Written by Michele Weiner-Davis
Are you sitting on the, “Should-I-stay-or-should-I-go” fence, endlessly considering the pros and cons about ending your marriage? Here’s some advice. Stop waffling. Don’t get divorced!
In my three decades of work with couples I have seen hundreds of thousands of couples fall in love again, many of which reconnected at the eleventh hour. It’s never too late to create a happy marriage; all you have to do is decide to explore the idea of staying married instead of throwing in the towel.
Why am I so adamant about this?
I’m a marriage and family therapist who has seen the fallout of divorce up close and personal. And I’m here to tell you, divorce isn’t for sissies. Even under the best of circumstances, divorce creates new and unexpected problems, particularly when children are involved. If you’re a parent fantasizing of freeing yourself of your spouse and starting with a fresh slate, remember this, “When children are involved, there is no such thing as divorce.” You will be parents of your children forever. Plus, if you’re lucky, you will become grandparents together some day too.
If you’re open to the idea that you can strengthen your marriage, consider what I’ve learned over the past three decades.
First, the facts:
• People who remain married are healthier- both physically and emotionally
• They live longer
• They are better off financially
• They have more satisfying and frequent sex than their single counterparts
What you may not have considered is that unless there is physical or extreme emotional abuse, kids also benefit emotionally and physically from growing up with both parents.
Like it or not, your kids don’t much care if your marriage is boring or unromantic, they just want you both at home.
Life is short and you deserve to be happy:
Before you say that I’m a proponent of “till death do us part”, even if it means a life of misery, hear this: you have one shot at this life and you deserve to be happy. What you may not have considered is that you can be happy in this marriage. With everything that we now know about what’s necessary to sustain a healthy marriage, there is no reason why anyone wanting a better relationship can’t have one.
Having said this, if you’ve been fighting a lot, or are overwhelmed with feelings of contempt or, even worse, apathy, you probably believe your marriage can’t be repaired. That’s because you have grown hopeless. And it’s hopelessness that ultimately ends marriages, not the differences between you. Hopelessness is the real cancer in marriage. How can you become more hopeful so you don’t have to leave?
Consider this: No one is born knowing how to be a partner in marriage. No one.
The way we behave in our relationships has everything to do with our upbringing and our own parents’ relationships. Unfortunately, many of us didn’t have great role models. And even if we did, our spouse may not have been quite as lucky. Then what?
Good marriages require good relationship skills. Happily, even the most seemingly relationally-challenged people can learn concrete skills that can fundamentally change the quality of marriage. So, before you throw in the towel, do yourself and your loved ones a favor, shore up on your relationship skills and make sure that you’re not throwing away a good thing simply out of a lack of education.
There are two ways to do this: education & therapy:
Marriage education courses are different that traditional therapy. Classes aren’t group therapy. You don’t have to air your dirty laundry publicly. You take a class, absorb the information, practice skills in privacy with your spouse and then go home to put to the new tools to use. Even therapy-phobic spouses love these hands-on courses.
And then there’s marriage therapy. But be warned, not all marriage therapy is created equal. Some so-called marriage therapists do more harm than good by declaring marriages dead on arrival as early as the first session! Be an informed consumer and know what you’re looking for when you seek professional help.
Here are four pointers to start with:
• No therapist can tell when a marriage is over. If a therapist declares your marriage dead, find a different therapist.
• “Tell me how you feel about that?” – a common therapists’ mantra- prompts lively discussions, but rarely resolves problems. Good therapists teach communication and problem-solving skills.
• Talking about the past makes you an expert about why you’re having problems, not what to do to improve things. If you want a better future, make sure your therapist is goal-oriented with an emphasis on the future.
• Seek help even if your spouse won’t go. Good therapists can help you trigger positive change in your marriage singlehandedly.
Bottom line, if your marriage is on the rocks it’s a wakeup call. Before you make the final break, be sure that you leave no stone unturned. The worst feeling in the world is the nagging sense that you could have done more. After reading this you may think I’m a psychotic optimist, I say, “That’s ok, it’s a communicable disease.”