How To Save A Marriage On The Brink Of Divorce

How To Save A Marriage On The Brink Of Divorce

Divorce specialist Roberta Morrison

Roberta Morrison

With the accelerating rate of divorces, many have begun to lament the ultimate loss of the family as a concept. The divorce rate aside, a great many people still see tremendous value in the family and, finding themselves on the brink of divorce, want to do their best to prevent the breakdown of their marriage.

At the same time, no one disputes the fact that the time where each marital union was valued equally is a thing of the past. Now, increasingly lax mores in today’s society make a choice possible. One can fight for a marriage when it is worth it, and let go of it when there’s nothing of value to be saved.

Facing a troubled marriage, you have to be confident that it is worth being saved. In most cases, abusive relationships are not worth saving. You can look up signs of either physical or psychological abuse elsewhere.

In this article, let us assume that the groundwork of making sure that your marriage is worth saving has been done, and that now you need guidance and tools to do the saving.

One or Both?

A few words about joint efforts needed to save a marriage. It goes without saying that it takes two to tango in a relationship, and as such both partners must be committed to helping the relationship get back on track.

Even if you have been contemplating a divorce, it is still possible to turn around and start rebuilding the relationship. The key thing is the desire of both parties. One person cannot do it on their own. You certainly cannot save your marriage if your spouse is specifically against it and is unrelenting in their intention to divorce.

There are situations, however, where you personally can find yourself overthinking and being extremely concerned about the state of your marriage, while your partner thinks the marriage is fine. In cases like this, where you know that you tend to worry about things too much, it is indeed worth it for you to work through issues you deem to be urgent. Your partner may join in later.

On the other hand, changes in one spouse will definitely provoke some thinking and adjustment in the other. Your changes should never be motivated by a desire to change your partner, but as a couple, you will definitely benefit if at least one of you starts working on inner growth.

Some Preliminary Work

First, you should remind yourself that your marriage should not and can not be anything close to the airbrushed and photoshopped ‘marital bliss’ from your Instagram feed or romcoms.

Nowadays, the impact of social media has become a real problem for highly sensitive people who are liable to take images of happy people and think that these individuals are actually happy.

Make a habit of reminding yourself: “The owls are not what they seem.” Or “People lie.” In other words, do not fall into the trap of thinking that other people have something better than you do because you never know the context: what goes into making the perfect ‘image,’ what is behind a ‘perfect family,’ and how much was sacrificed for this ‘ideal relationship.’

Find the strengths of your spouse, yourself and your marriage and remember that it is okay to have negative things in your life. You can try to reduce or minimize them, but do not put yourself under pressure to be perfect every day of your life. It sounds trite, but being perfect is unrealistic. At the same time, appreciate what you’ve got.

Next, give yourself an honest evaluation of which part of the marriage is worth saving. You may think that you just want to save it and that’s it. However, humans function in such a way that they get more motivated by details and little things. Now is the time to ask yourself why you married your partner in the first place.

The chief reason why people usually want to save their marriages is their children. As good parents, you want your children to grow up in a functional family and live a life with as fewer stress factors as possible. The well-being of your children is a strong factor, and this kind of motivation is directed at others’ good.

Meanwhile, you need to find a reason why you personally want it. Remember the good times you had with your spouse. Even if you believe that your spouse has changed dramatically, you still can see something in him/her to connect now. If you used to be best friends and understood each other better than anyone, now it is time to get back to those good times.

Do not think that you should save your marriage for the sake of someone else other than you. You do not owe it to your parents, friends, church, moral standing, neighbors, etc. The children factor in, but their well-being is not the chief reason for you to act. Try to dig deeper and find your own reasons.

Finally, be as honest with yourself as possible and evaluate how fair you are regarding your spouse. Long-term stress can cloud our judgment on many things, in particular about our partners.

The psychological mechanism is as follows: you feel that you are under a lot of pressure with your job, business, parenting, taking care of your sick parents, your own health, etc. and you are hard on your spouse for not giving you enough support and help. In turn, your spouse gets defensive and you end up arguing and fighting endlessly. Or vice versa, it is your spouse who is under a lot of stress and they demand a lot from you in return. In the most critical of situations, you both have been under a lot of stress and you both are unfairly hard on each other.

When contemplating how to save your marriage from heavy-stress situations of this nature, you need to take this into consideration and look for some stress-relieving initiatives.

The Action Plan

Get Some Help

This is the first thing that you need to do. What do you think is the most common reason for divorce? Many people think that it is infidelity. However, research shows that the chief problem married people face in a long-term relationship is miscommunication. After years of not listening to each other’s needs and not responding to each other’s requests, spouses find themselves “growing out” of the relationship. Thus, a lack of interest, care, and consideration for one another is the most common reason for divorce.

If you find yourself in such a situation, it is rather difficult to get out without professional help. Each of you is enclosed in your own pain from not getting support and understanding from your spouse. Each of you is likely to have a blind spot on some issues; an outside, non-partisan mediator is able to assist by elucidating these issues.

The greatest aspect of having a marriage counselor is that they are objective. They are not going to be on someone’s side. Very often many men oppose the idea of getting marriage counseling primarily because they are afraid that they will be put on the spot and grilled by their wives and counselors. However, the goal of a marriage counselor is to help couples see each other’s perspective, learn skills, and acquire tools to communicate more effectively.

By teaching you skills to address your marital issues, a good marriage counselor can help you and your partner heal the marriage faster than you can do it on your own.

Take Better Care of Yourself

Rectifying communication mistakes and learning new skills takes a while. In the meantime, you can address the issue of your failing marriage from another side – taking better care of yourself.

It is eminently likely that you are not in the best shape at the moment. If it has been a while since the last time you hit the gym or the soccer field, it is time to do that now. It is high time to put some healthy lifestyle routines in place.

Obviously, our partners do not leave us just because we’ve let ourselves go, but a careless attitude towards one’s appearance usually comes hand in hand with other symptoms: losing interest in the partner and in sex, feeling depressed and losing interest in life in general. On the whole, when people take care of their looks and like their physical bodies, they enjoy their life more and it is easier to communicate with them.

Thus, taking care of your outer shell is as much for yourself as it is for your partner. You will feel better and more energized. Taking pleasure from the feelings of strength and agility in your body will translate into a greater feeling of well-being.

Additionally, starting healthy habits can become a common interest for you and your spouse. If you find yourself unable to reconnect on any subject apart from your children, then workout routines, exercising and eating healthy foods can become bonding experiences of sorts.

If, however, your partner hates the idea, do not get discouraged. Work out and take better care of yourself in order to feel healthier and more attractive.

Define Your Issues

Psychologist Dr. John Gottman explains that conflicts in a couple can be roughly divided into solvable and unsolvable. Only 30 percent of conflicts can be solved. 70 percent of marital issues are unsolvable by nature. For example, one of the spouses wants to have children while the other is infertile or insistent on living childfree.

However, if the couples fix at least one-third of their issues, they will get a rather harmonious relationship. First, you need to identify which of your issues, desires and dreams are indispensable. For example, you are not going to negotiate about having children, a house, and taking care of your parents. Second, you should identify your areas of flexibility. For example, you want to have children but don’t mind adopting if your partner is infertile.

If, however, you find an issue that neither you nor your spouse can budge on, you will be more ready to accept a divorce if it comes to it.

Give, Even If Your Spouse Does not Do Their Share

We are all driven by the power of our attitudes and thinking patterns. One of many unspoken rules is that obligations in marriage should be equally distributed. Therefore, when we see that our partner is not doing their share and isn’t caring as much for us, we dial down our level of care accordingly.

We are all driven by the power of our attitudes and thinking patterns. One of many unspoken rules is that obligations in marriage should be equally distributed. Therefore, when we see that our partner is not doing their share and isn’t caring as much for us, we dial down our level of care accordingly.

However, there is a vast area of shared duties that have to be done regardless of what you think about each other. Even if you hate your spouse at the moment, your children and pets must be fed and taken for a walk, the plants must be watered, rooms must be cleaned and bills must be paid.

By doing your share, you can be the first one to break the cycle of hurt and resentment. If you see that your partner is doing nothing good for you, be the first to start doing good things for them, and also for yourself. Do not “keep score” of who’s done what for whom, but view your relationship as a breathing creature that you nurture and keep alive.

This must not result, however, in you taking on a load of domestic chores and parenting duties. The focus must be on constructing a situation where both partners are committed to making their marriage work. If your spouse is noncompliant, you can set a limit for how much you’re willing to endure, but do not let things stretch out for years. Set a reasonable deadline of 2 to 6 months and see where it takes you.

Stay Involved with Your Spouse

Sometimes ‘the brink of divorce’ can manifest itself as separation. Even if you are separate from your spouse but you are contemplating potentially getting back together, you should stay involved with each other. A lot depends on the state of your relationship at the moment of separation, but children remain your ‘common area’ in any case.

Putting your romantic connection aside, focus on remaining a family at least in the most basic sense. Attend birthday parties together, have family outings, take your children to the cinema and have dinners together. Overall, do things as a family.

Whatever your decision regarding your personal relationship will be, your children are a priority, so remain committed to raising your children together.

Change Yourself Rather Than Your Partner

The attitude ‘Why Don’t You...?’ can bring about a lot of trouble in a relationship. When we think that we can change other people’s behavior, we unknowingly step onto that other person’s territory. You can control your life, but you cannot control your spouse.

After years of living together, married people have a list of things they would like their partners to stop doing. From ‘stop doing your reports and come to bed with me’ to ‘stop zoning out on your phone,’ some people continuously believe that their nagging will help their partner get rid of nasty habits. Unfortunately, it tends to produce the opposite effect. It highlights the worst aspects of the relationship while obscuring the best.

Therefore, you’re better off not bossing your partner around, and instead focusing on what you can control – yourself. Once you relax, you will see and feel that your relationship has become better.

Get To Know Each Other Better

One of the causes of miscommunication in a couple is poor knowledge of each other. You might be surprised how this is possible, given that you’ve lived together for a long time. However, knowledge of each other does not depend on the number of years you have been married.

You may have gotten married in a hurry because you got pregnant. Then you got so caught up in the daily grind of raising children and building careers that you had no time to catch up and follow each other’s personal growth.

Furthermore, there are a number of people who got married in a rather immature state of mind, where they could not distinguish their own desires and intentions from those of their partner. Eventually, they discover that they hardly know the person they’re living with. In addition, both partners are likely to change in some aspects over time.

All in all, after years of family life it is rewarding to see your partner through a new lens. First of all, you can do this with the assistance of your therapist. Next, you can do it through games that you can share with your children too.

Finally, you can do it through questions. Pick a night when you are relaxed and no one is bothering you, and ask each other a set of questions. Your answers should be honest and thoughtful.

Start with something light and easy:

  • How did you feel when X person cheated in that game we played?
  • Which is most important to you – good looks or intelligence?
  • Are you more of a spontaneous person or a planner?
  • Tell me three things about yourself that I don’t know.
  • What is that one quality that you simply adore about me?

What is that one quality that you simply adore about me?

  • What’s the greatest fear that you have?
  • What is that one thing that irritates you and you want me to change for better?
  • How do you want me to express my love for you?
  • Do you want me to buy you a gift or do you want me to express my feelings through words and touch?
  • Am I able to meet your emotional requirements and desires?
  • Do you have any regrets?

In the course of the game, you will come up with your own, more relevant questions.

You will probably be surprised by some answers. Also, you will see that what you may have previously seen as irreconcilable differences have in fact turned into opportunities to learn new things about each other and bond on a new level.

The Importance of Daily Moments

Dr. Gottman argues that marital satisfaction can be predicted by humor and positive affect during conflicts and daily interaction. Observing married couples for many years, Gottman and his colleagues found out that there is a correlation between a) positive emotions the spouses demonstrate throughout the day to each other and b) the stability and well-being of their union.

Apart from large, significant events, such as buying a house, having a baby, and getting a promotion, which bring joy, happiness, and connection, married couples also find themselves positively affected by unremarkable and mundane events. A string of insignificant but pleasant things builds contentment in spouses over days and weeks.

For example, the husband says, “My mother called,” and the wife responds in a positive manner that leads to a little banter about, for example, the mother and the weekend. The content of these positive events does not actually matter in the couple’s life, but it produces a reassuring effect on their relationship where they both feel connected and supported.

As a result, Dr. Gottman remarks that the cumulative effect of daily interaction between spouses has a positive effect on both their dispute level and romanticism as a couple. For example, if one of the spouses ignores the other throughout the week, one romantic dinner is unable to fix the damage and erase the feeling of being unattractive and unwanted. However, if the spouses had been kind and caring to each other throughout the day/week, each would be more enthusiastic to solve their issues and more affectionate to each other during marital conflict.

On the one hand, knowledge of these behavioral patterns should help both therapists and couples know which factors determine the longevity of a marriage. On the other hand, it is impossible for a distressed couple to willingly increase the positive affect that they feel. It is difficult to do intentionally, as it has to come from inside. We all know happiness can be faked in words and smiles, but negativity tends to leak out through non-verbal means.

Given that instructions to “just act positively” do not generally work, try the “Caring Days” exercise. It will increase the quantity of positive interactions between you.

Choose a “caring day” during which you will remember to do as many positive things towards your spouse as possible. The next day your spouse does the same. The idea is to act towards your partner in a positive manner so that they feel supported. Try to do what your spouse really appreciates; for example, buy the brand of cheese they love, remember to do the dishes immediately, send messages of support throughout the day, put the children to bed, buy flowers or let your partner choose a TV show to watch together. This exercise will orient you on small interactions in the couple, and you should find it easier to deal with major interactions and conflicts as a result.

Tone of Voice

One’s tone of voice is also extremely important. When you start getting your marriage back on track, the tone of your voice can actually undermine many of your positive endeavors. You might intend to say pleasant words to your spouse, but they do not elicit the reaction you expected. The tone of your voice can be the culprit, making you sound condescending and disrespectful.

Simply pay attention not only to what you say but also to the way you say it. By speaking in a respectful tone of voice to one another, you send a signal that you appreciate and value each other.

Trust Issues

Many couples struggle with trust issues to the point that it turns into a vicious circle, where each spouse accuses the other of not trusting them while in fact, each member has trust issues. If you are the one lamenting ‘Why don’t you trust me?’ check your own attitude first. Do you fully trust your spouse?

Once you start trusting your spouse more, you will see that the dynamics in your couple will begin to change. Always remember that you are in a better position to demand things from yourself rather than from your partner. Keep working on yourself!

Some Afterthought

FOMO

Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO) is an important aspect of today’s divorces. FOMO has been linked to the phenomenon of ‘dating purgatory’, in which people have short relationship after short relationship. They don’t want to settle down because online dating provides the allure of choice, and they do not want to deal with hardships of a committed relationship while they can have fun by constantly changing partners.

Technology and social media have impacted marriage as well. In the heat of the moment you think, ‘Why on earth should I make the effort to save my marriage? I can get instant gratification by downloading an app and going on a new date each night!’ Seeing other people having fun and enjoying their life may create the illusion that your marital issues are keeping you down and that you’re missing out on a good life.

You may fear and even anticipate a divorce because of all the prospects it will seemingly grant you. Maybe you got married young and regretted missing out on typical experiences of people in their 20s. Maybe you have been so fed up with your miscommunication and emotional disconnect with your spouse that you’ve almost lost all hope, and believe that only a relationship with a new person can be an answer.

However, what you should understand about FOMO is that it is basically a kind of envy; you think that the grass is greener on the other side of the lawn and you are confident that you can have it too. Meanwhile, having casual sex and hanging out with new people is not everyone’s idea of a happy and fulfilled life. Many people report that they miss the intimacy and connection they used to have in a stable relationship. It is ironic that after a couple has lost intimacy and connection in their married life, it is still a challenge for them to find it in single life.

Given that it takes time and shared experiences to develop a bond and feel connected to each other, we recommend first trying to rekindle things with your partner of many years before you give it a shot with strangers.

Give Yourself Time

If one of you thinks that a divorce is a 100 percent good decision for you, this is a sure sign that you have not thought things through. Marriage is complex and complicated, as two people are closely tied by personal connections with friends and relatives, and by daily affairs regarding shared children, real estate, business ventures, etc. It is not that easy to just separate and cut another person from your life. Therefore, it is always a good idea to give yourself and your spouse a lot of time (at least six months to a year) to think it over.

Similarly, when you started working on your marriage, do not expect any quick results. The fact that you and/or your spouse has attended a therapist does not automatically mean a quick fix is in the cards. Neither your marriage nor your spouse, nor even you can be ‘fixed’ quickly.

If it took you your whole married life to develop certain behavioral patterns that led you to the state you are now in, it will take a reasonable amount of time for you to adjust to new modes of communication. Cherish your small mutual victories and get ready for the long haul.

If you have doubts about whether you will succeed in saving your marriage, you are right that no one can give you a 100 percent guarantee. However, it’s worth taking time to work through your issues and see how that goes. Even if you eventually decide to divorce, you both will know that you did what you could to save your marriage, and now you can go your way with a light heart.

Even if you think that you’ve exhausted your imagination trying to come up with new ways reawakening your dead marriage, you most certainly have not. Usually, when couples do at least half of what is possible to save their union, it greatly improves their relationship. Therefore, do not rely on your imagination alone and find a good family therapist.

Conclusion

You have found yourself on the brink of divorce not instantly and without prior notice. A series of small events, decisions, and intentions brought you to the place you are now. Now, you need to make a series of small decisions in the direction of positive change that will help you reconnect with each other and reinvigorate the relationship.

By honestly outlining areas of tension, you will understand the plan of action. By keeping a positive outlook you will learn to see each other with new eyes.

Change for the better is possible. You just need to make a sincere effort.

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