Your marriage is not over when your wife wants to separate. Handled correctly, this can be a good opportunity for your marriage to become better than ever.
If you are like most of the men I work with and your wife wants to separate, that came as a complete surprise to you. Even if your relationship has been poor for years, you thought that she would never want to leave you. You may have reacted by begging her for a second chance, asking her if she is having an affair, or trying to make up for all the love that you failed to give her in the past. If you did, you were probably met with rejection. Just like my clients, you can use your wife’s desire to separate as an opportunity to reconnect in a secure and attractive way. Many times this prevents separation, but when it doesn’t, it sets the stage for reconciling even after separation. Being needy won’t do that.
Three reasons wives commonly want to separate
Reason #1: Wife wants to separate as an intervention
Now that you think back on your relationship, do you remember your wife trying to get you to interact with her in a different way? Did she talk to you about how she was concerned about your relationship? Did she try to get you to go to marriage counseling? Did you have any bad behaviors that she often tried to get you to change? Did she read books on improving marriages? And, most importantly, did she fail to get you to take the need for these changes seriously? If so, your wife may be asking to separate now as an intervention. That is, she may still want to improve your relationship, but realize that the only way to get you to take her seriously is to do something drastic. If this is the case, you do need to take her very seriously, because if her intervention does not work, she will soon be divorcing you–not as an intervention–but out of hopelessness about your marriage combined with her hope for something better. That is, her intervention may be her last ditch effort to save your marriage.
Reason #2: Wife wants to separate to help you transition
Are you the kind of man who is on the edge of falling apart because your wife wants to separate? You know, really tearful and an emotional basket-case? If so, your wife is probably telling you that she wants to separate, but is also trying to soften the blow. She doesn’t want you to completely become dysfunctional or overly reactive. She has to emotionally take care of you by giving you some hope, while at the same time helping you to adjust to living without her. Although you may think that if you are depressed enough, she will stay to rescue you, at this point your wife is done rescuing you. At this point, your difficulty functioning–your neediness, is very unattractive and only convinces her all the more that she is not going to be happy staying with you. What will a woman say in this situation? She might tell you that she needs to separate just to clear her head, or to see if she misses you. She will not admit to you that she is actually thinking about divorcing you because she knows it is beyond your ability to handle. If you don’t stop your needy behavior and learn to re-attract your wife again, she will continue to ease you out of the relationship. She won’t have to do, however, if you can again become an attractive man to her.
Reason #3: Wife wants to separate due to an affair
You asked your wife if she is having an affair, but she said she isn’t. Most people who are having affairs do not admit their affairs for a number of reasons. They may not want to look bad to the rest of the family. They may not want you to focus on the affair as the cause of the problems in your relationship. Or, one of the most common reasons–she may not consider it to be an affair, even if it is. It is a kind of denial that helps her to feel good about herself and to excuse what she is doing. While many men are only concerned if their wives have a physical affair, an emotional affair can be even more damaging. (See article on physical and emotional affairs for more information). Figuring out whether she is having an affair or not, really does not change the best way to handle this situation, so be sure not to interrogate your wife or to spy on her. That will do more harm than good–making reconciling more difficult.
Focus on the relationship, not the separation
Many men are so fearful of separating, that they do a lot of damage in the process of trying to prevent their wives from separating. Needy behavior such as crying, begging, arguing, and so forth, only does more damage to the relationship by showing your wife that your priority remains yourself rather than her. You are in essence telling her that she should continue to sacrifice her happiness for your sake or for the children’s sake. This selfish message shows a lack of concern for her welfare and only further convinces her that she is doing the right thing by separating from you. If you continue such behavior, it will only speed up the separation, as she will need space from your making her feel pressured.
Separation does not mean the end of your relationship
There is a lot of really bad advice on the internet. One of the worst pieces of “information” is the myth that your relationship is over once you have separated. This myth does a lot of damage to relationships because it makes men put all of their effort into preventing separation when they should be focused on creating a relaxed, positive connection with their wives. The fact is, if you can help your wife to relax with you and start to enjoy talking with you again, the separation may not even occur. Even if it does, with this kind of interaction established, a separation is not going to prevent your relationship from continuing to build. On the other hand, if you pursue and pressure your wife prior to separation, she will have very little contact with you after separating–which will make it difficult to reconnect.
Going no contact or giving space does not rebuild relationships
Another really lousy piece of advice is to just give her space and wait until she misses you. A woman who is relaxed never needs space. Space is only helpful advice for men who are stressing women out. Even then, it does nothing to build the relationship. It only reduces the stress and makes her feel relieved not to have you contact her. This no contact period is when she is likely to connect with someone else if she hasn’t already. The focus of my work with men is in helping them to help their wives to relax and enjoy talking again prior to the separation. This either prevents separation or is a good transition to relationship building after separation. My clients and I practice good relationship connection skills that they will use:
prior to separation to create a positive connection and possibly prevent separation,
during separation, if it occurs, to continue to build the relationship, and
after the separation has ended to keep their relationship healthy.
Although many men I work with initially feared separation, they often tell me that the period of their separation is actually one of the best things to happen to them because they and their wives became very connected at that time. A separation, like any other thing that happens in marriage, is an opportunity for connection if handled well. (Read more on giving space and building relationships).
If she is having an affair
If your wife wants to separate because she is having an affair, separation is necessary anyhow. If your wife were having an affair and you were trying to convince her not to separate, you would be making yourself less attractive by having poor boundaries. Just like in the other scenarios, the best approach for reconciling involves you being secure, friendly, and cooperative, rather than insecure, argumentative, and stressing her out. If she is having an affair, it is likely that part of the reason this happened is because you dropped the ball and emotionally disconnected from her. Now that she is emotionally connected to another man, she will not at this point be open to emotionally connecting with you. You will need to lay the groundwork which includes separation with connection, but without pursuit, until she gets to the point where she enjoys talking with you more than she enjoys talking with the other man. That is completely possible if you use good connection skills. You must, however, also maintain good boundaries so that your wife does not end up having her cake and eating it, too. That would only delay or prevent reconciling.
If your wife is doing an intervention
Unlike the other reasons why women separate, she is going to be less resistant to your pursuit. In fact, she is trying to get you to pursue her. But, this does not mean that she is going to change her mind about separating or that your relationship is going to be re-built really quickly. Because she no longer trusts you, and because she still has a great deal of anger with you, she is going to connect with you at times, reject you at times, and also be slow to reconcile. In fact, she may have so much anger that it is hard for her to ever reach the place where she feels you have repented enough, changed enough, or changed long enough, that she is ready to emotionally commit to you again. When I work with men in this situation, they typically feel very stuck, or in a no-win situation in which they are damned if they do, and damned if they don’t in regard to approaching their wives. This situation requires good relationship building skills, but it also requires good boundaries that help their wives to finally let go of whatever they are holding on to that prevents them from again emotionally committing to their husbands.
Her feelings are what determine her actions, not her decisions
Women’s emotions do not respond to rational arguments. This means that no matter how good your explanations are, and no matter how good the reasons are, you are not going to reconcile with your wife until you can help her to feel in love with you again. You need to be secure enough to go at her pace without doing more damage to your relationship. The reason your wife wants to separate from you may be one of the three above or some combination of them. The reason can also easily change. If you spend all of your time trying to analyze your wife’s behavior, it will get you nowhere. That is because it is not her behavior which matters for reconciling. It also is not what she says or even plans that is important for reconciling. The single most important thing for reconciling is how you make her feel. Men who are very successful with women know that women’s’ plans change almost as soon as their feelings do. Learning how to help her to feel relaxed, comfortable, attracted, and connected with you again, has a tremendous potential for building your relationship whether she is having an affair, doing an intervention, or outright rejecting you. When a woman says, “it is over,” it only means that the way she feels now, she cannot imagine ever being with you again. However, if you can make her feel differently, your relationship will no longer be over for her or for you. It will take on a new life, much better than before.