What do you do when your wife walks out on you? That’s the question of this reader, whose wife left and who is blaming himself:
I have only myself to blame. I could have done so many things different to make her happy. She begged me to change but I was a stubborn ass and assumed she would always keep the promise of our wedding vows. I was wrong. I love her so much and she has moved on like I meant nothing. Please help. I’m paralyzed from moving on and am dying inside.
I truly feel for this man who is hurting so badly. I want to hug him and tell him everything is eventually going to be OK because it will be. All that said, I can’t help feeling frustrated and angry at the situation. Why? Because while I admire his self-awareness and his ability to realize his faults, I’m wondering why he didn’t attempt to save his marriage while he still could. In other words, why didn’t he listen–I mean really listen to what his wife was telling him about her unhappiness? Why didn’t he take the steps he is so willing to take now to make things better? Why did it take her leaving to make him snap out of his stubbornness and take her needs seriously?
People whose spouses leave often realize their shortcomings only after the person has checked out of the relationship, and I’m sure it is a horrible, hopeless, frustrating feeling to want someone back who has clearly made the decision to be done.
When people stop nurturing their relationship, stop making their partner feel important, appreciated, loved, listened to, or validated, guess what? Of of the partners will eventually decide to walk away, whatever that looks like. It could be that they stop caring, they distance themselves emotionally, they lead a separate life, or they cheat. I mean if you think about it, making a relationship work is a choice. To stay in love is a choice people make every single day.
I recently received a promotional email from a restaurant I used to eat at all the time and haven’t been there in over a year. The email said, “We miss you! Here is a $15 gift card. Come in and see us!”
While appreciative of the offer, I couldn’t help but wonder, why didn’t they send me a $15 off coupon during the time I was eating there twice a week? They didn’t appreciate me until I was gone. Why did it take me not eating there for awhile for them to recognize me, to make me feel important and valued? Can’t this concept be applied to romantic relationships?
I once ended a relationship with a guy who while we were dating refused to watch Homeland with me. Every week, all I wanted to do was watch my favorite show with him. I love that show so much, and watching it with my boyfriend would have made it even more enjoyable. But he would never watch it with me. Then, when we broke up, he said, “I’ll watch Homeland with you.” But by then it was just too late. The damage was done.
It might seem like a really small thing, and of course it was a very small part of the break up, but it isn’t the show that mattered so much. It was the fact that that not watching my show with me sent me a subliminal message that he didn’t care about me, about my wants or needs. It would have been so easy for him to watch it with me, yet he wouldn’t.
So, what do you do when your wife walks out on you and you blame yourself?
Here are four pieces of advice.
1. Avoid thinking “I should have…” thoughts.
Wipe these out of your head. They serve no productive purpose. You can’t change what happened, how you acted, what you wish you would have done, or what you wish you wouldn’t have done. All looking back and having regrets does is make you feel worse. Know that at the time, you thought you were doing the best you could, or even if you knew you weren’t, that was the choice you made. You cannot change it. You cannot change it. You cannot change it. Instead, shift your thoughts from “I should have…” to, “In the future, I will…” Everyone has regrets. That’s part of life. Try to accept it. It takes time but you can do it.
2. Talk to someone.
When your wife walks out on you, therapy is almost always very very helpful. I know it’s not easy to talk to a stranger, to be vulnerable, to share private things. But, the process truly does work if you are committed to it and if you go to a good therapist. Therapy is wonderful for grieving, for figuring out things about yourself, and for becoming a better person and partner in the future.
3. Forgive yourself.
We are all human, we make mistakes and with each experience in life we become wiser and better people. When your wife walks out on you and you think you’re to blame, it’s easy to be really mad at yourself, to hate yourself even. Please don’t do that. You are a good, good person at heart and you know that. You just messed up something that you can’t fix. Who doesn’t mess up in life? Now is the time to forgive yourself, be kind to yourself and love yourself. You deserve that.
4. Have hope for a better you in the future.
It might seem like a strange thing to say, but a broken heart does have some benefits. Countless divorced men and women make such better partners in future romantic relationships. Why? Because if we take time to do the work on ourselves, (which includes therapy and self-awareness), we learn how our mistakes helped contribute to the demise of the marriage. We also learn what we want in a partner, and how we can be a better person overall. I can’t tell you how many divorced women have told me how unfair it seems that their ex-husband is such a better person with his new wife. “Why couldn’t he be this way with me?” they ask. It’s because the husband learned! It really isn’t fair, but the reality is that it took the wife walking out to change the husband.
In closing, I want to say one more thing about when your wife walks out on you and you blame yourself.
Maybe people in this situation realize much later (I think it takes years) that the wife walking out did them a huge favor. Why? Because even though the journey to healing and happiness was long, her leaving made him a better person.
Meanwhile, I just got a coupon from my nail salon giving me a free manicure! Now that is a business who knows how to keep their customers loyal!
Like this blog post? Check out my article, “Divorced Dad Dating Needs Advice for Confidence.”