a spouse who wants to leave. She has some excellent advice for anyone whose mate has said "I love you, but I'm not in love with you," or is talking about leaving the marriage.
One reader's comment included the observation that it is, after all, the spouse who wants to stay who is the one more committed to the relationship. But things aren't always that simple.
Abusers usually want to keep the relationship intact because that is how they retain dominance and control. The marriage is the arena in which they act out their anger and rage, and they need a target for that rage in the person of the spouse. Any commitment they have is to their own need for power and the cycle of anger. The spouse who leaves an abuser may have been strongly committed to the marriage, but has been forced to choose survival instead.
Those who have had affairs often want to stay in the marriage, despite having demonstrated a lack of commitment to their wedding vows. They may be in denial about the damage they have caused, or they may feel real regret. But once trust has been destroyed, it is extremely difficult to rebuild. This is true of any kind of betrayal. People who have misappropriated marital funds, who have consistently failed to keep important promises, who have concealed criminal activity, who have hidden their substance abuse -- all have forfeited a partner's trust. Even a very devoted spouse may find it intolerable to live with someone whose word cannot be relied on.
Some people have become so complacent in their marriages that they seem to be absent, even when they are in the room. They are inactive and unresponsive. If asked, they might say they are committed to the relationship ("I'm here, aren't I?"), but they fail to exert any effort beyond simply showing up. They want the marriage to be there, perhaps because there is comfort in familiarity, but they don't interact with their partners except on a very superficial level. Their partners try to engage them, by inviting, cajoling, pleading, and eventually screaming, but instead of responding, they simply withdraw. When the frustrated spouse stops trying, the withdrawn one thinks that peace means things are better. But what it really means is that the unhappy spouse has given up, having discovered that it is impossible to stay committed to someone who isn't there.
If your spouse feels like leaving even though you want to stay, don't give up hope. If there is any love left, and if you are truly committed to doing whatever is necessary to save your marriage, you have a chance.
If you have been physically or emotionally abusive, you need expert help. Probably you will need to remove yourself from the home until you complete a long-term, in-depth recovery program. If you honestly want to change yourself and commit to a safe, healthy relationship, you must make significant, permanent changes in your thinking and behavior.
If you have betrayed your spouse in some way, you will need to work very hard to gain forgiveness and rebuild trust over time. Reconciliation is rarely easy, but if your remorse is genuine and you are actively making amends, a spouse who still cares for you may be willing to try again.
If you have been neglecting the relationship and withdrawing from your partner, letting go of your defenses is the first step to re-establishing a connection. Use honest, heartfelt communication to discover what the two of you really need and want from each other so that you can turn toward each other and once again feel the joy of sharing life with the one you love.
When things have reached the point where one spouse is ready to pack a bag and walk out, getting some kind of professional help is wise. A counselor, therapist, relationship coach, marriage education class, retreat, or seminar can help you recognize and change negative patterns while learning how to understand and connect with each other. Following is a list that can help you find resources in your area.
Emotionally Focused Therapy
The Gottman Referral Network
National Domestic Violence Hotline
Compassion Power: Love Without Hurt