While reading yesterday’s post you may have realized you are in a conflicted or devitalized type of marriage. The bad news about this is that these marriages end in divorce considerably more often than the other types. The good news, though, is that there may be much you can do to improve the relationship. Today I will suggest ten things you can do starting now.
TAKE STOCK OF THE MARRIAGE
1. Rate your marriage from 1-10 based on how valuable it is to you. Most marriages can be saved if both partners are willing, even marriages that partners rank a 1 or 2. Sometimes people just tough it out because of what the Bible says. Of course it is good to care about honoring God, but if you are in a conflicted marriage, the way you are treating each other does not honor God. The question then is whether the marriage can become a God-honoring environment, or whether it needs to be dissolved.
TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR THE MARRIAGE
2. Accept your responsibility for what is wrong with the marriage. The more of the problem that you discover is your fault, the more of the problem you can fix, whether your spouse cooperates or not!
3. Kindly invite your spouse into counseling. Avoid harassing, haranguing, angling, wheedling, pressuring, and complaining. Be assertive. Tell your spouse how much you care for them and for the relationship, that you are concerned about the conflict, and invite them to attend counseling with you. If they refuse, respect their right to not accept your invitation.
4. Go to counseling (or get other help) by yourself if need be. You are likely part of the problem in some way. If you can fix your part, it will likely prompt change in your spouse.
5. If your spouse will not go to counseling (or otherwise address the problem) with you, determine to not leave the marriage until you have made clear to your spouse how strongly you feel about getting help. If you feel you have tried everything and are desperate, make it unmistakably clear how important getting help is to you and what exactly what is at stake if you don’t. go.
TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF AND YOUR SPOUSE
6. If you are unsafe (being physically/sexually abused), get out of there right now. Emotional abuse can be included here as well, but be very careful before calling strong disagreement abuse. Emotional abuse is being mocked, personally insulted, humiliated, degraded, or constantly ignored. This is different from arguing, even from arguing loudly and passionately.
7. Remember what you learned in kindergarten about how to treat people. Determine to begin treating your spouse that way, starting today. It is true that you are not responsible for your spouse’s bad behavior, and just as true that your spouse is not responsible for yours.
TAKE A JOURNEY INTO GROWTH, BUT NOT JUST FOR THE MARRIAGE
8.Invest in your counseling, but also read and learn as much as possible on ways you can become more assertive (not aggressive), loving, and gracious. I highly recommend Boundaries in Marriage, by Cloud and Townsend. Remember that you are not simply trying to have a better marriage but to become a better person.
9. Remember that there are almost never quick fixes. If your spouse is very open to counseling and looking at him/herself, you may progress with unusual speed. In most conflicted relationships it takes quite a bit of time for both spouses to accept the personal responsibility that is the cornerstone of therapeutic progress.
10. Expect to invest time in finding a good counselor. Bad marriage counseling can often make things worse and, unfortunately, bad marriage counseling is fairly common.
If you or your spouse are counseling-averse, or don’t believe you can find a good couples therapist, alternatives to marriage counseling are springing up constantly. You may wish to consider one or more of them. Google “alternatives to marriage counseling” and begin your research there. If you feel overwhelmed, a skilled individual therapist should be able to assist you in choosing an approach that may work for you. I recommend Mort Fertel’s MarriageMax.com. I have not seen his Marriage Fitness program, but there are tons of helpful, well-done, and free articles on his site.