There are two kinds of evidence to consider when determining if there is hope for your marriage–what your spouse is doing, and what you are doing. If your spouse: 1) is not committed to someone else, 2) has regular contact with you, and 3) you are willing to use effective methods, then there is hope for your marriage. If one of these three criteria are not met, you won’t be able to reconcile no matter how hard you try. Let’s consider these requirements.
Partner factors are things that your spouse is or is not doing. There are only a few that matter in terms of hope for your marriage.
When your spouse desires someone else
There is a difference between your spouse being interested in dating, and your spouse being committed to someone else. Everyone who is in a bad marriage has an interest in finding someone who will give them what they are not getting from the marriage. That interest is normal. Just as hungry people will desire food, unloved people will desire love, ignored people will desire attention, and so forth. If your spouse has an interest in getting that from others, it is a symptom of your marriage problems–it is not evidence that your spouse is somehow unfaithful. You must act quickly to provide what your spouse needs, in a secure way so that you don’t become more resentful as you rebuild your connection with your spouse.
When your spouse has someone else
If your spouse is involved with someone else, then he or she is actively getting his or her needs met from someone else. There are ways to work on reconciling when your spouse is having an affair. The road is going to be longer and more difficult than if you had worked on your relationship before the affair started. If your spouse can’t stand you and has no more contact with you, then it is time to move on. There is still hope, however, if your spouse continues to have a friendly or ambivalent relationship with you. That spark can be fanned into a flame or snuffed out, depending on how you manage your emotions, your boundaries, and your connection skills.
When your spouse is committed to someone else
If your spouse is in a committed relationship, as signified by living together, having a baby with, buying a house with or other such evidence, then you no longer have a spouse (except legally). Marriage counselors say “You can’t unscramble eggs,” meaning you can’t end one committed relationship to save an earlier committed relationship. I agree with that. Continuing to wait for your spouse in this situation just puts you in the position of being a backup in case something goes wrong with your spouse’s new relationship. That is a very needy position which would ultimately be damaging should your spouse come back. If your spouse came back under such a condition, he or she would likely be off again when the chance arose.
When your spouse will no longer have contact with you
Regardless of whether your spouse is seeing someone else, if he or she will not have contact with you, there is no hope for your marriage. Without contact, there is no relationship and no possibility for building one. Just because you had a relationship for many years does not mean that you have one now. This is the rude reality that many people fail to see who cling to a relationship that is no longer there. No contact equals no relationship.
The Earlier You Take Action, the More Hope there Is for Your Marriage
As you can see from the above, there is a progression from your spouse desiring someone else to your spouse committing to someone else. There is also a progression from talking to you, to talking less to you, to not talking to you at all. The earlier you act in these progressions, the more hope there is for saving your marriage. The best time to act is when your spouse is not yet with someone else and still has regular contact with you. Unfortunately, at that point many people wait for improvement to someone happen rather than taking action. Waiting will not stop the progressions because waiting doesn’t change anything. There is no hope without action, as you will see below.
Even if you still have friendly contact with your spouse and your spouse is not committed to someone else, there is little hope for your marriage unless you have some necessary characteristics.
Checklist of necessary self factors
The more of these questions you can answer “yes” to, the greater the hope for your marriage. A “no” response to even one of them may negate any chances you have for saving your marriage:
- Are you willing to give up your current ineffective methods of trying to improve your relationship and admit that they are not working?
- Are you willing to look at whether your actions or inaction are preventing your relationship from moving ahead?
- Are you willing to give up negative attempts to change your partner like complaining and blaming?
- Are you willing to be the first to change the way you and your partner interact, even if you didn’t cause the problems?
- Are you willing to earn your partner’s respect with self-control and healthy boundaries?
- Are you willing to learn the skills you need to have in order to improve your relationship, even if your partner does nothing?
- Are you willing to use those skills to improve your relationship for your partner’s benefit as well as your own?
- Are you willing to let go of short term “quick fixes” and work toward long term intimacy?
- Are you willing to get necessary professional help even though you will have to pay for it (counseling, coaching, books, etc.)?
There Are Guarantees
Sometimes people want a guarantee that something will work before they try it, like counseling or coaching. In fact, they will often look so long for a guaranteed solution to their marriage problems that it becomes too late to do anything about it. Instead of looking for a guaranteed solution, you should be comparing the risks of your current approach to the risks of a new approach. Is what you are doing now working? What will happen to your marriage if you just continue doing what you are doing? The answer to those questions tell you the risks of not getting help. They are your guarantees. What do you stand to lose if a new approach (e.g. coaching or counseling) does not work? What do you stand to gain if it does? There are risks either way, but there is only potential gain with getting help.
When There Is No Hope for Your Marriage
If there is no hope for your marriage because your spouse will no longer have contact with you, is committed to someone else, or you don’t have the necessary qualities for healing your marriage, then it is time to move on. Although your spouse can’t take care of you anymore, God can help you move forward. You can move forward with faith and hope that there is something better for you in the future, even if you can’t see what that is yet. The only way out of a dark tunnel is to keep moving forward.
Hope is Hope for Now
If there is still reason for hope in your marriage, you must take action before that hope goes away. Go over every single item in the checklist above and work on it. Stop looking for hope in your spouse’s words and behaviors and start creating hope with your actions. The main reason that people don’t reconcile is not a spouse who won’t change, but when we won’t change ourselves.