Dr. Samantha Rodman guides you away from the edge with 8 questions to consider and 6 strategies that can heal.
Almost Divorced writes:
In your experience, do couples on the brink of divorce ever repair their relationship to the point where it becomes a loving, supportive marriage again (or for the first time)? My husband and I have tried counseling and it went nowhere.
This is a great and important question. Short answer: Yes. But let me give you some things to think about first. As you can imagine, this is not an easy or quick process and there are a lot of variables to consider.
As a couples therapist, I see many couples that come into treatment despondent and angry. There are years of damage and mistrust. I do not know your specifics, but many couples have experienced infidelity, financial catastrophe, tremendous stress surrounding in-laws and blended families, and anything else you can imagine. In all of these cases, at least some of the time, there is hope for true and genuine reconciliation. Of course, this can happen if and only if both spouses are open to the idea of changing how they think of the relationship and how they interact with each other. Don’t expect this to be a quick or easy process, but it is possible and I have seen it happen.
First, you must ask yourself: Is there anything you still love about your partner? Is there even one time a week that you like being with him? Do you have any fond memories? If you do not love you partner now, can you still remember what it was like to love him? And do you think he still cares for you, even very deep down? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, maybe you can try a last time to pursue counseling. And this time be very sure that you do all the following things with your therapist:
Take a true and objective look at how you were raised and how this led to certain assumptions and expectations on your part about the nature of marriage.
You will need to examine the following:
- What do you think marriage entails?
- What is your role and your husband’s?
- What does it mean to you when you think he is failing to live up to his part?
- Did you ever see role models who took at least partial responsibility during conflicts, and did you learn this skill yourself?
Here’s an example. Let’s say you grew up thinking of a male as a primary breadwinner, but you and your husband currently can’t afford for you to stay home with your kids. Even though intellectually you don’t blame your husband, you still could feel resentful that he doesn’t understand how sad you are over your expectations being dashed. And if your husband grew up with two working parents, he may not understand why you always seem so irritated with him around the issue of money.
Exploring your unspoken assumptions about marriage and where they originated can help you to empathize with each other’s perspective and defuse some of the tension that arises due to accusations and blame.
- Take a similarly objective view of your own contributions to the current issues in the marriage, and how your own insecurities and vulnerabilities impact the conflicts.
- Do you feel your partner does not love you or value you when he does certain behaviors?
- What feelings do his behaviors trigger in you?
- Did you ever feel like this in early life with a caregiver?
Here is an example of what I mean. Maybe you had a dad that wasn’t around much, and you always missed him and yearned for him to spend more time with you. As an adult, when your husband works late and doesn’t call, it may trigger the same feelings of loneliness and sadness.
If you just say, “Any woman would be mad if her husband didn’t call,” this misses the point and is not helpful. You, in particular, may be reacting to the fact that waiting around for a loved one to show up is an emotional sore point for you, dating back to childhood. If you were able to voice this to your husband, he might finally see your perspective and also act less defensive, because you wouldn’t be attacking him, you would be explaining your own trigger points.
- Examine closely the ways you could change to be a better partner. These are concrete cognitive and behavioral changes in how you interact with your spouse. Here are some examples:
- More physical affection
- Using a different tone
- Accepting limitations
- Setting aside time to spend together
- Forgiving past hurts, if possible
Learn to see your partner’s perspective and empathize and validate– this means to see how, from their point of view, their opinions make sense (note: you do NOT have to agree). Learn to genuinely say, “I see what you mean, and that makes sense to me.”
As you can see, couples therapy is likely not a quick and easy process, but it can truly change your marriage and (bonus!) make you a stronger and more self-aware person. One idea that I have seen work well is for you and your husband to commit to at least 6 months of trying as hard as you can in therapy, during which time you promise that neither of you will mention or threaten divorce. Frequently, 6 months is a long enough time for real headway to be made if both spouses are trying their hardest. I encourage you to attempt this plan before separating.
At the very least, two excellent books for couples that you should read are Getting the Love You Want: A Guide for Couples, 20th Anniversary Edition, and Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love. These books have exercises that you and your husband can do together. They can be very powerful and helpful for you.
Thanks for writing, AD, and I wish you and your husband the best in whatever you choose to do.
Originally published: Dr. Psych Mom