My wife and I have been counseling married folks for a few years now, and learned a few things about broken marriages along the way.
We’re also married. We’ve made our way through some tough times, but there’s still work to do. Marriage is one of the hardest things I’ve ever attempted, and I’m just now learning, 17 years in, that it’s not going to get any easier.
It gets better to be sure, but it’s never easy.
If your marriage is difficult, or horribly broken, or that it might end soon, consider the following before pulling the plug.
How to Fix a Broken Marriage Alone
Nothing will make you feel more alone than a tough marriage. Even in a great marriage, when things get tough, as they often do it’s easy feel like you’re floating around in outer-space without a tether.
It’s common for one spouse to be committed to doing the hard work of healing, while the other spouse completely checks out and puts the blame squarely on someone else. I don’t usually buy into stereotypes, but it’s usually the guys who check out when things get hard, leaving their wives to figure out things on their own.
If you’re reading this, chances are you’re not a guy, and your husband isn’t too interested in how to fix a broken marriage, much less accepting the idea that things are bad.
But if you try to figure out things on your own, I can all but guarantee utter failure. I know, we don’t like to get help, it makes us feel weak and helpless, but getting help from people who know something we don’t is the only way out.
Your first option for getting help is therapy. Get some recommendations from friends, research different counselors on the web, and sign up for a few sessions. Ask your spouse to go, but be strategic – there are two ways to ask; one works, the other makes things worse. Here are a couple of examples of how to approach this:
“I feel like things have gone bad in our marriage. I’ve felt alone for awhile now and I was wondering if you’d be willing to go to counseling with me. I’ll take care of scheduling and taking care of all the details. It would mean so much if you would go with me.”
“Our marriage sucks. It’s sucked for a long time and I’m tired of this. We need to go to counseling, like, yesterday, because I don’t know how much longer I’m putting up with this crap.”
You can guess which approach works best.
If you do go the counseling route, shoot for total honesty – tell your counselor everything, all the dirt, leave nothing out. Honesty is literally the best bang for your buck here.
Your next option is lay counseling, where you meet with people like my wife and I who are willing to work for free and might be more approachable for an unwilling spouse. The problem here is finding these folk. The good news is that most local pastors are happy to help connect you with people from their congregation that might be able to help, even if you’re not a part of their congregation, or are no way interested in church. The bad news is that you’d have to be cool with connecting with churchy people.
Most of us are safe. And if you’re at your wit’s end, it’s worth a try.
Either way, you’re going to need meet with someone who’s a bit farther down the road than you, who’s either studied and/or has experience battling the unsavory parts of marriage.
How to Fix a Broken Marriage in a World Full of Broken Marriages
50% of marriages in the US don’t make it.
Our culture doesn’t value committed relationships nearly as much as things like “getting your own way,” “feeling good,” “adventure,” and other things that aren’t consistently part of the marriage experience.
You don’t have to go far to find someone on the internet who’ll advise you to end your marriage ASAP.
It’s not that we don’t value relationships, it’s more likely that we don’t value the things relationships require – courage, hard work, perseverance, commitment, a mountain of forgiveness…
… and a bigger mountain of humility.
Before you place the blame squarely on your spouse, you should ask some difficult questions about what you’ve done to add to the trouble. Most bad relationships aren’t simply one-sided. I know that you’re mad, hurt, and have a long list of sins your partner has committed against you, but they’ve probably got one too.
What I’m about to recommend is something most people won’t do – it requires a level of maturity and personal strength that’s rare in our culture.
Sit down with your spouse and say something like this:
“I’m realizing that there are some things that I’ve been doing that have made things difficult. Can you tell me 3 big things I can work on right now – things I need to change?”
The goal here is to get your spouse talking. If you succeed, if they spill the beans and get honest about their frustrations, you’ve won. All you have to do at this point is listen – which is where most people screw up. You’re already mad, listening to your spouse vent about their frustrations will likely push you over the edge.
But if you can get humble, and realize that you’re probably just as bad as they are, you can get miles down the road with your spouse.
A few years ago my wife decided to make some big changes in our marriage, but she focused on herself, the things she knew were hurting our relationship.
I sat back, watched her do all this hard work, and immediately felt convicted that I needed to follow her lead.
The best way to encourage your spouse to change, especially if he’s a dude, is to make heroic changes yourself.
But that’s something we don’t do in this culture. In our relationships. It’s always someone else’s fault. “I’ll change if they change,” we like to say.
3 Truths About Your Broken Marriage
Love between spouses doesn’t die, it just gets buried.
I know that sounds cheezy, but I’ve seen it too many times in my own marriage, and in the lives of others.
Our true feelings get buried when things stay bad for a few months. When our troubles go un-reconciled for too long, we begin to believe that our love is fading, going away, sailing off into the distance.
Hurts, let-downs, disappointments and betrayals in marriage happen on a regular basis. When we deal with them in a healthy way they’re little more than opportunities for a deeper relationship.
But when we fail to reconcile them they build up. Our feelings don’t go away, they just feel like they’ve gone away. If we manage to reconcile, we quickly realize that our feelings for one another are alive and well, we’ve just rescued them from the hole they’ve been living in for so long.
It can actually feel miraculous, like something’s been resurrected from the dead. But it’s a simple case of uncovering something that got buried.
Getting on the other side of this will take some time
A friend of mine, who does a TON of counseling, once said, “the longer we walk down the path of unhealthy married habits, the longer it will take us to walk out.”
Emotional wounds are just like any other wound – the deeper it is, the longer we’ve lived with it, the longer it will take to heal.
And, like physical wounds, there are things we can do to speed up the healing, and things that will prolong the pain.
Arrogance, selfishness, unforgiveness, failing to listen, and “playing the victim,” i.e., blaming your spouse for everything, will make things worse. People who can’t manage adulthood in a bad marriage will never be able to get on the other side.
I don’t know anyone who’s regretted things like humility, forgiveness, listening, etc. They’re hard to manage, so there aren’t many people in my life (probably yours too) who have success stories to tell. At the least, it won’t kill you to introduce an advanced level of listening, humility, and forgiveness – try it for, say, six months. Go crazy with it. Overdo it.
You won’t regret it, and you’ll grow up in the process.
If your marriage is broken, what do you have to lose?
What you’re attempting is not impossible
I’ve seen people fix their marriages. It didn’t require some kind of secret sauce, or tons of money, or magic skills. What it did require was something that everyone’s got in their bag.
Commitment and perseverance.
A complete idiot can stick with something they believe in – happens all the time.
You might be tempted to respond with something akin to, “you don’t know what kind of a$$hole my husband is,” or “you have no idea how disrespectful my wife is,” or any other version of “fixing my marriage isn’t possible, I just need to get out.”
It’s true that some marriages are beyond saving, not all can be fixed. And if you’re in a situation where your life or your physical wellbeing are in danger, you need to get some distance ASAP while you figure out your next move, again, with the help of someone else.
But most of the time broken marriages can be fixed. If both spouses can come together and admit that things have broken, and commit to doing whatever’s required to get back to lovin’ each other, there’s a huge change things can be better than they were before the problems started.