How to Start Reconciling with a Rejecting Spouse
Find out what you should do first to reconcile with a spouse who wants to separate or divorce.
Most people have no idea how to begin to reconcile with a spouse who wants to separate or divorce. They often resort to begging, pleading, or bargaining. When this doesn’t work, they then either give or get angry. Unfortunately, all of these behaviors just create more tension and distance–making reconciling less likely.
In today’s podcast, Coach Jack will give you an option that will reduce your spouse’s resistance to you so that you can begin to re-attract and re-connect with your spouse.
More steps you can take to reconcile your marriage:
- Get a marriage coaching package specifically designed to re-attract and reconnect your spouse to you (you do this package WITHOUT your spouse).
- Download some free lessons for helping your spouse to enjoy talking with you again.
- Read articles on how to reconcile your marriage in various situations.
[Introduction to the podcast]
Announcer: On the Reconciling Marriages with Coach Jack podcast, Christian psychologist, author, and relationship coach, Dr. Jack Ito, will help you to build and restore your marriage. By learning just a few relationship skills, you can help your spouse enjoy your relationship more, while getting more love and affection from your spouse. Listen to Coach Jack as he helps you with one more step toward a marriage both you and your spouse will love.
[Coach Jack’s presentation begins]
Jack Ito PhD: Hello everyone. A lot of people get stuck when they first start to try to reconcile because they keep getting rejected. Today I want to help you to learn how to get past that point so you can get on with the reconciling process. When your spouse first says that he or she wants to separate, divorce, end or breakup your relationship—usually that’s panic time. And people have very strong reactions. That’s normal and unless you do something really, really damaging and stupid at that time it’s probably going to be okay.
Your spouse is not expecting that you would just be calm and normal and like “Ah, okay, whatever” as that would seem also like a big disregard for your relationship. But after that what you do is increasingly important in terms of reconciling. What a lot of people do after that is they just keep trying to convince their spouse to work on reconciling even when their spouse clearly does not want to do that.
People may beg or plead or argue, talk for hours, and just keep getting rejection because their spouse really doesn’t feel in love anymore—they’ve probably been thinking about this issue for a couple years even. They have clearly decided and they needed to get to that point before they even told you about it. And sometimes they even had to prepare their exit strategy.
What they’re going to do next—they are well ahead in the process of getting separated. The last thing they want to do is to reconcile with you at this moment, at least. It doesn’t mean they never will, but if you start out by trying to get them to reconcile you’re just going to get rejection, rejection, and rejection. And unless you give up that strategy you are going to drive your spouse far away. Your spouse will be stressed out, feel pressured, and feel smothered by you.
Some people are not doing the begging and pleading but they’re being so extra nice and trying to do everything to make up for perhaps the neglect or fail to help that they did in the past. And now they’re just doing it so much it’s kind of a sickly sweet overwhelming feeling and that would drive the spouse away, too.
You really can’t make up for what you didn’t do in the past. All you can do is make things better from here on out. But you also need to do things in the right way at the right time and the time to show your spouse you really, really want to reconcile is not right when your spouse is saying that he or she doesn’t.
It turns out that the best place to start to reconnect a relationship is actually at the same level wherever your spouse is. So for example if your spouse was wanting to make your relationship better then the natural place for you to start would be with making your relationship better—talking with your spouse about how to make your relationship better. if your spouse says “our relationship is not good, I would like to make it better,” that’s a great time to say yeah “let’s make our relationship better.”
Your spouse is going to receive that very well. There’s not going to be any stress there. Yyou are at a matching level. That’s often not what happens—at least not with the people that I’m working with. They often neglected those earlier times when the spouse was saying we need to work on the relationship or they worked on it for a little while and then went back to how they were before. Well after you do that a few times then you know the other person’s going to give up.
The spouse will say “well yeah if I complain maybe it will make a temporary change but it’s just going to go back again,” and it eventually give up hope on the relationship. So if that is not the place where your spouse is, then you need to meet your spouse at wherever he or she is. That’s really no different from how it is when you are single. We build relationships when we are married the same way we build relationships when we’re single.
That is a concept many people don’t understand. They think that somehow when you are married you need to go through some kind of structured program or meet with a counselor and that is how you work on a relationship. It’s not. You need to think about how you would build a relationship if you were single and in that situation. So for example if you are single and the other person is attracted to you, would like to grow relationship with you, and you’re interested in that person so that you are matching—well that’s very easy.
You two are going to be at the same place, you will talk together, you will date and your relationship is off and running. But, when you are in a reconciling situation and your spouse is essentially saying you know “I love you but I’m not in love with you,” (is the nice way) or they’re even saying something worse than that, “you know don’t love you, I haven’t loved you a long time, and I don’t want to be with you,” and even worse, then trying to get your spouse to date you at the time will be a really, really big mismatch and all you will just get is rejection.
So you need to think like if you were single you and you were interested in someone who was not attracted to you, was not connected to you, was not interested in you, then how do you start a relationship with that person? A lot of people they don’t actually have the skills for that—they only dated people who were attracted, interested in them. But there are actually a lot of other people who would see someone they were attracted to (the other person did not yet have an interest in them) and they would work to develop a relationship with that person.
You need to become like that. You need to learn those skills in order to build your relationship with your spouse. It’s certainly not going to work just to wait until your spouse is attracted to you because this is not going to happen. Your spouse is essentially done. Just giving distance, going no contact, is not going to be a good strategy for doing anything except for helping your spouse to relax and not be stressed out and pressured by you. It’s not going to create attraction.
So, if you are single there’s someone you’re attracted to, interested in, thinking that that person is so great that perhaps you would like to get married to that person someday—you don’t just start that. You have to go through the process of building your relationship to the point where that other person would like to marry you. If you just started off by saying, “Hi, I’m Bill” or “Hi, I’m Susan, let’s get married,” well there are a few people would actually would do that. Most people would not. They would just think you are crazy or desperate or have some ulterior motive and you would be rejected.
So where would you start? The place to start building a relationship with anyone, the first level, (there are many steps to reconciling, there are many steps to building relationships) they are essentially the same step. The difference is that when you are rebuilding a marriage it takes a longer than when you are single because of the damage that’s already been done—the baggage. The baggage doesn’t change what needs to be done—it just slows things down because a lot of trust building happens in that period of time.
There is no way to build trust quickly—it’s just consistency over time. And that first step is actually just helping the other person to be relaxed with you. And you don’t do that by saying, “hey be relaxed with me!” That’s not going to work. The way that we help other people to relax with us is first to be relaxed with them and to be friendly. If we’re not relaxed with other people, then they’re not going to be relaxed with us. If we wait for them to be relaxed and friendly with us before we are relaxed and friendly with them, that’s probably not going to happen.
Especially with a situation where they’re already rejecting you—like your spouse.They have no reason to be relaxed and friendly first—they are actually working to get away from you. So a spouse is not going to be relaxed if you keep trying to convince him or her to reconcile. Because you are trying to convince your spouse to do something that your spouse does not want to do, that never ever relaxes anyone. You would be like a telemarketer who contacts you again and again trying to sell you some kind of timeshare something you really don’t want to buy. All you’re going to want to do is to block that person’s number—not talk with them. It’s not going to help you to want to buy that product.
So we need to really stop the selling and just start being relaxed and friendly. I know that’s hard to do when your spouse first says he or she wants to break up because you’re just so focused on that not happening. But what you need to realize is that you have to help your spouse get back to the place where he or she wants to reconnect with you. That means is attracted to you again, is connected with you again, trusts you again, is hopeful about your relationship again. That actually takes a lot of time. You have to go through all the steps in the right order.
If you don’t, then you will be blocked at whatever step that you are didn’t do. So if you just go directly to trying to date your spouse, for example, without helping your spouse to relax first, most likely you would be rejected. But even if you were not rejected, your spouse would not feel relaxed with you, and would still continue to reject you—no matter how nicely you tried to date your spouse. The only time that would work is if your spouse was wanting to improve your relationship and was wanting to date you—otherwise you never would start there at dating.
So, you need to be relaxed and friendly—that’s no different from when you are single. If you are single, you’re stressed, you’re anxious, you’re angry (angry is especially very unattractive) it’s going to be a big turn off for the other person and they’re going to be on guard with you. They’re always going to feel like you have a hidden agenda and that is going to make them not relaxed, and when they’re not relaxed, their feelings are not going to be able to grow with you.
So, the only thing you should be focused on when you are wanting to reconcile, or if you are single and wanting to connect with someone, is just being relaxed, being friendly—helping that other person to feel relaxed and friendly with you. That’s no different than if you were trying to make a friend. You want to make a friend—you’re going to be relaxed and friendly with people (doesn’t matter same gender, opposite gender, got to be relaxed and friendly with other people). The other thing is we need to do that consistently.
Consistently means 10 times out of ten. In a close long-term relationship, yeah you can lose your cool sometimes—you get angry, you get upset—but because you have such a good connected relationship it’ll be able to take the stresses of that. But, when you are starting a new relationship with someone who really doesn’t know you, doesn’t know you very well, or when you are trying to reconcile with someone who is rejecting you, then being one time out of 10 being stressed is just going to show that other person that you are not really the person you’re pretending to be when you are relaxed and friendly.
And particularly in the case of a rejecting spouse, your relaxing friendliness is going to be shown to be fake (that one time out of 10 where you are being stressed) just says “hey I have an agenda different from you. I’m trying to get you to change your agenda,” and because of that people who are not able to be consistently relaxed and friendly typically do not reconcile. So let me say that again, people who are not able to be consistently relaxed and friendly typically do not reconcile.
There are a few major things that can happen to prevent people from reconciling. Those things typically have to do with the person who is trying to reconcile doing some big mess up. But this is the one you have to avoid at the beginning. Does it mean you can never get upset, never cry, never get angry? No. You can do those things but you cannot do those things with your spouse—at this time. If you going to be that way, it’s going to be far better to be away from your spouse. And if you have a really hard time with this, it’s actually going to be much better for you to be separated from your spouse—living in a different home, so that your spouse isn’t going to see you being stressed out, getting angry. And you can have that space and time to be on your best when you are contacting your spouse or having the interaction just like you would if you were initially single.
Typically when people are single they’re not living together at least from the start and when they do meet, they prepare mentally, they prepare physically, even prepare the way they dress are at their best when they’re interacting so that the other person gets the best impression of them. You need to have the same thing consistently with your spouse. Let me say something about being friendly. Many, many people that I work with, they seem to get confused about what exactly it means to be friendly. They tend to confuse being friendly with being positive. And being friendly and being positive are two different things.
Being friendly simply means treating someone like a friend. That’s all. If you are with your friend you’re not always going to be positive. Hopefully not. I mean if your friend is feeling down and then you’re being positive is just going to make your friend think that, you know, you are so different from your friend. Of course if your friend is up and having a good time, you want to be up and having good time too, having a positive interaction. If your friend is saying life sucks and and then you die, well as a friend you are pretty much going to be saying the same thing—“Yeah I know what you mean. Every day it’s another stress,” kind of thing. That’s not positivity. That’s connectivity. Connectivity is matching the other person. It’s not trying to make them continually look at the bright side of things. In fact, that is a good way to disconnect from people who are not positive. So if you are positive with positive people, you will connect with them. If you are positive with negative people (which is often going to be the case when you are with a spouse who wants to get away from you)—if you’re positive and your spouse is negative, then your spouse is going to feel like something is wrong with you to be so happy in this situation.
Typically even if your spouse wants to get out, then it’s going to suck having to break up your relationship. If you want to be upset then there are a few things you can do to be upset—let those feelings out. Don’t do it with your spouse. You can go do it with your friends. You can do with family members if you’re lucky enough to have such close family members who can just let your emotions hangout. Or one place that I think is probably the best place is to let your feelings out with God. God will accept whatever you want to say to him he will listen, he’s very patient, he’s not going to get upset with you. God loves you and also he is very good at keeping confidentiality. You don’t need to worry about God undermining your efforts to reconcile your relationship.
Very often friends will do that. So, if you do let your feelings are with your friends, then it’s really important that they are not going back to your spouse saying, “Look, Bill (or Susan) just wants to reconcile with you and he loves you so much. Won’t you give him a chance?” Well-meaning friends will do that, but it will undermine your efforts to help your spouse to be relaxed with you—which is essential for getting, getting into relationship building.
So here are three rules that I think it would be wise to follow in terms of expressing your emotions with your spouse, and you can actually apply this to expressing your emotions with everybody.
- The first rule is your emotion needs to match the situation,
- the second rule is your emotion needs to match the other person’s emotions, and then
- the third rule is your emotion needs to be of equal or less intensity than the other person.
All of these things are designed just to make the other person feel like you are very similar. We always connect on similarity; we always disconnect on differences.
So rule number one your emotion needs to match the situation if your relationship is ending, well that is a sad thing. Most likely even if your spouse is looking forward to having a life without you, he or she is not really happy about ending your relationship. So match your spouse. On the other hand, let’s suppose your spouse is apartment hunting, is looking for a place to move to in separating, and your spouse maybe finds a good place and is excited about that. You being depressed or angry or distant is going to be a mismatch. So you also will need to be excited with your spouse about the good place that they found. That’s no different from when you are single. You are single, you have a girlfriend or boyfriend who’s looking for a new place to live and they find one that they like, you need to be excited with them—that’s going to connect you. If they say, “Wow I got this great place. Would you like to hear about it?” and you’re like, “No. No. I don’t like it that you are moving. I certainly don’t want to hear about your place”—that’s not going to build your relationship. That’s just going to create more distance.
It’s just another piece of evidence that your spouse is making the right decision to get away from you. We can only reconcile by becoming similar. We can never reconcile by convincing and trying to get the other person to rescue us, to take care of our feelings, and to deny their own. When you’re at the point of your relationship ending, that person is not going to be taking care of you. That, they had already decided, they’re not going to do that anymore. They’re going to be taking care of themselves and you need to match your emotions to theirs.
Also, you need to make your emotion is not more intense than the other person. Often that can come off as fake or it can come off as you being out of control. You know, if some little bad thing happened—who knows, the delivery driver delivered your package to your neighbor’s home and you know, your spouse is like “Oh man they did that again,” and your you’re really freaking out, and you know—pounding your fist on the table or something, then that’s not good. And that’s actually scary for anybody whether you are working together with them in an office or whether you live with them.
Also, the same thing goes for happy emotions. You know, if your spouse like I said, finds an apartment and is excited about it, you say “Hey that’s great. Yeah what’s it like?” and it’s good. But, if you are jumping up and down, “rah, rah,” like a cheerleader because that person’s got their own place, then your emotions seem to be saying something different like you are so darn happy this poop—this person—is person is moving away from you and it actually lends a whole different meaning to it.
So, we connect with people when we feel relaxed with them; they connect with us when they feel relaxed with us. We start to build a relationship when they start to feel similar to us. We start to feel similar. So, first steps are being relaxed and friendly and then being similar to the other person—being similar to your spouse, and that’s going to start to build your relationship.
Some people tell me that they’re concerned that the things that I’m asking them to do are not genuine for them—that they’re not going to come across as their genuine self. And I like to point out that being genuine means never changing. So that really doesn’t work when you work on improving yourself. Another thing, especially if you’re coming from a Christian perspective, is to think about the fact that God never asks us two things, two things in particular. One, he doesn’t ask us to be our genuine self. He asks us to be conformed to him—to become more like Christ. The other thing he doesn’t ask us to do is to behave according to how we feel.
Both of these things as being genuine, being true to yourself, and also doing what feels right, are not Christian sentiments. And they actually will cause a lot of trouble particularly if you come from a background where you didn’t learn really good values or good behaviors for having relationships. In that case, your natural genuine self is actually going to be a handicap and you need to work on becoming someone different from who you are now. But the good thing is that once you do make those changes and that new you actually will be your genuine self.
Make sure you don’t do any kind of convincing. Trying to do convincing is just like, you know, you start to date somebody—they’re relaxed with you and then you say, “Hey, won’t you consider getting married to me?” and they’re like “No, I don’t have those feelings for you,” and you say, “Let’s go to counseling. I’m sure if we work in counseling, then you can get those feelings for me. What can I do to make you have those feelings for me? What can I do to convince you to marry me?” And then you’re actually going to lose your opportunity with that person.
So you have to go through the correct reconciling steps in the correct order and not move ahead of the other person’s emotions. That is a place where we get rejection from other people. It’s when our emotion or our behavior signals that our emotions are ahead of the other person’s feelings for us. If the other person shows they like us, our emotion should be showing we like them. If the other person’s emotion show that they like us and our emotions are showing that we are in love with them, then our emotions are ahead of theirs and then we will be rejected by them. And that can prevent our relationship from growing.
If you want to work on this today—even if you’re not in a reconciling situation, there are some things that you can do. I like to ask people to do things for practice so they can become better at relationship building skills. You’re not going to get better relationship building skills just by reading books, listening to podcasts like this, or watching videos. You’ve got to practice whatever you learn. One thing that you can do with your spouse or with your friends today is to pay attention to pay attention to a couple of things that I was talking about.
The first one is making sure that you are being relaxed and friendly with that person even if they’re not being relaxed and friendly with you–not relaxed and positive—relaxed and friendly. And the second thing is to really see if your emotions are matching theirs. You don’t want to be a robot. If they’re a robot, okay, maybe you can be a robot too—that’s gonna be a perfect match. But if they’re showing emotions, you want to show the same kind of emotions, although you don’t need to be as intense as they are.
Your real thought should be, “Does my spouse feel comfortable being around me? Does my spouse feel like I’m being friendly? Or does my spouse just feel like I’m being matter-of-fact and businesslike? (It’s a big difference) Does my spouse feel like I really feel the same way that he does or she does? Or does my spouse not even have any indication of whether I feel the same or not?” If you start paying attention to these things, your spouse will feel more comfortable, more similar to you, and then your spouse will talk to you more.
So, we want to talk with people who are similar to us who we are relaxed. But this is one of the big keys to getting your spouse to talk with you more. So start working on that. You remember consistency is key there—just one time of really being different from the other person and you can set yourself back a lot. Unless of course, your relationship was already very close and then you are much freer to have your disagreeable moods.
Announcer: Thank you for listening to Reconciling Marriages with Coach Jack. Visit coachjackito.com to learn more skills for reconnecting with your spouse and restoring your marriage.