Written by Michele Weiner-Davis
When marriages teeter on the brink of divorce, it’s very easy to feel defeated and even consider throwing in the towel. This is particularly true if one spouse seems resolute about exiting the relationship. And there are many reasons hopelessness can set in. But it is very, very important to know that, even when one spouse is half-way out the door, relationships can be resurrected. I know this because I have been specializing in work with couples for three decades. Countless couples come back from the brink even when it seems like their marriages have flat-lined. In short, it is never too late to save your marriage.
When people “fall out of love” or think that their marriages are doomed, they believe it is caused by their differences. They assume that difficult personalities, ineffective or hurtful communication, differences in parenting styles, sexual needs, the handling of money, how free time is spent (and so on) are at the root of reversible marital problems. And while these issues are challenging and exhausting, research suggests that people in long-term, happy marriages are no more similar in terms of backgrounds, interests, values and beliefs than people who divorce. What separates people who make it over the long haul versus those who divorce is one thing only; couples who stay together and have loving marriages learn how to work through their differences. They know how to manage their conflict.
This might not sound very romantic, but it’s true. Why is it true? People aren’t born knowing how to be good marital partners. In fact, when we’re born, the world revolves around us. It must be this way for survival of our species. But if we take this “self-centeredness” into adult relationships, it should be no wonder that it won’t work very well. Relationships are about mutual caretaking, not being the center of attention.
Plus, since effective communication is such an essential part of a making a marriage loving, we need to have skills to do it well. Where do we learn how to communicate? We watch our parents and other adult caretakers while growing up. And many people didn’t have such great role models. And even if our parents had wonderful communication skills, we might marry people who weren’t quite so fortunate. Then how do you handle different beliefs about communication?
The bottom line is this: love isn’t enough. People are usually infatuated at the start of a relationship. But infatuation doesn’t last. Then, if spouses don’t have the skills they need to strengthen their marriages and overcome problems, build on strengths and resources, their marriages will become draining and stressful. That’s when one spouse is likely to think, “I married the wrong person.” But the truth is, you can leave a marriage believing, “ When I get out and get rid of you, life will be easy.” However, when a divorce occurs, people generally take their bad relationship with them when they go. That’s why the divorce rate in second marriages is considerably higher than in first marriages.
The good news is that relationship skills can be taught and learned. You and your spouse can participate in marriage seminars that offer concrete tools to have better communication, sexual relationships, and resolve many of the differences and difficulties that you may be experiencing. Marriage education is not therapy. Couples don’t expose private information about their relationships. Partners become
“students” and learn new skills and practice these skills privately in the class and at home. Research tells us that these classes are very effective at improving marital satisfaction and increasing the odds divorce can be prevented.
So, if you or your spouse are thinking about exiting your marriage, don’t! Take a class or seminar to help you fall back in love again. Doing so will undoubtedly be the most helpful and hopeful thing you can do for you, your spouse and your children. My advice, “Don’t leave home without it.”
Author of Divorce Busting