Wife Wants to Separate - Here's What To Do


    5 Min Read


    Ed’s wife told him she wants to separate. Then she left for a week.

    He was stunned and felt alone and lost.

    Ed came to counseling last week because he didn't know what else to do. He'd never been to counseling before, so even going to counseling that's designed for men was a big step for him to take. But he was desperate.


    A partner separating can and should be a big wake-up call. It certainly was for Ed who came to counseling devastated and wondering what he could do now that his wife wanted to separate.

    Why Threats Of Separation Should Be Taken Seriously

    Ed said his wife had threatened to leave before, but this time he thought she really meant it.

    In the past he had assumed she was just upset and blowing off steam. This time it seemed different – she seemed more serious.

    He's probably right. Threatening to leave is one thing, but actually leaving is another.

    Separating isn’t a spur of the moment decision. When one partner gets to the point of deciding to actually separate it's usually after a lot of deliberation. And prior to pulling the trigger on separation there are generally many warning shots.


    So, when separation finally occurs, the partner initiating the separation typically feels at the end of their rope and sees no other option but to leave.

    Like a lot of guys, Ed had been putting his wife's requests to go to marriage counseling off for years. In his mind things were never that bad and she was just overreacting. Besides, with a business to run and a family with 2 kids, who's got time for counseling he asked.

    He's making time now though.

    He says he had no idea his wife was this unhappy or that their relationship was on the edge of collapse.

    This can be a really common scenario, especially in long-term relationships.

    For couples who’ve been together for years it’s not unusual to take a lot of things for granted. The idea that your partner would ever actually leave you, no matter how many times they've threatened to do so can seem unlikely.

    Threats to leave need to be taken seriously though.

    Even if a partner isn’t really planning on leaving at that moment, the threat comes out of feelings of dissatisfaction and is a warning sign. Ignoring that can mean big problems later, as Ed’s case shows.

    Next Steps When Your Wife Wants To Separate

    Now he’s facing separation and having to come to terms with his wife’s unhappiness.

    What’s Ed supposed to do?

    Ed’s choice to attend counseling is a good one, even if it was far later than it should have been.


    Saving his marriage at this stage is going to require a lot of work, self-evaluation, professional guidance, and effort at making changes.

    Starting counseling has helped Ed see things he’d chosen to ignore for a long time. He's begun to acknowledge his role in the problems his marriage is facing and that he needs to do better in a number of areas.

    It's a hard and painful realization that his actions were such a clear contributing factor to his wife’s decision to leave.

    Among the areas Ed admitted to being a problem were the following:

    1. He needs to learn to manage his short temper and anger.

    2. He knows she wants more help from him at home and with the kids.

    3. And one of the most common complaints of partners, she wants him to communicate with her more. Although he doesn't really know what exactly that means or is supposed to look like (this is one of the things I teach guys in counseling).

    "She feels that I yell at her a lot," he said.

    She’s even accused him of being verbally abusive at times, something that she said she can’t take anymore (nor should she have to).

    He's not sure if he’s really been verbally abusive, but he did say he knows he gets defensive and mad, and now wants to learn how to change that.

    So, what can Ed do?

    He wants to save his marriage. But is it too late?

    She’s Back From The Separation – Does That Mean Things Are Better?

    No, not really.

    Ed’s wife left him and then came back. That’s not unusual. There’s often some back and forth before a separation occurs.


    His wife says she’s only back for the kids and until they can figure out what to do with the house. This is a common scenario for many couples. And while the relationship is still in trouble, being under the same roof does offer hope and opportunity.

    There’s hope because it takes time to end a marriage. Even though a separation can look like it's over, it actually gives Ed some time to show her things can be different.

    Ed was desperate to know what he needed to do to save his marriage and was counting on counseling to help. Fortunately, counseling can do just that.

    So, is there anything he can do to fix his marriage?


    • GIVE HER SPACE. When a lot of guys finally wake up and hear their wives, they turn into a super-charged Mr. Fix-it and are all over saving their marriage. Unfortunately, most of their wives by this time have given up. Ed needs to hold back on pressuring her to come to counseling with him or to work with him to save their marriage. She needs a little space first.

    • START CHANGING YOURSELF. It's really easy to focus on what we see wrong with our partner, but the most effective approach is to look in the mirror and identify what we can change about ourselves. When partners want to separate we almost always have some ideas of why and what we need to change. Like Ed, you may not know how to change, but you do know some places to start.

    • GO TO COUNSELING. The biggest statement men can make to their wives about what she and the marriage means to them is to go to counseling. Not just once, but again and again for a while. And on top of that to take the things they learn in counseling and put them to work to change themselves. When most wives see a commitment to counseling and a willingness to change, they're willing to try again too.

    What To Take Away

    If you're in a similar situation to Ed’s, and your wife wants to separate, seeing what to do next through all the pain can be tough. But the three suggestions above are a good place to start.


    In addition, keep the following things in mind if your wife wants to separate:

    • Don’t take threats of separation or divorce lightly. They’re a clear sign there’s a problem.

    • Take a closer look at your own behavior. If your actions – like out-of-control anger – are part of the problem, it’s time to change them.

    • Communication in a relationship is a big part of keeping your relationship healthy. If things are going poorly in your relationship, chances are your communication probably needs work.

    • Be open to counseling. When marital problems have reached the level of driving one partner to want to leave, it can take professional help to sort out the real problems and get the relationship back on track without resentment building up and things getting worse.

    And, if she hasn't left yet, but she's been asking you to go to marriage counseling, save yourself some pain and go before it's too late. Ed will tell you that counseling for men really isn't that bad and can change a hopeless situation.

    Editor's Note: This post was originally published March 23, 2010, updated on January 23, 2018 and October 17, 2019, and has been updated again with new information for accuracy and comprehensiveness.


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