The word “divorce” is enough to send chills down your spine. No one expects to break the vows made on a wedding day of hopeful promises and wedded bliss but many marriages do ultimately end with lawyers, court hearings and negotiated paperwork that decides — among other things — who gets the dog. If you have reached the point where your only option is to continue the unhappiness of being with your spouse or ending the marriage, there might be more you will want to consider before coming to a final decision.
1. What Needs to Change?
If you are both willing, you and your spouse need to have a candid conversation to identify what’s missing. Try not to jump on abstractions like “I don’t feel loved.” Instead, list concrete reasons for your unhappiness. Your list might say, for example, that you need more childcare participation from your significant other, more intimacy or more quality time and less screen time. Being frank about what is missing early on is paramount, as most couples wait on average six years after problems arise before realizing their marriage is in trouble. After giving each other the opportunity to hear one another out, then ask yourselves if you could go on longer with new promises in place.
2. Communicate Effectively
Most people don’t come close to divorcing without trying to communicate what’s wrong, but with poor communication skills and the inability to find resolution, you might feel like there’s nothing left to talk about. If so, make an appointment with a marriage therapist who can suggest new and more effective ways to communicate. Open and honest conversation can foster the empathy you both need to steer the relationship to a better course. The professional might advise avoiding “you” statements, like “you never spend time with me,” and replacing them with “I” statements like “I want us to spend more time together.”
Also, make sure to listen. Let your spouse know you are open to suggestions and ideas. Remember that ultimatums usually don’t work and often result in more arguing.
3. What Can You Change?
You can’t force someone, even your spouse, to change. However, you can focus on what you can change. Your counselor may suggest a technique called “modeling,” in which you change your own behavior to show your spouse how he or she might also change. For example, if your spouse has always taken a backseat with childcare, you might try helping them with the lawn or budgeting to show initiative. Your effort models a significant lifestyle change that could trigger the reciprocal action you’ve been seeking, such as more hands on participating with co-parenting.
4. Avoid Distractions
Repairing a bad marriage tests your character, will and integrity. Ask if you aren’t seeing a future with your spouse because of sideline distractions – such as an inappropriate relationship that could jeopardize your marriage, a hobby that takes you away from the family or spouse bashing from friends and relatives. Other people may be excusing you from the marriage, but they don’t have to live with the finality of a signed divorce decree and the subsequent fallout to your children and bank account. Look away from what’s easing your pain and confront what’s really wrong.
5. Don’t Stay to Justify Leaving
Some people remain in a marriage after they have decided to leave just to confirm that the marriage must end. If you are provoking your spouse and starting arguments to collect examples of what’s wrong, try instead to improve the relationship. For example, create a neutral space in the house where arguing is not permitted. When tempers flare, go there for a time out. Also remember the old quip “the grass is always greener on the other side.” If you divorce, will things really be better? Consider that your imagination might be distorting reality.
6. Get help
There’s no question that marriage counseling can improve and revitalize your marriage. If your partner is resistant, meet with a counselor on your own first. With professional support, you’ll be better positioned to handle one of the most challenging times of your life with a few new coping techniques.
Ready to try? Contact the team at Couples Thrive to find out about counseling options that may help you with your relationship.