Can the Marriage Be Saved?

Does anything you've read so far strike a chord for you? Probably, or you wouldn't be reading this book. When you're feeling low, it's easy to make a list of what's wrong in your marriage. So what should you do?

First, make a list of what's right in your marriage. What about the good times? What about the qualities that attracted you to your spouse in the first place? On a good day, are they still there? If good moments still happen in your marriage and there is no abuse, especially if you have children, you might consider giving the marriage one more try. If the list doesn't help, don't lose heart; there are other options out there.

Marriage Counseling

Your spouse is probably aware the marriage is in trouble, but that's not always the case. If you tell your spouse you're unhappy, he may or may not be surprised. You need to have a talk at a time when neither of you is angry or upset. Send the children off to Grandma or to the neighbors, have a relaxing dinner, and afterward raise some of your concerns. When it feels like the appropriate time, tell your spouse what's troubling you.

With any luck, your spouse will agree to go to marriage counseling. If you choose counseling, you should both make a commitment to give it a real try. Don't use marriage counseling as a way to tell your spouse the marriage is over. You'll need to put your energies into learning new ways to deal with each other and unlearning old ways that have been destructive. This is hard work. It's too easy to give up when you aren't really committed to saving the marriage.

You can pursue marriage counseling even after you begin a divorce, as long as both of you want to do so. Most courts are willing to grant an adjournment while the parties seek counseling. In some cases, time limits may prevent lengthy adjournments, so consult with your lawyer to discuss your options. The most important thing is saving your marriage if that is what you and your spouse want.

The purpose of counseling is to help spouses work together to solve problems and improve their relationship. It assumes that each partner is an equal in the relationship. If your spouse is abusive, do not consider marriage counseling. In an abusive marriage the abuser holds the power and control in the relationship. Counseling in this situation could result in increased abuse. If you decide to try counseling anyway, at least tell the counselor about the abuse so she is in a better position to help.

Finding a Marriage Counselor

Many communities have marriage counselors. How can you find the right one? Ask your friends, your pastor, priest, rabbi, or a friend who is also a divorce lawyer. If you can, it is always best to get a reference from someone you know who has used the counselor. If you are unable to get any referrals, try the Internet or directory assistance. Always be sure to check the counselor's qualifications. If cost is a concern, you may need to talk to your health insurance provider to see whether your insurance covers such counseling. If it does, you'll probably have to select a counselor from the provider's list.

Meet two or three times with the counselor you select. Do you feel comfortable with this person? Are you getting helpful feedback? Are you and your spouse able to discuss issues with the counselor's help? Does the counselor give you homework? Are you seeing any changes in how things are going at home? If you can answer “yes” to these questions, you're on the right track. If not, you may need to look for a different counselor.

Getting into Therapy

If your spouse refuses to go to marriage counseling, what can you do? You can go to counseling by yourself. You may find it very helpful to get a sense of what's going on with yourself before you tackle what's going on in your marriage. If your spouse won't go to marriage counseling, at least you can take care of yourself. Find a therapist.

Don't use your own therapist as a marriage counselor. Your spouse may be reluctant to do marriage counseling in the first place and is likely to see your therapist as someone who is biased in your favor. Besides, you don't want to compromise your relationship with your therapist by asking him to wear two hats. Get the names of some neutral, new therapists for marriage counseling.

The same rules apply here as for finding a marriage counselor. Get referrals. Meet with the therapist a few times. Make sure you're comfortable, and see whether you're making progress.

Your therapist may suggest participating in a group. It's often comforting to know you aren't the only one experiencing marriage problems. Sometimes hearing how others see you and your marriage provides useful information — and it can be a bit of a shock. You may hear that some of the problems are yours. This kind of feedback from people outside the marriage is often better received than when it comes from your spouse.

What a Therapist Can Do

A therapist can help you see the big picture. A divorce may sound like a way out, but maybe it's too drastic a remedy right now — like having major surgery when a little physical therapy would do the trick.

Sometimes a therapist will suggest making a list of your spouse's good points. When was the last time you thought about what you like about your spouse? What have you been doing to encourage these positive attributes? A therapist can also teach you how to talk to your spouse in a nonblaming way. Instead of saying, “You make me so mad when you come home late,” you can try to use what the therapists call “I” statements. You can say “I feel really sad (disappointed, worried) when I don't get to spend the evening with you.”

If you and the therapist work well together, chances are good you'll start to feel better about yourself. This may lead to feeling better about your marriage. However, it can also go the other way. Therapy may make it clearer that something in the marriage needs to change or you'll have to end the relationship. For example, addiction to alcohol, drugs, or gambling may be a major problem in the marriage. Use and abuse of money may also be a major problem. You can try to address these issues before taking the divorce plunge.

Treating Addictions

Your counselor may be able to help you or your spouse get into treatment for whatever addiction is affecting your family. Sometimes it works better to have this recommendation come from an outsider — a nonfamily member — than from a spouse. However, sometimes it takes an intervention of family and friends to get the dependent spouse into treatment.

What is an intervention? Typically it's three sessions with someone trained in this type of work. The first two meetings prepare concerned family and friends for the third meeting with the addicted person. At the third meeting, family and friends tell the addict their concerns about his behavior, hoping to persuade him to get help. Hopefully the addict does agree to treatment.

Managing Finances

Are finances your big problem? How about consulting a financial adviser?

Here again, outside advice often produces better results than arguing with your spouse about money. A financial adviser can help you set a budget, reorganize or consolidate debt, and stick to the plan. It's kind of like going to Weight Watchers; you need to check in regularly to review your spending habits until you're sure you can live within your incomes on your own.

Rarely is too much money the problem, although it has been known to happen. Usually the money available to your household doesn't meet your needs and desires, and debts keep growing. Sometimes bankruptcy is the only option, but be careful.

Debt management and financial planning are two different things. Debt managers help you consolidate your debt and pay it off in affordable monthly payments. If you choose this route, make sure you are using a legitimate debt consolidation provider. Financial planners help you develop an investment program. They charge a commission on the investments you make through them.

Helpful Resources Abound

If there's hope for the marriage, by all means first put your energies into trying to save it. All kinds of help are out there in your community. Check out local United Way agencies, Catholic Charities, Lutheran Brotherhood, Jewish Family and Children's Services, and your local county's social services. Ask the court for a referral to a mediator who can help you and your spouse resolve some of your differences.

If you can't save your marriage, then you may want to utilize the resources available to you to help you through the hard times. Psychologists who work with families going through divorce say most people need three years to complete the emotional divorce. To go through the process and emerge ready to begin anew means experiencing some enormous mental ups and downs. This is a bit easier when you ask for and accept outside help. A divorce isn't so different from a death in terms of adjustment stages people go through. Divorce is not to be entered into casually.

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