Timothy called and explained that in the middle of the night two months ago, his wife of twenty years, Fiona, had left him and his three children. She moved in with a boyfriend in another state, and was well on her way to constructing a new life. He had approached her a dozen times to suggest reconciliation in a variety of ways—including Real Love and counseling—but she had adamantly and angrily refused. She was also making little contact with the kids. She told him that if he didn't stop harassing her—the term she used for his attempts to repair their marriage—she would go to court to get a temporary restraining order against him.
"I've been studying Real Love for the past six months," Timothy said, "and our whole family is much happier—except Fiona. I just want her to be with us and enjoy what we have."
"That's kind of you," I said. "You don't seem to be angry with Fiona."
"I'm not. I really do want her to be happy, and I know that a lot of her unhappiness comes from the years when I didn't know how to love her. But now I'm learning how to do that, so I can't just give up on sharing that with her."
"But you realize, don't you, that you don't have a right to force her to do anything? She can choose whatever she wants."
"I'm not forcing her. I'm just trying to help her see what she's missing. I don't want to give up on her."
"Has she asked for your help?"
"Has she demonstrated any willingness at all to receive your help?"
"Not really, no."
"And she's already living with a boyfriend. She's completely moved on. She has no interest in you, your help, or your kids. Would that be fair to say?"
"Yes, I guess so. It does look like that."
"Then it might be time for you to move on. If you do move on, you're not giving up on her. You still care about her happiness, right? You're willing to help find it, aren't you?"
"So you're not giving up. You'd simply be making a decision to accept her decision. She's already moved on, and you'll just be accepting what she's already decided."
It's difficult to let go of an established relationship. We invested our time, energy, hopes, love, and more. Letting go of all that is an enormous disappointment, causing a grieving very similar to what we do with the death of a loved one. But in a relationship there are two people, and we don't get to make the decisions for the other person. If our partner's decision to leave is final, it's almost always wise—even loving—to accept it.