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When Should Marriages be Salvaged?

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by Izzy Kalman (October 2004)

I take marital problems very seriously. When a couple is miserable, children suffer as well, and the pain continues even after divorce. I believe in saving marriages whenever possible. If you are considering divorce, I would like you to ask yourself some simple questions that will help you determine if your marriage can be salvaged. Or if you counsel couples, keep these questions in mind to help you decide if their marriages have hope. Remember, divorce is probably the most expensive decision you will ever make. Don’t make it lightly.

1. Did you get along well with your spouse BEFORE you got married?

Relationships tend to get worse after marriage. In the dating stage, couples generally treat each other very well; otherwise they would break up. Once they are married, though, they discover they can be nasty to each other and no one disappears. Then they start getting angry at each other to make the abuse stop. They don’t realize that by getting angry they unwittingly make the abuse continue.

If your relationship was good before you were married – if you truly admired each other and enjoyed each other’s company – the chances of restoring the good relationship are excellent. By refusing to get angry, and by treating your spouse as a friend (such as by using the Bullies to Buddies rules I teach in my seminars) there is no reason your marriage can’t go back to being just as good as it was before you got married.

However, if your relationship was stormy when you were single, the prognosis is much worse. Sometimes people think that after they get married the battles will end. However, this is wishful thinking. Relationships usually get worse after marriage.

2. Are you the only one your spouse abuses?

If your spouse treats everyone else well but treats you terribly, you probably feel like you know the “real s.o.b.” who has everyone else fooled. The truth is that you are the one who is not seeing the “real” person. You are seeing your spouse at war, and when people go to war, they literally become monsters.

If this is your situation, the marriage has hope. Learn to treat your spouse like a friend, and your spouse will treat you (almost) as well as they treat the rest of the world.

On the other hand, if your spouse has trouble getting along with lots of people, you have less reason to be optimistic. Unless your spouse is truly committed to self-improvement, you may not want to stay in the marriage.

3. Does your spouse have a serious love relationship outside the marriage?

If your spouse has a passionate relationship with someone else, your chances of repairing the marriage are gravely hurt. If you do a super job of making your spouse realize what a fool he/she has been by looking for love in all the wrong places, your marriage may be saved. Not everyone can accomplish this, so don’t keep your hopes too high.

4. Has your spouse come to loathe you?

Sometimes people can come to despise their spouse so strongly that there is no desire to continue the relationship. Unfortunately, some people can’t admit that they no longer want to be married to their spouse, but go along for marriage counseling hoping to appear like the “good guy.” In the therapy, they are likely to try to make it seem that the failure of the marriage is their spouse’s fault. As a result, the counseling drags on and goes nowhere. There is little hope for such a marriage.

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3 Responses to When Should Marriages be Salvaged?

  1. Darlene Lancer, MFT November 14, 2013 at 9:31 pm #

    Thank you for these helpful guidelines. The problem I often see is that many spouses deny these problems. It’s not that they don’t see the facts, they excuse, minimize, or rationalize them. Their low self-worth keeps them stuck in unhappy relationships that replay childhood abuse. Sometimes the abuse was from a sibling. Other spouses think they should leave for valid reasons, but can’t. They might still love an abuser, but feel too sorry and guilty for him or her to leave. They may be afraid they’ll be lonely or feel like a failure if they do. Theylack autonomy and self-esteem. usually, the underlying issue is codependency, which my books address.
    Darlene Lancer, MFT
    Author of “Codependency for Dummies”
    http://www.whatiscodependency.com

    • Izzy Kalman November 24, 2013 at 1:01 pm #

      Yes, Darlene, there are people who are codependent and deny these problems. They can be hard to help. Your book sounds like it could be a big help for such people.

  2. saima November 16, 2013 at 12:43 pm #

    Harsh reality ….but true facts…..! A codependent feels safer in his/her comfort zone ,living with Denial, and incorporating other defence mechanisms ,closing eyes on facts/reality. i agree with Darlene’s comment also…!

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