No marriage is without its troubles, but how many troubles are too many? Perhaps your marriage is in trouble and you wonder whether it’s worth trying to save it before it’s too late. How can you tell if too much damage has already been done? Is it too late?
Just by asking questions about the state of your marriage and wondering about how to save it, or even if you should, you have already taken a step towards improving your relationship with your spouse. By wondering and questioning, you have moved beyond a clueless marriage that runs along on autopilot, often with disastrous results.
So I’m tempted to tell you that the answer is “Yes” if you’ve asked the question. If you wonder whether your marriage is worth saving, then it is. If you don’t wonder, if you’re 100 percent sure it is a total failure and a write off, with no doubt in your mind, then it isn’t worth it.
Most marriages, with a few abusive exceptions, are worth saving. Marriage brings so many benefits – health, longer life, happiness, financial improvements, friendship, security – that it is hard to abandon it. Sure, marriage can be a tough ordeal, like running a 100-mile ultramarathon. It is beneficial, but not always easy.
Another bit of good news is that you can work on saving a troubled marriage even if your spouse is unwilling or oblivious. Since a marriage requires two partners, you might be discouraged and think you can’t do anything positive unless your partner goes along with it. You might think any effort you make on your own is wasted. But that’s not at all true.
There are excellent resources available, such as the “Mend the Marriage” document, which explain in great detail how you alone can begin taking immediate, concrete actions to make your marriage better, to get it back on track. Most important of all is adjusting your attitude. Just changing your attitude to a more positive one will pay benefits throughout your relationship.
But let’s get back to the question at hand. You still have your doubts. You aren’t sure whether your marriage is worth saving. You want to be more certain before taking any action. How can you be sure?
One good way to decide is to take some time to think and write about your marriage. Take just five or ten minutes a day for a week or so and write down thoughts about your relationship. Divide a paper into two columns and list the good and bad things about your marriage. You might put things like “fighting” or “arguing” in the negative column, while adding “love,” “support during illness” or “financial boost” in the positive column. Write down anything that comes into your mind, no matter how silly or trivial it seems. No one is ever going to read this list but you. If your spouse takes out the trash, put that in the positive column. Making this kind of positive/negative list will help you see that your marriage is not all bad, that it has many positive aspects.
An even better exercise is to make what’s known as a “gratitude list” about your marriage. Just make a list every day of the things you are grateful for about your spouse and your relationship. List everything you can think of, large and small. Do this every day for a week. You may find yourself listing the same things over and over every day, but there’s nothing the matter with that. Writing the same positive things over and over will help reinforce them in your mind. You will, in the short span of a few days, become a more grateful minded person, someone who is inclined to notice and be grateful for all the positive things in your marriage. Perhaps you’re grateful for having someone to come home and talk to, or for the time your spouse came out to pick you up when you had car trouble, or from feeling safe at night with another person in your house. Try to list everything you can think of.
If you’re crippled by negative feelings – anger, outrage, ennui, betrayal, jealousy – writing is also a good way to tame them. Do what’s called “freewriting” – just scribble down a stream of consciousness, whatever comes into your head. “I am angry because …” is a good start. Then just go from there. You’ll be surprised at how much you can spew out on paper in just five minutes of free, fast writing. Once you’ve written out some of your toxic feelings, destroy the bit of paper. This should help you have a bit of a clearer mind to evaluate the more positive aspects of your marriage.
All these exercises should give you a more focused idea about how important and valuable your marriage is. The most likely thing is that there are dozens of positive aspects to your marriage that you take for granted or don’t think about very often. Reminding yourself of them, getting them into the front of your mind, will help you see that your marriage, no matter how troubled, is probably worth trying to save.
Divorce is very tough. It is expensive – emotionally and financially. Its effects last the rest of your life. So it truly is a last resort. If you are asking questions about your troubled marriage, and wondering whether it is worth fighting for, you’ve probably already answered the question with an affirmative. Some of these exercises can help reinforce that decision and make you feel more comfortable and confident about what you are doing.
In the case of serious problems like a spouse who is an alcoholic or an addict, things may seem hopeless, but they usually aren’t. A therapist or marriage counsellor can recommend many options for you, even if your spouse is in denial. So don’t exhaust yourself trying to reform your spouse and cure them of their addiction. Find support for yourself – a safe place to talk, vent your feelings, and strategise. Often, just by working on your own attitude and feelings, you can change your marriage quite a bit.
There may be a few cases, such as serious and prolonged physical or emotional abuse, where you decide your marriage is not worth saving. In those cases, protecting yourself is priority number one, so you should get help and protect yourself as quickly as possible.
Remember that as a rule of thumb, most marriages are worth saving.