How to Lead Your Marriage When She Wants Out
No husband is ever "prepared" for his wife to want out of the marriage.
After all, if you knew your wife would one day want out of the marriage, you'd have made changes to stop it a long time ago, right?
In the first half of this chapter, we're going to overview the most common BAD leadership strategies that I see from men who come to Husband Help Haven.
At least 90% of the men Inside the Haven started out making one of four crucial mistakes in their marriage. These aren't just specific "things" that most men do wrong, they're the overarching strategies that most men use - consciously or not - once their wife wants out.
In the second half of the chapter, we'll look at the three most common "good" leadership styles that I've seen the most men use to save their marriage. And whether you save your marriage or not, the "good" strategies enable you to walk into the next chapter of your life with head held high. (editor's note: this post is an excerpt from the upcoming separation book)
But, let's not get ahead of ourselves! We've got to figure out where we're starting before we can get where we want to go.
Bad Leadership Archetype #1.
“Please don’t leave me, I need you.
One more chance, please. I love you!”
When this type of husband is told that his wife wants out of the marriage, he has one simple reaction:
He holds on for dear life.
Being The Clinger feels like you’ve leaned too far back in your chair and started to tip backwards… The moment you realizes you’re falling, you spring into action, flailing around and trying to grab onto anything you can reach.
You’re frantic, desperate, and you’ll “do anything" to get her back.
The Clinger usually displays a few key behaviors that he believes will help the marriage stay afloat:
- Begging, sometimes literally getting down on his knees in tears
- Says he just needs “one more chance”
- Constantly saying “I love you”
- Promises to change over and over again (but his actions don’t back it up)
- Tries to get as much raw time with his wife as possible, even if that time is unfruitful and results in her pushing him further away over and over again
- Guilt trips his wife when she doesn’t respond to his pleas
The more The Clinger’s wife pushes him away, the more desperately he tries to hold on.
Generally, your wife will have one of two reactions to this type of clingy behavior:
A. She will pity you and feel bad for you that you’re so hurt (but she knows your clinginess is selfish)
B. She will resent you and push away and every time you cling to her she will spike you right back down to the ground harder than a pro volleyball player on steroids (see diagram above)
Either way, she will be repulsed. She will NOT be attracted or enticed by your clingy behavior. Instead, it will drive her away and validate her decision to leave.
Bad Leadership Archetype #2.
“How dare you leave me, I hate you!
Wait, no, I love you… It’s all my fault, I’m sorry, take me back!”
This type of husband is completely unpredictable during marriage crisis. He goes back and forth more than his wife does, swinging between two extremes on a daily or even hourly basis.
This man is ruled by his emotions in the moment. Since your emotions are going to be all over the place during marriage crisis, this is a dangerous place to be.
Some defining characteristics and behaviors of The Madman include:
- The most common emotion is anger and frustration, but the Madman is defined by wild swings back and forth between many emotions…
- One minute, he is enraged, furious that his wife would do this to him. The next minute he’s wracked with guilt and his anger is replaced by immense depression.
- Feels a potent mixture of guilt over his own failures, resentment over his wife’s hurtful choices and fear of losing what he loves.
- I’ve seen a Madman buy his wife flowers and send her a love letter one day, then the next day he’s literally destroying her stuff and yelling at her to move out.
- Displays attributes of other archetypes too… For example, just like The Trader (below), the madman gets frustrated that his wife isn’t seeing the “changes” he’s made to himself.
- The biggest struggle for the Madman is usually in accepting responsibility for the problems in the marriage in a healthy way… Instead, he either feels so guilty he can’t even get out of bed or so angry and prideful that he hates his wife for leaving.
Above all, the Madman is one thing: unpredictable.
By now, you know that one of the most important things to do during any separation is to focus on what you can control. The absolute best thing that you can be doing right now is making the most of the things that are under your control.
The Madman cannot make the most of the things under his control because quite simply, NOTHING is under his control… Not even himself.
The Madman is the most likely archetype to fall into for men who have preexisting issues in themselves outside of the marriage troubles they’re facing. For example, I’ve seen many Madmen driven by alcohol or bipolar or anxiety. These are men who naturally have very poor control over their emotions, a problem which is exaggerated when they’re going through crisis.
The Madman lacks clear goals in his separation, and so he has no way to focus and rein in his behavior. Instead, he feels even more out of control underneath the surface as he appears on the outside.
Bad Leadership Archetype #3.
“How could she do this to me?”
This archetype is pretty self-explanatory… This is the husband who plays the role of the victim and plays it very well.
- The Victim may turn to his wife’s friends and family in an effort to get them to sympathize with him, although his reasoning is that he “wants them to talk some sense into her.”
- May spend weeks at a time in deep depression, unable to break out of his own pity party.
- May have many similar behaviors as The Clinger, but his clinginess isn’t as constant… Instead, it comes in bursts when he has an “epiphany” and breaks out of his pity party long enough to try and get his wife back. When it fails, he’s right back to feeling sorry for himself.
- Spends all his time thinking about everything he’s lost, how terrible his life will be without his wife, how sad it is that the marriage got to this point, etc.
- Despite believing that everyone around him should sympathize with him, The Victim rarely has any sort of social life… He’s too busy moping around at home.
Ultimately, The Victim fails to recognize that self-pity is just another form of pride.
Even though many times The Victim’s feelings of being, well, victimized are justified, it doesn’t change that as a man and leader, you cannot afford to let your life get to this point.
You cannot afford to paint yourself as the victim to the point that you can’t see anything else.
In fact, many times, the more you deserve to be viewed as The Victim, the more important it is that you NOT let yourself think that way.
For example, if your wife is going through a Level III midlife crisis or she’s involved in an affair, then it’s crucial that you remain focused and set your feelings aside to be there for your kids. Usually, the more hurtful and destructive your wife’s desire for separation is, the more people there will be that need your protection and love. And, even if you don’t have kids, you probably have a job or other responsibilities that REQUIRE you to think clearly as a leader.
Victims can’t be leaders inside their marriage, and they will struggle to lead outside the marriage too as long as they keep this mindset.
Bad Leadership Archetype #4.
“I did my part, now why won’t you do yours?”
Hands down, The Trader is the archetype which will result in the most frustration.
Want to feel like you’re banging your head against a brick wall over and over again? Let yourself be The Trader.
The Trader is defined by a belief that his changes should reciprocated and recognized by his wife. And it’s her fault if she doesn’t.
In other words, The Trader prides himself on making the changes needed in order to do his part in the reconciliation and marriage. Once he’s made those changes, he expects his wife to do the same.
The hardest part is that The Trader KNOWS his marriage can be saved. He KNOWS that if his wife put in the effort, they could be happy. It’s so obvious to him that he literally can’t understand how she doesn’t see it the same way. Some common ways this will come out in practice:
- He is disappointed every single time he has a negative interaction with his wife.
- He never curbs his expectations that she will change or that she will recognize and appreciate his changes.
- He gets his hope up sky high after every positive interaction – however small – he gets with his wife.
- He may make a point of telling his wife about the changes he’s made or demonstrating them in front of her… But the moment she disagrees or dismisses his changes he gets extremely frustrated.
- In fact, The Trader spends most of his time frustrated. He is a very performance-oriented individual; he has high expectations for himself and high expectations for his wife.
- This is usually the man that can’t accept the Let Her Go mindset because in his mind, letting her go is like giving up. He prides himself on “never giving up” on his marriage.
Have you ever heard the phrase, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results each time”?
Yeah, that’s The Trader in a nutshell.
Don’t get me wrong – The Trader is a very good husband. Objectively, this man is great at seeing changes that need to be made in himself. He is right that with his wife’s cooperation, the marriage could be saved.
The problem comes when his wife doesn’t see it the same way, because the hard truth is that sometimes your wife can’t see the marriage clearly until after she’s already left it. And even then, sometimes she’s just determined to remain cold.
The Good Leadership Archetypes:
The Stern Father, The Mystery Man & The Loyal Hound
The rest of the chapter will cover the most successful leadership styles I've seen Haven veterans use during their separation.
These good archetypes are the ones that you want to try and live up to!
What I want you to do is read through each of these archetypes and really try to picture yourself living out this mindset in your marriage as it is right now. If one of the archetypes feels particularly natural for you, then chances are that is the right one for you.
If none of the archetypes feel natural or if you have a hard time picturing yourself living out any of these leadership styles during your marriage crisis, don’t worry! For each one, I’ve included a bit of info about when each archetype works best.
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