At the beginning of every marriage is a sacred promise – to love and cherish your spouse, and to create something beautiful out of life together. You walked down the aisle full of faith and conviction that this was the person you were going to spend your life with. There was a sense of confidence. Life is hard – you knew that. But you had confidence that no matter what life threw at you, you were going to make it. And, more importantly, you were going to make it together.
But somewhere along the way, things didn’t go as planned.
The beginning of the end started slowly. At first you braced yourself and waited for it to pass. But days became months, and months became years, and suddenly you find yourself at the end of the road, wondering how to avoid the impending tragic finale.
There are no absolute rules on how to save your marriage from divorce. Each couple had walked down a different road towards the terrible place they end up at. The only way out is to backtrack on that same road and undo all the harms that had accumulated along the way. It is a difficult journey, and it takes a lot of strength, especially if you feel like you are the only one trying.
You may wonder if it is really possible to come back from such extremes, how to save a marriage on the brink of divorce, and whether it is too late.
You have not gotten a divorce, so it’s definitely not too late. Here are a few things to keep in mind to help you on that journey back.
One: it takes more than one word
Most marriages are based on a very simple and beautiful idea of finding The One. So it seems intuitive for many to believe that the answer to their prayer for marriage healing should be something equally simple, noble and elegant. Spiritual approaches tend to boil the issue down to single words. Sometimes it’s “love”. Other times it’s “faith”. These simple ideas appeal to our spirits, because we like to believe ourselves capable of better, higher modes of love.
Unfortunately, this approach is so vague that it is rarely helpful. People advise you to “love” more, to accept your partner’s flaws and take the bad with the good. In reality, it’s likely that you’ve tried all those things: letting things slide, compromising. But in the end you still feel trapped, unhappy, and unheard. Hurt feelings soon turn to resentment and bitterness.
“Faith” doesn’t fare much better. You’ve been told to have faith in your relationship and that your partner loves you, but when everyday evidence seems to suggest otherwise, despair sets in.
This is when the word divorce pops up. The first time it does it alarms you. But when you feel like you’ve exhausted every other option, it starts to become the inevitable answer.
At this point, if you really need a simple word, that word would be courage. No, courage will not solve your issues. Courage has no answers as to how to fix a broken marriage. But failure to grasp the complexity of your unique situation as a couple is often one main cause of marriage failure. And to tackle that complexity requires a tremendous amount of courage.
You need courage to accept that you are part of that problem, to face your own expectations and selfishness, and to open your eyes to really look at your partner’s expectations and selfishness.
Then, you need the courage to do whatever it takes to make your marriage work again.
Two: understand the meaning of ‘whatever it takes’
Modern techniques emphasize communication, so perhaps you have tried that. Perhaps you’ve even tried devising new communication strategies to use, and considers questions like “Should we make a list of do’s and don’ts for each other?”, “Should I try to write a letter to my husband to save our marriage?” or “Should I keep telling my wife I love her even in the heat of the argument?”
The real problem is usually not communication. Sometimes you know exactly what your partner is asking for, but it feels like they are expecting you to give up part of your dignity as a human being, whether that is autonomy, freedom, or the right to be loved and treated well. Sometimes you are coming from such different places with gaps so wide no communication can bridge.
Imagine both of you as speakers of different languages. You share a lot of mutual vocabulary and have a co-written dictionary that allows you to communicate fairly well. But at times the dictionary is unable to convey deeper connotations associated with your particular language, especially things that are tied to values, beliefs and deep-seated fears. Sometimes you don’t even know your words have those connotations yourself. Friction comes from these unknown connotations. Communication strategies usually only alleviate symptoms and help you get past conflicts quicker or avoid them. They don’t address the root causes.
In fixing a broken marriage, doing what it takes does not mean strictly following written rules or yielding to demands by trying to be more giving. Doing what it takes means being willing to get down and dirty with your marriage, and tackling its complexity head-on.
Three: plunge into the complexity of your situation
One of the most clichéd responses to questions about your relationship is “It’s complicated.” Well, most of the time, it really is! No two relationships are identical, which is why the method you must use to save your marriage must be uniquely yours.
Commitment to embrace complexity is commitment to understand your situation in and out. Even if you feel like you have a fairly reasonable grasp of what your situation is like, you probably don’t. Otherwise the path of action ahead of you would be very clear: either to marriage restoration or separation. When you are stuck in the middle trying to figure out ways to save your marriage, it usually means there is something fundamental about your situation that you don’t fully understand.
The human mind can be sloppy when dealing with complexity, so we must learn to become scientists. Scientists work with data collected from observation. In your daily situation, you need to start learning to observe yourself as a core participant in your marital problems. Watch and record the facts. Once we have enough data, we can then analyze them.
A question you may have right now is “What will I find? What does the answer look like?” The answer is: no one knows! One thing for sure is that when you start collecting data, a noticeable pattern will soon emerge. Make notes of those patterns, and keep going.
The thing to remember is that only you have the power have to understand the unique challenges of your own marriage situation.
Four: get yourself the right tools to start with
Ok, how do we even start?
To do anything effectively we need concrete tools. Experts have developed all sorts of tools to help you. Just like medicine, some will work, and some will not.
No one can tell you what specific tools you need to save your marriage, or what tools will allow you to gain insight into your complex situation. So, like scientists, it is your job to keep trying out different methods until you find one that works for you. Once you identify the first step of the problem, it is easier and easier to see specific actions to take. For some couples, it’s mindfulness. For some couples, it’s asking the correct questions. For some couples, it’s something completely unexpected, like time management.
One thing to remember is that most of the tools you find will be techniques, not answers. They will not solve the problems. Your real job is to objectively observe your and your partner’s reactions when using them, and wait for the understanding to emerge.
Eventually, it’s not enough to figure out how to save your marriage from divorce. It’s how to go even further, from simply agreeing to be together into real marital bliss. Check for more detail about Save The Marriage System.