I often hear from wives whose husbands have started speaking in serious tones about separating. Often, the wife hopes that he isn’t serious or that he will quickly change his mind. But when this doesn’t happen, the wife will sometimes begin to quickly brainstorm her best option or plan, especially since he seems determined to go through with it.
I heard from a wife who said: “my husband has been talking about separating for several weeks. Last weekend, he went out and looked at apartments. I had hoped that he was just bluffing, but today, there is actually an unsigned apartment contract on our counter. I am sure he left it out for me to see it. I’m starting to think that he really wants for this to happen. He has been bringing it up for so long. I guess my question is do I let him go? He seems determined to go no matter what I say or do. But, I just feel like if I let him, he won’t come back. But if I force him to stay, he’s going to be so angry and unsatisfied. What is the best call?”
Without my even needing to make any comment whatsoever, the wife already knew exactly what her dilemma truly was. If she attempted to force him to stay, he might reluctantly do so, but he certainly wasn’t going to be happy about this. And, as a result, there was a risk that he was going project these feelings onto his wife and his marriage. So, she may just be delaying the inevitable. But if she allowed him to go, she had no idea what to expect and less control of what the outcome might be. From my own experience and research, I think that there is a better compromise here. I will discuss that more below.
Whatever Happens, He Must Believe That He Has Made His Own Decision: It’s important to understand that a husband who believes that he has no control or no ability to see his own wishes through will often feel quite resentful or angry. Eventually, he may rebel against this and believe that he has to make a grand gesture like leaving, separating, or getting a divorce in order to get his point across. So it’s vital that he believes that any decision that he comes to is completely his own.
Of course, your behaviors and discussions can influence the outcome, but he must feel as if he has the final say. If he doesn’t, there may be resentment and there may eventually be some serious fall out. In short, his feeling that he has no choice or no control may ultimately make the outcome worse.
How To Attempt To Offer Compromise: Of course, we can probably all agree that it’s best that he doesn’t actually leave but still feels that he has the time and space that he perceives he wants or needs. In that sense, if a compromise can be reached, that would be worth pursuing. So you might suggest your leaving for a while, him staying with friends, or him having a week to week arrangement rather than signing a long term apartment agreement.
In short, you want to agree to the shortest time away as is possible in which you have the most control. Your giving him space by moving out of the bedroom is the probably the least permanent choice. The second alternative would be your staying with friends. In either scenario, you can simply come back when you are both ready for that to happen. If he has to leave, then try to see if he can commit to a short, closed ended period of time rather than an open ended one where neither of you know when (or if) it ends.
Understand That You Aren’t Really “Letting Him” Do Anything: I understand where you are coming from because I had the same thoughts when my own husband wanted to leave. I too wondered if I should or could let him go. Looking back now, I realize how absurd that thinking truly was. What was I going to do? Stand in the doorway and physically stop him from leaving? Hold onto his knees as he was walking out the door? How could I expect to do either and have a good outcome?
This was a grown man who wasn’t going to appreciate me telling him that I wasn’t going to let him go. I tell you this because I want for you to know that even if you think this in your own mind, you shouldn’t share this with him. He must always feel like he is in charge of his own wishes and actions.
So a suggested script might be something like: “I saw the apartment contract in the kitchen. I hope that you didn’t make a commitment. In case I haven’t been clear, I understand that you need some time, but I don’t want you to leave. I am willing to work with you to give you the time that you need. I could move out of the bedroom or stay with my sister for as long as you might need. I would also be willing to do whatever is necessary to improve our marriage so that you don’t feel the need to leave. Of course, the ultimate decision is yours. But before you made it, I wanted you to know that I am willing to work with you. I do love you and am still committed to our marriage. I just want to find a way for us to be happy again.”
In this way, you have let him know that he doesn’t have to leave to get the space that he wants. If he resists or refuses this, then try very hard to get him to agree to a set amount of a short time away. But to answer the question posed, try not to see if as “letting” him go because in truth, you can’t really stop him from walking out that door. But you can try to negotiate before he does.