“I want a divorce.” John was shocked to hear his wife Janie utter these words. Neither really wanted to end their relationship, but they both had run out of ideas for saving their marriage. Their marriage seemed hopeless. Bad habits and grudges overpowered any hope of restoration.
Divorce is often a painful and expensive process that can have far-reaching consequences for both parties involved - as well as their families and friends. Divorce is very often much more difficult than people expect. If you are experiencing marital challenges beyond your capacity to handle and are considering divorce, it may be worth postponing the decision for six months and attempting these practical practices.
1. Strengthen yourself. Whatever the outcome, you will need to become emotionally strong and stable. Find a suitable source that satisfies your basic psychological needs and develop strategies for refreshing your heart. We call this “personal thriving” irrespective of circumstances.
2. Listen. Without getting defensive, invite your spouse to communicate openly and honestly about his/her frustrations. This can be done through letters or supervised conversations. One of the most important factors in restoring a marriage is effective communication. Make an effort to listen to your spouse's perspective and try to understand where he/she is coming from. This can help to build trust and foster a sense of connection.
3. Own your contributions. Marital problems are almost always like complicated algebraic equations with variables on both sides. Begin to identify behaviors and attitudes that you contribute to the marital problems.
4. Practice forgiveness. Holding grudges and being unable to forgive can be toxic to a relationship. Try to let go of resentment and move forward, even if it's difficult. Forgiveness can help to build trust and foster a sense of connection.
5. Make a couple of wise choices. Each spouse should make a list of a few simple practical changes that can make a difference. Identify 3 or 4 critical areas where change can make a big difference. Often a simple change in communication, kindness, or resource-management can turn a marriage in the right direction.
6. Get motivated. Change is hard. Individually, each spouse will need motivation, desire, and conviction to restore the marriage. To increase your motivation, make a vivid list of benefits of restoring your relationship. Then make another list of the negative consequences of a divorce. Be as detailed and specific as you can. Review this list daily for a few weeks and allow your desires to change. Also begin to envision how great your relationship can be in five years if both of you grow in a few key areas. Marriage counseling never seeks to return to “the way things were” but rather focuses on an improved marriage relationship comprised of two significantly healthier people.
7. Seek counseling. A trained professional can coach you and your spouse through the issues you are facing. Having an objective third party who can equip and encourage you to make pivotal changes is often very helpful. In the safety of a counseling office, an experienced marriage counselor has equipped many couples with new communication skills, new insights, and new behaviors. This can be especially helpful if you are dealing with issues such as infidelity, verbal/emotional harm, money problems, or differences in parenting styles.
8. Seek support. Talk to friends and family about the changes you want to make. It can be helpful to have a team of people who will encourage you during difficult times and challenge you when you are tempted to slide back into old ways.
9. Be patient. Rebuilding a relationship takes time and effort. Be patient with yourself and your spouse and try to be understanding of one another's mistakes. It's important to remember that relationships are not perfect, and that it's normal to have ups and downs.
In our counseling/coaching work at Next Step Counseling, we have helped many couples like John and Janie fix their marriages by becoming healthier and more skilled individuals. We can help you too. In a handful of sessions, our counselor will help identify critical issues and provide practical strategies for lasting change. Learn more.
Before you hire the lawyers and start the painful legal process of filing for divorce, consider investing in five marriage counseling sessions. What have you got to lose? What can you gain?