If your bride is talking divorce and you don’t understand why, there are only a few explanations:
- She is cheating on you.
- She is having a “mid-life crisis”.
- She is psychotic
- You are not seeing things as she sees them (meaning you are not as great a husband as you think you are)
Numbers one and two are completely different issues, and number three is outside of my experience; but that’s okay, because number four is more common than the other three combined.
Women as a group are more relationally focused than men are. This is not my opinion, it’s a well-established fact. The areas of the brain related to relationships are proportionally larger in women than men, and studies find women are more easily influenced, and harmed, by their relationships. Men are more likely than women to suffer because of a lack of relationships, but this is a natural result of not placing as much value on relationships in the first place. My point here is she is far more aware than you are what is going on, and not going on, in your marriage because she feels it is far more critical than you do. She is less willing (and less able) to put up with relational problems and shortages, and the longer such things go on, the worse it gets for her.
In short, I’m telling you she is aware of things you ignore. Have you ever listened to your car and known something was wrong with it, while your bride has no clue? For her your relationship is like that, she hears it clearly, and the fact you can’t hear it does not change her reality. Has she exaggerated or slanted things? Probably – it is human nature. However, exaggeration does not mean there is nothing there, it only means that what is there is less than what has been stated. Often we find one flaw, exaggeration, or error in what someone says, and use that to reject everything they said. I suspect many husbands do this when their bride voices her concerns, frustration, or needs. Often it follow a pattern like this:
- She complains their relationship needs change.
- He finds some small thing in what she has said that are not 100% right, and dismisses the entire discussion; topic closed.
- He repeats #2 every time she tries to talk to him about the problems she sees.
- She gives up. He takes her giving up as an indication she is “finally being reasonable”.
- She grows cold and bitter.
- She decided she is done, and makes plans to leave.
- One day she says “divorce” and he honestly has no idea why she is doing it. So …
- He feels like the victim, and reacts accordingly.
- She takes this as proof he won’t change, even when faced with divorce, and that is the end of it in her mind.
Where are you on the list? If you have not gotten past #4, you can turn things around easily, but once you get to #5 it becomes more difficult. The further down the list you are, the more time and effort it’s going to take to heal. Regardless of where you are on the list, the solution is the same: reverse what you have been doing. Instead of looking for anything that is false, look for any bit of truth in her words. Be brutal with yourself; don’t excuse things or think they are not a big deal. If you are not doing what you should, if you are not as loving, giving, generous, kind and caring, as you should be, you are harming her. If this has gone on for years, you have done a great deal of harm to her.
If you have hit the point where she is asking for a divorce, or is making noise about it, you need to act quickly and decisively.
If she is still talking to you, tell her you realise she has tried to tell you about the problems, but you didn’t list. Apologise, and ask her to please tell you again. Then listen and don’t argue. Hear what she is saying, write it down, make sure you have really heard her concerns. Thank her for her willingness to share with you, and set a time to talk again – soon. Then go over what she has said. Pray about her words, and what is behind them. Share what she has said with a trusted friend who will be tough on you, rather than tell you are fine and your wife is out of line. Figure out where you have been wrong, and where you have fallen short. Then tell you wife what you have discovered. Be blunt, and own your faults – “I have not” and “I failed to” and “You should not have to put up with” are the kind of things to say. You cannot overestimate how much owning all your stuff will shock her, and how it will cause her to wonder if she has been wrong about your ability and willingness to change. An honest admission of wrong should buy you some time – but only a bit. You need to act quickly to make changes. Not flashy surface changes, but real changes. You need some third-party help at this point. (If you think you can do it yourself, realise your wisdom got you here in the first place!) Find a pastor, counselor, or an older man who is wise and spiritually mature and work your butt off to make changes.
If she’s no longer talking to you, try to remember what she said when she was talking. Odds are it has been months, maybe more than a year. If you cannot figure it out, ask others who know both of you if they can help you. Then get to work as above.
And yes, I know she is not perfect; I know there are things you put up with and things she should change. If you manage to save your marriage you need to discuss those things – but for now bringing up her stuff will look like you once again refusing to take responsibility for your stuff. In her mind you have given up the right to complain about or ask for anything. Right or wrong, that is the field on which the battle will take place.