I recently heard from a wife who confided that every time that she and her husband disagreed or hit a rough patch in their marriage, the husband pulled out what the wife called the “leave card.” She told me: “every time things get rough, my husband says he’s going to leave. He’s packed his bags before, but he’s never actually left. Still, this hurts me and I’m getting tired of it. How can I make him see how old these threats are getting? At the same time, I’m afraid that someday soon, he’s actually going to follow through and walk out the door. I’m not sure what to do or how to handle this.”
This type of correspondence is not all that uncommon. I hear many comments like this. And I can absolutely identify with these wives. This is a very difficult position to be in. It’s hard to move forward and to improve matters with the constant threat of him leaving hanging over your head. You can start to feel like you’re walking on eggshells or have to edit yourself or hold back in some way. So it’s very advisable to consider being proactive and addressing this before things deteriorate any more. I will discuss this more in the following article.
Asking Him To Stop Constantly Making The Threats To Leave You And The Marriage: Admittedly, I don’t personally know this couple. But, from the little bit that the wife told me, two immediate facts jumped out and seemed most important. First, despite the husband’s repeated threats, he had not left. He was still there, repeating the same old things. This tells us that he’s either not 100% committed to leaving or he’s not yet reached the breaking point or place where it’s feasible or comfortable to move on.
The second thing that was important was that the husband kept repeating the threats. Now, the wife was very frustrated with this, but one possibility was that the husband was repeating or accelerating his words because nothing was changing or improving and this was the only way that he knew to attempt to get the response that he wanted. Sometimes, people keep repeating the same patterns out of frustration. And, sometimes, they do this because they know no other way.
But whatever the reason for this negative cycle, I felt that the wife might gain some ground if she approached this subject with both directness and empathy. It was going to be very hard for the two of them to get on the same page when he kept on retreating. So, the next time that he started with the “I’m just going to leave you,” talk, I felt that the wife should have asked him to sit down and talk about this for a minute.
With a break in the action, the wife might consider telling the husband that they both knew that this was a path that they had been down many times before. And yet, nothing was really changing except that they were both getting frustrated with the same old course of events that never yielded the outcome that either of them really wanted. I suggested that the wife offer to make the husband a deal. She would genuinely listen to why he felt the way that he did and make a very honest effort to address and improve things if he would stop with threats to leave her every time things got tough.
Understanding The Opportunity That Has Presented Itself And Taking Positive Action To Stop This Cycle: I understood why the wife doubted that she was in so great of a position, but I had to admit to her that there were some advantages that she did have. On an almost daily basis, I hear from wives who were either served divorce papers or who came home to an empty house missing a husband (because he left) with seemingly no warning whatsoever. These women would’ve loved to have had a warning period and a chance to fix things before this action was taken.
So, while the wife was tired of all this, she had to admit that she still had a chance to make things better and to save the marriage. This was an advantage as was the fact that, despite all of his empty words and posturing, the husband was still there. Clearly, he wasn’t sure that he really wanted to leave, but he was sure that he wanted change that he wasn’t getting, which is why this cycle kept repeating itself.
Once the wife was able to see this, she was willing to approach things differently. But, before she charged forward wanting to make drastic changes, I told her that it might be a good idea to focus on reconnecting. There was a lot of underlying resentment and anger and I felt that the changes and efforts might not last if they attempted to work things out while both people were still a little lukewarm to one another.
Do you remember when you were first together and your issues were always little spats that passed over quickly? This is because you were deeply connected and didn’t want to allow for anything to derail that process. Sure, things change and people mature. But often, you’ll find that if you can get to a place where you feel genuine affection and empathy for your spouse, working out the remaining issues becomes so much easier and you’re much less likely to continue to hear the threats that neither one of you are listening to anymore anyway.
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