We weren’t on the brink of divorce. We weren’t separated or even contemplating separation. We knew we loved each other.
But we weren’t… happy. Something wasn’t right. We couldn’t communicate. We couldn’t go a week or even a day without some dispute.
We thought, maybe this is what people mean when they say you just get sick of each other when you get married? That as the years passed, you get annoyed and stop talking. Then you wither away, tolerating each other til’ death.
I would see it all the time when I worked in the restaurant industry. Couples would come in for their date night, be seated at their table, immediately pull out their phones and not even acknowledge each other. They would talk to me, their server, more than each other. Look around the next time you go out, it happens more often than you think.
So there we were, in our kitchen, having yet another argument and I said it. The words no couple wants to hear. “We should go to counseling.”
It was offensive at first. A way to jab at your partner. In a roundabout way telling the other person that they are tough to get along with, that you two need help, that you can’t do it on your own.
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After a month of discussing it. Then getting a referral. Then another couple weeks til we actually called to make an appointment. Then another week to go to the appointment. We sat side by side across from the therapist on a loveseat. Holding hands because we were scared. And acting like we were picture perfect like you do out of civility for strangers.
Past the pleasantries, we started to open up.
We showed our true frustrations at each other. He always accused me. She always shut down and wouldn’t communicate. He is frustrating when he does this. She never listens. He never listens. We pointed fingers left and right, and waited for the therapist to tell us we were broken. That there was no cure. We didn’t have a successful marriage and since we failed we should give up.
From my perspective, the wife, I had a small part of my mind worrying that the therapist would tell us that he had never had a case like ours before. That we were so unique that he didn’t know how to treat our situation. I was worried we were the only ones with marriage problems. That our dreams of the perfect marriage were unattainable. That the road we were on was surely headed to unhappiness either way and that we were getting that one-way ticket to divorce.
We didn’t get a prescription for divorce. He never told us to split up and take a break from one another. He prescribed some very simple tasks and helped us understand each other so much more than ever before. We weren’t the only ones. Here were some key things we learned.
#1 Stop Victimizing Yourself.
And for the opposite person of the victim, stop rescuing. There’s a pattern we didn’t see in all our disagreements or cold shoulders and I’ll try and explain how they would happen. Let’s say I was victimizing myself by being offended by something my husband said. I would withdraw physically and emotionally, starting to clean the house, or just sitting there non-responsive to anything he said. I would be noticeably unhappy and upset. Avoiding eye contact and physical touch.
My husband would try and reach out to me, like I was a wounded animal, trying to pry open my clenched teeth with comforting words. He would attempt a rescue, but I would be too stubborn to come out of my cave. So he would get upset. And when he would get upset I would suddenly need to do the rescuing, but remember, I’m still victimizing myself in my stubborn cave.
So that’s how the cycle goes on… and on… and on… late into the night. We had no idea how to stop it until our therapist told us this simple task.
#2 Practice Listening.
I was getting so caught up in my proof that I was the victim that I was forgetting my spouse. I was being so selfish. But who ever was the victim felt they were in the right to demand justice. They needed to know that they were of worth and that the person opposite knew that they mattered. So it would result in shoving it down the other person’s throat until they got it, forcibly accepting the point of view that was right above all others… Right? And what did it get us?
Acceptance by force. We were building a marriage on an unstable foundation. We were basically telling each other, “I accept you, but only when we argue about it for hours until you admit that I’m right.” And that was how we were slowing drifting from one another. So what was our remedy? What did we need to consciously and carefully practice in our disagreeing conversations?
We needed to stop our gut reaction of being offended and speaking out and instead listen to the depth of what the other person was feeling. The person who is hurting has the stage for a time, and the audience is a loving spouse who is anxiously concerned and lovingly asking questions to understand more fully the need for the other. Break down the walls built on the weak foundations and start building on genuine concern and love for one another. Take turns sharing how you feel, not interrupting the other as they express freely what is wrong, then ask when they are done and if the stage can become yours for a time to get recognition for your emotions.
Take turns sharing how you feel, not interrupting the other as they express freely what is wrong, then ask when they are done and if the stage can become yours for a time to get recognition for your emotions.
When we were first started doing this it was probably pretty comical to watch. We looked like little children being forced to say “sorry” to each other though we didn’t mean it. But after following what sounded like scripts of affirmation, the tension would noticeably dissipate. The simple act of trying to be nice helped us realize we were on the same team.
#3 Remember whose team you are on.
This is important, and something I’ve gotten better at with having such an amazing husband. I used to think he was the enemy a lot of the time. Back up again to my abandonment issues, I had a hard time thinking that he could love me unconditionally when I had a past life where men didn’t. But he has always been there and constantly reminds me of his unconditional love, a love that nothing could convince him otherwise.
When on the cusp of a marital dispute, I believe you can be brought back to center quickly by reminding yourself that you love the person you married. That you chose them.
You chose to love them, and they chose to love you. Take a breath and remember your wedding day. You chose your teammate that day, and your co-captain for life. Remember that choice and you’ll remember whose team you are on.
#4 Take Time Outs.
We still have a hard time with this. My husband never wants to leave the issue unresolved, so he will fight tooth and nail from sun up to sun down if he has to. He believes that if we leave the conversation, that it will never be resolved. I, on the other hand, get very cranky if I don’t get sleep, or if I’ve not eaten, or if I just need a minute to process before talking further.
So take a timeout. Say to your companion, “We need a break, I’m not leaving to never speak of this again, but I need time to process this.” Pause the argument and go into separate rooms, go for a walk, get away from one another.
Chances are after a break you will start to think more clearly than before. You will see how you love your spouse regardless of the issue, and that it’s worth trying to fix the problem. I know, it is easier said than done, but try it next time and you may see it does make the load and situation lighter.
One last note, Don’t forget God.
Everything I’ve written about thus far has been about what to do in the moments and in the middle of having a disagreement. So here is something that will set you up for the long run. Habits that consistently include our Heavenly Father in your marriage. Read scriptures regularly, and kneel to pray beside each other every day.
It’s hard to continue a fight when you know that you will be kneeling down beside one another every night. I can tell you firsthand, it’s not easy going before the Lord after you’ve fought with your spouse and asking forgiveness, as your spouse kneels beside you. The accountability it holds is very powerful, and it helps me remember to always be kind no matter how upset I may get. Towards others and especially towards my eternal companion.
When we were married, we made a covenant with one another and with God. We promised to walk side by side and always strive towards an eternal family, not tolerate one another until we get to the other side. I hate to break it to you, but if you think your problems will be solved when you die, you’re wrong. You can’t just hold that grudge and expect it to be solved on the other side of The Veil when you get there, forever doesn’t work that way. We don’t magically change through death into awesome exalted beings. We take what we learn in this life with us. So if we don’t learn how to healthily communicate and find joy in our marriage and prosperity while in this life, then we won’t know it in death. And really, what else are we striving for?
You can’t just hold that grudge and expect it to be solved on the other side of The Veil when you get there, forever doesn’t work that way. We don’t magically change through death into awesome exalted beings.
We take what we learn in this life with us. So if we don’t learn how to healthily communicate and find joy in our marriage and prosperity while in this life, then we won’t know it in death. And really, what else are we striving for?
What has more value than anything else in your life right now? Is it money? Is it fame? Or is it your family?
If it’s family, then you would invest the world for a happy healthy marriage, the core of all families, wouldn’t you?
Give yourself the tools to love deeper than before, give your relationship a chance. Remember you are on the same team reaching for the same goals, take those much-needed timeouts, listen and understand your sweetheart’s heart, and never ever forget God.
Therapy shouldn’t be taboo anymore. You don’t have to be separated and having therapy being your last ditch effort to save your relationship. Get help before the bridge is completely burned.
Don’t be ashamed of thinking you can’t do it alone. You are two very different people who had a whole life before meeting and joining together in marriage, you shouldn’t have to reinvent the wheel of communication and compatibility when there are people out there to give you those tools to get along and walk you through it. My hubby and I had our eyes opened, and we saw so many couples around us doing exactly what we used to do in communicating, and they have been married for 25+ years! Some people go their whole lives trying to juggle their marriage and find joy when life could be much more simple.
I hope our experience can help anyone else who is searching for answers to their problems. Thanks for reading, and happy healing!
(Please Note: My husband and I are not abusive towards one another in any physical or mental way. When talking about “fighting” in this article, it was never life-threatening or destructive in any way. We are just human beings with flaws that don’t match up all the time, and these pointers are what help us happily get through life. If you are in an abusive relationship of any kind, seek professional guidance. Feel free to contact me to be a helping hand in anything you need!)
I searched a while for good podcasts to listen to for marriage help and found Mend Our Marriage. Give it a listen, they are SO personable and honest about marriage and helped so much!
I found your article very useful. A lot of what you went through is what I’m going through right now. I’ve been thinking a lot about seeking counseling, but for one I don’t feel comfortable telling other people about my problems. Also, the cost of counseling is another issue. That is why I felt compelled to write to you, I am a college student and live on a budget. If you don’t mind me asking how much was counseling for you?
It does seem strange and certainly can feel uncomfortable, but I tell you, it’s amazing how liberating it is to get some things off your chest. I also use writing as a sort of therapy, but it doesn’t compare to talking with a professional who then gives sound and knowledgeable advice to your daily and lifetime problems you’ve been dealing with.
With that said, it can be an investment. Our first counselor was $90 an hour, and he was a beginner but still amazing. Another therapist we have gone to is $100 an hour (for hour-long sessions). Some insurances will cover the fee so it wouldn’t hurt to look into that! Or there are some universities or cities will have public marriage classes/courses, see if there are any near you or coming near you.
Hi I found your article amazing and a eye opener and would like some private advice if possible please ? As I’ve been married since 2016 and have toddler and need some neutral advice and feel you have excellent advice to help another.
You are more than welcome to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org