Can you get cooperation and fix a marriage when you are both so different? Absolutely!
Most married couples have difficulty solving their relationship problems because they don’t find common ground. Because they have different goals, they end up trying to justify their position while blaming the other. Rather than solving problems and fixing a marriage, this just causes resistance and distance. I regularly coach people to restored marriages and loving relationships by getting them away from differences and onto common ground. You can use these same principles with your day to day conflicts to start fixing your marriage.
A Change in Perspective is Necessary
Very few of the people who hire me to help them with their marriage are cooperating with their spouse (or getting cooperation). They have been so focused on their differences for so long, that they have not stopped to consider that they and their spouse have common ground. I can agree wholeheartedly that we need to deal with the affair, the separation, the fighting, the distance, the silence, the roller-coaster relationship or any other destructive behavior that is going on. But, we can’t fix their marriage problems by hammering their spouse with facts about how they are bad and my client is good. Helping my clients to be right is not my first priority. Helping them to reconnect with their spouses is. If I can help them to connect first, then dealing with those very damaging problems becomes much easier.
It’s Important to Understand that Fixing a Marriage Happens in Stages
Typically, the first things that my clients and I work on are combining tough boundaries with loving communication. At this stage of things, there is no cooperation and it’s not expected. We need to put respect in place without pushing the spouse away. It’s an important balance and the most important aspect of reconnecting. Without that, we will never get to cooperation, and without cooperation we will never get to intimacy. Whether you work with a coach or not, you need to focus on specific objectives, one at a time, to rebuild your marriage. Put them in the wrong order or try to skip a step and you will crash back to the beginning. The reason coaching works so well is that a good coach will help you through each stage of improvement as it happens.
Finding Common Ground for Fixing Your Marriage
Finding common ground turns out to be important for all of the stages of marriage improvement. Common ground is important at first, just to help you to emotionally connect. When I’m helping clients draft their messages to a separated spouse, they need to empathize with their spouse. It’s understandable to be self-focused, but it’s not helpful. You can try to understand your spouse even if you don’t agree with his or her behavior. For example, you wouldn’t agree that your spouse should be leaving you, but you can agree that you wouldn’t want to stay in an unhappy marriage. You also couldn’t agree with a spouse’s affair, but you could agree that everyone wants to feel loved and special. This kind of common ground is called empathy. It helps us to not see our spouse as an evil person hellbent on destroying our lives and making us miserable. Angry spouses, for example, take no joy in being angry. They are a victim of their own behavior. Help them by using boundaries to protect you and deal with the behavior. Use your language to emphasize understanding and agreement on at least some aspect of your spouse’s behavior. There can be no connection without validation (the basis for my book, Connecting through “Yes!”
After Connection and Respect Have Been Built, Cooperation Is Next
When there is mutual respect, almost any kind of cooperation will help fix a marriage. After all, cooperation is really working with someone to get something we both want. It’s not negotiation or compromise which result in us both losing something we don’t want to. Cooperation, not compromise, builds marriages. Sharing goals and working together naturally creates closeness. For example, maybe you don’t want to fight and your spouse doesn’t want to fight. That is common ground! All you need to do is to flip it around in a more positive way. (With respect already built) I might have my client tell her spouse that regardless of what happens to their relationship, that she wants to be able to get along. Invariably, at this stage, her spouse will agree. Then, my client would invite her spouse to meet for coffee and start to talk about getting along. The goal of such a meeting would not be to address any big issues or change anyone’s mind, but simply to get the process of cooperating going. Such simple, positive meetings, without expectations or hidden agendas, can really do a lot to start the ball rolling again. The big problems are not likely to stop at that point, but they will be one big step closer to that.
To Fix a Marriage You Need to Be Active
Nowhere in my writings will you ever see advice for patiently waiting for improvement. Nor will you find any mention of manipulating a spouse into doing something. One person can, by overcoming their own insecurities, and communicating with both love and strength, gain the respect and love of their spouse again. It doesn’t happen in a single step–ever. If you can keep your focus and not try to accomplish everything in one step, you can bring back the love in your relationship without being a doormat or a controller. If you need someone to help you deal with your fears and insecurities and keep you on track (and keep you from pushing your spouse away further), there also is no shame in that. There are points in our life where we all need help from someone, myself included. No one (including your spouse) ever needs to know that you got help from a coach. All that matters is that you don’t lose each other when deep down you really want the same thing–to love and be loved.