the most difficult of all the excuses because someone else is already in the picture. But it’s still not hopeless. The best response for an abandoned spouse is to try to refrain from name-calling or vengeful behavior in any way. We’ve seen marriages saved when the an abandoned spouse begins to take full responsibility for their own survival and emotional well-being as quickly as possible. Later on, when the dust settles (usually 3 months or more) an abandoned spouse who has stayed physically healthy, emotionally mature, and has drawn close to God will often notice a supernatural rekindling from the spouse who left. This is called ‘homeostasis” and relationship experts say it is like an invisible rubber band that is between a husband and wife, which is not there for the 3rd party intruder. God works behind the scenes, and will bless the efforts of a person who is doing right–regardless of the outcome of the marriage.
Excuse #4: “I’ve decided I just need to be alone. I’m not sure what is going on with me, but I’ve been secretly unhappy for a long time and I just can’t fake it anymore.”
Response: Shock, despair, pleading, and hopelessness. “Please give me a chance. I can make you happy! Tell me what I can do. You can’t leave! You have to give me a chance to fix this. If only I had known!”
Survival Tip #4: Sometimes this excuse is just a smokescreen and there is an emotional or physical affair already taking place. However, there may also be mental illness, depression, addiction or physical reasons that are behind this excuse. The best type of response is to approach it as a problem that you may be able to help your spouse with, rather than pushing him or her away with emotional outbursts, pleading, accusations, or threats. Become a friend at this point, if at all possible. Suggest meeting with a pastor, counselor, mentor or family doctor. In this situation the number one goal needs to be coming alongside in hopes to draw the spouse back to a safe place to be real. Sometimes getting thoughts out in the open with biblical counseling and accountability is enough to reverse the downward spiral.
Excuse #5: “I’m leaving because you don’t treat me with respect and love. You are abusive in your language, you rage for no reason, and you are unreasonable. I’m tired of walking on eggshells around this house. Our family deserves better, and I’m done. I have no feelings left. I’m dead inside.”
Response: Panic and fear of abandonment resulting in extreme behavior from begging to threats.
Survival Tip #5: When a person walks out of a marriage that he or she considers abusive, the best response for the abandoned spouse is to make changes in their behavior. However, from experience with these types of marriages, the “abusive” spouse is almost always unable to see their own behavior as abusive, but the fear of abandonment is often enough for him or her to offer what seems to be real repentance. Consequently, these couples separate and reconcile more often than most because bad behavior returns after the couple reconciles. The best response for the abandoned spouse accused of being abusive is to give the spouse space and wait to repent until it’s real. That will mean taking a good look at the behavior, asking questions of others, and getting the help needed for a true and lasting reconciliation.
The good news is, when real repentance happens in any of these scenarios, and God is at the center of someone’s life, anyone can survive and become spiritually stronger in the midst of their crisis.