Rescued Marriages: Exhausting Every Remedy

In the book we provide 10 questions which may help you and your spouse break through the problems that divide you. You will see that these remedies did help for couples whose marriages we describe, couples who rescued their marriages and brought them back from the brink. The remedies require change on your part as well as your spouse’s. Truth in disputes between couples most often lies in between both people’s points of view. Here are a couple of the questions and how they helped save the marriages we describe.

  1. Have I let my spouse know how serious my level of discontent is and that I am close to   a breaking point, close to a divorce?

Many spouses find it inconceivable that their partner would divorce them. Your partner may see you as all bark, but no bite. Until your partner knows how serious you are, that you really will leave him if things continue as they are, until he really gets it, you don’t have much leverage to motivate change. Tell your partner how serious you are. Don’t be afraid to “fight for the relationship.”

Speaking up doesn’t mean giving your partner a laundry list of your complaints. This is only likely to alienate him further. “You always . . .” and “You never . . .” are harsh, sweeping judgments that are likely to make your partner defensive. Pick one thing to talk about, something that you believe your partner could work on, and might agree to under the right circumstances.

Most issues have two sides. Seeking a negotiated agreement, in which each of you gives something of importance to the other, is likely to create an enduring and motivated solution.

No matter how distasteful it may seem to you, accept that at least some of what your spouse is saying to you is accurate. If you give some, you are more likely to get something back. Emily is doing that and seems to be succeeding. Her husband has said that she doesn’t stand up to him enough. It was true, and he was getting more and more disrespectful toward her as a result. Lately she makes him deliver on his agreement with her to clean up the dishes at the end of a meal, not leave them until the next day, which drives her crazy. She insists that he spend time with her if she goes with him to one of his business functions. She has spent years sulking after standing around watching him flirt with his vendors and leaving her to her own devices in situations where she hardly knows a soul. Now she doesn’t sulk; she fights back. Part of him doesn’t like what she is doing. He gets angry at her, but she reminds him that this was what he said he wanted—for her to stand up to him more. She has upset the status quo. Sometimes, she says, they are now closer than ever. Sometimes they are hardly talking, but she finally has hope, because she meant it when she said that if things didn’t change, she was going to leave. He grasps the seriousness of her intent, and he’s responding.

2.  Have I tried self-improvement that would matter to my spouse?

Have I tried going along with some of my spouse’s insistent requests of me?

We spoke earlier about delayed compliance. Many times our spouse is the first person to identify an area of our behavior that really needs to change. Usually, we resist this furiously, because who wants to admit that some aspect of our behavior needs modification? It is especially difficult to accept this feedback if we are already having difficulties in our marriage. If we can listen and commit to working on changing, it can save a marriage. It’s a pity that people so often make these changes only after a divorce. Perhaps the divorce would not have been necessary if the change had come sooner.

Shawn’s wife, Andrea, was never fond of him being a “control freak,” but it really came to a head after they had their little boy. As far as she was concerned, it was ridiculous that he was micromanaging every move she made with the baby—how to hold him, how to nurse him, how to fasten the diaper properly, how to burp him, how to put him to sleep. Shawn had already had some of these control issues at work with colleagues and subordinates, so he knew this was a tendency of his. After he and Andrea repeatedly argued about his interference, she started to withdraw from him. In therapy, he was able to accept that he was alienating and undermining his wife, a new mother, whom he loved. He started working hard to change. He learned to keep his mouth shut and let her be the expert most of the time. Their arguing declined dramatically.

Drew and Ilene were going through a very rough patch in their marriage. Ilene found a lot of Drew’s behavior toward his career, and toward life in general, too passive. One symptom of Drew’s passivity was his almost daily use of marijuana. He’d come home from work and no matter what else was going on, he’d have to first smoke. To Ilene, smoking marijuana made Drew remote and even more passive. Instead of talking about all her feelings about Drew’s passivity, Ilene singled out the marijuana issue to address. It wasn’t easy. She anticipated that he’d be defensive and angry, which he was. In several very frank, sometimes heated, discussions, spread over a couple of months, she said that the remoteness she felt when he smoked was hurtful to her and that it made her feel lonely and uncared for.

Drew protested that Ilene was doing things that made him feel lonely and uncared for as well. Specifically, she sometimes flirted with men, especially in social gatherings, but he thought at her job as well. What started as Ilene’s gripe against Drew evolved into a negotiation. Although Ilene was initially defensive, she wisely realized that she was not blameless. With these kinds of issues, each member of the couple usually shares some of the responsibility. Most issues have two sides. Seeking a negotiated agreement in which each of you gives something of importance to the other is likely to create an enduring and motivated solution. Sadly, the first reaction of too many people is to defend themselves against any request for change from their mate rather than remaining open enough to at least weigh the potential benefits to the marriage of meeting the request. Both Drew and Ilene were doing things without realizing it was hurtful and upsetting to the other. Over time, first Drew agreed to give up his beloved marijuana. Gradually, Ilene became more and more careful about her behavior and her flirtations, reduced the frequency of her flirting, and ultimately stopped the behavior altogether.

Excerpted from Chapter 17

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