5 Moves To Raise your Marriage to New Heights
Let’s say your marriage has gone from ‘bliss’ to ‘okay’ to ‘beyond stressed’. Maybe you’ve even had that conversation with your partner, where you’ve said, “I can’t do this anymore!” If this is you, then you’ll probably agree that in your relationship, you’re just surviving.
In my divorce law practice, I regularly heard from clients who decided to end their ‘just surviving’ marriage.
Some Found the Reality of Divorce Disappointing
But typically, as my client was going through the divorce process, I would hear about how their divorce was different (sometimes oh-so-far different) from what they imagined while they were thinking and talking about separating. They struggled to come to terms with their post-divorce lifestyle and what it meant in terms of time with their kids. Beforehand, their ex said the kids would live with my client, but once the day of separation actually happened, reality settled in. Their ex had a change of mind.
Or their teenager decided to live with their ex and the law backed them up.
A common scenario was that their arguing after divorce became worse than they ever imagined. Parents decided to divorce to shield their kids from their conflict, but instead, the kids were more drawn in than ever as their parents intended to cooperate but all their frustrations and anger just leaked out.
For some, all this was further complicated by financial problems. I heard from women and men who were shocked with their financial picture as a couple once we had the bank statements and account summaries. They struggled to accept the perceived mismatch between their own concept of fairness and the support obligations enforced by law. My client felt that assets were being hidden. Their ex was willing to go to great lengths to cover up their business income. Or they just hadn’t been aware of the balances in their loan or credit card accounts, and how the law would divide them.
Maybe you’ve had some of these experiences before yourself, and you can relate. Whether through your own divorce or of someone close to you, you’ve probably witnessed a level of disappointment. I’ve certainly heard that from others. I’ve had clients who told me after the fact that “If I’d known then what I know now, I would’ve worked harder to save my marriage.”
That’s why, when I hear from someone who’s really struggling in their marriage and wondering whether leaving is their only real option, I advise them to go slow. To really examine their own role in their messy marriage, and to work on getting a clearer view of their options first.
It will most likely come as no surprise to you to hear a divorce attorney say that in some cases, a divorce or even temporary separation of the two adults is necessary to allow for healing for each family member involved. Safety for everyone involved is vital. You need help and you need a plan if your marriage has become harmful. If you’re not sure whether your marriage is harmful or unhappy, read more here.
Over a decade ago now, the relationship between my husband Carey and I was rough for long enough that we also entertained divorce. I wondered, “have I just signed up for a lifetime of misery?” and “is it even possible for me to ever be in love with Carey again?” One ill-fated date night, we had a blow-out argument that brought the matter to a head. Even though we were already involved in marriage counselling, we knew we needed to double down on an action plan or we would go our separate ways.
What I realized in that moment was that I didn’t really want to divorce. What I really wanted was for the painful version of our marriage to be gone. I was ready to discover what it would take to replace that painful version with something better. Fast forward over a decade later, and not only is this version of our marriage better, it’s a source of deep satisfaction and joy for both of us. We would have missed out on so much by walking away.
If you find yourself in the painful place where we were, or even if you’re simply unhappy, here are 5 moves to help with your own discovery process:
Make a pact with your partner to make your family zone more peaceful.
If you have kids, the concern that needs to be at the top of your mind is emotional safety for your kids. If the two of you are operating out of bitterness and resentment, or out of stony silence, for the well-being of your kids you need to figure out how to create more peace for their sake, sooner rather than later. Make a pact to keep re-forming your ways of doing conflict. Answer this: what would it take for us to air our differences with more kindness and respect? Because, to best mitigate the overall health risks to your kids from your (ahem, may I say it because I’ve been there myself…) own dysfunctional behaviours and those of your spouse, the time for peace is now.
Don’t miss this: in the course of pursuing more peace between you to help your kids, you may be surprised at how your marriage issues change for the better.In the course of pursuing more peace between you to help your kids, you may be surprised at how your marriage issues change for the better. Click To Tweet
Go online, or pick up the phone, and schedule that appointment.
I heard over and over again from clients who said they tried marriage counselling and it didn’t work. When I probed, what they meant was, they tried it once or twice. Or, they didn’t click with the counsellor they saw and decided it wasn’t for them. That’s like going to Taco Bell and deciding that eating out isn’t for you! Find a professional with great credentials who you personally like and trust, and go in with an open mind. Put their advice into practice, even when it’s hard.
Medical and mental health problems, left uncovered and un- or under-treated can wreak havoc on a relationship. Why resign yourself to it if there are other options? Avoid being passive about improving a health issue that, if resolved would make life so much better for you and those you do life with.
Getting out of a relationship rut always takes investments of time, energy, creativity and probably money. Make plans that include investing.
While you can read more about what the investments and solutions looked like for Carey and I in my book, Before You Split I’d like to highlight a real-life story told to me by a friend.
Dave told me about his co-worker and friend, Chris. Chris and his wife had 3 kids, all teenagers at that point. Their marriage had been troubled for some time, and after an argument over the phone, Chris slammed down the phone, exclaiming “That’s it! I’m getting a divorce!” After listening empathetically for a while, Dave pushed back. “Do you know what role you’re playing in this?” Chris objected to marriage counselling, saying that “It was like two against one. They ganged up on me.” Dave didn’t let Chris off the hook. “Your divorce will be a train wreck for your kids. Take it from me – I’ve been there. Go to a counsellor, and do the work of figuring out what you’re contributing to this mess.”
Along the way, Chris would sometimes grumble about the costs of counselling. Dave countered, “do you know how much a divorce would cost?”
Fast forward five years and yes, investments, Chris and his wife made it through their rough season. They were overjoyed about it. Chris tells people, with a huge smile on his face, “Dave saved my marriage.”
So, what about your story?
Work on noticing the positive qualities of your partner. Gratitude is powerful.
When you’ve hit a tough spot in your relationship, it’s harder to see the attributes that originally attracted you to him or her. Put your noticing into words, either in compliments or in writing. Challenge yourself to notice and even write down one thing about your spouse that is positive each day. Dispel the idea that you need to conjure up some positive emotions to do this. Write down something about your spouse that you’re grateful for once a day for a week, and then gift the list to your partner. It may bring more impact than you think, perhaps for your partner but certainly for you.
You need self-care. So does your spouse. Figure out ways to support each other.
I don’t need to tell you how foundational diet, sleep and exercise are to your emotional health and your capacity for self-control. Especially if you have kids, you’ll need a certain level of cooperation with each other in order to carve out the time for exercise, for example. Consider the time you allow yourself and the support (maybe even sacrifices) you offer your spouse as ways of enabling you to bring your best selves to solving your relational problems.
You and I know that I can’t make promises about the future direction of your marriage. What I can promise you, though, is that if you take these 5 steps seriously and act on them, you will improve the ways you show up in your relationship and in your life.