BEFORE GIVING UP ON A BAD MARRIAGE . . .
I have helped people create a peaceful divorce once they decide to go that way, but I have never advised anyone to get a divorce. One reason is that the heartache it cures is seldom as great as the heartache it creates, especially when dependent children are involved.
The other reason is that God may have joined the couple together, and as the first part of Matthew 19 says, who am I, what authority do I have, to separate what God may have joined together? So, what if you think you’ve tried everything, and it’s time to give up?
For the person who is wanting divorce: If your bodies, hearts and minds used to dance with each other and can’t anymore, it’s likely because the music has changed, inside your heart. It may have happened as your body, job, family, situation and peer group were changing. Perhaps your situation is different now, and so too is your personality. Maybe you’ve lost some of your old desires and interests, and new ones have emerged. It may feel to you like some new dance music is playing in your heart, and one or both of you don’t know how to dance to it.
It’s sad and frightening when your mate cannot hear the music of your heart, but it’s usually in part because you aren’t singing and dancing the tune at home. Perhaps for fear of immediate rejection, you have failed to communicate those new interests and desires. That just guarantees you rejection in the long run, and marriage is about the longest run of all in this life.
When you no longer want to communicate, you’ve reached he point when you can least afford not to communicate. At such a time, certain words need to be said, whether or not you feel like saying them. And they need to be acted on in follow-up, again, regardless of your feelings. These words and actions by you alone may not save your marriage, but they will save your self-respect.
If you can’t rise above feelings and passion to act on faith and principle, if you don’t think of loved ones as well as yourself, if you don’t use your head to guard your heart, your heart will surely burn itself out and die a lonely death. So what else can you do?
First, don’t say you’re no longer in love with him, or that you have no more feeling for her. Those words usually trigger huge hurt, fear and defensiveness. You’re going to get twenty questions per day for awhile about where the love went, to whom, how and why. It ain’t pretty, and there’s no end to it, so just don’t say those words.
It’s important that you think of your spouse and the marriage and see how the things you desire would help them as well as you. Then explain this to your spouse as a win-win deal, good for all concerned. If it doesn’t seem that it will help anyone but you, you are being selfish, and if allowed to fester, that attitude will kill a marriage.
Work hard to remember a time years ago when you two enjoyed something like what you are wanting now. Explain how charming, delightful, and fun your spouse seemed to you then. Explain what you all used to do together, the personality your spouse used to enjoy expressing to you, and how all that inspired your romantic feelings in the past. Don’t say that your feelings “would grow if” or “used to grow when.” Call it forth now: “Let’s do this together.” And how is a spouse to respond?
Whatever your partners ask you for, don’t say that you don’t want that, or that you can’t do or enjoy that. It’s better to say that you’ve lost touch with that desire, but you believe it’s down in you somewhere, and you’re going to try to get back in touch with it. After all, you too want them to do with you more things than they want to do, so do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
It is wise for you to act on your faith now and not your fear, to move toward your spouse, and to focus on grace instead of grudges and guilt. This is the time for you to help each other discover some new feelings and activities.
For both of you: Once you’ve agreed on what you need to do to bring back the feelings, commit to doing those things for a period of time, whether you feel like it or not. Don’t share negative feelings, or the fear that this won’t work, until the time is up. Shorter marriages with no kids may need a month or two of trying this, and longer ones with children will need and deserve several months.
Your marriage is just too important to too many people to blow taps on it before giving it your best shot. That means offering to teach your mate gently and patiently how to dance with you to your heart’s new music. Just as important, invite and accept their invitation to do the same for you. Otherwise, trust me, you’ll have no lasting peace in either your marriage, your divorce, or a new relationship.
Dr. Paul Schmidt is a psychologist life coach you can reach at [email protected], 502 633 2860.