I am in the process of trying to provide more resources to help people who want to know how to save a marriage.
So, I turned to the experts in that area: you! I sent out a request to some people by email, asking them to take a very short survey.
First, I was shocked in how many people jumped in to give me some ideas! I offered nothing, other than a promise that I would work on developing more help. And still, many people responded.
But second, in the process, my heart ached.
I asked for some ideas on what I might have missed and one reply really made me sad: “You make us feel bad that we can’t save our marriage.”
Wow! That one got me. Every day, I work to help people to save their marriage, but I NEVER want someone to feel bad when that does not happen.
Marriage is one spot where you only partially have control. The other person still holds a trump card. As I have told many couples, staying married is like a vote — but one that requires unanimous support. One vote to stay and one to end it will often end it.
In every state in the United States, it is possible to divorce, even if one person does not want it. In fact, the “no fault” movement of a couple of decades ago made it easy to leave, even if one person still wants to fight for it. Sure, it did allow many people to leave marriages of abuse or infidelity. (Which, by the way, is not a “no fault.”)
But it also made it possible for one person to take action, and over the protests and efforts of the other, get divorced.
My intention, over the course of my professional life, has been to save as many unnecessary divorces as possible.
But more than that, it has been to build incredible marriages, strong enough to thrive in a fairly heartless world.
To that end, I have always tried to provide assistance and sources that will do just that: save marriages and rebuild them.
I have never been so optimistic as to believe that EVERY marriage can be saved. Only that MANY could be saved.
And many times, I receive an email asking “will MY marriage be saved?” Because that really is the root of the question, isn’t it? It doesn’t matter if many marriages can be saved.
The “rubber hits the road” with YOUR marriage.
And unfortunately, here is the truth: I cannot predict, from this distance, whether your particular relationship is retrievable. I do know that many use my principles and are successful in reestablishing a relationship, rebuilding a crumbling marriage.
So my question is this: “do you want to try?”
There are few guarantees in life. But you do have a choice in your attitude. Will you be hopeful or hopeless? Will you see your life plan as meaningful or meaningless?
For myself, I always tend to be hopeful that a relationship can be saved, and I find it meaningful for people to work on improving a relationship. How about you?
I also recognize there are limits. The limits are around what we can and cannot control.
You cannot control: Your spouse’s reaction.
Your spouse is going to react however he/she reacts, and there is no way we can control that.
The influence of family and friends. Your spouse may find poor counsel with family and friends. Those people may push your spouse to continue the process of disconnection. You have no control over that.
Your spouse acting out or committing infidelity.
Sometimes, we all take responsibility for actions of another. While I am clear with people that infidelity happens in disconnected relationships, that is not the same as being responsible for or causing the action. A person, at some point, chooses to act out or commit adultery. It is not in the control of the spouse.
Your spouse having an addiction. I could go on for quite a while about this, but let me be clear: the person who is acting out the addiction is 100% responsible for the addiction — and for ending the addiction. The spouse is NOT responsible, nor do they cause the addiction. But it can certainly derail the attempts to reconnect a relationship.
Your spouse’s mental health. If you have a spouse with depression or anxiety, or a spouse who suffers from some other mental illness, it is not you causing it. And you cannot make the other person get treatment (at least until there is a risk to life). This is a statement of practicality, not philosophy. People have to find their way to treatment when they are ready. But again, it can make reconnecting very difficult.
Your spouse’s willingness to forgive. This is a big one. A marriage has to be partially built on a willingness to forgive, given the intimate nature of marriage. People are just going to hurt each other when they live that close. No way around it. But sometimes, people misunderstand the nature of forgiveness and refuse to forgive (sadly, since that means they must continue to drag the pain around).
All of those pieces, you cannot control. Your spouse has to find his/her own way through those issues. They can certainly keep you from connecting, but you can do little but watch.
That said, there are some things you CAN control:Your own reaction.
This is not an absolute. Sometimes, a reaction sneaks through that we cannot stop. (Thank goodness for apologies!) But for the most part, we have control over how we react. Have you ever noticed that there are some people that you will react in ways that you would NEVER react with some other person? For instance, you might yell at a friend for something that would keep you silent with a police officer or a boss. In other words, there are times when we pretend that we reacted because there was no option. But there often is.
Your Boundaries and your Standards. Boundaries are what you WILL NOT let someone else do to you. For example, you may have a boundary that someone cannot yell at you, curse at you, hit you, push you, etc. Standards are what you expect of yourself. You may say you will be honest with other people, that you will treat people with respect, that you will forgive and move on, etc. The danger is trying to put your standard on someone else or forgetting to hold your boundaries. Nonetheless, you do have control over both.
Your own addictions and health. Again, not an absolute. Sometimes, our health is not in our control. But whether we get help or not, and whether we address our issues or not, that is always in our control.
Taking care of yourself. Yep, pretty much in your control. If you eat poorly, rest too little, exercise too little, and forget to attend to your own needs, that is your issue, and in your control. And you may notice that when people do not take care of and respect themselves, few others do. So even in the midst of a marriage crisis, make it a priority to take care of yourself.
Focusing on a fuller life. When we are in a crisis, we often become uni-dimensional — focused only on that one aspect. Our life begins to become a one-track emphasis on a piece of life. But life is about fullness and meaning. It is about growing and developing. So even if your marriage is in trouble, be sure you are multidimensional in your approach to life.
You are NOT your marriage crisis!
Lee Baucom, Ph.D. is a best-selling author, therapist, coach and speaker, and has over a quarter of a century of experience helping couples and individuals learn to thrive in their relationships and their lives. He is the creator of the internet marriage program, Save The Marriage.