When your marriage is struggling, you first need to stop the negativity and criticism of you spouse and marriage. Next you need to drop the idea of divorce and the blame game.
Our natural instincts when things get tough seem to be either point the finger or run away. In school there was a teacher who would always say to someone who pointed, “You know that when you point, there is one finger pointing at the other person but three pointing back at you.” It always annoyed me for some reason, but it’s true. When things get tough we want to start blaming the other person. “It’s all their fault, I have done everything I can possibly do to make this marriage work.” “They are the problem.” In fact, most couples who actually agree to go see a therapist start out wanting the other person fixed. The truth of the matter is that both people are human, and two people always play their separate parts in a troubled marriage. Regardless of the situation, each of you are contributors to the problem whether you realize it, believe it, or not. Something that is absolutely essential to turning a marriage around and making any relationship a healthy one is to accept personal responsibility! That’s right, start by acknowledging that you play a part in what’s happening. No matter how big or small your part is, you are still playing one. Most likely your spouse thinks you are the entire problem, which is why you both have to realize that you have responsibility in the situation and are just disconnecting somewhere. Listening becomes a huge factor here because our spouses communicate what they are feeling and perceiving to us, but sometimes we aren’t even trying to hear what they are saying. Slow down and try to let your spouse let you know what he/she is feeling, thinking, and seeing. It might seem way off to you, but it doesn’t change the fact that that’s how he/she is feeling and perceiving things. Try to acknowledge and validate their feelings and what they are saying before jumping on the defense. After acknowledging and validating them, you can try and explain where you are coming from and try to help them understand what you are feeling, thinking, and perceiving. We all filter things differently based on a lot of factors (our families, previous relationships, experiences in life, etc.), so often marital problems are one big misunderstanding. We have to learn to hear where our spouse is coming from, acknowledge & validate them, and then lovingly explain ourselves.
The second thing people want to do when the going gets tough is to just get going…out the door. People think that divorce is the quick and easy solution. “We just fell out of love.” “We are just too different.” “People change.” “We are just beyond repair.” DIVORCE IS NOT THE EASY SOLUTION!!! I cannot express that enough! I have heard time and time again from those who have gone through divorces that it is so much more painful, your ex is always a part of your life (especially when kids are involved), it’s awkward, it’s expensive, the grass is definitely not greener on the other side, and everyone is affected. Divorce is anything but an easy solution. It’s a painful one that leaves a life-long trail of pain and devastation. Statistics speak loud and clear about the far-reaching negative effects of divorce. Don’t believe me? Look at the people around you who have gotten a divorce, they are never better off and neither are their kids (let alone friends and families). (I wrote a whole series on the effects of divorce if you would like more details about it – http://littlewifey.com/blog/the-last-straw-a-look-at-divorce/10/14/2009/. If you search for “The Last Straw,” you can find the whole series.) Drop the idea that divorce is an option. It’s one of the best things you and your spouse can do for your marriage. If you give yourself that escape, you will use it at one point or another, which is why it’s so important to not even give yourself that option. Once you take divorce out of the equation, you can get down to business and start working through your issues.
One other thing that becomes huge in this phase is seeking forgiveness from your spouse. When we accept personal responsibility and start listening to our spouse, we realize that there is a need to acknowledge our shortcomings and ask our spouse for forgiveness. Yes, that means saying, “I’m sorry,” and meaning it. Marriage is about 2 people giving their all and doing their best to have the greatest relationship possible. The reality though is that we all mess up even when we don’t mean to or realize it. We give ourselves the benefit of the doubt because we know we love our spouse and are doing our best. They think that too though, believe it or not. Sometimes realizing that we fall short whether we mean to or not and sometimes we may hurt our spouse whether we mean to or not can help lead us to an attitude of humility. That attitude of humility helps us to apologize for those shortcomings and keep on trying. Coming before your spouse with humility will almost always produce a positive result.
Drop the possibility for divorce and pointing the finger. Start accepting personal responsible. Start listening to your spouse. Start validating and acknowledging what he/she is feeling, thinking, and perceiving. Start saying you’re sorry. Start practicing an attitude of humility toward your spouse and marriage. You will see your marriage starting to move in the right direction.