There are only 2 indicators that it is too late to save your marriage. The vast majority of people give up on their marriages too soon. Lack of progress calls for different methods–it doesn’t mean it is too late to save your marriage
I often receive emails from people asking if it is too late to save their marriage. They have done everything that they know how to do, but are not making progress. They are also confused from many conflicting pieces of advice.
By focusing on the essentials clients can feel in control and get their relationship moving in the right direction.
The essentials of saving a marriage
Building any relationship entails helping the other person to enjoy you while also respecting you. This requires a combination of connection skills and good boundaries. Too often, people get focused on trying to solve problems and convince their spouse. These are not relationship building skills. Working on solving problems in a damaged relationship only brings conflict. Trying to convince only brings rejection and feelings of hopelessness.
There is almost always hope (with only a couple of exceptions). Failure to build a relationship is usually due to:
- lack of or poor use of boundaries,
- lack of or poor use of connection skills, or
Consider this typical scenario:
John’s wife Jane has told him that she no longer is in love with him and she wants to separate. John tries to convince her to work on the marriage. Jane does not want to. John keeps trying to talk to her about it. This stresses Jane and makes her ask for space. John gives her some space with occasional convincing. This maintains a distance in the relationship. John gets sad and frustrated. He feels hopeless.
John has not done anything to make Jane enjoy talking with him. The lack of connection skills, coupled with his needy behavior (thinking only about himself) make Jane more determined than ever to separate. And she respects John even less.
Another typical scenario:
Mary’s husband Bill is having an affair and is separating. Mary begs and pleads for Bill to stay and work on the relationship. Bill takes advantage of this situation by dictating the terms of the separation. Separation for Bill turns out to be wonderful since he have a part time marriage while living separated and dating other women whenever he wants.
Mary has not done anything to make Bill want to reconcile. She has in fact made his cheating on her very rewarding. She takes away all reason for him to ever reconcile. If things end with his current girlfriend, he will get another. Why not? He gets everything he wants. Mary thought that just by giving Bill whatever he wanted, he would want her back. But she has created the opposite.
Both John and Mary will feel hopeless after a while. Not because there is no way to reconcile, but because they are doing the wrong things to reconcile.
FALSE signals that it is too late to save your marriage
The following DO NOT signal a relationship is over:
- Spouse not in love with you
- Spouse not forgiving you
Often, people have stronger relationships after rebuilding from these situations. How you respond to what is going on with your spouse determines more than what your spouse is actually doing or feeling right now.
TRUE signals that it is too late to save your marriage
1 It’s too late to save your marriage when you have no contact whatsoever
There are some things that prevent building relationships or signal that it is better to end your marriage than to seek to reconcile. If you no longer have any contact with your spouse, you are not going to be able to build your relationship. It simply cannot be done telepathically.
Waiting for a spouse who has totally abandoned you also does not make sense. Not only does it not work, it is also very unattractive and sets the stage for a bad relationship if by some miracle your spouse did return. No longer waiting is far more likely to create change than waiting.
2 It’s too late to save your marriage when your spouse has committed to someone else
Committed means intent to stay together for life. There is no such thing as “temporary commitment.” Your spouse dating someone else does not mean he or she has committed to that person. On the other hand, your spouse living with the other person, having a baby with the other person, wanting to divorce so that he or she can marry the other person, are all indications of commitment. I recommend you stop all attempt to reconcile with a partner who is in such a situation–unless your partner breaks his or her commitment to the other person.
Why “it’s over” doesn’t mean it’s over
“It’s over” is primarily and emotional statement that is subject to change if your spouse’s feelings change. Too many people at this point try to convince their spouse to change their mind and give their relationships another go. Such an approach just brings resistance and greater distance in the marriage. When you try to convince a spouse in such a situation, it will end up convincing you that the marriage really is over. Your spouse saying “it’s over” is actually an opportunity for connecting with your spouse if you can agree with your spouse about the difficulties in your relationship, without trying to get your spouse to change his or her mind. Agreement always works to create connection, whereas arguing or convincing brings disconnection. How to use all encounters with your spouse as an opportunity for connection is the subject of my book, Connecting through “Yes!”
As long as you are still communicating, it is not too late for your marriage
Unless your spouse fell in love with you from the very first time that he or she ever spoke with you, you have already been through a relationship building process. That happened because your spouse not only trusted you, but your spouse also enjoyed talking with you. You probably also did things together that your spouse enjoyed and you were behaving in a way that attracted your spouse to you. These are the same elements that can rebuild your relationship.
The factors for reconciling are mostly under your control
Too many people are looking for indications of hope by paying very close attention to what their spouses say or do. Monitoring your spouse will not do anything to help you reconcile. From the first session with my clients, I help them to shift their focus from what their spouses are doing to what they are doing. Are they behaving in a way that builds trust rather than trying to persuade their spouses to trust them? Are they behaving in a way which would help their spouses to be attracted to them? Are they being needy? Or are they building respect with good boundaries while at the same time creating a desire in their spouses to talk with them more? We then work on the things they are not doing or not doing well so that their spouse will be once again drawn toward them. How will simply watching your spouse for signs of hope do anything to rebuild your relationship?
Your pursuit will cause your spouse to need space
If you get ahead of where your spouse is emotionally, you risk your spouse needing to get away from you by cutting off all contact with you. If you push your spouse to that point, your chances for reconciling will go way down. Be sure not to follow approaches that have you just keep showing your spouse how much you love him or her. There are even some popular books that encourage this approach. You are not going to wear down your spouse’s resistance to your intense love. You will just end up stressing your spouse. Spouse may say, “you are smothering me.” This is not an indication that you are doing a good thing. People connect when they are relaxed, and not when they are stressed.
Can you reconcile with your spouse?
The vast majority of people I work with in re-connection relationship coaching reconcile with their spouses. Here are some questions to help you decide whether reconciliation is possible for you:
- Do you still have regular contact with your spouse?
- Is your spouse committed to someone else?
- Are you able to stop trying to convince your spouse and help your spouse to relax with you?
- Are you behaving in a way that over time will build your spouse’s trust?
- Are you resisting getting emotionally ahead of your spouse so that your spouse doesn’t need “space” from you?
- Do you avoid talking about your relationship so that your spouse doesn’t avoid talking to you?
- Are you using good connection skills so that your spouse will gradually want to talk with you more?
- Are you earning your spouse’s respect by behaving in secure ways that won’t undermine your relationship?
- Are you behaving in an attractive way?
- Are you using a step by step approach to rebuilding your relationship rather than trying to just get your spouse to work on your marriage?
Notice that the first two items have to do with what your spouse does. The last eight items have to do with what you do. They are mainly a matter of skill. They do not depend on what your spouse has said, how your spouse is currently behaving towards you, or whether your spouse is having an affair. The single biggest factor determining whether my clients will reconcile is their ability to learn and make these changes in themselves. Which of those ten items above do you think you can omit and still reconcile with your spouse? Do you know how to do them or do you need to learn? What is likely to happen if you don’t learn?