If you are considering divorce, the first thing that you need to realize is that what you are going through is normal. If you have doubts, simply recall that in North America, half of marriages end in divorce. A marital crisis is natural and it happens to every couple, and no amount of education, money, or good will can save you from it. The most beautiful, successful, and intelligent people are not immune to it.
Another popular belief is that if you only find the right person, then you two will live happily ever after. This causes people to doubt their choice of partner the moment the going gets rough. But, this too is a myth. The most compatible partners are just as susceptible to marital problems as everyone else. After you realize what you are going through is normal, there is a much you can do to save your marriage. Not only that, but as incredibly painful as it is, successfully going through a marital crisis will not only improve your marriage, but will also result in a great deal of personal growth.
When I was in my early twenties, I met the man of my dreams. He was wonderful, handsome, sweet, kind, and smart – everything I ever wanted. And he was madly in love with me. We got along incredibly well, and felt extremely lucky to have found each other. We got married, had a child, bought a house, and lived “happily ever after”. Or so I thought.
Just before our fairytale marriage turned four, we found ourselves on the brink of divorce. I was in shock. So shocked, in fact, that for about two weeks I couldn’t eat, sleep, and do just about anything. Even though I knew that many marriages face conflict at one time or another, and in fact many end in divorce, I believed that this was never going to happen to us. The fact that it was happening made me feel that something was terribly wrong with at least one of us.
For us, the realization that there was nothing wrong with either of us, and that we were going through a natural process, was a great relief. We were then ready to learn how to once again be happy together.
This leads us to the problem with modern-day marriages: We do not understand love. Since love is so central to our marriages, as perhaps it should be, understanding how it works can go a long way towards its preservation. One of the things that we do not understand about love is this: if we ever feel that we are sacrificing too much for love, it begins to diminish. And so the reason that many marriages collapse is because there are other forces at play that encourage us to give and compromise without limit.
Ironically, couples standing on the brink of divorce are often strongly intertwined (called “emotionally fused” in The Passionate Marriage). They care so much about their spouse and how their spouse feels, that they end up sacrificing too much of themselves. A marital crisis happens when one of the partners cannot go on sacrificing their own needs for their spouse, and often without fully realizing what is going on, they begin to distance themselves.
As counter-intuitive as it may seem, the distancing partner, which is the one who usually brings up divorce, is doing the couple a service. The distancing partner is forcing the couple to discuss their marital problems, and to rethink how their marriage is affecting each of their lives. When both partners are too scared to trigger a change, marriage eventually goes stale – it becomes devoid of love, affection, and passion.
The solution: differentiation (a term from Intimacy and Desire.). You need to loosen the emotional bond. It is time to start caring more about yourself and less about your partner. Indeed, you should always care about yourself first. If you are standing on the brink of divorce, chances are that for a long time you have taken care of your partner, expecting your partner to take care of you. As romantic as it sounds, it doesn’t work very well in practice. This is simply because we are lot better at taking care of ourselves than anyone else ever could. You are the only one who knows exactly how you feel, which puts you in the best possible place to take care of your own needs.
Differentiation has nothing to do with revenge, or otherwise intentionally hurting the other person. When your level of differentiation improves, you will feel a lot better about your partner because you will feel better about yourself and your own life . It is time to stand on your own two feet and become more independent. Think about how you would live your life if you had not been married. Think about what you could do to make yourself happier under these circumstances (other than search for a new partner). Then, find ways to do those things now, without ending your marriage. Make your life more important than your marriage, and your marriage will naturally improve.
To connect what I propose to more familiar concepts, think of what we tend to find attractive in a partner. We are typically annoyed by overly dependent, clingy partners. Men are attracted to confident women who know what they want, and it almost goes without saying that women find the same traits attractive in men. By bringing your attention back to yourself, you automatically become less dependent and so more attractive to your spouse.
The big buzz word today is “communication”. Perhaps the problem is that we are told that we should always communicate quietly and gently, no matter what the issue. Well, I thought that my husband and I were master communicators. We told each other everything. But just telling each other everything is not enough. You have to take a stand for what matters to you. You need to risk making your partner uncomfortable on matters that mean a lot to you. Otherwise, your partner can easily dismiss what you say you want or need by simply not realizing how important the issue is to you. By standing up for yourself, you are communicating to your partner that the issue is important. But don’t stand up for your views just to make your partner understand, stand up for yourself because you and your life matter.
Generally, I would recommend that people to try to work through their marital problems. But, of course, there are exceptions. If your spouse is physically abusive to you or your children, if your marriage has been emotionally abusive, or if your spouse is a narcissist who is innately unable to empathize with others, then your marital crisis might be a good opportunity to stop torturing yourself and get out. This article is intended for people who believed for years that they were in a good marriage, but who are now facing a crisis. In midst of a crisis, it is often difficult to judge the overall quality of your marriage. When you start taking better care of yourself and calm down, you should start seeing more clearly.
Going through a marital crisis is one of the most trying events in an adult’s life. Be strong and have faith. Many come out the other end stronger, happier, and more in love than ever before.