“I’ve lost her, Doc,” Lucas said. “I did some stupid and sinful things. I’ve hurt her terribly… and she’s done.” As we talked in my counseling office, Lucas leaned forward and whispered, “She wants a divorce. What can I do?”
“She is done,” I said. “No question about that. But it’s not over until the judge says you’re divorced. I’ve got a plan of action that gives you the best chance to get her back.”
If you’ve destroyed your marriage, there are five things you must not do and seven things you must do. Here are the steps you can take to convince your spouse to stop the divorce and work on the marriage. While I’ve written these lists primarily for husbands because this scenario is what I see most in my counseling practice (and because women file for upward of 65 percent of divorces in the U.S.), the principles apply to wives as well:
1. Don’t quit. I’ve seen so many men start this process strong and then, in the face of continued anger and rejection from the offended partner, get discouraged and quit. Quitting is the final insult to your spouse: It shows you don’t care enough to try and confirms her decision to get out of the relationship. Stay the course until your wife accepts you back or the judge pronounces you divorced.
2. Don’t talk to her family and friends. Who do you think her family and close friends will side with in this crisis? They’ll all side with her. Never with you. They hate you, too, because you hurt someone they dearly love. Talking with her family and friends will make you look like a pathetic loser attempting to control and manipulate to win their support.
3. Don’t squeeze her financially. Many men do this to apply pressure hoping she’ll stop the divorce process. Very foolish. By threatening her security and comfort, you reinforce her feelings that you do not love her and you’ll cause her to redouble her efforts to get away from you. Give her complete and unconditional access to all the accounts. Make no attempt to cancel her credit cards or lower the spending limits. Pay all bills that are your responsibility — and more.
4. Don’t pursue her. Don’t send her flowers, candy or any gifts. Don’t ask her for a date. Don’t say, “I love you” (other than one time in the letter below). Don’t ask her, “Do you love me?” Don’t touch her. Don’t try to get her to talk about the relationship. Don’t try to get her to talk about anything! You’ve lost the right to talk with her about anything except the kids, money and emergencies. If she reaches out to you and wants to communicate, OK. But let her initiate.
5. Don’t push for couples counseling. Before she’ll even consider couples counseling, she has to see real change in you. You will see a personal counselor for at least three months. You need to get spiritually and emotionally healthy — and prove it to her. Offer to pay for personal counseling for her so she can heal from your actions. If she believes you’ve truly changed, she may freely choose to do couples counseling.
The first five things you must do are covered in a letter to your spouse. This letter needs to be sent as soon as possible. It can be handwritten or printed, but it must be put on paper and sent by regular mail.
The letter clearly communicates the work you’re going to accomplish over the next three months. It will state five central messages (the do’s): “I’m to blame,” “I’m giving you space,” “I’m working on me,” “I will grow closer to God” and “I plan to win you back.” Feel free to make a few tweaks on the following template depending on your situation (especially if you’re an offending wife):
First, I have sinned against God, you and our children. I have wounded you deeply and have no excuse. The blame for all the damage is 100 percent mine. I don’t blame you for wanting out.
Second, I’m going to give you space. You need time to heal from what I’ve done to you. My presence will only cause you more pain. So, I’ll be moving out as soon as I can. I will communicate with you only about the kids, money and emergencies. I ask that we work out a schedule for me to see the kids. I will do my best to fully support you and the kids financially.
Third, I will routinely see a counselor for the next three months, working hard on my problems. I need to find out why I mistreated you — and address the underlying cause. No matter what choice you make about our relationship, I will change. I know you don’t believe that. It will take time — plenty of time — to prove it.
Fourth, I will grow closer to God. I will have daily devotions. I will attend church every week and I will be in a men’s Bible study. It is only with God’s power that I can change.
Finally, after I heal and am into solid recovery, I will work as hard as I can to win back your heart. Even though I have not shown it — I have shown the opposite — I do love you and want to be with you.
6. Reach out to her. After three full months of giving your wife space and seeing your counselor, it’ll be time to reach out to her. Have a good friend who knows you both contact her. This person will report your progress and share the changes you’ve made, check how your wife is doing in her healing and ask if she’s ready to talk about couples counseling. If she’s not ready, this support person will ask your wife to reach out to him or her when she’s ready. Continue to give your wife space and work on your changes.
7. Pray and have others pray. Every day, you should pray and your support team (pastor, accountability partner, counselor, close friends) should pray that you will make genuine changes. Every day, you should pray and your support team should pray that God will touch your wife’s heart. Every day.
The bad news is that you’ve lost your spouse and need a miracle to get her back. The good news is that God does miracles.
There are no guarantees my strategy will work. But before God, your spouse and your children, you will know you did all you could to save your marriage.