He Changed When I Asked for Divorce, But Will It Last?

Photo by Carly and Art - http://flic.kr/p/958yaw - For illustration only

Reader’s Question

I told my husband I wanted a divorce. There are many reasons — never around, drugs/alcohol, infidelity, poor father to my daughter, and tells me I don’t clean enough, so he won’t fix up the house, even though he only works part-time and I work full-time. Now he has turned on the charm, is around all the time, quit drugs, and says he will do anything to keep our marriage together.

I feel suffocated, as he was never around before, and is now around constantly. I want to believe the behavior is real, but I feel as if he is manipulating me to stay around, and then he will return to his old behavior. I want to be a good example for my 20-month-old daughter, and know divorce is never good for kids, but I don’t think I can forgive him for the past.

Is this a normal response to someone asking for a divorce or is this the response of a manipulative man?

Psychologist’s Reply

It sounds as if you are questioning your husband’s intentions: does he truly want to be a more loving and involved father and husband, or is he trying to get you to change your mind, with no intention of sustaining the change? I think it can definitely happen that a wake-up call motivates real change. Is this the case with your husband? It would be impossible for me to say. In many ways, only time will tell.

You are having trouble believing that he will continue with this new way of being after you have agreed to remain married and “take him back.” One aspect of this is about trust. You have been hurt by his behavior for some time, and if you were to open yourself up again to trusting him, you also open yourself up to being hurt again. In some ways, once a person has moved on emotionally, it is difficult to get back to a place of feeling close or connected.

Another piece is that you have valid concerns that your husband will not choose to or not be able to maintain his sobriety, his commitment to being available, and his faithfulness to you. It is true that big changes are difficult to maintain. So, if he were actually doing this to manipulate you, I would predict that he would not be able to sustain the behaviors.

Discussions with him about what his feelings and reactions were to your desire for divorce might allow you to understand better where he is coming from, and how stable and long-term the changes are that he has made. The other thing that came to mind is, I wonder if he has made changes like this before. If he has previously made efforts that have not continued, I could understand your fear that this will not last. Either way, it is difficult to discontinue alcohol and/or drug habits. His effort to do so speaks to his desire to continue the marriage. But in reality, there is no way of knowing whether he will sustain these changes or not.

Try Online Counseling: Get Personally Matched

Regarding how to go forward, it might be useful to reflect within yourself about whether you are open to the idea of staying in this marriage. One thought experiment you could try would be to imagine that your husband could truly make important changes and wants to be available to you and your child. If that were true and you still find yourself ready to end it, it would seem that you have already made the decision. If this is the case, your husband’s intentions are beside the point. If however, the idea that your husband is willing to work on things with you creates a sense of hope, then it could be that you choose to experiment with trusting this new behavior. If this is the case, the path will likely include both you and your husband identifying what has worked and what has not worked for both of you, and how you would like things to be going forward.

If you are open to couple’s counseling, it can be a place to work on the decision itself (do we stay together?) as well as ways to improve the relationship.

Please read our Important Disclaimer.

All clinical material on this site is peer reviewed by one or more clinical psychologists or other qualified mental health professionals. Originally published by on and last reviewed or updated by Pat Orner Oliver on .

Ask the Psychologist provides direct access to qualified clinical psychologists ready to answer your questions. It is overseen by the same international advisory board of distinguished academic faculty and mental health professionals — with decades of clinical and research experience in the US, UK and Europe — that delivers CounsellingResource.com, providing peer-reviewed mental health information you can trust. Our material is not intended as a substitute for direct consultation with a qualified mental health professional. CounsellingResource.com is accredited by the Health on the Net Foundation.

Copyright © 2020.