Why You Havenít Seen Change in Your Marriage (and What You Can Do to Fix It) by Michele Weiner-Davis
If you have reached an impasse in your marriage-saving efforts, you will want to read this because it will help you diagnose the reasons you might be stuck. Donít despair, just make sure you read this!
So, why havenít you seen change in your marriage yet? Letís take a look at a few possible reasons.
You Havenít Given a Method Sufficient Time to Work Before Trying Something Else
It is often the case that, if a technique doesnít yield immediate results, people jump ship too quickly. Although this is completely understandable, itís unproductive. Itís my experience that you should probably stick with something for at least a couple of weeks unless it is clear that you are getting negative results. Then, of course, you should quit immediately. But donít let your impatient get in the way of your being systematic about improving your marriage. You need to give things a chance to work.
This is especially true if you and your spouse are separated and you donít have much contact. In that case, even if the method youíre using is going to be effective, it will definitely take longer to show positive results than it would if the two of you were together. Your spouse simply doesnít have enough opportunities to witness you changing. So, donít get discouraged and start trying a little of this and a little of that. If you do, you wonít really get a true reading about the effectiveness of any technique.
The Strategy Chosen Isnít Different Enough From Your Usual Approach
When people are stuck, I ask them what theyíve tried and they tell me, ďIíve tried everything.Ē No one has ever tried everything. It only feels that way.
But what people have done, is that theyíve tried many, many variations of the same technique. For example, a woman tried asking her husband nicely to change when that didnít work, she pleaded, begged, threatened, and cried. Nothing she said ever made a difference. So she decided to take a communication class where she learned how to express herself more effectively. She did well in class and mastered the skills. But when she went home and tried them out on her husband, he still responded the same old way. She felt frustrated and at her witís end.
If you asked her, this woman would tell you that she tried everything. But if you look at what she did very carefully, what youíll notice is that all of her efforts fall under the same general category. Despite the subtle difference in her approach, her husband knew one thing and one thing only. ďMy wife is constantly harping on me when she talks.Ē It didnít matter how she said what she said, or the level of emotion that she said it with- to her husband, words were words.
Although your pet strategy may not be words, I want you to mull over this example and see if you are making the same kind of mistake. When you try something new is it really new or is it merely a variation of thing youíve tried that hasnít worked? I have equipped you with a series of helpful techniques for bringing about change with your spouse: Do Something Different, Act As If, Easier Done Than Said, The Medium is In The Message, and Do a 180. Find one that is radically different from what youíve been doing. Even if it seems a little odd for you to try it out, do it anyway. Give yourself permission to be creative. Ask yourself, ďHave I had any zany ideas about what might work but have held myself back from trying them?Ē What are they?
Donít hold back a moment longer. Go for it. Remember, when I say, ďDo something different,Ē I mean different.
Youíre overlooking the small signs of change
One of the reasons you may not be noting any improvement in your marriage is that you are overlooking the small signs of change. I know how easy this is to do. You want to feel so much closer to your spouse and youíre looking for those blatant telltale signs that your marriage is headed for higher ground. Youíre hoping for obvious expressions of love and tenderness. But in your eagerness to feel that your marriage is healed, itís entirely possible that you have been oblivious to the small positive things that have happened that are really harbingers of things to come. You fail to notice the less obvious, small acts of kindness, which are really the building blocks for what comes next.
If youíve failed to notice these mini-steps, itís like missing a street sign when youíre going to a party. You wonít realize that youíve been going in the right direction and you will feel lost. Without recognizing and appreciating that youíre moving in the right direction, you wont feel encouraged to keep going.
Or perhaps you have noticed a few small things have improved but youíve told yourself, ďNo big deal.Ē In other words, since the changes werenít monumental, they werenít worth getting excited about. That kind of attitude will prevent you from moving farther. Every little step is a big deal and you should think about it that way. It will help you keep your stamina up. If youíre guilty of downplaying the significance of small changes, hereís your new mantra: ďLittle steps are a big deals.Ē Got that? Itís really important that you slow down and be patient.
Finally, you may have been telling yourself not to get too excited about small steps forward because you donít want to feel a false sense of hope. If I were in your shoes, Iíd probably feel exactly the same way, but itís unproductive. Allow yourself to notice and feel encouraged by the small signs. You need to feel hope. While itís true that there are no guarantees about the future, if things donít work out the way you hope, youíll deal with it then. For now, think positively. Remember the self-fulfilling prophecy is a very powerful phenomenon.
Your attempts at change were halfhearted
Sometimes when there is a lack of improvement, it is because when youíve experimented with a technique, you only did halfheartedly. If your heart isnít in it when you approach your spouse, your spouse will think you are acting and will immediately see through what youíre trying to do. S/he might feel manipulated, and therefore, not respond in a positive manner.
If doing things halfheartedly fails to bring about good results, why do people do it? Sometimes itís because the technique they choose doesnít feel right to them. Theyíre just doing it because they think they should. Thatí not a good reason to do anything. You need to feel comfortable with what youíre doing. It must make sense to you. You have to get behind what youíre doing. If a particular technique feels artificial, choose something else.
Another reason people do things halfheartedly is that, although they might not be admitting it to themselves, they are still playing the blame game. They donít really want to accept responsibility for tipping over the first domino. They still want their spouses to change first. So, they go through the motions of change but donít allow themselves to fully get into their new solution-oriented modes.
If you have been feeling lukewarm about the strategies youíve been using, I want you to be totally honest and ask yourself, ďAm I still holding out hope that my spouse will see the light and change first?Ē Donít fool yourself into thinking that you are really working on your marriage if that little inner voice is shouting, ďS/heís wrong, let him/her change first.Ē You are only wasting time. You first need to rid yourself of that distraction before you can do anything constructive about your marriage. Unless you put your heart and soul into changing your marriage and stop keeping score, your marriage will be in exactly the same place five years from now that it is now, or you will have no marriage at all.
You reverted to your old ways
In this case, it is clear that the technique youíre using has some merit, but you accidentally slid back into your old ways, thereby prompting your spouse to do the same. Then, when you observe both of you doing the same old thing, you incorrectly assume that what you are doing isnít working and you get discouraged. In reality, itís not that the technique you are using isnít working, itís just that it doesnít work when you donít use it! Hereís an example.
Through using this program, Andrea and Wally figured out that they got along a lot better when they used a budget to guide their financial expenditures. For a long time they were doing just that. Their finances improved and they were getting along famously. As a result, with each passing week, they found themselves becoming more and more lax about doing sticking to their budget. After all, they told themselves, ďHow will this one little extravagant purchase hurt?Ē So they started splurging a little. One small purchase turned into another small purchase, and before they knew it, their spending was out of control again. Their fighting resumed with a vengeance.
Andrea and Wally felt discouraged and assumed that their budget wasnít working until they realized that the real problem wasnít that their budget hadnít worked, but that they had become lax in their efforts to stick to it. With a little reminder, they were up and running again, and they got back on track.
Back to you for a moment. If at any time during your participating in this program you noticed even slight improvements, it means you were doing something worthwhile. If the progress has slowed or even halted, it means youíve probably stopped doing what works. Force yourself to resume doing what was working and see if that makes a difference. It probably will.
Your Spouse is Involved with Someone Else
I donít consider it a marital death sentence if one spouse is having either an emotional or physical affair with someone else. I have seen countless marriages survive infidelity and even become stronger after the healing begins. However, it is also true that positive change in marriage is harder to achieve when one spouse is emotionally or physically interested or attached to someone else. In my practice, when I see couples, who on the surface are saying, ďwe want our marriage to work,Ē but as time progresses and nothing changes, itís often the case that one spouse has a ďspecial friendĒ waiting in the wings. There are some key phrases Iíve heard over the years in marriages where this is happening. See if any of this sounds familiar to you.
ďI admit that my spouse is changing, but it doesnít change how I feel about him/her.Ē
ďitís not about my spouse, itís about me. Thereís nothing s/he can do to make things better. Itís all inside my head.Ē
ďYes, my spouse is changing, but I think itís too little, too late.Ē
ďI feel like weíre brother and sister.Ē (referring to the fact that there are no longer feelings of attraction.)
And last, but not least, the all-time favorite:
ďI love you, but Iím not in love with you.Ē
You are not to blame for the lack of progress in your marriage. Itís likely that you are doing everything right but you are hitting up against a brick wall. If your partnerís extramarital interests are secretive, itís especially difficult because it prevents you from confronting the real issues in your marriage. And it prevents your spouse from seeing things clearly and from putting his/her soul into making your marriage work.
Your spouse has decided your marriage is over
One of the reasons nothing you do seems to be working is because it isnít. As cold and cruel as it seems, when some people announce the death of their marriages, they really mean it. For them, over means over. Once this happens there is absolutely nothing anyone can say or do to change that persons mind. The only thing you can do is make matters worse.
But hereís the problem for someone like you who desperately wants to make things better and keep your marriage thriving. There is no clear way to tell when ďoverĒ means ďoverĒ and when it means ďover, maybe.Ē
Sometimes people say, ďitís over,Ē in the heat of passion and it means nothing. Sometimes people say, ďitís overĒ after thinking things out, but the next day they wake up and they arenít quite as sure about ending their marriages as they were the day before. Even though they might give an unbending appearance, the divorce is far from etched in stone. And then there are the diehards, the immovable ones who rarely retract a decision once itís made. When these folks say itís over, only a miracle could change things.
Since itís hard to know whether your spouse is truly done with your marriage or just needs some more time to come to his/her sense, if I were you, I would err on the side of caution. Why not assume that this is going to take much longer than you anticipated, but that, in the end, things will work out. ďAct as ifĒ you believe that your marriage sill has possibilities. Do the things you would do if you envisioned a positive outcome to all of your efforts. Donít allow friends, relatives, lawyers, or therapist to tell you that you should move forward in your life if thatís not your heartís desire. If you are still hopeful that your spouse will eventually reconsider, keep practicing the techniques Iíve taught you. Donít stop until you are absolutely convinced that itís over. Surround yourself with people who will support you in this endeavor.
Sometimes people ask me how they will know when to stop trying to save their marriage. I donít have a clue. The only person who knows when you should stop working on your marriage is you. You are the expert here, not your mother, father, spouse, rabbi, pastorÖ just you. Only you, in the privacy of your own thoughts at night, can tell whether youíve left no stone unturned, whether you still have energy to give. If you do, then continue. If after lots of soul-searching, you decide that you can no longer continue feeling the intense hurt and pain that stem from the rejection you are experiencing, then, and only then, should you consider other options.
Start by focusing on your own life. When you let go, you will go through a mourning period that is natural. Even if you are at peace with your decision to refocus, you will probably feel intense pain. In some ways, itís very much like a death. Itís the death of a dream that you had for yourself and your family. Itís the death of a relationship. Allow yourself to feel the pain. And at the same time, begin to think about what you can do to fill the void. Spend time with loved ones. Do nice things for yourself. Keep yourself busy. Although itís hard to believe when youíre going through it, know that your life will go on. You will find happiness again. Many of the people with whom I work who go through a divorce, go on to find new partners and blend families and have new children. Their lives donít end just because their marriages do. They join support groups in their churches or through their mental health centers. They double their efforts to spend time with their children. They learn everything they can about co-parenting after a divorce. They find new interests. But all of this happens slowly. Healing takes a lot of time. You need to reach out to others. There is life after divorce.
I know that many of my divorce-busting fans might be surprised by my words here. Iíve never before talked about life after divorce. I feared that by discussing the D word, I might actually be encouraging people to throw in the towel prematurely. This is the very last thing I would ever want to do. I hate divorce. I believe you must know that by now. I write about the possibility of letting go for only one reason. I donít want people who have been in excruciating pain because of unrequited love to feel judged when they eventually decide to move on with their lives. In truth, we only have one go-around. We are all entitled to happiness. If, after you have tried everything humanly possible to win back your spouseís love to no avail, you canít torture yourself forever. Just make darn sure before you move forward with your life that you can honestly say, Iíve given it my all.Ē Then make peace with your decision.
It is my hope the above advice will be the catalyst to help dig your marriage out of itís current rut. If you do need additional help, I encourage you to consult with a Divorce Busting Coach to give you the tools and support to reignite the loving flame in your marriage once again.
Virginia Peeples Assistant to Michele Weiner-Davis The Divorce Busting Center