When you Get a Dear John Letter from your Wife


One of the biggest fears of married men, especially in long distance ones like a military marriage, is receiving a Dear John letter from the wife. Whether he may have realized that things were going downhill in their marriage or it came as a bolt from the blue, the effect is almost always stunning and exceedingly painful. This is especially true in a long term marriage where two people have made a life, raised a family and even struck roots together. Pulling out and tearing apart such a relationship is never easy and here is what you can do when your wife has informed in a letter that she wants out.

Let off some steam

You may or may not have seen it coming, but chances are that the Dear John letter you’re your wife has sent you reeling with shock. It’s only natural to feel anger or hurt – so find someplace safe and vent your frustrations, maybe even physically if you need to release some pressure. Find a sympathetic or detached listener and rail against the unfairness of it all. Just don't confront the sender of the Dear John letter until you've done everything you can to defuse yourself.

TIP: Read the guide to prevent a break up or get back with your ex.

Get your thoughts in order

Once you have managed to let off some steam, find a quiet place to gather your thoughts. Since she has already made it clear that she wants to end the marriage, you now have to ask yourself what you really want and why. If you don’t want a divorce, consider if the reasons for this are strong enough to make you put in time and effort to save the marriage. Despite what your wife thinks, you may be reasonably happy with your long distance marriage or even if you know things are far from perfect, you still love your wife and want to make the marriage work. You may even appreciate the practical advantages of your current living arrangements and believe that you cannot afford to pay huge amounts in alimony or child support. Whatever your reasons for not wanting a divorce, decide if they are valid enough to convince your wife to stay back. If not and especially if she has already found a lover in your absence, it may make more sense to go through the divorce gracefully.

Avoid a rash reply

Getting a Dear John letter from your wife is not the same as getting divorced. Though your marriage has not yet ended, so much is clear that it cannot continue in its present form. Even if you decide that you don’t want a divorce and are willing to try and save your marriage, you need to understand and accept that there is a breach. Do not scheme and strategize to make her stay back for the sake of children, social reputation or marital assets. Avoid creating a scene by throwing tantrums in case you are physically present or hurling accusations, if you are responding with another letter. Thus to your wife’s words like “I want a divorce”, you can reply with, “I understand” or at least “I see”. This implies that you perceive and accept the reality that your marriage is in a bad predicament. On the other hand, if you respond to her announcement with anger, denial, defensiveness and lengthy explanations about why she is wrong and you are right, then you will be losing the endeavor even before it has begun. Realize that if your wife has already come to a decision, then she has given a lot of thought to all the possible arguments and counter-arguments that you may come up with. On the contrary, if you stay calm and admit that you accept the position even if you may not agree with her reasons for a divorce, she will lose her need to take a combative stance and this will give you some room to save your marriage.

Decide what you can change

 If you want to keep your wife from breaking up with you, see what changes in your behavior can make her rethink her decision. Most Dear John letters are written when the wife has found another man, but even here you can agree to give her whatever she felt was lacking in the marriage like emotional support, physical presence and more appreciation. If your wife complained about your unavailability and too much stress bringing up the kids alone, see what you can do to be around your family more often. Or if she wants to leave because she is tired of being alone, consider if you can take a posting or job which will allow her to move in with you. However stay away from whining, complaining or giving evidence of your neediness. Instead of pressurizing your wife or defending yourself with arguments, prove your willingness to improve your marriage by actual noticeable changes in your behavior or situation. On the whole, be calm, positive and pleasant these may not immediately make her reverse her decision but will convince her that things can change and need not proceed to the point of no return.

Seek counseling

If you allow your emotions over the Dear John letter to remain mixed or unresolved, you could find yourself in a never-ending cycle of anger, confusion and depression. It is often very difficult to function in your everyday world while struggling with unresolved emotional issues. Working with a professional counselor or a chaplain at your base should help you to see the letter as just a letter, and also help you find a way to begin a constructive dialogue with your wife.

Again if you and your wife have not yet tried marital counseling, suggest this alternative before she takes a final call. As a third party, a marriage counselor will have no preset notions or prejudices about either of you and thus will be able to look at the issues causing the divorce in an objective light. However don’t have false hopes that a counselor will be able to talk your wife into leaving her lover and coming back to you. Instead a counselor will only help you both to communicate better which in turn may enable you both to work out the issues of conflict in your relationship and save your marriage. In the end despite more effective communication, if you find that your priorities are completely at odds with each other or your wife remains obstinate, then you need to prepare yourself for the divorce process.