In a recent post, I shared ideas on how to make a marriage strong over a lifetime. Ideally, that’s what we all want, isn’t it? We stand before our wedding official, hopeful and excited, looking forward to a lifetime with the person we love.Sometimes, though….the life we end up with isn’t what we anticipated. Sadly, some of us find that despite our dreams, we end up with a life of unhappiness or disappointment, and marriage problems that don’t seem to go away.
First of all, if you’re in this position, hear me well: I’m sorry.
I recognize, and value, your heartbreak. None of us stands in front of the altar looking forward to marriage problems–we all anticipate happiness and satisfaction. It saddens me that you’ve found yourself in such a difficult position.
If you find yourself in a bad marriage, you must rationally examine your circumstances. Find a quiet place, and really inspect your union.
Start with the most important thing: is there any abuse taking place?
Abuse does not just mean physical attack. It can also manifest itself as verbal or emotional assault, which are much harder to document. If there is abuse, you must get help. Do it safely, do it quietly, and do it carefully. Here is the link to our National Domestic Violence Hotline. Please–I urge you as strongly as possible to phone, and get guidance for your situation. These amazing people will help you navigate the days ahead.
What if there’s not abuse, though?What if there is just disinterest? Or silence? Or an unequal balance of effort towards making the relationship succeed?
You’ll have to dig deep into your soul, and find the energy to try to fix things. This can be hard, discouraging and profoundly upsetting. Please realize though, that you owe it to yourself and your spouse to give it everything you have, before walking away.
Start with the very basic of any relationship: communication. Create a quiet, safe space to share your concerns with your loved one. Speak gently, using “I” statements. Say something like, “I feel lonely”, not “You never want to spend time together anymore”. The first approach will help open listening channels; the second will set up defensiveness.
When you have this safe space, share what is on your heart. Allow your loved one to really understand what is burdening you, and give him or her the opportunity to respond. You may be surprised by their feedback, so be prepared to accept whatever they want to share. You may hear of their own loneliness, disappointment or fear.
Perhaps you are afraid to be this honest, or just can’t make the words come out.
Here is an amazing book: Talk to Me Like I’m Someone You Love. This tiny little book will give you flash cards, essentially, with things written down that you may find too hard to say. It’s a terrific tool to safely get difficult things out of your heart, and into a discussion. It helps bring your marriage problems out into the open, so you can start sharing things with your partner that you are afraid to say out loud.
Maybe you’re still too scared to bring things up though, and want a quieter way to start repairing your marriage. This is a book based on Christian principles, but could be useful to couples of other faiths. The Love Dare is a 40 day program that leads you through specific activities designed to help you remember why you fell in love, and strengthen the bond you share. Your spouse doesn’t know that your following this plan–your actions alone will speak to him or her, and give you both opportunities to recognize each other’s value.
Here’s another great resource that may be helpful: The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts . This will explain why your husband thinks cleaning the gutters on a pretty Saturday afternoon shows you his devotion, instead of taking you to the park. Or why your wife thinks that buying you more clothes will make you happy, instead of a slipping a quiet note into your lunch bag. I would encourage using this book to help you to find out what matters most to you when receiving affection. Then discover what your partner considers to be a sign of love. You may love each other very deeply, but not know how to express it in a way that the other person can understand.
What if you still feel like things aren’t working, and your marriage problems seem to be getting worse, despite the efforts you’re making?
I would encourage you to seek guidance. Find a trusted friend, pastor, mental health expert, physician–someone who is neutral, but compassionate. Go to that person alone, if your spouse won’t go with you, and share your burden. Explain what is happening, and how things have changed since you stood together to profess your vows. Follow through with their guidance, and try not to involve too many of your close friends and family in any discussions about how terrible you think things are. Hopefully, a day will come when you feel differently about your partner, and you don’t want those around you to hold a quiet grudge over your bad days.
Before you give up on things, make yourself pull out photos of when you were dating.
Think back on what you first loved about that person, and remember the way you felt as you awaited a phone call or text. Remember how exciting that was? What was it, do you think, that you looked forward to? Most likely it was knowing that this person was thinking of you at that moment, and wanted to find out more about you. You were both showing off then, so quietly evaluate how you’ve been behaving since your wedding day. Perhaps in the years you’ve been together, the tone in your voice has lost its kindness or enthusiasm. Maybe you don’t bother to connect during the day when you’re apart, or forget to say ‘thank you’. Perhaps your loved one is doing the same things. Perhaps you’re doing these things to each other, intentionally, to try to show, rather than inflict, pain.
Please remember that at some point in your life, you found enormous value in the person you married.
They felt the same way about you. Life, which is hard, ugly and unkind, has gotten in the way of your affection for one another.Work on reducing the clutter in your lives, so that you can focus instead on each other. Find ways to reconnect, even if you need a referee between you at the beginning. There is no shame in having a bumpy patch in your marriage–that’s part of being human. Even the best couple you know has had tough times. The key is in how you manage those difficulties: will you allow them to break you? Or do you choose to use them to strengthen you? The choice is yours.
I welcome any thoughts on how to manage a difficult marriage, or hear about any particular struggles that you are having. I can’t cover every situation in this brief article, but am happy to narrow down towards a particular focus if it would be helpful to you. Feel free to comment below, and please remember to subscribe so that we can stay connected.
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**Chanler Jeffers is a woman who has seen many extraordinary things over her lifetime. An adventurer, survivor, overachiever and advocate of kindness in all instances, she has been awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award by the American Chamber of Commerce Executives (ACCE), and is a member of their Circle of Champions. She has had the good fortune to live and travel all over the world, grew up as a military dependent, was a single parent for many years, has survived cancer and gently shaped countless people over her years on this little planet we call home. Follow along as she shares her knowledge, her experience and her love. Oh, by the way–one more thing. She’s married to a Bass playing rock star, lucky girl.
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