Sometimes we reach a point where we know our marriage or relationship is in trouble. We feel like we are on the Titanic as it sinks. We feel powerless over what is occurring between ourselves and our partner. We are frustrated, hurt, sad, angry, or maybe experience a combination of these feelings. Yet, you can learn how to save your marriage.
Unfortunately, nobody told us that these relational difficulties are often part of the path of building a secure marriage. But they are also dangerous. Our marriages don’t always survive the challenge.
What do we do?
Is your partner willing to work on your relationship with you? Or not?
My partner is not willing to work on our marriage with me
Generally, it is best if our partners are willing to work on the relationship with you. But sometimes they are not. If they are not, you have a tougher road ahead. Similar to a person in Al-Anon, you will have to let go of needing that person to be different and focus on what you can do differently. This is not easy in a relationship. Your challenge will be to find other ways of nourishing yourself because your partner may not be the person you can lean on.
Remember the Serenity Prayer?
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
courage to change the things I can,
and wisdom to know the difference.
This is where your focus and work is. You may not have the ability to change your partner, but you do have the ability to improve yourself.
Look at your behavior
For starts, look at how you behave towards your partner. Analyze your behavior. Do you yell, withdraw, try to convince, cry. Take a few moments and think about or write down the actions you take. Then think about or write down the impact your actions have on your partner. For example, if you yell, does your partner ignore you, yell back, leave?
Looking at the actions you take is essential, because as long as you are triggering each other’s challenging behavior, you may not be able to communicate about what is happening between the two of you on a deeper level. Our interactions can keep us trapped in the symptom level of the problem instead of allowing us to talk about what we are distressed over – our deep needs and fears. You can learn more about these attachment needs and concerns in this article, as well as how emotions and our actions interplay with this. As you learn and change, you will be taking steps to save your marriage.
My partner is willing to work on our marriage with me
With this, you can breathe a sigh of relief. What lies ahead of you may not be easy, but having a willing partner means your chances of success are much higher.
First, get help. This is important, so I will repeat it. Get help. A relationship often operates as a closed system. Without bringing in new knowledge, new ways of communicating and being, (opening up the system), it will not easily change.
Find a therapist or a couples’ educational program (like WeConcile®). Read relational books. Take a couples workshop. Open up your closed system so new information can get in and allow for change. Change is essential to learning how to save your marriage.
If you decide to see a couple’s therapist, do not be afraid to shop around. You are letting a skilled third person in your relationship. Still, you want to make sure you both feel comfortable with this person and that you feel this person will be useful for your relationship. I also recommend using an attachment-based couples therapist. The lens of attachment is important to get below the surface level of conflict.
The amount of information available on what enables a relationship to be safe and connected, or hinders a couple from a secure connection is astounding. This information is called the science of love. It allows us to make the changes we need to become capable of a satisfying and connected relationship.
What about wounds or trauma?
Second, look at what you see as the problem. Often, relationship problems stem from wounds. (They can also stem from beliefs that do not allow one party the full expression of themselves, addiction, or a character problem, among other things.) Identify the wound, fear, or need.
In my relational journey, my husband and I clashed over our wounds. I had trauma around my childhood pets being allowed to die or being mistreated instead of being taken care of. My husband’s wound was around people (women) who got overly emotional and crazy. When I got upset about an event where I felt my cat was in danger due to my husband’s actions (lack thereof), I became very emotional. He saw me as crazy and wanted to run. Once we unpacked our wounds and developed dialogue around them, we were able to understand each other’s perspectives and make some changes. You can read a story based on this dilemma here.
Times of confusion and pain are followed by clarity
Third, remember that many relationships include a dark and confusing experience – essentially, a descent into the underworld or dark night of the soul. But followed by that descent, is the creation of new life and new possibilities. These times of darkness and confusion are part of our path to becoming better and more loving humans. They are sometimes required for us to disassemble ways of being that are not good for us and reassemble ways of being that allow us to create a healthier experience of life. There is no shame in being in one of these times.
While sometimes what we are up against feels too severe, and we choose to walk away, for many couples, you can learn how to save your marriage. Don’t be afraid to roll up your sleeves and plunge in. Perseverance, tenacity, and courage can take us a long way.
Serenity Prayer. (2020, March 18). Retrieved March 30, 2020, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Serenity_Prayer