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Ask a Latter-day Saint Therapist: My Wife Divorced Me. I Want Her Back. Is That Possible?

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Q: My wife and I were sealed in the temple in the late 1980s, and, like all marriages that last decades, we had great ups and great downs. The biggest “ups” are our three great children. Our biggest “downs” were several bouts of unemployment for me which at one point led to bankruptcy. My wise wife was a wonderful workhorse keeping us afloat, and then in her late 40s, she went back to school to get a master’s degree. I continue to be extremely proud of her and all she has accomplished. 

The education she earned eventually led to a great job offer in a distant state. She said she’d take it to get her foot in the door but return in a year when her firm had an opening closer to me. I was afraid she really wanted a divorce and the distant job was just the beginning of the end. I asked her several times if divorce is what she wanted, but she said no—she just couldn’t wait at her age for an opening closer to us and would return. However, it was clear as we were in the process of selling our home and packing up that she wasn’t coming back. Two months after she moved away “temporarily,” she told me she wanted a divorce. Several months later that was finalized—just a few days after our 31st anniversary. 

I still love her and keep praying that we can reunite, but I suppose I dream the impossible dream. It seems that once a woman has shut down her affections, it is practically impossible for her to allow the flame of love to be relit. Is that your experience? How do I move on?

A: Thank you so much for reaching out to me. My heart aches for you and the pain you’ve gone through while your marriage of three decades has ended. I know you wanted it to work. However she may have felt along the way, in the end, she wanted something else. It’s devastating, especially when she told you she didn’t want a divorce. Maybe she didn’t at the time and came to the realization later. Maybe not.

May I start with a bit of friendly advice? It comes from a real place of love (and I urge readers to be kind with their comments). Your situation doesn’t have anything to do with “what a woman” would do in this situation. You said that it seems women won’t allow love to be rekindled once they shut down and asked if that’s my experience. In my experience, women (like men) are as varied and individual as anything in the universe. There is no hard, fast rule that accurately sums them up, because every woman is different and unique. Our individuality as children of God is sacred and beautiful. So, with respect, please don’t try to understand what’s going on through the lens of “how women are.” It won’t help you.

What will help is understanding this situation through the lens of who your ex-wife is. I only got bits and pieces from your summary, so I don’t want to jump to conclusions. From what you shared, it certainly seems that she tired of providing for the family on her own, but there may be much more to the story.

Most people I know don’t just give up on their marriage after decades together, and I’m guessing she didn’t either. Odds are she fought for it and tried to communicate with you what she needed for it to work. Ask yourself: what did she say? What did she ask for? You want to win her back. While that does happen on occasion, it’s the exception, not the rule. Don’t hang your hopes on that.

If she gave you specific feedback on how to be a better man and husband, work hard to implement that and become that man. You have kids together. You’ll interact. She’ll see it. She may choose to take interest in you again, she may choose to say, “Good for him; he’ll make someone else very happy,” or she may ignore it. Your happiness will come from your relationship with God and from your confidence in yourself, no matter what happens (or doesn’t) with her. But the more you push her to come back to you, the more you may push her away. Be the best version of yourself you can be; invite her to take a look, then respect her right to decide.

And if she didn’t ask for anything, if she didn’t tell you what she needed, if she didn’t fight for the marriage for an extended period of time, or if what she wanted was more than you were able to do, then you have my sympathies even more. While that doesn’t happen as often, it does happen, and I can only imagine the agony of being blindsided like that.

Letting go of attachments is brutal, especially when sealed in the temple, having raised three kids, and spent 30 years together. Not knowing her side of the story, I will not pass judgment on her decision. Whether she did right or wrong is between her and the Lord. But my heart goes out to you, dear brother. At this time, you’re reeling. You want her back, in part because you struggle to face life without her. Perhaps you don’t know who you are if you’re not her husband.

“Remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation” (Helaman 5:12). As you reach out in prayer and fasting, as you fill your life with service, as you strengthen ties with your children, as you work on improving yourself, you will find yourself again. Pursue worthy goals. Magnify your talents. Be healthy. Continue to look for work. You will have peace. The Savior, along with those you love, will bring you comfort.

You hurt because you love. Pain is the price we pay to love. The only way to live without pain is to live without love. I think love is worth the price. I hope you find new love with a new partner or (there’s a small chance) with her, but that’s not your focus right now. Your focus is being the best version of yourself. That’s the only way you find confidence and move forward.

God bless you. I hope this helps.

Lead image from Getty Images
Jonwe

Jonathan Decker, LMFT

Jonathan Decker is a licensed marriage and family therapist and clinical director of Your Family Expert. He offers online relationship courses to people anywhere, as well as face-to-face and online therapy to persons in several states. Jonathan has presented at Brigham Young University Education Week and at regional conferences in Arizona, Utah, and Nevada. He is married with five children. Contact him here and join his Facebook group for daily Gospel-based relationship tips. 

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