Can you save a marriage if only one wants it?

-- Question for John --

My husband of 15 years left me and my teenage daughter in November. I was devastated. He is determined not to come home, is buying his own flat and won’t talk about what has happened between us. I know that our relationship had become strained, but I was completely unaware how desperate he was. He will not look at his feelings and share with me how he feels.

I think that he got overloaded with feelings (concerning all sorts of things, including his childhood) and left as a way of escaping. However, I love him dearly and would like to work toward reconciliation. I have been very upset and overwhelmed, but am feeling more balanced now, although my feelings for him have not changed.

How can I give him the space and time he needs whilst looking after my emotional needs also. Can I work toward some kind of reconciliation, when I am the only one who wants it?

-- Answer from John --

It takes two people to make a relationship — and only one to break it. You cannot alone create a reconciliation of the marriage. But how you act towards him can potentially influence his own motivational levels. You may be absolutely accurate in your assessment of what’s going on with him and that he is currently not able to deal with overwhelm and is unwilling to re-open connection out of fears of whatever it was he is trying to escape. Even if this is only part of the story, it would benefit you to self-examine whatever behaviors you put out that are a part of what he is seeking to remove himself from. And know that by doing those things, you trigger his further flight — and by doing something different you may open a door eventually. That is really your only real point of input into the situation — through your actions.

The intentional strategy is often suggested to people who want to get the other person back and prevent a divorce, that they simply agree with the party who has left them about absolutely everything. This has a disarming effect. It is not necessarily easy to do. And in some cases, it is not even in the interest of one’s personal growth to do it. But, for instance, if he says it is hopeless then instead of trying to prove it isn’t — because really you cannot want to agree with that position — you would simply agree that it is hopeless. And now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s go on to the next topic. In your case, maybe agree that this is not the time to discuss feelings. Agree with whatever he is putting forth. Even if it is not truly your position. This is a strategy. It is intentional. It is not necessarily my recommendation, but I do want you to be aware of it. I don’t know how it might or might not even apply to your particular situation. Obviously, in email it is impossible to get into the nitty gritty of your particular situation like it would be in a counseling session, for example.

In general, this is a time in which you can use this anguish to look more deeply into what can support your own personal liberation from suffering. A time like this is difficult. But it presents to us the opportunity to do inner growth and healing — to get beyond the patterns that limit us. The very best path for you to get your own emotional needs met and give him the space and time he needs is this, and this alone. Focus on your personal growth. If you can, opt for personal counseling at this time. Learn to use whatever difficulties are presenting themselves for you right now. Use them as pathways to a deeper and more solid sense of self — to more qualities and skillfulness with others — and ultimately, to getting the love you truly want.