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How to Know If It’s Too Late to Save Your Marriage

The vast majority of people give up on their marriages too soon. Affairs, not being in love, or your spouse saying he or she is done DO NOT prevent reconciling.

it's probably not too late to save your marriage
The chances of reconciling depend more on what you do than on what your spouse does

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 by conflicting pieces of advice.

The best way to deal with your confusion is to focus on the essentials of relationship building. Not much time should be spent in figuring out what went wrong. No matter what did, the same methods are required for rebuilding.

Also trying to get your spouse to talk to you about problems is largely a waste of time. If your spouse is on the same page and wants to work on things, great. If not, then get to work on your own. Don’t keep trying to get your spouse to participate as that in itself will do more damage to your relationship.

The false belief that it takes two to rebuild a relationship leads to many failed relationships. I do all of my reconciling work with one person only because it is more effective than working with a resistant spouse. Your spouse’s lack of desire to work on your relationship in no way prevents you from rebuilding it, and is not an indicator that you can’t save your marriage.

Most relationship problems result from a failure to maintain the core relationship.

The core aspects of good relationships

Good relationships require first of all choosing a mate who is similar to us in terms of values, beliefs, interests, and personality. Once we do that, we only need to maintain our attractiveness, spend regular time together, and have good boundaries.

People have relationship problems either because of:

  • differences and/or
  • too much or too little time together and/or
  • poor boundaries.

The fewer differences you start out with, the easier it will be to maintain similarity, the more you will match in terms of how much time you like to do things together, and the fewer boundaries will be needed that result from differences in expectations.

Improving a relationship

Improving a relationship depends on:

  1. behaving in a way that would make you desirable and attractive to your spouse if he or she were meeting you for the first time (just as when you were single);
  2. behaving in a way that helps your spouse to feel that the two of you are similar (just as you would agree and empathize with someone you were interested in if you were single), and
  3. using good boundaries to stop damaging behaviors that interfere with relationship building

No matter how many books you read, how much you talk, how many personality tests you take or how many counselors you see, you won’t be able to reconcile without doing those three things.

Notice that these three skills are the same ones you need to have any kind of personal relationship, whether single or married. Until you have done all three of these things, you will not know if you can save your marriage or not. This is also true when you are single. If you don’t do these three things, you don’t know how good your relationship could become.

Note that all three of these behaviors are under your control. There is nothing your spouse can do to prevent you from doing them.

I will help you to understand how to rebuild your relationship with your spouse or on your own.

Working as a couple

If you and your spouse both want to improve your relationship, then relationship building will consist of re-creating your original relationship:

  • you will have your best appearance,
  • you will treat him or her nicely,
  • you will agree and empathize whenever you can,
  • you will look for opportunities for giving compliments, showing appreciation, and admiring your spouse,
  • you will spend little time together at first and gradually increase it as you enjoy your time together more,
  • you won’t have sex until your relationship has developed emotionally.

Notice that sex does not build relationships. It is a way to help maintain an already built relationship. Having sex too soon tends to limit further development of the relationship.

At the end of your relationship building you should end up:

  • Dating at least once a week,
  • spending one on one interactive time together each day (not business talk), and
  • having a sexual relationship you both enjoy.

A reasonable expectation for this couple’s approach would be three months to reaching the point of good connection.

Working on your own

If your spouse is not interested in building your relationship, then you do NOT try to discuss this with your spouse and you do NOT try to get your spouse to go to marriage counseling with you. Either of those choices would result in increasing differences without increasing enjoyment of each other. The end result would be a worse relationship.

You can build the relationship on your own better than you can with a disinterested spouse. You do that by:

  • having your best appearance,
  • being relaxed,
  • treating your spouse like a friend,
  • not bringing up any relationship talk,
  • agreeing and empathizing whenever you can,
  • NOT pursuing with compliments, appreciation, or admiration until your spouse enjoys you more.
  • spending LESS time together than your spouse wants,
  • NOT expressing more feelings or desire for your spouse than he or she does for you,
  • NOT trying to do activities or have intimacy that your spouse is not interested in, and
  • waiting until your spouse cares more about your relationship before using boundaries.

It can take as long to rebuild a marriage as it does to get married in the first place. It depends on what your starting point is.

If you are in a desperate rush to save your marriage, it will take even longer or not happen at all. Desperation and moving too fast create resistance and rejection.

Notice that the way to build a relationship without your spouse is different from how you would build your relationship with your spouse. This is because you have to help your spouse to feel relaxed with you first. This adds additional time to reconciling.

After that, you will gradually help your spouse to have more desire for you. This is a very successful way to rebuild a relationship, just as it is with building a relationship when you are single. Some of these behaviors are skills that you can improve by learning and practicing. Others require discipline over your emotions.

While a coach can help with the skills, you will need a counselor if your emotional problems prevent you from doing the steps required for success.

If you have not had relationship improvement, could it be that:

  • you were trying to work as a couple when your spouse was not interested in doing that? or
  • you were using methods that made your spouse feel defensive, different, and/or pressured? or
  • you moved faster than your spouse’s feelings could grow? or
  • you were inconsistent in your approach? or
  • you were leaving out important behaviors? or
  • you lack the know-how to be attractive, similar, or how to use good boundaries?

If so, then there is still hope for your marriage because you have not done all you can do to make it work.

Notice that relationship building does NOT involve the discussion of problems , the sharing of needs, or sharing negative thoughts and feelings. This is true whether you are working as a couple or on your own. Those methods don’t work when you are single and they won’t work when you are married either. They are all connected to false beliefs about how good relationships are created and maintained.

TIME OUT: If you think what I am saying is plain crazy, then go try the things that you think work best. Experience and observation are tried and true methods for learning what works. Test your hypotheses before you come to your conclusions.

Any methods that make your spouse not like you or want to get away from you are not good methods for building relationships.

Remember: If what you are doing won’t work for a single person, it won’t work for a married person either. What people like and dislike does not change when they get married.

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 occasional space alternating with occasional convincing. This maintains distance in the relationship. John gets sad and frustrated. He feels hopeless.

Analysis: John has not done anything to make Jane enjoy talking with him. Nor has he done anything to become more attractive. His lack of connection skills, coupled with his needy behavior (doing things she doesn’t like) make Jane more determined than ever to separate. The result of his trying to convince her is she finds him to be very different and very unattractive.

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 can have a part time marriage while living separated and dating other women whenever he wants. The relationship does not improve and Mary feels hopeless.

Analysis: 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 her lack of boundaries has created the opposite.

Both John and Mary may give up on their marriage. Not because there is no way to reconcile, but because there is no way to reconcile using their methods.

If your methods don’t work, whether it is for growing vegetables or growing your marriage, you must either learn new methods or remain stuck with a bad outcome.

FALSE signals that it is too late to save your marriage

The following DO NOT signal a relationship is over:

  • Affairs
  • Spouse not in love with you
  • Spouse not forgiving you

How you respond to what is going on with your spouse predicts the future better than what your spouse is doing or how your spouse is feeling right now.

Your success depends on what you do.

TRUE signal that it is too late to save your marriage

It’s too late to save your marriage when you have no contact whatsoever with your spouse

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. It sets the stage for a bad relationship if by some miracle your spouse does return. No longer waiting is far more likely to create change than waiting.

How likely are you to be able to save your marriage?

Something being possible does not mean it is likely or the best choice for what to do. It is possible to start a fire in the rain with no matches but very few people can do it. It is possible to survive a fall from an airplane without a parachute. I don’t recommend trying that, however.

Some factors that you need to consider when deciding to work on reconciling are:

  • Your ability to be the kind of person your spouse finds attractive;
  • your ability to be more desirable than other people available to your spouse;
  • your ability to be similar in regard to beliefs, values, personality, and interests;
  • your ability to be available to spend daily time together;
  • your ability to be a good sexual partner for your spouse; and
  • your ability to overcome the fear of losing your spouse and to use good boundaries

Whenever people ask me what their chances of reconciling are, the answer is going to depend on their ability to do those things.

Reconciling does not depend on your spouse giving you another chance. It depends on your ability to help your spouse value you.

If you have no desire to become the kind of person your spouse finds desirable, and have no desire to have many of the same values or interests, then reconciling would be like marrying someone who is a bad match for you, which may be what you did. For relationships to continue, similarity has to be maintained.

People who can only be similar during the initial honeymoon phase of the relationship, or only during the reconciling process, are poorly matched and their relationship will fail.

Opposites do attract, but only similar people stay together.

Roadblocks to reconciling

Because the factors for reconciling are largely under your control, the roadblocks are as well. The only exception to this is if your spouse no longer has contact with you or limits it severely. That is under your spouse’s control.

Things that you may be doing to block your own progress:

  • Failing to be consistently relaxed with your spouse,
  • failing to be consistently friendly,
  • making your spouse feel like you have a different agenda,
  • trying to get your spouse to do things he or she does not want to do,
  • expressing more feelings for your spouse than your spouse has for you,
  • moving too fast,
  • spending too much time together, or
  • pursuing your spouse.

All of these behaviors cause resistance and prevent progress, even when you are doing everything else right. If you recognize that you are doing many things that actually make your spouse want to get away from you rather than reconcile with you, I recommend you read my book on overcoming neediness. Needy people have behaviors that make other people not want to be with them.

If you would like to work with me on a step by step approach to reconciling with your spouse, I would be happy to help.

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