Whether you and your partner have filed for divorce, or are discussing one, there are actionable steps you can take to begin repairing your marriage. While you can take all the steps towards reconciliation, know that eventually your partner will need to join you in doing the work to reconnect.
How Can I Fix My Marriage Before Divorce?
The idea of divorce may feel like the only solution for your marriage, or your partner may have brought the idea up. You may even be in the midst of filing for divorce but are having doubts about whether this is the best solution for you. If you have decided that you would like to move forward with reconnecting with your partner and halting the divorce process, it's important to calmly examine yourself, the marriage, and your partner's perspective.
Understand Your Partner's Feelings
Your partner may be reluctant to speak with you, or may feel comfortable doing so depending on your unique situation. Ask your partner if they feel comfortable sharing their thoughts about the marriage with you. If they are not and ask for space, be respectful of their wishes and discuss when they would feel okay with you checking in with them in the future. Know that your partner's perspective may not align with your own, and that's okay. At this point your only task is to hear them out and ask respectful, clarifying questions in a calm manner. Examples of showing your partner that you understand their feelings include:
- "I hear what you are saying."
- "I was wondering if you could clarify what you meant when you said....."
- "I understand that you'd like space and I will respect that."
- "Can you clarify what you mean specifically when you say space?" followed by, "I just want to make sure I totally understand what you want."
- "I will respect your need for space and appreciate your honesty."
- "Would you feel comfortable if I checked in with you at some point in the future?" followed by, "If so, when would be the best time for you?"
- "I appreciate you sharing your perspective with me and am going to process what you've said."
Validate Your Partner's Experience
Listening and feeling heard are two completely different acts that you and your partner may have both experienced. When someone is listening, it's more of a passive act of the recipient sitting quietly, while feeling heard allows the speaker to feel validated and understood. The next goal to set for yourself is to help your partner feel heard. In doing so, they may feel closer and more connected to you and feel as if they have a safe space to process, instead of opening up the door to another potential argument. To validate your partner's experience:
- Use active listening by saying, "It sounds like you're saying or feeling________" and then ask, "Did I get that right?"
- "You have every right to feel ________."
- "I can understand why you thought that."
- "I can understand why you felt that."
- "It sounds like you were feeling _________ when I did ______________.
- "Thank you for sharing your thoughts and feeling with me."
Check Your Reactions
While hearing your partner's point of view holds incredible value to understanding the situation and potentially bringing you closer together, be prepared for the reactionary part of your brain to put the walls up. Feeling defensive can get triggered by various statements, so note what happens to you when you feel triggered and continue to remind yourself that you are working towards creating a sense of unity and reacting or snapping at your partner will increase the divide. If you feel defensive or reactive:
- Don't say, "I only did ____ because you did_________." This isn't helpful and puts you on opposite teams. Instead say, "It sounds like you were feeling________, can you help me understand my role in that a bit more?"
- Avoid blaming your partner for your behavior. Own up to your mistakes and take this as a learning and growing opportunity. Note that even though you are focusing on your part in the relationship breakdown, if you and your partner decide to work on your marriage, you'll have an opportunity to share your perspective as well. You probably want your partner to give you the same courtesy of not reacting to your experience too.
- Do not start shouting or intensify your tone. If you need to take a break to cool off, say so in a calm manner. If you do feel anger or frustration bubbling up, check in with yourself and try to understand why when you aren't speaking with your partner. Feeling like you did something bad or wrong or are at fault can feel awful, but keep in mind that everyone makes mistakes and these mistakes don't make you a bad person. Mistakes create opportunities for growth.
Take Time to Reflect
Whether you've spoken to your partner or not, it's important to reflect on your role in the marital discord and disconnection. While this is not a fun task to take on, it's an important part of marital reconciliation, as well as personal growth. Think about:
- Were you open and honest with your partner about your changing needs?
- Do you ask about their needs, and if so were you fulfilling them?
- Did you create a safe space for them to come to you when they felt unheard or hurt by you or others?
- What specific areas do you feel you need to work on as an individual?
- What are traits of a good, solid partner? How can you cultivate that in yourself?
- What do you tend to do when you feel hurt? (freeze-out, inform your partner calmly, shout, get overwhelmed, avoid)
- What concrete steps can you take to move forward with healthy relationship habits? (open communication, honest account of needs, understanding each other's love language, healthy and safe argument resolution)
At some point it's important to bring up reconciliation with your partner to see if you both are comfortable moving forward. If not, check in and see if your partner is comfortable continuing your discussions about the marriage. To do so, you can say:
- "I appreciate you sharing your perspective with me."
- "I've thought about it and am committed to our marriage and to doing the work to repair it and I would like to hear your thoughts if you're comfortable sharing."
- "I know you are on the fence about reconciliation, but I was wondering if you are still open to discussing our marital issues?"
- "I'd love to continue understanding your point of view."
Re-assess the Situation
You may have started this process knowing that you wanted to stop the divorce process and reconcile, but your mind may have changed. Take time to think about whether this relationship is the best and healthiest fit for you and note if both of you are willing to do the work to continue strengthening your marriage. While you may be willing to do the work, it doesn't mean your partner is and that can feel incredibly painful and rejecting. Even if you are taking the lead with reconciliation, a healthy relationship needs all parties to make the effort, not just one.
Can You Save Your Marriage After Filing for Divorce?
You can definitely save your marriage even after you've filed for divorce. If one partner initiates the reconciliation process and the other partner, even reluctantly, begins to participate in the process, there is a chance of repairing the marriage. Note that repairing a marriage takes a lot of work and both partners must be willing to participate to avoid falling back into the same patterns which initially led to the beginning stages of divorce.
Understanding What Lead to the Disconnect
Issues tend to be recurring and if left unresolved can lead to growing even farther apart. Taking time to understand why and when the disconnect occurred can help you avoid similar issues in the future. Keep in mind that feeling disconnected can bring up feelings of loneliness, unworthiness, sadness, and resentment. These feelings can make it more difficult to examine these issues, but if you are committed to giving your marriage another try, they are really important to dig into.
Non-resolved issues and recurring unhealthy interactional patterns can destroy even the happiest of relationships. It's important to figure out the core of the issue, understand each other's perspectives, and remain on the same team as you reconcile. Themes of non-resolved issues may include:
- Jealousy - Your partner may spend time with flirtatious individuals or prioritize something or someone else more than the marriage.
- Unhealthy argument resolution - One or both of you may not express your needs clearly to your partner when you get into an argument and may ignore each other, invalidate each other, or not really understand each other's point of view.
- Familial alliance - You and/or your partner may align more with your family of origin than with each other which can create rifts and distance between you two, especially if one or both families disapprove.
- Disliking partner's friend - You or your partner may not like certain friendships which can lead to arguments and tension within the relationship.
- Not meeting relational needs - You and/or your partner might not be meeting each other's needs (time spent together, deep connections, honest communication, sexual satisfaction, trust, support).
Increased Emotional Distance
When issues spiral out of control, it's natural to emotionally distance from each other. This protects you from getting further hurt, theoretically, but can end up causing even more hurt down the line. With increased emotional distance, one or both partners may look for emotional connections elsewhere.
Comfort in Your New Normal
Your new, distanced behaviors may become your normal eventually and you may lose sight of why you two initially got married. You may forget what it was like before you both were emotionally distanced and not realize how much pain and loneliness you are actually feeling.
To Stay Together or Not
One or both of you may have hit a boiling point and decided to break the relationship off and discuss or file for divorce. It may feel difficult to remember what initially attracted you to your partner, and you may be wondering if divorce is the only option.
Whether you go through with the divorce or not, you may still experience a mourning period where you long for what your relationship used to look like, or feel sad about potentially losing your partner if they don't want to reconcile.
Can I Stop My Partner From Divorcing Me?
The idea of divorcing your partner can feel incredibly painful. While one person cannot repair the marriage alone, you can certainly take steps to work on yourself, reflect on the situation, and validate your partner's experience with the hope that your partner feels comfortable repairing the marriage as well. If you both are committed to repairing the relationship and you'd like additional support and guidance, reach out to a couples counselor or therapist.