I recently heard from a wife who said she felt like the rug had been pulled out from under her. She had only been married a couple of years, but she and her husband had recently bought a house and started trying to start a family. But then, out of the blue, her husband sat her down and told her that she didn’t feel married life was “okay” for him. He said that he didn’t think he was meant to be married and that he probably wasn’t the right man for the wife. He told her that she deserved better and that she wanted her “old life back” where she didn’t have all these responsibilities. He assured the wife that he would find someone “more grown up” and more suitable to start a family with.
Needless to say, the wife was stunned and beyond devastated. And frankly, she didn’t know where all this was coming from. The husband seemed excited and engaged when they brought the house and planned her family. And now she suddenly wanted a divorce because of his own cold feet? Of course, the wife was terrified of being left alone with a big house, but more than that, she loved her husband. She wanted a future with him and she firmly believed that he had wanted it too.
She wondered if there was some sign she missed or if she was just seeing things she wanted to see. And she found it hard to believe that the husband could simply declare that marriage was not for him and walk away so easily. He asked me what women usually do in this situation. Frankly, the answer to this is as individual as the couples themselves. But since it was clear to me that she did not want to leave without doing everything possible to save the marriage, I offered her some ideas, which I will now share.
Sometimes the responsibilities of being married scare husbands. But with a plan, space and time, things can get better: I think the fact that this couple had been married for a short time was quite revealing. And, the fact that they were preparing for big steps as homeowners and parents probably played a role as well. The husband was probably looking around her and suddenly saw how different her life was now compared to how she used to be.
And this comparison may have made you feel scared and uncomfortable. I’m not saying this is entirely fair. The wife had also changed her lifestyle and she also had some anxiety, but she didn’t see her run away from it. However, the fact was that the husband had these feelings, so rather than deny them or try to magically erase them (which probably wasn’t that likely), the preferable option was probably to deal with the issue at hand.
And I felt that the wife was going to be more successful if she approached this from a place of understanding rather than a place of disappointment. Yeah, he was probably quite tempted to let it slide that he was being immature and cowardly. And these descriptions may well have been accurate. But saying this to a man who is already struggling to be a responsible adult is probably not the best decision.
And sometimes this anxiety and fear on the part of the husband can be resolved if you have a little patience and play it right. You want him to know that as his wife, you want him to be happy. If this situation was too much too soon, all that could change. The idea is to change the situation more than the marriage.
How to react when your husband says he wants his old life back: This phrase was somewhat offensive to the wife. Because honestly, when the husband was single, he was immature with no real goals. I told the wife that she probably wasn’t saying that she wanted to be a little boy with no responsibilities. What she was probably saying was that she wanted some time to enjoy fun times with her wife and her friends before committing to being a parent or being someone else’s sole breadwinner.
This seemed very self-centered and immature to the wife, and she may have been right about that. But, the undeniable fact was that this was how he felt, so as his wife, she needed to respect this and open up the discussion. Because I didn’t think it was impossible to reach a compromise. Nothing said the wife couldn’t offer the husband more worry-free time with her or her friends. And nothing said they couldn’t make the decision to delay parenthood until they were both ready.
Sure, the wife didn’t want to wait to start a family. But she had to admit that waiting and having her husband was better than trying too hard and staying alone in her house. I suggested that she try to get him to have an honest conversation about this so that she could get a sense of what things the husband found most problematic. Once she had a good idea of what was really bothering him, she could work on compromises that would make them both happy.
I felt pretty sure there was a happy middle ground somewhere. Yes, her marriage had come fast and suddenly they were husband and wife with a mortgage and this put the husband under pressure. But there was also a lot of love between them and I suspected that if the wife focused on the love instead of the conflict with some very deliberate actions at the right time, she might see an improvement, which is what she really wanted, even if she was angry.