Can one spouse save a marriage? The short answer is yes. It can happen. It happens all the time. In fact, the reason that I take a “one spouse” approach in my practice is because I believe saving a marriage almost always starts with just one spouse.
Why? Because when a couple is in conflict, it’s nearly impossible to get them both in the same spirit of reconciliation at the same time.
One spouse is almost always more motivated to save the marriage.
That is especially so if the other spouse is having an affair and doesn’t want to end it, or if they’re involved with a “friend” who is on their way to becoming an affair partner.
Asking a spouse who is enjoying the effects of an extramarital affair or friendship to end it on their own and instead work on the marriage is, 99% of the time, as productive as banging your head against a brick wall. In the vast majority of cases I’ve seen, it is the other spouse (i.e. the betrayed spouse) who must prompt a change.
Whether it’s your partner’s affair, midlife crisis or apathy, stop banging your head against the wall!
The same thing goes for other situations, such as a spouse who is showing midlife crisis related behavior – withdrawing, becoming self-focused, blame-shifting, etc. – or who has simply become apathetic or critical about the marriage. This person just isn’t “there” yet. They aren’t ready – at that moment – to fight for the marriage.
I can tell you from my years in practice that most spouses who are dealing with an unfaithful or otherwise unmotivated partner wait far too long to get true help (asking friends for their opinion or surfing for free advice online doesn’t count). Instead of going “all in” and trying something new to save the marriage, they keep asking (or begging or threatening or demanding) their partner to make a change, to end their affair, to give a damn, to go to counseling, etc.
Be smart and spend your time wisely.
I cannot think of a worse way to spend your time when your marriage is in trouble. It’s like going skydiving and discovering that your parachute doesn’t want to open. If that happened, you wouldn’t just argue with your parachute and demand it to open, would you? You wouldn’t just wait to see what happened or hope for the best, would you? Of course not. You’d take the initiative and deploy the second parachute – the reserve – and land on your feet.
Five “Give This a Try” Tips:
So what tips can I give to save a marriage if you’re trying, but your spouse isn’t? Well, it largely depends on why the marriage is struggling in the first place: that’s why my programs are issue-specific. There is no “one size fits all” answer, there are no “3 secret steps.” You need to identify your issues, gain insight and employ new strategies. Yet there are a few things I can suggest you try, so I’ll present five very general tips here.
First, keep a good balance of ego-control and dignity. That is, be humble enough to take those first marriage-saving steps alone, even if your spouse is behaving in selfish, hurtful or unfaithful ways. Yet at the same time, don’t be the matrimonial equivalent of a doormat and sacrifice your dignity to save your marriage. There is a middle ground, a reasonable balance, and my courses help you find that.
Second, start thinking more and feeling less. Too much marriage advice is of the “follow your heart” variety. I don’t buy it and I don’t sell it. If you’re dealing with a spouse who is behaving in hurtful ways, the last thing you should do is act on emotion. You’ll only get more hurt.
Third, stop talking about it. If your partner isn’t ready to do their part to save the marriage, change their behavior or end an extramarital relationship, there is no point talking about it. No more emotional arguments that only make things worse and that make you more unappealing to your spouse.
Fourth, agree with what you can and don’t argue about the rest. If your partner is carrying on an affair and refusing to end it, you don’t have to agree with that (obviously!). But if your partner has been complaining that your marriage has been lacking in intimacy or respect or couple-time or whatever, and you think they may have a point, then agree! Let your partner see that there is common ground you can build on. Let your partner feel heard. Let them know there is hope for both of you to be happy in your marriage.
And fifth, show appreciation for the good things your spouse has done or been in the marriage. If your spouse – despite their current behavior – has been a good parent or a good provider, tell them. Although marriage problems are many and complex, there is one complaint that I hear in almost all cases: I don’t feel appreciated. Giving a spouse a “boost” of appreciation or validation can go a long way toward turning a cold shoulder into a warm thought.
Again, these are general tips only. If you have serious problems and you’re ready to make a real change, I offer plainspoken, practical resources that can help.
– Debra Macleod, B.A., LL.B., International Relationship Author-Expert & Creator of the “Fair, but Aware” approach. Now available online.