Relationship Connection: How do I protect myself when my husband threatens divorce?

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Question

My husband is on the fence about divorce. It seems to change day-to-day, so I never know how to respond to him. I want to stay married and work things out, but he says he’s unhappy and doesn’t know what he wants to do.

There haven’t been any affairs or other big issues like that in our marriage, so we’re not dealing with those kinds of things. It’s just that he isn’t sure we’re right for each other.

I want to protect myself with finances, with my emotions and even with getting too physically close because I have no idea if it will all end tomorrow. At the same time, I worry that being too closed off will make it easier for him to walk away. What’s the best way to show him I want to stay married and give it a chance while still making sure I don’t get completely burned?

Answer

You’re in a vulnerable situation, for sure. Choosing to stay in the marriage (even if you protect yourself with boundaries) still requires some level of exposure. It’s not really possible to completely protect yourself while protecting the relationship. However, let’s talk about what you can do in response to this dilemma presented by your husband.

Please recognize that indecision is a decision. If your husband isn’t choosing to actively work on building the relationship, he’s choosing to move away from it. Relationships are like plants and require constant nurturing and feeding. For example, if I wasn’t sure if I wanted to water my houseplants, they would eventually die from my indecision.

Take a moment and reflect on the patterns you’ve seen in your marriage. Even though you say he’s not moving forward, consider the following questions:

  • Is your husband actively working on a decision by seeking answers and support?
  • Is he taking responsibility for his indecision instead of blaming you?
  • Does he discuss specific areas you can both work on to improve?

If you answer “yes” to all of these questions, then it’s probably safe to consider engaging with him and work toward repairing the marriage. Taking time to fully engage isn’t as problematic as long as he’s moving the direction of the marriage.

Using the previous metaphor, even drips of water can sustain the growth for a time until more nourishment comes. In my experience, most people are willing to work if the other person is at least moving in the direction of the relationship.

On the other hand, if you answer “no” to these questions, then it makes sense to be careful and expect him to take more personal ownership before you put yourself completely back in his hands. You need honest indicators from him in both words and actions that it’s safe to move toward him.

You’ve made your intentions clear to your husband, and until he reciprocates, you won’t feel secure or safe with him. If this continues on and he insists on leaving divorce on the table, then you will want to strongly consider protecting yourself in the ways you mentioned (emotionally, physically and financially).

If he reacts poorly to your need to self-protect, then it’s usually a good sign that you’ve made the right choice. Someone who is safe and accountable would understand why you would need to take these measures and would even be interested in helping you feel secure, even if they don’t feel like the relationship is right for them.

You’ll be tempted to get to the bottom of why he’s feeling this way. However, why he feels this way is less important at this point than making sure you know what direction he’s facing and if you need to protect yourself.

Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He specializes in working with couples in all stages of their relationships. The opinions stated in this article are his own and may not be representative of St. George News.

Have a relationship question for Geoff to answer? Submit to:

Email: geoff@lovingmarriage.com

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Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

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