The Hail Mary pass for a dying relationship

You don't remember when things changed or how. One day, it seemed you were great together and the next--he began pulling away, telling you that his feelings have changed and he either wants to try dating others for a while, get a trial separation, or he just wants out.

You've tried explaining, pleasing, offering great sex, negotiation, crying, begging, and maybe even threatening, and your relationship has only become more distant and tense. He won't or can't understand why it was so hard for you to be the partner that he wanted. Now you think you understand where you went wrong and why and want to try again. However you fear that your relationship may already be unsalvageable. Is there is anything left to do that you haven't already tried?

How about going with a Hail Mary pass? If you are not familiar with this term, it is an expression that comes from football and it refers to a desperate play in which a player makes any long forward pass at or near the end of the game, even though it offers little chance of success. However, sometimes it works. A relationship Hail Mary pass would therefore be one that comes from desperation when it looks as though there is no hope of saving your relationship. It needs to be something not tried before and one that would be a real game changer. In order to work, it needs to be an intervention that interrupts and then changes the dysfunctional dynamic that is occurring between you and your partner and helps you to come together around your issues.

All of those other attempts at halting the relationship's end have probably made things worse. They were predictable, reinforced his negative feelings towards you and the relationship--and pushed him further and further away. So do something different. Here are a few ideas to consider:

* Instead of trying to explain and rationalize your past behavior, acknowledge how difficult it must have been for him and express regret for having caused HIM pain/difficulty/stress, etc. In other words, don't make it about you and offer excuses that sound like a defense--accept responsibility without overdoing it by keeping your remarks short and to the point.

* Don't ask for another chance. Tell him you understand why he needs the breakup, then kick the ball to him by asking what he needs to do now. Don't suggest things you want him to do--give him lots of space (and your blessing) to decide what feels right for him now.

* If you normally raise your voice, call names and/or escalate to anger when having a difficult talk with him, do the opposite. Speak softly, lowering your voice and carefully choosing your words. Remain neutral, use "I" statements (as opposed to "you" ones) as this will help him to keep his defenses down.

* If your style is usually to shut down, pout or just give the silent treatment, don't. Stay present, but give him space while doing it.

* Back off with emails and texts. If you usually bombard him with these during times of conflict or upset, do the opposite now. Brief, checking in ones will do fine. Make them no more than 1 or 2 a day unless he asks for a response and initiates the discussion. Even then, keep it short and focused with NO DRAMA.

* If he has identified the problem issues he has with you, begin to address each one with small behavior changes. Don't discuss this with him, just do it. These issues could be anything from your surely mood, extreme jealousy, negative attitude, lack of support for his feelings, resistance to his attempts at affection, your behavior towards his friends, your out of control spending habits, your refusal to share the workload around the house, and/or your indifference to issues he has raised in the past. There are many potential ones here, and getting some feedback from him would help you to begin addressing them.

It is important to note that when I recommend addressing them, I am NOT saying you are the whole problem or even that all of his feelings are valid. However, they are his feelings and he has a right to them just as you have a right to weigh in with him on whether you think his assessment is fair and to respond with your own take on the stated problem. I am also not suggesting that you should or even can change who you are and become a Stepford girlfriend/wife. I am simply suggesting you take a careful inventory and employ brutal honesty as you listen to him present his problem with you and your behavior. This is useful even if you will eventually break up--as you don't want to repeat this behavior in a future relationship. Happy relationships are ones in which both partners are open to and respectful of their mate's feelings and willing to work on issues to find compromises that support the happiness of both persons.

Want to read other articles on this subject?

"Divorce proofing your relationship"
List of more "Relationship Challenges" articles

"Why Second Marriages Fail"


Toni Coleman, LCSW
Phone: 703-847-1768


Copyright 2008 Antoinette Coleman. All rights reserved.

Distribution Rights: The above material is copyrighted, but you may retransmit or distribute it to whomever you wish as long as not a single word is changed, added or deleted, including the contact information. However, you may not copy it to a web site.

Reprint permission will be granted, upon request, to student newspapers, universities, and other nonprofit organizations. Advance written permission must be obtained for any reprinting of this material in altered or modified form.