Taken from the series — When Your Marriage Needs Help/Focus on the Family Is My Marriage Worth Saving?
Without a doubt, your marriage is worth saving!
Though all marriages can’t be saved, divorce does not typically solve personal or relational dysfunctions. For couples with children, it is important to understand that research validates the fact that most children do not want their parents to divorce, in spite of their parents’ arguments and basic problems. In fact, one of the number one fears of children in the United States, ages 4 to 16, is the fear that their parents will divorce.
Dr. Judith Wallerstein, a psychologist and one of the nation’s premier divorce researchers, conducted a 25-year research study following 131 children of divorce. She states:
Twenty-five years after their parents’ divorce, children remembered loneliness, fear and terror! Adults like to believe that children are aware of their parents’ unhappiness, expect the divorce and are relieved when it happens. However, that is a myth; and what children actually conclude is if one parent can leave another, then they both could leave me. As a society we like to think that divorce is a transient grief, a minor upheaval in a child’s life. This is also a myth; and as divorcing parents go through transition, their children live in transition.
Dr. John Gottman provides interesting research findings that suggest why it is important to save your marriage. He states, “The chance of a first marriage ending in divorce over a 40-year period is 67 percent. Half of all divorces will occur in the first seven years. The divorce rate for second marriages is as much as 10 percent higher than for first-timers.”
He goes on to explain:
Numerous research projects show that happily married couples have a far lower rate for physical problems such as high blood pressure, heart disease, anxiety, depression, psychosis, addictions, etc. and live four years longer than people who end their marriages. The chance of getting divorced remains so high that it makes sense for all married couples to put extra effort into their marriages to keep them strong.
According to a national study (the National Fatherhood Initiative Marriage Survey), more than three-fifths of divorced Americans say they wish they or their spouses had worked harder to save their marriages (see fatherhood.org).
Findings from a study of unhappy marriages conducted by the Institute for American Values showed that there was no evidence that unhappily married adults who divorced were typically any happier than unhappily married people who stayed married. Even more dramatically, the researchers also found that two-thirds of unhappily married spouses who stayed together reported that their marriages were happy five years later.
When people hear about these findings, their response typically is:
All that research is well and good; but I have tried everything I know to do, and my spouse simply will not agree to get help. I have cried, begged, threatened and pleaded, but nothing works. So what do I do? I can’t do it on my own. There is nothing else I can do.
Maybe there is.
Schachter, Dr. Robert and Carole McCauley, When Your Child Is Afraid, (Simon and Schuster, 1988). ↩
Wallerstein, Judith, Julia M. Lewis and Sandra Blakeslee, The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce – The 25 Year Landmark Study, (Hyperion Publishers, 2000). ↩
The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work (Three Rivers Press, 1999). ↩
“Does Divorce Make People Happy?” (Institute for American Values, 2002). ↩ When a Spouse Won’t Get Help
Three of the most common reasons one spouse gives the other for not seeking help in the marriage follow:
“We don’t have that kind of problem” or “Our problems are really not that bad.” That’s the denial response. The fact is, if your spouse requests counseling, your marriage is probably worse off than you think. Your spouse is apparently in enough pain to seek relief from it in some way. If your spouse is hurting to the point of taking this action, you need to join him or her in solving the problem. If your spouse has a problem, you have a problem.
“We can’t afford it.” Most Americans can afford whatever they really want. If we can afford cell phones, hobbies, cable TV, eating out, health club memberships, daily visits to Starbuck’s and designer clothes, we can afford marriage counseling or an intensive designed to save our marriage. A question to seriously consider is: “Can I/we afford not to go to counseling?” If you don’t go to counseling, what will be the outcome? Can you live for the rest of your married life with the outcome?
Another common reason your spouse might reject counseling is that he or she simply is not hurting as much as you are. Your spouse is not where you are on the pain scale. The typical response shown by the motivated spouse is a sense of frustration or unhealthy responses such as nagging, pouting, arguing, accusing, angry outbursts or simply being bitter. But unhealthy responses like these only cause wounds to deepen and the other spouse to move further away from the relationship. You can’t “nag” your spouse into getting help.
On the spiritual side, a possible factor that could prevent you or your spouse from getting needed help is pride. Many marriages are failing and are eventually destroyed because one or both partners are too prideful to admit that they have a problem and may be wrong. The same tenacity and stubbornness that often keeps a person in a marriage can lead to a level of pride that prevents that person from receiving the proper help when in trouble. If you think you are too proud to ask for help or feel too proud to face the embarrassment, you are too proud. Pride can stand in the way of progress like a sentry guarding a castle. Nothing can get past it or move beyond it.
One of the greatest things you can do for a troubled marriage is to be willing to say, “I’m wrong. I’m sorry and I realize this problem has a lot to do with me.” This attitude is the opposite of a prideful attitude. It says, “I know I must be willing to change if I expect my spouse to change. I will do whatever it takes to save and change my marriage.” This could mean committing time, money and energy to a counseling relationship that will hold you accountable for your growth and progress.
A heart dominated by pride says, “I would rather allow my marriage to die than admit I am wrong.” A heart driven by biblical love and commitment says:
I will do whatever it takes to salvage and rebuild my marriage. I will give up everything I own. I will change jobs. I will mortgage the house. I will do whatever it takes, because I know my marriage is that important to our children and our children’s children.
Can You Do It Alone?
What if one spouse is willing to go to counseling and the other is not? Should the willing spouse go to counseling or seek help without the other? In most cases, the answer is definitely yes. Your marriage can be helped immensely if you initiate change.
When one spouse stops trying to change his or her partner and stops pointing fingers, making accusations, and withholding affection and attention, the energy often shifts to self-improvement. When you make positive changes, it allows positive changes to occur in your spouse.
The fact is, you cannot change your spouse, but you can change yourself. Often the most obvious point of movement in a conflicted marriage is self-movement. Changes you make to improve yourself and marriage can effectively produce healthy responses in the other spouse.
Sometimes the best way to change your spouse is to model positive change in your own life. You can encourage your spouse to communicate better by learning to communicate better yourself. You can coach your spouse to respect you by respecting him or her first. You can teach your spouse to stop complaining with a bitter spirit by breaking a pattern of complaining and developing a new spirit.
Your husband or wife may not be willing to read books, go to seminars or go to counseling at this stage; but if you take the first step, your changes may positively influence him or her.
Think of your decision in practical economic terms. Ask yourself: If I take no course of action or even pursue divorce, how economically advantageous will that be? The cost of divorce in the United States can average anywhere from $10,000 to $20,000. A majority of couples who divorce find themselves living on half of their pre-divorce income. After divorce, many single women are forced to live below the poverty line while attempting to raise their children.
Divorce is not the answer to most problems. Divorce is not the best solution to being unhappy or unfulfilled. It typically creates more problems than you can ever imagine and will have a long-term effect on your children, as well as generations to come. Therefore, the question is: “Can you afford not to go to counseling?” From a practical standpoint, it may be like asking, “Should I have heart surgery if I know that I will die if I don’t have it?” If your doctor says you will live in pain the rest of your life or that you will die, can you afford not to have the surgery?
Common Mistakes in Approaching Your Spouse
Showing disrespect. As Sharon realized, you can’t change a person by tearing him or her down. There’s only one response for that kind of approach: negative. Think about it. How do you feel when others treat you disrespectfully? Does it make you want to do something for them? Does it make you want to show affection? No. Showing disrespect will only alienate your spouse to the idea of seeking help.
Losing control of your anger. Anger is often a way of punishing your spouse when he or she does not give you what you want. It’s not only ineffective in producing a long-term change in how your spouse behaves, it also destroys any threads of love or feelings that may still be evident. Sure, if your spouse doesn’t respond to your requests, the temptation exists to respond in anger; but if you don’t get the response you want, getting angry and sparking a heated argument won’t help.
Blaming your spouse. Don’t accuse or point fingers. Don’t resort to exaggerated or over-generalized language such as: “You always act like this! You never do what I ask you to do. You just don’t care anymore. It’s always your fault. You always do this or always do that.” That type of language isn’t valuable in solving the problem. It only creates more issues to deal with and more wounds to heal in the future. Approaching Your Spouse the Right Way
Begin by approaching your spouse at the right time and in the right manner. Choose a time when he or she is not distracted or too stressed or tired.
Approach your spouse in a non-confrontational manner. An angry tone of voice or condescending “parent to child” approach will only cause him or her to shut down.
Make sure you bring up the topic in a non-threatening way. If your communication pattern has digressed to the point that when you bring up this topic, your spouse becomes defensive and “blows up,” you may consider writing him or her a letter to be read when you are not present. This gives your spouse time to think about what was said and respond without all the emotions.
Don’t say, “You need counseling.” Recognize and admit that “we” have a problem, and it must be addressed as a team.
You may try statements like the following to encourage your mate to join you in getting help for your marriage:
I’m concerned that if we allow this problem to continue, it will only get worse. I can’t go on like we have been. I need the help more than anything. I know you are uncomfortable with this, but so am I. It’s embarrassing and even frightening to me. I realize, however, that if we keep doing the same things in our marriage, we’ll get the same results.
We need outside intervention and direction. It’s like being in a strange city and asking others for directions. Locals know the area. They know the correct path to take, and which roads are easy ones and which roads are dangerous and difficult. A trained Christian therapist knows the way around, has been trained and is capable of helping with issues and dangers that we can’t deal with on our own.
I know God wants us to do better in our marriage, and our children deserve a more stable home environment than this. It’s obvious that if we don’t get help, we are making the decision to continue in a painful marriage. I believe there is hope for us and it is possible to have a healthy marriage like we used to.
I love you with all my heart, but I am tired and need your help and support on this. If you won’t go for yourself, would you go with me? Let’s talk about it after dinner tonight.
These non-threatening approaches take some of the pressure and blame off the other partner. They typically open doors to the possibility of getting help instead of closing doors by using negative approaches.