After Marriage Failure: Could We Make It Work Again?

A reader wrote, “If my husband who has been gone for a year and is with another woman decided to… change his life around and come back to his family, do you think we could ever make it work again. I ask this because I ponder why you never tried to correct your previous relationship and I wonder why.”

This is an excellent question, albeit with a personal twist…

In the extreme, I’ve seen couples divorce, remarry, lose their new spouse through divorce or death, and then connect with their former spouse and remarry. This is usually over an extended period of time, not a year or two.

In another case a couple split up and lived in separate cities without contact, except through their adult children. With one party always wanting to get back together and therefore never dating others, they finally did reconnect after several years and have been together ever since.

So the short answer to your question is that it is possible.

One of the more difficult issues to overcome, however, is that of trust. Would you be able to trust him again? Without professional help — and sometimes even with it — inability to trust can linger for years and is a major relationship killer.

A Personal Perspective

Six weeks after my former spouse said to me “Our marriage is better than it’s ever been,” she told me by telephone she was splitting. (She already had an apartment in another city.) I was devastated. When within a few days my grief had deepened to the point of my feeling suicidal, I got professional help with my grief.

I begged her to come back, but the answer was always no. Then finally she agreed to come back but it would take a couple of weeks to tie up some loose ends where she lived. I was elated, but as the date approached, my stomach started to get tied up in knots. I realized I had grieved her loss and had moved on emotionally. I couldn’t trust her to not leave again. I had long since learned to trust my instincts, so I said no.

We divorced and had no contact for a number of years. We both remarried. Now we are good friends.

Back to your question about whether you could ever make your marriage work again.

What he says he will do doesn’t count for much. It’s what he has done that counts. When your husband has left the other woman and has turned his life around (with or without professional help), when the two of you are enjoying one another’s company and are at ease with each other again, then it’s time to consider reestablishing the marriage.

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Dr. Neill Neill retired his psychology practice at the end of 2013. He maintains an active coaching practice via telephone or Skype with select clients dealing with alcoholic husbands or ex-husbands. Check out his book, Living with a Functioning Alcoholic: A Woman's Survival Guide.

4 thoughts on “After Marriage Failure: Could We Make It Work Again?

  1. Thank you Dr Neill. Your words are so encouraging. I will definitely consider everything you have said. I truly do want him back, but only under the right circumstances. Those being: him wanting to live a sober healthy life, get rid of her, and quit his job where she works two spots away from him. That’s a lot to ask and I know in my mind that all these together are huge. Right at this moment to believe we can be friends again seems impossible because of all the hurt he has caused. It’s such a ripple effect. I have given him your site to look at and can only hope now that he will begin to realize the damage he has truly inflicted on myself and three kids.

    I won’t let myself have false hope anymore but wish very much for a better life for myself and the kids. On a side note, I also wanted to commit suicide 4 months before he left because I had tried so hard to get him to stop over the years but felt like I had no way out. I wasn’t willing to give up on my marriage but had no idea how to fix it. After he left and the drinking was out of my life my depression lifted and I did much better. It’s been 16 months since my lowest point and know that I will never be there again or let anyone make me go there again.

  2. Hi – I have been studying co-dependent behavior for the past two decades. From what I have gathered thus far Dr. Neill, don’t both individuals in an addictive relationship both need to grow spiritually as well as emotionally before ANYTHING could change for the better? I am also curious to know what your opinion about alcoholism and borderline personality disorder. I have frequently read that alcoholism is used to mask mental illness. As always I look forward to reading your insights.

  3. Dealing with my cancer issues right now has seemed to have brought us closer than all the 42 years we have been married so far.

    Alcoholism is long back in his family history. My husband always refused to see that it was the patterning of his past that continued his issues in the present. His two other brothers (one whose wife just diagnosed with breast cancer since Oct 2012) plus 5 sisters are also affected. I say that stopping the behavior must be uppermost! It’s not “just how it’s always been, so I can’t fix it” stuff.

    My question: Nero-genesis is available to re-train the brain waves to conquer/overcome alcoholism and several other troublesome areas. Where is this available? I believe it can involve -rapid eye movement therapy.

  4. Dr. Neill,

    This has been very helpful. Just this week my husband of 21 years moved out of our home. He’s a binge drinker whose episodes have become frequent. He is having an affair with one of my friends and although I suspected, I was devastated.

    Since we have been in counseling for the past year, I have realized he is not and has not been in a position to meet my emotional needs for years. He can hardly function with the demands of his job. I have started the detachment process with him and I am working on not being codependent. I have also started attending Alanon.

    I can see how my codependency has only allowed him to continue drinking. I hope that he chooses to stop drinking for himself and our children. They deserve a father who is not an alcoholic. I deserve to be in a relationship free of alcoholism and emotional abuse. I deserve to be in a relationship surrounded by love, mutual respect, kindness and everything that I need to fill my love tank.

    Each new day is a wonder as I wake up free of a relationship that was controlled by alcohol and emotional abuse. I only hope to stay strong and continue this wonderful journey and am excited to see what God has in store for me next. If you have any advice for me, please share.

    Thank you,


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