Do you feel like giving up on your marriage? Before you do that, make sure you have done all you can to make it better for you and your spouse.
As a relationship coach I help people to turn around even very bad marriages. They hire me after they have tried on their own to fix their marriage. It makes sense that they do that first. When they realize what they are doing is not working, they get my help. Then, they discover that there are still more things they can do that actually work better.
For everyone who gets extra help, there are many, many more who never get that help. They either divorce or resign themselves to stay in an unhappy marriage. As a coach and Christian, that makes me both sad and frustrated. Almost all relationships can be improved.
The problem is some people think of marriage counseling as their last resort. That is a problem for people who have a spouse who won’t go to marriage counseling. It’s also a problem if they went to marriage counseling and had a bad result.
When you have a spouse who does not want to work on your marriage or who blames you for everything, counseling is not the appropriate tool. I made a podcast on when to use marriage counseling and when to use coaching if you want more details on that.
Your most important step: get rid of the idea that it takes two
The idea that it takes two to build a relationship is not true. It is not a biblical idea, and it makes many people lose hope. I regularly help people to do three things: re-attract and reconnect with a spouse who has lost interest in them, and use good boundaries to end problem behaviors without conflict.
Your next step: make a plan
You are not going to fix your relationship in one step. There are very few things we can do in life in one step.
Single step solutions are too short in duration to create lasting change. As a result, they bring increased conflict and feelings of hopelessness.
Examples of single step solutions that DO NOT WORK for bad marriages with disinterested spouses:
- Going to marriage counseling
- Talking about problems with your spouse
- Threatening to divorce
- Pursuing your spouse with sudden romantic advances
- Asking your spouse to spend more time with you
Unfortunately, these so called solutions are commonly advised. At best they create temporary improvement, but typically they just create more division.
Example thinking of people who get stuck:
- I went to marriage counseling with my spouse. It didn’t work, so that’s it.
- I talked about problems with my spouse. It made things worse, so that’s it.
- I threatened to divorce. My spouse didn’t care, so that’s it.
- I pursued my spouse romantically. I got rejected, so that’s it.
- I asked my spouse to spend time with me. He/she won’t, so that’s it.
For me, these single step solutions make no more sense than saying:
- I went to a medical doctor for help with my condition. It didn’t help, so that’s it.
- I applied for a job but didn’t get it, so that’s it.
- I put more gas in my car. It still didn’t work, so that’s it.
- I planted vegetable seeds. They didn’t grow, so that’s it.
- I took a course on speaking Spanish. I still can’t speak it, so that’s it.
How I help people have more hope in marriage coaching
There are two things we can hope in. We can hope in the Word of God, because He always keeps His promises. We can also have hope of accomplishing our goals if we make a plan with steps that are under our control.
Let’s suppose a client comes to me who has had a conflicted relationship with her husband for years. He does behaviors which are damaging the marriage. She has repeatedly argued and complained about those behaviors, but he still won’t stop. On top of that, they have become like roommates. They have little interaction other than business matters.
Her idea when she signs up with me is that she can learn some boundaries that will force her husband to stop his bad behavior. Her idea is not bad, but since boundaries initially create more distance, her husband is likely to reject her if she starts with that one-step solution. Instead, she must work to build the connection so that he cares more when she does use boundaries.
Example multi-step plan for this client:
- Stop her argumentative and critical behaviors.
- Be more relaxed and friendly.
- Develop similar interests to those of her spouse.
- She works on becoming a more attractive and secure person.
- She uses good connection skills that help her husband to enjoy her company.
- Finally, she uses boundaries for the damaging behaviors her spouse is doing.
Although this plan does not result in immediate change, it is a more hopeful one. Every step is under my client’s control although she will need help learning skills for some of the steps. She will need to do the steps in order, without skipping any. And, she must do each step long enough to be effective before moving on to the next step.
She will not need to continue in coaching until all of the steps are accomplished. She will just need to learn the appropriate skills in her coaching package. She can then go at a natural pace, without pressure, using the skills she has learned. She can get a refresher or more help at any time, if she needs it. This is another major difference between coaching and marriage counseling.
Typically, it is necessary to focus on building our relationships with people before we work on ending their damaging behaviors. Exceptions do need to be made in cases of abuse in order to keep people safe. Of course, if a person’s relationship is already pretty good, boundaries can be used much sooner or even right away.
Many men and women are using other multi-step plans to restore a marriage with a cheating spouse, a separated spouse, or even with a wonderful spouse that they have neglected.
I hope this has given you some ideas for steps you can take to feel hopeful and make progress in your relationship. If you would like extra help, I invite you to get a consultation session with me and to have a look at my all inclusive one month coaching packages.