Can This Marriage Be Saved?
- Tuesday, December 07, 2010
"You actually want to stay married to this guy?"
She didn't hesitate a moment. Yes, she wanted to save her marriage. She and her husband were 40ish, married about twenty years, with a couple of children. One evening he told her he was in love with his assistant, that he already had a lawyer, and suggested she procure one for herself.
At least that last part was different. Often the abandoning spouse tries to convince the other that he will be nicer in the divorce - and they each could save a lot of money - if she would agree to let his lawyer handle everything. It's a way to manipulate the outcome and many spouses fall for it, thinking that keeping him (or her) calm provides better opportunities to potentially salvage the marriage.
Making the path to divorce easier may keep the abandoning spouse calmer, but keeping him or her calm shouldn't be the goal. In my work with marriages over nearly twenty years, I've learned that rather than making divorce easier, anyone who wishes to salvage a marriage should make it harder. Much harder.
That's what I told Sally.
"If you really want this marriage to work, I'll guide you through a step-by-step process to save it. If anything works, this will. Understand me clearly, IF anything works, this will. I can't guarantee success but it works more than 75% of the time."
Before sharing with you the steps I guided Sally through, I'll give you the good news; it worked. It wasn't easy and didn't happen overnight, but by doing the right things she created a climate that ultimately led to the saving of her marriage. Her husband abandoned his lover, returned home, and worked on falling in love with his wife again. That was nearly twenty years ago. They're still together and still in love.
For the last dozen years I've been teaching the same principles to couples who come to my intensive workshop for marriages in crisis. I've seen it work with just about any situation you can imagine, not just adultery but also marriages plagued with anger problems, a controlling spouse, disrespect, disinterest, and more.
So what advice did I give? What works if anything will? Here is the short and simplified version. We provide a much more detailed and customized version in our workshop.
Accept the Person but Not the Actions
Never accept the sinful actions of another, but try to understand and accept what is behind the sin. What led the person to those actions? Was it pain? Feelings of neglect or disrespect? Even if you consider it imaginary, accept what your spouse sees has his/her reality and be very open to the possibility that you played a part in causing your spouse to feel the way he/she feels. That doesn't make you the "bad guy" or the other person the "good guy." It simply makes each of you human beings.
Be Ready to Forgive
I regularly see people who work hard to save their marriage and as soon as the spouse turns, the anger overwhelms the spouse trying to save the marriage. At that point he or she doesn't want to forgive. I'm warning you, don't try to save your marriage unless you intend to follow through by learning to forgive. That doesn't make the hurt instantly go away; it makes it possible for it to go away. That also doesn't mean that you aren't entitled to know who, what, when and where but that is a delicate matter for each of you that we've found often needs a third party or at least a constructive plan.
Such a plan is outlined in my Crosswalk.com article, "How to Confess An Affair without Losing Your Spouse." It's written more for the straying spouse, but it will likely help you understand that this type of conversation needs the right mindset, environment and forethought (maybe even professional help).
There are steps that the other person will need to take in order for you to be able to do this to the level necessary to save your marriage long term. But in the short term, while your spouse still wants to leave, you need to find a way to forgive them using a broad stroke. If your spouse feels he/she is just going to be punished by coming back, it's very unlikely to happen.
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