Relationships and specifically marriage can sometimes be very difficult. They require a high level of energy and focussed intent to be what we hope them to be. In a sense, a relationship is like raising a child- at first the child needs a lot of time and energy, a lot of emotional investment and even money.
Those who have raised children tell me that children require more (money, energy and support) as they become older. Perhaps the same is true for relationships. Relationships change with time and mature (or at least they should) and require a different kind of energy and emotional energy. Relationships often need a huge amount of work and required personal growth in order to thrive.
There have been many times during the early years of my 13 years of marriage when I doubted if the marriage would survive, wondered whether I wanted to remain in it and asked myself how long “this” would go on for. As our marriage has grown over time, the sweetness of the relationship has also grown, to the point where I can say that I LOVE being married. It doesn’t mean that my wife and I do not argue, or we do not get irritated with one another, or not roll our eyes when one is being “like that again”.
So, if your relationship is on the brink of a breakdown or you’re considering a divorce or separation, here are some things you might want to consider doing before you make a final decision This is from my experience and of course, does not apply universally. In. a relationship where this is abuse or infidelity, I cannot speak with much confidence, but the thoughts below may still be helpful.
- Accept that the problem may not be where you think it is (only)
From what I have experienced, the difficulty in a relationship or marriage depends on a few things- one of the biggest contributors is the level of brokeness (insecurity, past hurts, mistrust etc.) of each individual.
It is easy to see the mistakes of others or to insist on justice in times when we feel wronged, but it is much more difficult to judge ourselves according to the same standards that we judge others. The problem often is that we judge others by their actions and ourselves by our intentions.
So, if you are having problems, and in your mind, the problem is the other, then you may want to consider how you and your actions are contributing to the state of your relationship. Every cause has an opposite and equal reaction! You owe it to the relationship to consider where you are the cause.
Rather than deciding to immediately go see a divorce lawyer, consider going to see a marriage counsellor. If you’ve “been there, done that”, then try a psychologist. You may actually be the major contributor to your relational problems and you are not the most objective judge of that little fact. Consider the possibility that a small change on your part may be the powerful fulcrum to a better relationship. Presumably, you want to exhaust all your options before finally breaking up a marriage.
- Know that things can and will get better
If you are committed to your relationship/ marriage and you really want to go the long haul, then, as I said, you need to make sure that you do EVERYTHING that is within in your power and control, to make it work. Marriage is not a winner takes all game. It is not a 50/50 contribution.
As all-consuming as it may feel at times, the key to not losing heart is the hope (or belief) that the relationship can and will get better. Years ago, a friend of ours was having some trouble with her brother, and they were simply not getting along for a long while. In her view (and as parents confirmed), it was her brother who was causing the most problems and was the main cause of the relationship issues.
Her response was to go on what she called “a love campaign”. She could have easily given up or become angry and just let things be. She figured that there is only so much resistance to her love that he could endure before he “gave in”. Last we spoke of it, her campaign was reaping some rewards. It is possible that he never “brings his part to the relationship” but certainly any improvement in the relationship is a good thing.
The same applies to marriage. If you and your wife are fighting or going through trouble, you may want to start your own “love campaign”. I would encourage you not to stop at a once-off effort but to practice and make it a habit.
In another upcoming post, I will write about what I have learned about what it means to love. It is not simply about kisses on the forehead and buying flowers.
- Communicate honestly and truthfully
If you do not already know it, communication is crucial to good relationships. The problem with communications is that just because we speak, we often think we have communicated. We think that just because we have heard what the other person has said, it means that we have communicated.
One of the biggest hurdles that my wife and I had to overcome (and still continue to become better at) is learning to communicate. That is to hear what the other person means– not only what hey say and how they say it. This is often a difficult process because what we hear depends on the filters that have been created or that we have created, to through which we filter in or out certain external elements.
Expanding on communication itself is not the purpose of this blog. The point here is that you need to learn to sift through the minefield of triggers like tones of voices, the selection of words used, the emotions etc. in an effort to understand what they are meaning by what they are saying.
You need to also communicate honestly with your spouse. In my case, I struggled for many years to do this, because there were underlying fears of rejection and retribution that I wanted to avoid. So, in an effort to avoid conflict or the escalation of issues, I would often over-filter my words and not express how I truly felt, which left me very frustrated that I was not being understood. And this had many other unintended consequences that did not contribute to positive growth of the marriage.
I had to learnt to be more brave in communicating- to communicate honestly and to communicate truthfully.
- Be patient
Accept that you are not perfect. Accept that your wife is not perfect. Be patient with her and be patient with yourself.
Patience is multi-facetted but what I mean here is that you must understand that you are a work in progress and cannot expect that you will get things right all the time. You need to know that there are certain things that are beyond your capability and beyond your area of responsibility.
Trying to “fix” your wife is one example. You CANNOT do it, so stop trying. There is nothing wrong with her and so any effort that you spend trying to correct whatever perceived wrong will be wasted. Rather direct that energy towards working on your own issues. You have plenty enough to keep you busy for a lifetime.
But, while you are doing that, be patient with your progress, but without procrastinating changes or doing what you know to be right. Be patient.
One of the realisations that I had earlier this year and that I mentioned to my wife, is that marriage works only when both parties give themselves fully to it. It is possible that you are giving of your all and your spouse chooses not to. Focus on controlling the things that you can control. Focus on what you bring, rather than what your wife is/ or isn’t bringing and trust that she will value the marriage enough to want to do the same. Perhaps she will learn from your example and identify the changes that she needs to make. Maybe the safety that you create is exactly what she needs in order to give the precious parts of herself to you.
If the wife or the husband with-holds any part of themselves (for example, with-holding forgiveness, trust, love, sex, vulnerability, money etc.) the marriage will suffer. It may not necessarily break up, because one party may choose to accommodate that deficiency and learn to live with it. It may be like a bonsai tree- pretty, delicate, small and high-maintenance, whereas it could have been a tree that provides shade, nesting, fruit and protection.
Hopefully, you are reading this not because you want to merely not be divorced or alone, but want to have a fulfilling, loving and intimate connection that you and your wife will enjoy for a lifetime.
Here is a song that I absolutely love. In times when I feel like my wife is being extra, and she is being super-“spicy”, I remind myself that I am the one who chose her. It was my own fault for loving her.