How do you react if your spouse announces "I want a divorce" or something similar? With shock? Surprise? Outrage?
If these are your reactions, you've got plenty of company. Thousands of spouses each year have this same experience. Many surprised partners in this situation begin to grill their unhappy mate with questions like "What in the #%& do you mean you want a divorce? After all I've done for you!"
Unfortunately, this approach doesn't make the dissatisfied spouse change her (or his) mind. If anything, it makes them dig in their heels.
The key to keeping your marriage begins with a simple but misunderstood word: Acceptance.
What is acceptance? It means respecting and accepting your spouse's point of view, even when you don't fully understand it.
To help you understand how acceptance is important in stopping your divorce, let me share a story with you.
There was a tennis player on a college team whose coach had told her that her serve needed practice. But she refused to accept and act on the coach's feedback. Again, her coach implored her to work on her technique after she spiraled into a losing streak.
Clearly, her career on the court would be short-lived unless she took her coach's advice to heart. Finally after losing another match to an archrival in a tournament, the coach issued an ultimatum. The player would either have to do what it took to improve or leave the team.
This athlete finally came to accept what her problem was ? poor technique on her serves. Before that, she'd been unwilling to do the necessary work to enhance her performance. But once she had accepted the situation as it was, she was able to move forward and improve her game.
A marriage is much the same way. Sometimes one partner may ignore or minimize the feedback from the other for a time. This time may often stretch into years. And the frustration builds like pressure in a pressure cooker. Until finally a limit is passed and an ultimatum is issued. The offending spouse must change behavior or else the frustrated partner will leave the marriage.
At this point, a history of dissatisfaction has built up on the side of the spouse threatening to leave. Whether the surprised partner considers the reasons given to be valid or not doesn't alter the fact that the unhappiness exists.
The first thing you must do is accept the situation as a given. Acknowledge your spouse's unhappiness. This doesn't mean you have to agree with your mate's reasons. Nor does it necessarily mean accepting your partner at her word if she says that she's leaving.
It does mean that you need to accept the fact that your spouse is unhappy and has been unhappy for some time. If you can buy this description as fitting your situation, you've just made a positive step forward. Because you have to understand the dynamics of your present relationship before you can improve it.
It means that emotional communication between you and your spouse has been faulty and she (or he) believes that you haven't been meeting some of her basic needs. It means you need to accept your spouse's discontent if you want to positively influence the disastrous turn your marriage is taking.
Don't worry if you disagree with the reasons she gives you for being unhappy.
Whatever you do, don't fall into the trap of arguing or telling her she's wrong. Why? Because her perception is her reality and is the basis for her feelings and the decisions she makes.
So your first job is to understand and accept your spouse's perception of your relationship. Only then can you do something constructive to save your marriage.
Lee Hefner is the co-author of Keep Your Marriage: What to Do When Your Spouse Says "I don't love you anymore!" This e-book is available at http://www.KeepYourMarriage.com. You can also sign up for the free Keep Your Marriage Internet Magazine to get weekly ideas and support to help you save your marriage.