Written by Lori Lowe
After years of researching marriages, writing a marriage blog and a marriage book, people have asked me the biggest contributor to divorce. I agree with many experts that loss of hope is likely the biggest challenge couples on the brink face.
There is a widely held myth that, “My marriage can’t be saved,” or “My marriage is beyond repair.” I used to believe this, too, when I heard stories of couples who had drifted apart or who had a partner who cheated. But then I began interviewing couples whose marriages had looked bleak, who most people would have suggested, “Cut your losses, and move on.” I found these marriages didn’t just survive, they thrived, and became great love stories.
These couples realized that moving on to a new partner wouldn’t solve their relationship problems; it would just bring them to a new relationship. So, they did the hard work and found a better place. I’m not saying that every marriage can be saved, particularly when any kind of violence is involved. However, the vast majority of marriage problems are solvable.
I’ll give you a prime example from my book, First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage, which tells the true stories of couples who improved their marriages through adversity. If I had heard the early story of Brian and Melanie Jones of Orlando* years ago, I would have trouble believing they could create a great marriage.
Brian had a prior history of drug abuse and recovery that he hadn’t been very forthcoming about before their marriage. Years later, while on a long-term business project, he began using cocaine again. After returning home, he increased the frequency of his drug use. Before long, he was addicted again. Melanie, by then a mother of a toddler, began noticing slight personality changes, such as anxiety and lateness, but couldn’t figure out what was wrong. Eventually, things worsened, and despite seeing a counselor together, Brian maintained his secret.
Melanie threatened to leave the marriage unless he divulged what was going on, and was blown away when Brian finally admitted he was a closet cocaine addict. Adding insult to injury, Brian had put them $100,000 in debt over his drug use.
Melanie had every right to divorce Brian and never look back. She did, in fact, demand he leave the home immediately. However, once Brian took responsibility for his problem and sought treatment, she began allowing him to visit their child. Over time, they rekindled their relationship, and Brian rebuilt the trust he had lost. Only because Brian showed extreme remorse and changed his behavior was she able to forgive him. Six months later, she agreed to date again, and soon after, they reunited their family.
More than a decade has passed with Brian working every day to prove he is trustworthy and to show his love toward Melanie. In fact, the time came when Brian had to carry Melanie through the crisis of advanced breast cancer. She was diagnosed only three months after their second child was born at the age of 36. Melanie says he was “nothing but supportive” during her ordeal, which thankfully was successfully treated.
Today, they look for small ways to show care and concern for each other on a daily basis. For example, Brian leaves notes under her pillow or sends a sweet email. Melanie has a very positive attitude and frequently expresses her gratitude. They both go out of their way to compliment one another, privately and publicly.
Brian deeply regrets that his actions hurt Melanie. However, he says their history has given them a stronger bond and a “whole different level of love.” “She’s the one I want to be with. I’m the one she wants to be with. We’re very lucky,” he says.
Before thinking this is only one example of a couple who made it through despite the odds, I would suggest asking around. You will find (if people are honest) that many couples have been through infidelity, depression, life-threatening illness, periods of low sexual satisfaction, or times of high stress with little happiness. Couples who are successful in the long-term understand that tough times do not doom a marriage.
I share many other couples’ stories in First Kiss to Lasting Bliss, and the lessons they taught me through their struggles. I’ve talked to enough couples to realize that even when marriages were awful, they can become amazingly great. It’s not a guarantee of success, but it’s a message that it’s worth trying your best to make it happen.
The goal is not to “endure” in marriage, but rather to be glad you are living life with the partner you chose. Don’t lose sight of that goal, and don’t lose hope.
*The names of this couple were changed for professional reasons.