I am often asked by couples whether or not their marriage can be saved, and find myself explaining how it is is all dependent on various factors. When a couple starts marital therapy, they have, by this time, exhausted their efforts, had circular conversations that are rarely resolved, and feel like they are at the end of their rope. And, more often than not, they usually are. Couples seek marital counseling after waiting – on average – seven years of relationship strife. That’s a long time period of bad feelings. Putting things back together after such an extended period of unhappiness is hard; it takes a lot of energy to pivot and change course. However, many couples are able to do just that.
One Couples Renewal to Marriage
Melanie* and Ron* have been married for 15 years and have two children, ages 13 and 9. They dated for two years before becoming engaged. They married 1 year later. They didn’t have as much married time without children as they had hoped, but were happy when their first child was born. Their second child was born 4 years later. They both worked full time outside the home and were not only dedicated to their family, but to their careers. Melanie took 2 months of maternity leave but was anxious to return to work, as they needed both incomes to maintain their household. As the business part of marriage took over, the intimacy and together time took a back seat. Although they both were aware this was happening and had some brief conversations about this, not much was done to repair the rift or the slow burn of their marriage. This continued for several years.
They started to argue more over the nuances within their marriage. However, underneath those arguments, something more destructive was happening – the ultimate crumbling of their marriage. As they started to uncouple, they grew further apart. In their frustration, they started to throw out the ‘D’ word with a threatening tone. After a very bad argument, Ron decided to move out. He didn’t know what else to do. The move wasn’t made as a threat, but he felt that something needed to change. Melanie was heartbroken and she, too, felt that their marriage couldn’t be saved. She believed, as Ron did, that this was truly the beginning of the end. After a month of separation and very little conversation, they knew they had to pick a path because it wasn’t working this way either. They decided on couples counseling to see if they could repair their marriage after so many years of strife. They both had their doubts.
Melanie and Ron are similar to many couples who face the same scenario. Although it was very difficult in the beginning – as it usually always is – for everyone, myself included. This is because sitting across from them you truly forces you to feel their pain. Their pain is magnified because you understand they want the pain to go away quickly – but we all know that it doesn’t work that way, or at least not as quickly as they would like it to. It is important to go through the process of helping them sit through their pain as they learn how to address and talk about issues very differently. There is a lot of work that needs to be done to get them back on a healthy path.
Here is how you can make progress to re-kindle and repair your relationship, as Melanie and Ron did:
1.) They each provided areas of conflict that they felt were not resolved. They both were able to share why they felt these disagreements were not resolvable, how important it was for each person to resolve them, and what those resolutions would look like. Mostly they just wanted to be heard and understood. When a person doesn’t feel that the most important person in their life is available for them and understands them, the conversation goes in the wrong direction. Couples cannot resolve issues when they are missing this true point.
2.) Engaging in active listening involves hearing and responding to an underlying attachment need. This is often missed, as the other person hears criticism or a critical voice and misses the message. Responding in this way helps move the relationship to a deeper connection where each person feels validated, cared for, and working together to repair hurts as a team. They don’t feel alone.
3.) We focused less on a designated ‘talk time’ and focus more on the moments, the nuances, and the space between where the relationship thrives the most. The emotions and interactions share between two people creates a healthy and long lasting relationship.
4.) I helped them revert back to the ‘couplehood’ of their relationship – the foundation that has created their amazing family. They were both able to share what they would like this to look like, how they visualized they wanted this to be. Having the space to share and each person open to hearing, validating, understanding, and considering how this might look. This created a different and healthier path that allowed them to work together to come up with a plan that honored each person.
Nine months later, and after a lot of hard work, they continue to fine tune their marriage. We now meet monthly to keep them on track and moving in a positive direction.
*names have been changed.