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Can you win back a partner who wants out?
Trouble has been brewing in your relationship for quite a while. The arguments, silences, and increasing distance have become the norm. You have been meaning to talk with your partner about it and suggest you get some help and try to work on your relationship before it is too late. However it appears you waited too long, letting other priorities get in the way--because last night he told you he is done.
Too many people find themselves in this very place where they had been taking their relationship/marriage for granted, thinking that their problems could wait until they had enough time and energy to address them. Then one day they are abruptly confronted with the possibility that it may be too late. When this happens, the impulse to quickly fix things often kicks in, and the sense of urgency coupled with panic usually makes things worse. It may be that the relationship is on life support and past saving, or it may be possible that with the right interventions and a willingness on the part of both people, rescue and recovery are possible. The following are things you should NEVER do if you want any chance to save your relationship.
What not to do
Any behavior from predicting how sorry your partner will be if they leave, promising to keep the children from them, warning that they will be left penniless, and/or any suggestions that family and friends will turn on them, are all threats. Not only will these make the situation worse, they will reinforce his or her decision that leaving is the only option.
It's surprising how many people resort to this. They believe it will elicit feelings of sympathy, guilt, and even remorse from the partner who wants out. What it does instead is trigger feelings of disgust and resentment that can lead to more anger and even a feeling of desperation to get away from one's toxic partner as soon as possible.
Essentially this means to make promises about how you will change, be the person they want and need you to be, will make them happy, and/or that your relationship will be better than it ever was before because you will be a different person. Hearing this from someone who had been unresponsive to their needs up until they said they were done can bring about a lot of resentment and anger that they had to get to the point of leaving to bring about any desire from you to work on the relationship. It will also sound unrealistic and he or she will be thinking, yeah, until everything just goes back to the way it was.
Try to make him/her jealous
This is another classic move we see too often. All it does it bring back bad memories of 8th grade, and make you look foolish and even pathetic to your partner. Not only will they not feel jealous, they will think less of you and might even wonder what they saw in you in the first place.
Allow yourself to be manipulated
If you are on the defensive, promising what you probably cannot even deliver, begging for forgiveness, and taking all the blame for what went wrong in the relationship--you are ripe for being taken advantage of. Your relationship could continue with you doing all the giving and your partner all the taking, while they remind you of how lucky you are to be with them. This bad idea will lead to burn-out, and no relationship with this dynamic is a happy or sustainable one.
What you should try instead
Have a heart to heart talk about what went wrong in your relationship
Your partner announcing they want out could not have come as a complete surprise to you. There must have been problem issues that were making both of you unhappy. These are what you need to discuss in depth, with both of you talking about how you were being affected, how sorry you are for how you mishandled the problems, and what if anything both of you are willing to try before deciding to call it quits. Even if your partner is resistant, it will be important for them to hear you acknowledge your awareness of what was unhealthy and not working and your willingness to make addressing it a priority now.
Assess your relationship chemistry and pinpoint areas of greatest need
There are 3 elements that make up relationship chemistry--physical, intellectual, and friendship. Examine these and rank them according to what was strongest to weakest in your relationship. Identify which one may have been neglected or even totally lacking as time went on. Then make that element your primary focus. For instance, if sex was bad to non-existent--take steps to reconnect. Set aside time for date nights, show regular affection with a light touch, a hug, an arm around them, sitting close on the couch, holding hands, and kissing, just because. These are all foreplay, along with words of affirmation, recognition and appreciation. Don't force or overdue, but when a situation or interaction gives you an opening, take it
Focus on the little things
This can include anything at all. A kind word, taking a moment to say something supportive or positive, ask a question, or just listen, and/or doing helpful little things to make their day just a little easier and nicer, are all the small things that long-term relationships often fall away from, due to the stress and overload of daily life.
Consult a competent counselor and go alone if your partner refuses to go along
Getting professional help has saved many a relationship/marriage. Having an objective person with the experience and skills needed to help you successfully turn around a relationship crisis is a no-brainer. Most insurance pays at least in part for this. And if you tell yourself you just can't fit it, or don't have time or the money to pay for counseling--it may cost you your relationship.
Happy relationships are carefully tended by both individuals. This care involves taking time for one another, making an effort even when you are exhausted or strapped for time, making your relationship a priority instead of putting it at the bottom of your list or not putting it on your list at all--or just thinking, this can wait until later, and then later never comes until it is too late. If your relationship is in trouble, act now.
If the relationship is truly over and it is too late or just too wrong to save it--at least you will know you did everything possible. This is the best way to avoid regret or second-guessing down the road.
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Toni Coleman, LCSW
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