Mary had secretly gone to see an attorney, seeking counsel about what it wound entail to obtain a Legal Separation should it be needed. She hadn’t wanted to take this drastic action, and resented Ned, her husband of eighteen years, for even having to take this step.

The legal visit was challenging for this small, but athletic woman, even though it came after years of turmoil. Mary had years of grief and “pushback” to build a head of steam pushing her to make the visit.

It didn’t take long for her husband to find out about her actions, and Mary didn’t lie about what she had done.

“I didn’t want to do it,” Mary said during her introduction at her Marriage Intensive. “I tried everything possible before taking this action,” she continued. “Nothing seemed to get his attention. We’ve been living separate lives, denying our serious problems, and I need to be taken seriously.”

Ned looked angry, staring at her while she spoke. He was not happy about the events leading up to their visit to The Marriage Recovery Center.

“I always thought some things were sacred,” he said, his pain stuffed just below the surface. He winced as he said those words. He stroked his thinning, black hair.  

There is little more threatening than a mate who seeks legal counsel, with the clear threat of separation, or worse, divorce. But, Mary had been pushed to the edge.

“I thought I was going to lose my mind,” she said tearfully. “I had been trying to get his attention for years. We both learned to live with our heads buried in the sand. If I didn’t take some action, we’d still be living the same way and not only our marriage but my health would be at stake. Our kids stood to lose as well.”

“What do you think, Ned?” I asked. “Is she right? Did she try to get your attention in other ways?”

He shrugged. I asked again.

“Ned,” I said. “I can imagine that Mary hurt your feelings deeply. I can imagine that your foundation has been shattered. But, I can also imagine that what Mary is saying may be true. That she tried many times before to get your attention to work on the marriage, and that you wouldn’t take her seriously.”

“I suppose,” he said reluctantly. “Seems like a very drastic step to take. I just don’t agree with it.”

“I asked you to go for counseling for years, Ned,” she pleaded. “You wouldn’t do it.”

I decided to let the subject drop for now. We moved into talking about the issues that led up to their coming for counseling. For the next twenty-four hours Ned and Mary worked on the myriad issues that had been buried beneath years of living. They unearthed the issues, examined them and worked on them using new tools. The chasm between them began to shrink. Healing issues, rediscovering their caring for each other and renewing their commitment to each other was having a tremendous impact.

In the middle of their third day of work I brought the legal issue up again.

“I’m curious, Ned,” I said. “I know you would never have wanted Mary to threaten a separation. But, is it possible that the threat, and coming her for intensive counseling, may have been the ‘wake up call’ you needed?”

“I don’t know,” he said. “I’d like to think something else could have gotten my attention. But, I was pretty hard-headed. I’m glad we’re here now, that’s all I know.”

For any couples who are on the brink of separation, and are failing to truly listen or take each other seriously, I have the following suggestions:

First, take your mate seriously. Don’t push your mate to the point of drastic actions before giving them your complete attention. Consider what they say to you, the message they are trying to get across, and what response is needed.

Second, attend to their concern. Taking your mate seriously means not only listening to them, but it means attending to their concern. Discuss the issues, share their concern and agree on solutions together.  

Third, make agreements for solutions to problems. Show your ongoing concern by ‘leaning in’ and seeking solutions together to problems. Since you have co-created the problems, you must now co-labor to fix them. Make the commitment to seek solutions together.

Fourth, hold each other accountable for positive change. It is easy to slip back into old patterns of behavior. Show love to your mate by letting them know you took them seriously originally and will continue to take them seriously as time progresses. Exhibit positive energy and leadership toward problem-solving.

Finally, remind your mate that any concern of theirs in the future becomes a concern of yours. This conveys a sense of importance for their feelings. By letting them know you will take their issues seriously, you build trust and respect into your relationship.  

mrcWe want to hear from you. Please go to our website, www.marriagerecoverycenter.com and discover the free downloadable eBook, A Love Life of Your Dreams as well as free videos and articles.  Please send responses to me at drdavid@marriagerecoverycenter.com and also read more about The Marriage Recovery Center on our website. You’ll find videos and podcasts on sexual addiction, emotionally destructive marriages, codependency and affair-proofing your marriage.

Publication date: November 5, 2013