I often hear from wives who aren’t sure how to react when their husband is pushing for a trial or marital separation. Many wives are willing to do just about anything to get him to change his mind and not leave the home. Many wives will think about trying to make him feel guilty because this seems to be an easy task to accomplish. However, what many do not consider is whether this strategy is going to help their situation or hurt it.
I heard from a wife who said: “my husband told me this weekend that he intends to pursue a separation. He said that he will begin looking for an apartment in a couple of weeks. I admit that our marriage hasn’t been great lately, but I certainly don’t think that a separation is necessary. I think that my husband is making a big mistake. What if he leaves, never comes back, and eventually files for divorce? Then, he is just throwing away what we have and he is forever changing our children’s lives. I don’t want my kids growing up in a single parent home. And, deep down, I don’t know that my husband doesn’t want this either. In fact, even if he no longer cares about me, I know that he cares about his children. And I think that somewhere inside of him, he feels a little guilty about pursuing this. Should I use this guilt to my advantage? Do I let him know how horrible this is going to affect our children so that he might feel so guilty that he calls off the separation? I hate to resort to mind games in this way, but this is my children’s futures and my marriage that I’m talking about. I’m starting to think that it is all fair game.”
I absolutely understood why this wife felt the need to use whatever resources she might have to change his mind. When you want to save your marriage and are opposed to a separation, then him walking out that door can seem like your worst case scenario. It can feel like your worst nightmare is actually coming true. So you may well feel justified in using guilt to keep your family together. But, I know first hand that relying upon negative emotions can actually backfire on you which can make things even worse. I will explain why below.
Sometimes, He Resents The Guilt And Projects This Negative Feeling Onto You: Frankly, it probably would not be very difficult for you to make your husband feel guilty about wanting a separation. In fact, it’s probably a pretty sure bet that he already feels some guilt without your needing to say a single word. So, if pile onto his negative emotions and then state the obvious (that the separation is going to hurt and negatively affect the kids,) he’s likely to know that your motivation is to keep him home by any means necessary. And human nature is just that he is going to want to push back against this.
Very few men will respond with something like: “you know, you really have a point. I didn’t think of things that way. So I’ll just push down my feelings and pretend to be happy when I’m not.” Instead, they will probably think something like: “of course I know that this is hurting our children. And I wouldn’t be pursuing it if I didn’t think it was absolutely necessary. But I’m thinking some time apart might give us the distance needed to improve our situation which is ultimately in the best interest of our kids. I love my kids just as much as she does. And for her to insinuate otherwise is maddening.”
And when he feels this type of frustration, he is likely to leave even more quickly and remain away for that much longer simply to make the point that he will not allow you to manipulate him in this way or allow you to use your children in that way. I know that this doesn’t seem fair because you are sincerely concerned about your children, but this is the way that he is likely to see it.
A Better Alternative Than Trying To Make Him Feel Guilt: I believe that you can encourage for your husband to have some doubts without needing to resort to such manipulation. I’m not asking you to pretend to feel something that you don’t. In fact, it’s likely that he already knows that you don’t want the separation and are willing to do almost anything to stop it. So, you really don’t need to do anything to restate the obvious.
Instead, it’s my experience that you are better off changing tactics (which will usually catch him a little bit off guard and will make him pause.) I have found that it is better to remain calm and to let him know that although you don’t want for him to leave, you aren’t going to try to stop him if he sincerely believes that this is what he needs to do. You want to appear supportive but disappointed. Often, this will feel much more genuine to him so he no longer feels the need to fight you or to keep his guard up. And since you are being agreeable, he no longer has any reason to dig in he heals or to be stubborn. Instead, it makes more sense for him to want to work for you than for him to work against you.
This is the strategy I used when I saved my own marriage. I did try to use guilt in the beginning and this plan failed miserably. But when I changed plans and became his ally rather than his adversary, things went much better. If it helps you can read the whole story on the save my marriage blog.