How to Lead Your Marriage When She Wants Out

by Stephen Waldo

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 this post, 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. 

What About The Good Leadership Archetypes?

This blog post is directly taken from the video in Lesson 2.2 of Peace & Control, my course for men going through separation.

In the course, we also 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.

Bad Leadership Archetype #1.
The Clinger

“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.
The Wildcard

“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 Wildcard 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 Wildcard 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 Wildcard gets frustrated that his wife isn’t seeing the “changes” he’s made to himself.
  • The biggest struggle for the Wildcard 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 Wildcard 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 Wildcard cannot make the most of the things under his control because quite simply, NOTHING is under his control… Not even himself.

The Wildcard 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 Wildcards 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 Wildcard 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.
The Victim

“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.
The Trader

“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 Strong Father, The Mystery Man & The Loyal Hound

We’ve just learned a lot about what NOT to do in your separation, and those “don’ts” can be inverted to give you an idea of what you should be doing instead:

  • Don’t be clingy, instead give her space
  • Don’t be unpredictable, instead be consistent
  • Don’t be the victim, instead be the leader
  • Don’t be the trader, instead be genuine

If you like this sort of advice and find it helpful, you can learn more about the bad leadership archetypes and their more effective counterparts inside my separation survival course for men – Peace & Control.

Whether you checkout the course or not, I hope learning about these four bad leadership archetypes will help you get yourself back on track in your separation so that you have the best possible chance of leading your marriage through separation and getting your wife back in the relationship with you.

Much manly love, 
– Stephen

Stephen Waldo

Hi! My name is Stephen. I’m the guy behind Husband Help Haven. My mission here is to help as many men as possible become the best husbands they can be, and save as many marriages as possible along the way. Even though I’m not a marriage counselor, I want to encourage men everywhere to become better husbands, fathers and leaders. Full author bio


  • i feel good after reading your thoughts and advice.we’ve been married for 16yrs.but the problem start’s on the first day of our marriage and that is lack of trust mostly from my part.maybe because of i know what to do to save our my self,trust and be confident that i will be more stronger person after all of this.
    thank you again.

  • Awesome advice. Stephen you are a Godsend.

    Speaking of God, as a Christian, when i start feeling the urge to beg my wife, I pray to God and do my begging to him. Like Jesus I the garden, there is no law against asking God for what you want as long as you conclude with “thy will not mine be done”.

    I always conclude my prayer for strength, wisdom and understanding to accept whatever the outcome ends up being.

    This has helped me immensely.

    • A

      Excellent advice for fellow Christians Steven, thank you!

  • I have into the negative archetypes for most of the time since it was revealed to me that I was in the middle of marital problems. I was completely blind-sided when I found out that my lovely wanted out. I had only one inkling of an indication that she was no longer happy. She told me that she didn’t miss me when I was away on business except for the fact that I’m a great help with our son. Instead of reacting, I continued on with my same tactics. I was always a great gift-giver and quick to compliment her. I learned that caring actions and encouraging words were her main love languages, but I was speaking them just slightly off the mark. Instead of hearing me say that I think she is beautiful, she would rather hear that something she had done was beautiful, such as decorating the house. Instead of receiving flowers or nights off, she wanted me to do the things she asked me to do, such as go to counseling for my own emotional issues.

    When she told me, I got angry and spent a lot of time going over the things that I had done for her, and blaming her. She pressured me into getting married, so I felt that she shouldn’t be able to just leave without giving it a real go, and I still feel the same way, but I have zero control over any of it. I tried to talk sense into her. Unfortunately, logic was nowhere to be found. She is doing this solely for the sake of her happiness, not the other good things that I bring to the table.

    After I realized the things that I had done to contribute to our falling out, I informed her of all the things I had seen. All the unhelpful behaviors and how I thought they made her feel. She is very determined to leave now, and I don’t know what to do. She packed up and moved 500 miles away, and I only get any interaction when I get to video chat with my kiddo and when we exchange him. She holds tightly to the fact that she can’t change her feelings and it’s too late. I’m struggling very hard to change and be better, but she can’t see any of my efforts so far away and so removed emotionally from the relationship. I’ve made the decision to save my marriage, while knowing that I might not be able to. I’ve removed the pressure, and she is thankful for that. I’m holding onto that thankfulness, and I’m trying to be less present, not texting her all the time. She can’t miss me when I’m so present, so now I’m backing off in hopes that she will miss being able to confide in me her complaints, but ensuring that all interaction that I have with her is pleasant. I’m not actively trying to chase her, but I’m ensuring that I’m available in the event that she starts pursuing me in any way, keeping it minimal. Kind of playing the mystery man. I really hope it works. I really hope I can get my wife back, because I have a lot to offer, am accruing more, and love her with every fiber of my being.

    It’s been four and a half months since she left, and I spent the better part of four of those just trying to convince her. I hope it isn’t too late. I pray I can make this work. It’s a heavy burden, but I bear it happily, in hopes that I can turn her around.

    I love you all and wish you joy and contentment in your lives, no matter the outcome.

  • Great advice. I wept as she left and begged her not to go. She still left. The next morning I googled how to get my wife back and found several resources that all said the same thing as this. From what I understand about women this is LEGIT. You don’t want to be anything other than the most amazing you can be at all times, especially in a time like this. It’s all about CHEMICALS and you have to make yourself ferocious again in her eyes, and walk the walk. I immediately sold my video games systems and dropped all projects. The focus is on being the best version of me I can be. She’ll either love it or someone else will! I think she just needs some space. If I can play it cool, there’s definitely hope here. Good luck everyone who has to visit this page!

  • I agree with Glenn, I fit into all the bad stereotypes, I for me it’s mostly the “Victim” that resonates the most. I still don’t really understand what happened that fateful day that she said she was leaving (about 3 months ago), all I know is that its “all my fault”, I can’t seem to get over the pain. Still can’t sleep.


      This happened in the last week to me, I’m devastated. 24 Years, 2 kids 15 and 13, madly still in love with her. No reasons given except to say we can’t communicate and I won’t change. After 2 days of not speaking I asked to talk to her, she said for sure she needed separation. I told her that I loved her and would do anything to save them marriage, did not beg this, just looked her in the eyes and said it. She responded with “I know” and left the room. I’m leaving her alone now. So now I have no clue what to do, still in shock one week in.

  • Wow,Stephen, you finally exposed my problem, ongoing for 23 years in the article HOW TO LEAD YOUR MARRIAGE WHEN SHE WANTS OUT.I’m nearly all 4 bad archetypes. WOW. What to do? Should I tell her my epiphany, as i thought I had things figured out before. How to repair myself and the damage done? She’s in the mindset it’s over and i’m out.Thank you.

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