What to Do When Your Spouse is Walking Out the Door

by Dave Willis

I received a message through our Facebook page recently and the opening line was heartbreaking. This heartbroken wife bluntly stated, “My husband has given up on our marriage.”

Her short message went on to explain how the marriage had, at one time, been healthy, but something changed. Over time, her husband had pulled away until they seemed to be in two different worlds. This wife took responsibility for her own actions in contributing to marital breakdown, but she wasn’t writing to me to assign blame. She was simply crying out for help, wondering if there was any hope for this marriage to be salvaged when her husband already seemed halfway out the door.

My wife, Ashley, and I have been working with married couples for years, and one of the most heartbreaking scenarios we encounter is when one spouse wants the marriage to work, but the other spouse has made up his or her mind to leave and pursue divorce. This often leads to the question, “What am I supposed to do when my husband/wife tells me they want a divorce?”

If you are currently in this situation or seem to be headed in that direction, I’m so sorry for what you’re going through. I’m sure you’re feeling a mixture of conflicting emotions, and you’re probably not sure what to do next. It’s very possible that this difficult time of your life is the most painful challenge you’ll ever endure, but you will get through this! Don’t lose hope.

Every situation is unique, so not all of these action-steps may apply in your marriage. However, I believe these seven actions could help you get through this storm and possibly save your marriage as well. When your spouse seems to have given up on your marriage and you feel like you’re left alone, please do the following (in no particular order):

1. Keep loving your spouse

Don’t pick fights or give ultimatums. Just love them. Pray for them. Serve them. Be the best husband or wife you can be to them for as long as you remain their spouse. Try to diffuse the tension with love. Even if they’re being hateful toward you, love them in return. God loves us even when we’re acting “unlovable,” and we must do the same for each other.

2. Be careful where you turn for comfort

When you’re hurt and confused, you’ll naturally want to find comfort. The problem is that we tend to make our worst choices when we’re hurt and confused. Don’t turn to self-destructive behavior to numb the pain. Surround yourself with accountability and support from people who love you AND love your spouse too.

3. Be willing to take drastic and immediate actions to save the marriage

You obviously can’t force your spouse to stay married to you, but do everything in your power to encourage reconciliation. You can find some great resources to help couples in struggling situations on our site at www.MarriageToday.com and I’d also encourage attending a marriage intensive for couples in crisis like the one offered at the Winshape Center in Georgia and in other places throughout the nation.

4. Meet with a Christian Marriage Counselor

This one could have easily been listed as part of step #3, but I wanted to give it special focus because I believe it’s such a vital part of the healing process. Trying to save a struggling marriage without a counselor is like trying to perform open-heart surgery on yourself. You need a surgeon. You need a surgeon for heart surgery and you need a counselor for crisis marriage counseling. Make sure the counselor believes and trusts the Bible as the source of their advice, or else you might be getting bad advice while you’re in a very vulnerable state.

5. Have faith

In the Bible, Jesus promised that we would have troubles in this life. The good news is that we’ll never face those troubles alone. You might feel alone right now, but Jesus has said, “Never will I leave you nor forsake you.” God can and will carry you through this difficult time.

6. Protect the kids (for those who are parents)

If you have children, this whole ordeal could be even harder on them than it is on you. Do everything in your power to protect your kids and shield them from the tension in the marriage. Don’t say hurtful things to or about your spouse, because your spouse will be there for the rest of your life, either as your spouse or, at the very least, as the mother/father of your kids. Be a calming, reassuring force for your kids through this time.

7. Don’t lose hope

Keep fighting for the marriage and keep believing for the best. Your positive outlook and attitude will help elevate your own spirits through this struggle and it might also be the catalyst to turn things around in the marriage. Even if you do all you can do and your spouse ultimately walks away, remember that God will never leave you and He has a beautiful plan for your future. Don’t lose hope.

For more tools to help you build a stronger marriage, please check out our “Naked Marriage” podcast on iTunes and attend one of our live events at  xomarriage.com/conference. Also, THANK YOU for sharing our articles and resources online. When you share, you become a partner in this ministry of spreading hope and healing to marriages all around the world.

Dave and Ashley Willis are the founders of StrongerMarriages.com and the authors of multiple books on marriage and relationships. They live with their four young sons near Augusta, GA where Dave serves as a Teaching Pastor for Stevens Creek Church. For additional resources, please visit DaveAndAshleyWillis.com.