Marriage problems are bad enough; however, when one spouse feels like they’re in it alone – perhaps their partner is involved with another person or overly self-involved – it’s even more difficult. And unfortunately, this isolating and difficult situation often makes people all too eager to accept simplified solutions…or perhaps more accurately, the false promise of a simple solution.
The easiest, the absolute easiest thing to do, is to tell someone what they want to hear. That is true of people at the best of times, and doubly so during a time of marriage crisis. Perhaps that’s why, more and more, I’m seeing this “tell them what they want to hear” approach in the field of marriage help.
This is the counselor who tells a betrayed spouse to “give your partner space and keep telling them how much you love them” or “keep telling them how the friendship with their co-worker hurts you.” The false rationale is that the unfaithful spouse will suddenly clue in and realize what they’re doing is wrong and hurtful (newsflash: they already know this).
The problem is, this doesn’t usually happen. What does happen is that the betrayed spouse keeps booking appointments so they can keep the hope alive without having to make any tough or scary decisions (i.e. a separation if the unfaithful spouse won’t end the affair). They can sit in the counselor’s office, complete with aromatherapy candles and cactus gardens that inspire well-being, and watch the counselor nod his or her head in sympathetic understanding while they repeat the same story of woe and mistreatment week after week.
Or it’s the relationship coach who has zero practical or professional experience with couples who says, “This fixed my marriage, so it’ll fix yours, too.” And more often than not, the “fix” is an empty one that involves putting up with it or, worse, submission. It’s more of the same – be there for your spouse, tell them you love them, do what you can to make them happy, et cetera. Be patient. Be sexy. Sell yourself.
The net result of all of this, however, is largely inaction. Not rocking the boat. Because rocking the boat is scary and a person whose husband or wife is refusing to end an affair is a scary person to go up against. Their lack of fidelity and divided loyalties inspires panic in the betrayed spouse – “I’d better not push or be unpleasant, or they’ll leave me and pick her/him!” The coach knows this…they know you’re afraid of making the tough choices and that you don’t want to be told that may have to happen, so they tell you it doesn’t have to happen. And that brings us back to where we started…telling you what you want to hear.
Now, of course not all counselors, coaches or marriage practitioners do this. I certainly don’t. As a person (and former divorce mediator) who has spent years working with people in your situation – a lone spouse who is facing an untrustworthy or uncooperative partner – I won’t always tell you what you want to hear. I will, however, tell you what I think you need to hear if your goal is twofold: a) to reconnect with your spouse and b) to make your marriage stronger, more mature and happier for both you and your spouse. If your goal is to simply stay married no matter what the personal cost – emotionally, mentally or physically – my programs aren’t for you.
So if you find yourself in the unenviable and excruciating position of facing a spouse who has been unfaithful, untrustworthy or uncooperative in some other way, I encourage you to browse the various marriage-saving programs on this site, and listen to the audio introduction for the one(s) that apply to your situation.
Yes, your situation may have you in panic mode. Nobody can blame you for that. But now is not the time to panic. Now is not the time to seek out overly simplistic solutions, free advice or only hear what you want to hear. Now is the time to think, to understand your situation in a comprehensive way and then to consciously implement those insights and strategies that you feel have the best chance of making a change.
Because change is possible. Wonderful changes are possible. But as you’ve probably realized by now, it is going to have to start with you. A smart-thinking you. Thank you for reading.
• Debra Macleod, B.A., LL.B. can help you now, not weeks from now. See her Marriage SOS instant-access marriage recovery programs.