One of the most dreaded things a man could hear is that his wife wants a divorce. I'm going to go through some of the basics that you need to remember if, for some reason, this happens to you.
There are a few things that can go wrong if your wife wants a divorce, depending on how you react. You might say that what else could go wrong if she already wants a divorce?
The answer is you could actually end up divorced! But it probably doesn't need to happen that way.
Do you remember the Mission Impossible scene with Tom Cruise where he dangled by a cable during a heist? One single drop of his sweat hit the floor and tripped the alarm. Is this how it feels in your marriage, that a wrong move could push your wife over the divorce edge?
I know a lot you guys are in an intense situation. Your wife has that look in her eye. It is very serious.
What can you do?
Rule #1 if your wife wants a divorce: Don't go wacky
It is very important that you find a way to breath and relax. Give her some space to think things through. Mostly likely everything is going to be fine, but you will need to make some changes in the relationship and in your priorities.
You need to take her very seriously but not Tom-Cruise-doing-a-heist serious. Don't become wacky by her threat of divorce. Stay cool inside but get ready for some action.
I know for some of you it won't make sense that I just said to stay cool inside. "How can I relax when my wife is going to divorce me?"
This is not supposed to be a riddle.
If you can learn to pay attention to your wife (or anyone) when she rejects you, there will emerge possibilities--footholds--where before you only felt interminably like you were falling off a cliff. The key is to pay non-anxious attention. Don't give total rejection back if you seem to be receiving total rejection. This will stop the knot you are in from becoming evermore tighter. Don't meet her rejection with obsequious begging either. Be curious like inspector Clouseau instead of reactive like Rambo.You will find a way through this.
How do you take your wife seriously, but not get wacky, if your wife wants a divorce?
Rule #2 if your wife tells you she wants a divorce: Find the hidden door
I don't want to tell you to call your wife's bluff about wanting to divorce you, but sometimes you have to look beyond what is being said on the surface. Look for the hidden vulnerability behind the threat and respond compassionately to it. There is probably a lot of sadness and loneliness in her. Empathize with her about that, don't try to fix it or convince her not to be sad and lonely. That's not what her girlfriends do when she complains to them about you. They move physically closer to her, they relax, she relaxes and she feels less alone.
Listen to what it means to her to be divorced from you at this moment. Validate her. Does it mean she would get her freedom to really let her hair down? Soften your face and validate. Does it mean she would feel better about herself without you because you cheated on her? Make eye contact with her and look at her with acceptance. Does it mean she is sick of picking up your underwear? Laugh at yourself and validate. Don't be Freud and try to psychoanalyze her. Just really be open to letting her tell you what it means to her. Don't correct or guide her.
Just listen, especially if you don't like what you are hearing. Just be along for the ride wherever she seems to be going with her feelings. It will be your turn later if you can really make peace with her right to be angry and hard to reach right now.
Validate means tell her she's not rabid-dog crazy. Give her credit for calling you on the carpet for something that perhaps few others in your life are able to do. Find the value in this and make peace with it and you will not only save your marriage, but you will grow immensely as a human.
As you are listening, imagine that your wife is a fortress with an array of armaments, defenses, and traps to keep intruders away from the vulnerable treasure inside. Right now you are in battle with with an inner-court sentry. The outer-court walls were breached and this is one of the last resorts, if not the last resort. As ferocious as you think this guard is, if you challenge it directly you can be sure it will muster even more defense in counter-attack. The whole purpose of inner-guard is to protect her when the outer-guard has failed.
Rule #3 if your wife wants a divorce: Stop tolerating your own failure
What was she trying to do to get your attention before she started threatening divorce? This was the outer-guard, her first layer of defense. Since this didn't work, now she is using a more extreme, desperate measure.
One way to get her to call off her extreme inner guard defense is to admit fault in the fruitlessness of her first attempts. But be forewarned: You will be exposing yourself to do this. But if you want to save your marriage, this is the right road to be on, despite the risk to your ego. Admittedly, it's not healthy to play the self-flagellating re-runs. But you might need to try heading toward (temporarily) taking on unconditional responsibility for the relationship problems.
How did you miss this before? What weakness or vulnerability of yours were you unwilling to expose to her when she was being her most vulnerable? Own up to it. If you are confused about your part of the problem, tell her you don't want to tolerate your confusion anymore. Reach into your pocketbook and get professional help to figure it out.
What's the bottom line if your wife wants a divorce?
Take some time to think before you react. But when you do react, concern yourself with the admission of your own vulnerability and letting her off the hook for taking care of your needs. You could say your own version of this: "I admire how much courage it takes for you to tell me you want a divorce. It's making me want to figure out why I've been silently living out my own divorce with you. That's not right and you shouldn't have to figure that out for me, that's my job."
What's your recipe for success in responding to a wife that wants a divorce? Or do you only have recipes for disaster?