There is a common misconnection when a couple reaches a breaking point in their marriage. They believe there are only two choices to make. The first choice is to continue living day in and day out in an unhappy home and unhappy marriage. The second choice is to leave the marriage, go your separate ways and file for divorce from your partner.
However, for the majority of couples, there is also an important and life-changing third choice. When a couple is truly unhappy, and at a breaking point, the third choice is to seek expert help. Sitting down with a professional trained to guide couples through often difficult conversations will help you both learn to remove the blame, shame, and criticism common in negative relationship patterns and transform your relationship.
Improving your relationship and making positive changes for both partners, make no mistake, take hard work, determination, and time working closely with an expert marriage counselor. It's essential to select a counselor trained to work with couples, one that will provide a safe, unbiased environment to identify specific behaviors interfering in your relationship.
It can be emotionally exhausting for both partners when struggling through a rough time. However, it's important to remember that all relationships go through ups and downs, with good and bad times. Seeking help from an expert is nothing to fear. It's a tool to help you and your partner on the journey of creating a more fulfilling relationship.
Before you make any difficult decisions, such as ending your marriage, ask yourself these critical questions first.
Question #1 - What Specifically Do You Want to Change in Your Marriage?
You may begin to feel unhappy, angry, frustrated, or sad. Can you identify why you are feeling this way? What would have to change in your relationship for you to feel that newlywed joy again?
To help you answer the above question, write a list of all the things that would need to happen for you to feel happy in your marriage again, such as:
"I want to feel more respected."
"I need more space."
"I want to spend more time with my spouse."
"I want more financial stability."
"I want a more active sex life."
The more detailed and specific you are when creating the list, the more helpful it will be.
Question #2 - Have You Shared the Desire to End Your Marriage with Your Partner?
Even if both you and your spouse have acknowledged that you are unhappy in your marriage, you may not both know the other's reasons why. But if neither fully understands the other's dissatisfaction, it will be nearly impossible to improve your relationship as a whole.
After composing your lists of things you’d like to change, arrange a quiet time to sit down and talk with your spouse. It's essential to choose a time when you are both feeling calm and not busy with any distractions.
During your conversation, listen with curiosity as your partner shares their feelings. Be sure to talk honestly about your needs and concerns. Talk about how you are feeling using nonjudgmental or accusatory "I" statements, such as:
"I want us to talk more."
"I want to see you more often."
"I want us to share household responsibilities."
"I want us to experience more intimacy."
Be open to your spouse's feelings as you listen to understand versus listening only to respond. Try to be receptive when you hear their thoughts and suggestions. Remember that even if you feel strongly about something, your spouse may see it entirely differently.
Question #3 - What Changes Will Create a Better Relationship for You and Your Partner?
After discussing what changes need to be made for you to be happy, determine which changes you have the power to create. Determine a set of changes to strive for, such as making an effort to have weekly dates or talk about your day after work.
After introducing these changes, follow through with them for at least a month. You may be surprised to discover the power you have to improve your marriage.
Question #4 - Are There Specific Influences That Harm Your Marriage?
Often, outside influences can cause more harm to your marriage than you realize. While outside romantic interests and affairs are what takes some couples’ focus away from improving their marriage, extramarital romance isn’t the only destructive distraction.
Well-meaning friends and family members can influence the way you think, coercing you into thinking, feeling, and making decisions that aren't true to your own needs and wishes.
Your career and other outside obligations can sap your energy, keeping you from investing much-needed time and focus into your relationship.
When your marriage is in serious jeopardy, it's crucial to remove outside distractions as much as possible so you can prioritize healing between you.
Question #5 - Have You Given Up on Your Marriage, Or Do You Want to Rebuild Together?
Neither you nor your partner's attempts to transform your marriage will work if you aren't both invested in growing and changing the relationship. If you have already inwardly given up on your marriage, you are likely to scrutinize your spouse, interpreting every action or remark as a reason to leave.
For your relationship to heal, you'll need to invest in change rather than seeking excuses to end it. Focus on the reasons you should try to save your marriage rather than the reasons to move on.
Question #6 - What Do You Think Will Improve If You and Your Partner Divorce?
Divorce probably won't solve all your problems, regardless of whether you and your spouse have endured a painful and challenging time. Divorce can actually promote more conflict when your home, family, and personal life are disrupted.
Ending your marriage is also unlikely to eliminate any financial issues, personal dissatisfaction, or obstacles keeping you from your goals.
Picture your life after the divorce. Are the expectations of your new life realistic?
Question # 7 - Do You and Your Partner Share a Marriage Vision? If Not, Why?
Composing a "marriage vision" is a highly effective and vital tool for building a healthy marriage, partnership, or any type of relationship between two people. The marriage vision should include both you and your spouse's ideas, hopes, and dreams for your relationship and describe what needs to be done to achieve these goals.
If you haven't already written a marriage vision, take the time to sit down with your spouse to discuss your expectations, and develop a set of ideas that inspire and motivate you individually as well as your wishes as a couple.
It's helpful to refer back to the marriage vision as a guide to navigating troubled waters when your marriage ebbs and flows. Be sure to update your marriage vision together as your relationship evolves and your individual and couple needs change.
Question #8 - What are You Grateful for in the Marriage?
Rather than focusing exclusively on what you want to change or how your relationship could be better, take the time to think about all the things you love and are grateful for in your relationship.
Make a list of everything you are thankful for that your partner gives to you. Taking the time to sit down and compose a list can help you see your relationship and spouse in a positive light and remind you of why you fell in love in the first place.
Question #9 - Have You Contacted an Expert for Help in Your Marriage? If Not, What is Stopping You and Your Partner?
Even the healthiest, happiest couples take advantage of marriage counseling, and it can truly do wonders for any phase of marriage, particularly those in jeopardy of ending.
A trained marriage counselor can help you and your partner explore why you've felt divorce was the only option and develop effective strategies for healing and transforming your marriage into the relationship you’ve both always desired.
If you are struggling in your marriage and feel like ending it is your only option, we're here to help. Check out our Imago Relationship Workshops and Relationship Therapy. We also have Online Couples Therapy and Online Couples Workshops right now!
This blog post was written by Damian Duplechain, the co-founder, and chief clinical officer for the Center for Marriage & Family Relationships in Houston, Texas.
Damian brings decades of experience to his practice, helping hundreds of couples and families discover how to co-create the relationships they want. He has also supervised many clinicians in couples and family therapy over the years.
His work in helping couples and families learn to communicate effectively and connect more strongly, and to practice understanding and empathy is rooted in Imago philosophy. He is a certified Imago therapist with additional training in the Emotional Freedom Technique, John Gottman’s model, Terry Real’s model, and PACT (Psychological Approach to Couples Therapy) by Dr. Stan Tatkin.
He has presented 200-plus Imago Couples Workshops that have served more than 2,000 couples and has collaborated with a number of his colleagues on clinical presentations both in the United States and internationally.