The other day in my facebook news feed I saw a post from a website I follow. Every week they take reader questions; this week was from a reader discussing how her marriage is hard. The gist went like this:
“My husband and I have been married for 6 years but I can’t even remember the last time I felt like I liked him. He’s nothing like the guy I thought I married. He’s mean to me and I’m mostly unhappy. I sometimes think about leaving but don’t want to because I think it’s important for our 18 mo. old son to grow up with both his mother and father. I want my marriage to work, but I’m tired of getting nothing back. I’m not sure how much longer I can keep this up.”
Note that the poster said that she did not want to leave her marriage and wanted it to work out. Unfortunately – though somewhat expectedly given today’s marriage culture – here was much of the “advice” given:
I didn’t respond in the facebook thread. Instead, I’m writing this post as my response. This whole thing has been a topic on my mind for a long while now, but the above post finally spurred me into action. Because apparently, as evidenced by the popular “advice” espoused above, no one wants to say what I’m about to say anymore.
But I’m going to say this any way. Because it needs to be said. Hopefully I’ll still have readers left after I post this, ha ha. Here goes:
Just because you are currently unhappy in your marriage does not mean that you’d be better off ending your marriage.
I’m sure I’m about to be burned at the stake for such a revolutionary statement, I know, but oh well, now it’s said.
I mean it too.
[IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER HERE: There is obviously a huge difference in being emotionally unhappy in your marriage and being in PHYSICAL DANGER in your marriage. If you or your children are in actual physical danger – you MUST stand up for yourself and get out and get somewhere safe! Once you’re in a safe place you can then decide what next steps in your marriage relationship you want to take…which should include counseling for both of you no matter what direction you go.]
Time has a way of slowly changing many things. You were probably once all giddy and in love with your spouse and thought things would never go awry between you. Conversely, it may seem that your current relationship will never get back on track again. But give the future a chance. Just as it was a slow and gradual decline into the depths of your marriage despair, it will be a slow and arduous climb back out to the top. But – it can be done and you can do it. You do not have to give up hope in your marriage just because you are seriously unhappy right now.
A few years ago, KP and I starting having trouble in our marriage. We couldn’t communicate. Everything turned into a fight, so we didn’t interact if we didn’t have to. We grew apart. Stresses in life came up which only distanced us more. I saw sides of KP that I hadn’t before known existed; I’m sure he could say the same of me.
We were not happy together. He was not the same guy I thought I’d married. We were mean to each other. Sometimes really mean. There was yelling. Sometimes a lot of yelling. I felt stuck. To make it all worse, we’d act normal out in public so people assumed we were doing just fine. And to be fair, we would in fact have some good days together, but then we’d turn around and have a longer succession of bad days so that the few good days paled in our memories.
There was absolutely a point where I wondered why I was sticking with this marriage thing. I wondered if I would have been better matched with someone else, if my marriage had been a mistake, and if there was any hope at all of things getting better or if I was unluckily doomed to an unhappy marriage forever.
But then a conversation with an old friend changed everything and I stubbornly resolved that no, divorce would NEVER be an option for me. I was determined to make my marriage work. Somehow. I would not give up.
I began searching online for marriage help. I looked and looked for marriage support, for someone to tell me that there was still hope, that my marriage was not too far gone, and to give actual practical advice for how to remedy a situation like ours. Here’s all I could find:
- Websites that focused on basic marriage encouragement, like “here are some cute date night ideas”.
- Advice like “oh, your husband’s probably going through a tough time, be extra nice to him and do nice things for him, and try not to be argumentative to show him how much you appreciate and love him still“. However, while this advice is great for many couples, for other couples, depending on what their particular issues are, especially if there are emotional abuse/control issues – this can backfire in all the wrong ways.
- People, like in the facebook post above, who were quick to encourage personal happiness above all else and advise jumping off the marriage ship.
- I’m hesitant to list this one because, well, it’s kind of sensitive to say especially for many of my readers, but I think it’s worth noting here still. The fourth kind of marriage advice I could find was religious advice. Advice such that KP and I should pray together, or seek out a spiritual leader, or that we should put God first, or Bible verses were quoted at me.
While I really do appreciate that it is often only within religious circles that commitment in marriage, even through the hard times, is so strongly encouraged – spiritual advice only works if both individuals share the exact same belief system. When each member of the couple, and/or the person giving the advice, aren’t all on the exact same page in this aspect, the marriage advice – though likely good advice still – is unfortunately lost on deaf ears.
And that was pretty much it. Our marriage was too far gone for the cute marriage stuff, trying to improve our relationship all by myself only made things worse, and I was determined not to jump ship on my marriage. So even after all the online “advice” I could find, I was only left more stuck.
I’m sharing all this in hopes that it will resonate with someone else. Marriage is hard and I hope that if YOU reading this are in the same difficult place in your marriage, that you will know that you are not alone and you are not the only couple who’s gone through this.
My marriage has not always been easy and I want to be honest about this. I think a lot of people keep their struggles hidden and don’t realize that others have really hard times in their marriage too…and that other marriages have survived those hard times. KP and I are still married and are proudly celebrating our 10th anniversary this fall. Though our marriage is far from perfect, we have come out the other end and are in a much better place now in our relationship. I hope we can be an example, not of a perfect marriage, but of a couple that values marriage, has stuck it out and is continuing to stick it out.
Having a husband who came from a broken home and seeing how this has affected him in life, I can honestly say that I would much rather keep our family intact and be an example to our kids how to fight through the hard times of marriage than to just give up on my husband. Just as I will never give up on my kids even when raising them gets hard and unpleasant. Yes, even if that means I must suffer (temporary) unhappiness. Love is a commitment and I firmly think marriage is worth it in the long run, even if the difficult short run blinds us of this truth.
So I was glad to see at least one of the posters in the facebook thread that started this post agrees that marriage is important to children too:
The Second Part of this post will will offer practical advice and suggestions for how to keep going when your marriage is hard.
A Quick Note About Marriage Counseling: Counseling is often the go-to advice for struggling marriages and I absolutely do think that counseling can be a great thing and give a couples a chance to speak freely and really dive into the truth of their convoluted struggles. However, marriage counseling is not always the magic fix-it-all either. I’ve known couples who’ve gone to marriage counseling only to have their COUNSELOR encourage them that they’d be better off divorcing!! And for couples already struggling to communicate, having the “we should get counseling” conversation can be near impossible to bring up.
Please know that none of the advice below is suggested in lieu of professional counseling (nor am I a licensed marriage therapist) – I am offering these suggestions specifically for the individual or couple who for whatever reason is unable to attend counseling right now. Whether it be for financial reasons, or you don’t yet feel comfortable broaching the subject, or you/your spouse is not currently interested in seeking help – the below were things that I found helpful during the difficult time in my marriage and I hope they can help you too.
#1 First – and this is the single most most important factor of this entire post:
Do you WANT your marriage to succeed?
Your answer to this question makes ALL THE DIFFERENCE. If you are only pretending to want your marriage to be saved, or if you already have one foot out the door and are just looking for an excuse to leave for good, this is not the blog post for you.
This blog post is for those who WANT to save their marriage, they just don’t know how. As I’ve stated before, the most important component of surviving the difficult times in marriage is to remove the option of divorce from your mind. Once you’ve planted the seed of divorce, you will only water it each and every time you imagine the possibility of non-marriage. If you want your current marriage to succeed – you cannot give yourself any other option.
#2 Look at yourself first.
I am assuming right now that if you are reading this, it is because you are one-half of a marriage relationship. While you could have your spouse read this article too, only YOU can be responsible for your own actions within your relationship. So before you criticize your spouse’s bad habits and behaviors that are contributing to your marriage struggles – make sure you’ve looked honestly at your own contributions first.
Are there things that you’re doing that are hurting your marriage? Are you overly-critical of your spouse? Do you treat him/her poorly? Do you listen to them? Most likely, you deep down already know the ways you’re negatively contributing to your relationship – but you’re probably telling yourself that you deserve to act that way because “I’m only doing this because of the way my spouse treats me”.
You have got to stop thinking in these terms.
Yes, it’s extremely likely your spouse is also contributing to the trouble in your marriage. Marriage issues are rarely one-sided. BUT, you are first responsible for yourself and your own actions. How can you expect your spouse to make changes in his/her behavior, if you are not also willing to make changes in your behaviors?
And yes. I KNOW that this is usually the very, very hardest step in marriage reconciliation. I KNOW anger is probably rising in you right now and you think I am just a stupid internet woman who has no idea at all what’s happening in your marriage because if I did I’d surely not say this to you. I KNOW. Please hear me out and don’t automatically jump to the comment section and leave me mean messages.
When we are hurt, especially when we are hurt deeply by someone we love the most, the first reaction is to get defensive and deflect blame onto the person we are hurt by. But as you’ll see in #3 below, this reaction is especially self-destructive to relationships.
Even if your spouse is 85% of the problem – you must take ownership of your 15% before either of you will be able to move toward reconciliation.
#3 You and your spouse are on The Same Team.
You and your spouse are on the same team in life, pulling together on the same side of the rope – not tugging-of-war against each other where even if you pull the other a few steps closer to your side, you’re still the same distance apart.
There is no winning or losing in marriage. You are on the same team. You either BOTH WIN, or you BOTH LOSE. There’s no other way. It is completely counter-productive to defensively (or offensively either, for that matter) approach discussions with your spouse. Conversations can not be about what you have to prove to the other, but instead should be about coming to a shared conclusion together
Last fall, there was an Business Insider article that went around the social media circuit titled “Science Says Lasting Relationships Come Down To 2 Basic Traits“. The part of this article I found especially enlightening was the idea that to those in destructive relationships, sitting down and having a conversation with their spouse was, to their bodies, like “facing off with a saber-tooth tiger” because they were always on edge with each other, both ready to attack and be attacked.
When your relationship gets into this destructive pattern, you feel powerless to breaking free from its cycle. When you constantly feel emotionally attacked by your spouse, what else can you do but try to defend yourself by attacking back? But as I mentioned in Part 1 of this article, though the climb out of your marriage depths may be slow and arduous, it can be done, and it is possible for you to break out of this destructive cycle.
It all starts with your perspective. Even though you may not be able to change you spouses perception, you can at least choose to look at your own interactions with your spouse. When you fight, are you fighting so that you can “win”? If so, the next time you find yourself wanting to defend yourself by attacking your spouse back – don’t. Take a breath. Try to calm yourself before responding. Look for something productive to say instead of something destructive. Refuse to fight your spouse’s fire with more fire. If you can, and the conversation allows it, try to remind him/her that you are ultimately ON THE SAME SIDE as them in life. Remind him/her that you want to make it work together; that you are resolve in your commitment to not give up on your marriage and that you will not give up on them either.
This will not come easily at first. It will be very hard. Eventually, your spouse may likely catch on that you are no longer attacking them and they’ll realize that they don’t have to attack you back anymore either. (However, please be sure to see #6 below. For some couples, there is a fine line between being agreeable and giving up too much control, so you need to make sure you maintain a proper balance.)
If you don’t already know the book, I also strongly suggest The 5 Love Languages. It’s a pretty quick read and helps you show your spouse love and appreciation in ways that will actually sink in for them. I guess this book is pretty famous, but I only discovered it a couple years ago, so hey, if you’ve never heard of it, now you have. It’s worth reading. And getting your spouse to read too if you can.
#4 Look for the best in your spouse.
Your spouse may legitimately be a jerk right now. He/She may be mean to you. He/She may even yell at your kids. I am not dismissing any of these things as unlikelihoods – because I know that when your marriage is already at a really bad place, that you typically see the worst sides of your spouse imaginable – but, I’m suggesting that you do not ONLY focus on these negative traits of your spouse right now.
I do not know your spouse. But you do. You likely know your spouse way better then anyone else. So you tell me. Are they acting out of character from the person you thought you knew or thought you married? Is there something going in in their life right now to cause them stress, grief, pain, turmoil? Does the way they are acting right now stem from something going on in their life – or is it something part of their deep-set inner character?
If you believe that they are treating you poorly due to their true deep-set inner character, then you likely need to have a professional step in to help at this point and my advice won’t be able to help.
However, if you believe that deep down somewhere your spouse really is a good person and you have previously seen and known this amazing person – choose to see your spouse for the good person you know underneath the ugliness they’re instead showing you.
Instead of picking out and focusing on the many things about your spouse that irritate and distance you, force yourself to remember the personality traits of your spouse that you were originally attracted to. More than likely, though they may be overshadowed by all your spouse’s negative traits and behaviors, your spouse still has some, or many, of those some traits you fell in love with him/her for.
Focus on those good traits. Focus on the things you are thankful for in your spouse. Even if it feels like there are a million things you are unhappy with your spouse about, force yourself to focus instead on the few things that you actually do appreciate about them.
And if you can, and if the opportunity presents itself, thank your spouse for one of those things. Start the flow of good karma between you. However small it make start and even if the positiveness doesn’t last long. Just take a step. You’ll never know how or if that first step will elicit a reciprocal response until you take a chance on seeing your spouse in a positive light again.
#5 Surround yourself with pro-marriage supporters.
If you were to confide to your friends that you were having trouble in your marriage, would they give you the same “advice” that the facebook poster from Part 1 of this post received? Or would they encourage you to keep strong in your marriage and help you and your spouse get the support you needed?
I’m not suggesting you abandon all your friendships who’ve suffered broken relationships (that would be heartless), but I am saying you should pay close attention to the ratio of pro-marriage to anti-marriage talk you willingly let yourself absorb. Just as in #1 above where I exhorted you to remove the option of divorce from your mind so that the idea doesn’t plant itself and grow – I’m also exhorting you to purposely surround yourself with people who will ENCOURAGE you to fight the good fight for your marriage. And not people who will tear you – and the institution of marriage – down.
If you have kids and you find yourself struggling in your parenthood abilities – you seek out other parents or people who can help, support, and guide you in your temporary parenthood struggles. You don’t seek out people who dislike kids so they can complain to you about noisy kids in restaurants. You surround yourself with people who will affirm you in parenthood journey, not those who will discourage you.
It’s the same with marriage. If you want your marriage to succeed, you need to spend time with people who think highly of marriage.
#6 Stand up for yourself.
This is an important issue to bring up, BUT, I want you to be very careful when you read this section. Nothing in this section should cancel out what I’ve already said above. Every marriage has a different control balance and it’s important to find the right balance for your marriage – without letting the balance swing too far off in either direction.
To be specific, there can sometimes be a fine line between refusing to engage in an argument with your spouse, and coming across as bending to your spouse’s will. Not every couple’s dynamic leads as easily to this outcome – but it is something extremely important to watch out for, as it can cause even more complicated problems to dig yourself out of if you let yourself get into it.
You spouse may not be being kind to you – but by not retaliating in anger this does not mean that you are giving up control to him/her. You spouse needs to be aware of this. Maybe your spouse already knows that. Maybe they don’t. If you think your spouse may interpret your refusal to engage in angry discussion as a bending of the will, you must be sure to speak up and stand up for yourself! You can do this by speaking plainly and without losing yourself to anger – but you cannot just remain silent.
Talk to your spouse still. Do not just give up to whatever they say because you’re too tired to stick up for yourself. That will only make everything exponentially worse. Also, do not play the passive-aggressive game either. Let me say that again – Do not fall into the passive-aggressive trap. Your relationship will go nowhere.
Pause. Take breaths. Stay calm. Do not let yourself be so overcome with emotion that you can’t think clearly. Talk rationally to your spouse and do not return their emotional attacks. But do not remain silent.
Again, this is a fine balance and one that you will have to gauge within your own marriage.
#7 Seek counseling from a trusted third party.
Though I’ve tried to offer several practical suggestions for how to keep going when your marriage gets really hard outside of marriage counseling – if you’ve made it all the way down here to #7 and still aren’t seeing any small improvement in your marriage at all, then it’s probably a good time to get some type of third-party counseling.
The below is an EXCELLENT database of marriage therapists who are committed to saving marriages whenever possible (instead of just encouraging individuals to do whatever makes them happy): Marriage Friendly Therapists.You can search for therapists in your area. If you’re looking for an in-person therapist, I suggest looking here first.
Or, there are also a few online marriage counseling programs available, that you and your spouse can work through from home. Please see this post for a List of Online Marriage Counseling Programs, some with reviews as well.
Either way, I strongly, strongly, strongly encourage you to give marriage counseling a try if you are still completely stuck in your marriage. Sometimes you and your spouse just need to have an objective listener to confide in and explore issues with.
However, you must remember #1 above – a marriage counselor or counseling program cannot magically make your marriage work for you unless you WANT to make your marriage work. If you view counseling as a perfunctory step toward separation, then that’s exactly what it will become for you and where you’ll end up. But if you go into counseling with a desire to make your marriage work, then you’re far more likely to come out the other end with your marriage intact and your relationship growing.
If finances are holding you back, I encourage you to ask the counselor if they have any financial aid programs. Some might. You never know until you ask, but I’ve found that in situations like this, there’s often a way to still get the help you need even if the finances aren’t there.
3/19/18 edited to add: I just discovered there’s another book out by the same guy who wrote The 5 Love Languages book I mentioned above. I haven’t read this book yet, but wanted to pass on the resource in case it’s helpful for you: Loving Your Spouse When You Feel Like Walking Away
I don’t know if this blog post will help anyone, but I hope that it will reach those that it needs to and that if you are struggling in your marriage that you will be encouraged to not give up.
I truly believe that marriage is a sacred life-long commitment and is worth fighting for and want to encourage others to fight for their marriage as well.
You may also want to check out some of my other marriage posts:
Where To Find Help For Your Marriage
How Emotional Abuse in Marriage Starts
Why “Never Speak Negative About Your Spouse” Is Bad Marriage Advice
The Person You Marry Will Change
Why Millennials CAN Handle Marriage
An Election. Marriage. Communication and the Movie Arrival.