I want to share with you a real “case” and reveal insights to help you in your marriage.
My marriage is in trouble. I don’t know who my husband is anymore. I feel as though I’m married to a complete stranger. We got married when we were both very young and now he feels like he missed out on the “fun years” of his life, his 20’s. He’s changed the way he looks, dresses, and acts. He goes out nights, probably to clubs with his friends. He’s even choosing his new life over his responsibilities to the kids. He used to be a great dad. Now I worry that the kids will get stranded at soccer practice. He basically doesn’t care about our marriage.
He hasn’t filed for divorce or anything, and I’m not sure there’s an affair, but he’s left emotionally and just doing his own thing. Both my friends and family are telling me to move on because our marriage can’t get better. I am completely devastated and not sure what to do. Please help! – Jean
Remember when you took the vow “through sickness or health, rich or poor, thick or thin?”
Remember when you made that iron clad commitment? You meant it, right? But I bet you never dreamed you’d be tested like Jean describes above. I bet you never dreamed you’d be thinking “How do I get my husband to love me again?”
It’s hard to imagine on our wedding day what those vows will mean in the future. How could you know what they’d refer to? How could you know in what context you’d have to fulfill them?
When we made our vows, we were young, inexperienced, and optimistic.
And when we imagined what we could imagine, we felt safe making the vows. Who would ever abandon their spouse because they got sick? How could anyone live with themselves if they did that? How could they ever face their family and friends?
But if you’re Jean in the letter above, (and all of us are to some extent) it’s easy to question those vows. “This is not what I had in mind. If my husband isn’t going to be committed, why should I be? This is not the same person I made those vows to. He changed.”
And I can’t imagine Jean would face too much embarrassment walking out of her marriage. In fact, her family and friends are probably encouraging her to do so. And you can bet they’re not thinking of themselves as vow breakers. In other words, they would never say that Jean was breaking her vows.
But is it breaking vows?
Why is sickness or financial hardship any different than a “midlife crisis?” What’s the difference if your spouse loses their job, their health, or their moral compass?
And after you make a promise to someone, does it really matter whether or not they want you to keep the promise.
Are you “off the hook” just because they let you off the hook?
Situations like the one Jean describes above are extremely difficult and painful for everyone involved.
Obviously, the Jean in these stories is suffering and feeling like a victim. Children become collateral damage.
And what about Jean’s husband?
I mean really: how do you think he feels about himself when he allows a moment of introspection?
He’s failing as a husband, father, and as an adult. Although his strong desire for certain pleasures and a propensity to rationalize (rational lie) might lead him to continue the same behavior, he knows he’s failing himself and those closest to him. He’s in pain. He’s hurting too.
No one wins during these times. And it’s not uncommon for people to want to break their vows and give up. Not only is it common, but it’s reasonable and often supported by family and friends.
But I want to suggest that being there for your spouse even when they don’t want you there for them is part of what was intended by those wedding day vows.
YOU made the vow.
It wasn’t just a commitment you made to your spouse; you made it to you and to your God. You’re on the hook.
And in many ways, there’s no difference between a medical crisis and a mid life crisis. In fact, we could say that your spouse needs you the most when they’re the most lost.
Situations like Jean’s are challenging to endure.
But do you really think that Jean’s husband will be clubbing with the guys for the next 30 years?
I doubt it.
He’ll get over it.
It may take time. It could be months, even years. But it’ll pass. And when it does, Jean has a good chance of getting his husband back and making her family whole again.
I don’t envy Jean for the months or years that his husband is that lost soul.
And I understand that months in that situation feels like eternity.
Jean will need a lot of support to get through it. She’s going to have to work hard on herself and develop her character. She’ll have to find strength she didn’t know she had and endure abuse that’s hard to imagine.
But if you knew it would end, if you knew that one day 30 years from now you’d be sitting in a rocking chair with your spouse holding hands reminiscing about that horrible year, and if that horrible year was just that, one of 50 years of a life together, would you do it? Would it be worth it?
Would you wait it out?
If our expectation is that we have a long life with our spouse and that they will ALWAYS be “normal,” predictable, and emotionally healthy, we leave ourselves vulnerable to losing our marriage. It’s a long life. Many things change. People change. They go through phases. We should be there for them, through thick and through thin, through it all.
Most people don’t have this type of long term view.
Most people facing Jean’s situation can’t get outside the pain of the moment.
We don’t live in a culture that understands patience and tolerance. In our day everything is measured in seconds and you’re more likely to hear “You deserve better. You shouldn’t put up with this. Move on with your life. Stop trying to figure out how to get your wife to love you again and just move on.”
But think about it: What would we be moving on to? Is the next person going to be more predictable? Isn’t there always a chance that a person gets off track for a while? And what if it was you who lost yourself for a while? Looking back on that time, how would you feel if your spouse lost faith in you, abandoned you?
Here’s a challenging question:
What if your CHILD lost themselves for a while? Let’s say your 15 year old daughter got into (God forbid) drugs or ended up pregnant. Would you say, “I’m not going to put up with this.”
What if your son ended up in a rehab center? Would you abandon him until he got his act together?
It’s quite possible; by the way, that your son or daughter in these situations might NOT want your help. “Just leave me alone. I need my space. I can get through this without you.”
But you wouldn’t comply, I bet. You’d do everything you could to be there for your kid. You’d never give up on them…NEVER!
Why would we treat our spouse any differently?
We should almost never give up on them…almost never! And certainly not as quickly as so many people suggest.
If you’re in one of these situations and people who care about you are not supportive of you enduring your circumstances, they by all means ask them to either be supportive on not to speak to you about the situation. These situations are difficult enough; you cannot afford people close to you bringing you down.
They mean well, they care about you, but they don’t know what they’re doing and how much damage their causing to your spirits.
I’d like to share with you a personal story.
On my daughter’s 4th birthday she received a gift to grow your very own butterfly. The card showed a magnificent colored Monarch. All you had to do was send away for it.
As you might imagine, my daughter was ecstatic. The anticipation to the big day when the butterfly arrived was mounting. Would it really be red, orange, blue, and green like the picture? It would have to be. And she would make it fly and it would be hers.
The big day arrived.
“My butterfly is here, my butterfly is here” rang through our house. We opened the tiny envelope with care only to find what looked like previously chewed tic–tacs (caterpillar eggs). My daughter insisted it must be a mistake because the picture showed a red, orange, blue, and green butterfly and this was definitely NOT that.
There was no explaining the series of developmental stages butterflies go through: egg, larva, pupa, and adult. She just wanted her butterfly and she wanted it now, refusing to have anything to do with the chewed tic-tacs.
My wife decided to mother those microscopic eggs and in 6 days the eggs hatched. To our surprise out came a large, striped tic-tac shaped caterpillar. My wife was ecstatic but our daughter still showed no interest.
Immediately after hatching, the large, striped tic-tac started growing rather fast. In just 2 weeks we were the proud parents of a 2 inch long striped, large tic-tac looking caterpillar.
My wife and I were amazed at the metamorphosis and it wasn’t even over.
Tic-Tac shed his skin 5 times during his next stage. A new, larger skin waits under the one that is shed. Then Tic-Tac made a chrysalis (cocoon) with no visible signs to signal the emergence of Tic-Tac the butterfly. My daughter was completely distraught.
Suddenly the chrysalis cracked open and out came the red, orange, blue, green and WHITE butterfly. Finally, “Our butterfly is here, our butterfly is here” rang through our house.
We all are like a four year old wanting, hoping, and dreaming, but usually a marriage goes through many stages when it looks nothing like what was advertised on the box. But those times are stages. It’s not the final form.
I hope everything that comes out of my mouth, off of my computer, and through my office lifts your spirits and is supportive of you while you fulfill your vows.
Please let me know how else I can help you, especially if you are struggling with saving your marriage alone.
Mort Fertel is a world authority on the psychology of relationships and has an international reputation for saving marriages. He is the creator of Marriage Fitness, a relationship renewal system and an alternative to marriage counseling. Marriage Fitness is the most successful marriage crisis program in the world, successfully used by millions of people in marital crisis.