Dear CMR: My husband and I are in crisis and on the brink of breaking up. We don't
want to because we have two kids, but something has to change. What initial
steps should we take in mending the relationship?
Thank you so very much for your honest question! The fact that you
are asking this question indicates that you still have at least some
investment in the marriage, and that will be a helpful resource for working
on it. It is clear that your relationship requires some changes. That also
is a potential resource as it gives you and your husband something that you
can work on together. You can potentially begin to feel more connected as
you collaborate together on the common goal of working on your marriage.
Here are some initial steps that will be beneficial.
First off, I *highly* recommend that you and your husband seek out
professional counseling. It is very beneficial to have an objective third
party with skills and training who will walk with you and guide you through
the process of repairing and rebuilding your marriage. Sometimes we *all*
can use some help! If you do decide to seek out professional counseling, it
will be vital to make a real effort to work on the relationship, such as
regularly attending sessions and doing any assignments between sessions. It
won't be beneficial to just show up for sessions; don't just show up so
that you can check off that you "tried" counseling. Divorce is such a
significant decision that you want to make sure that you have seriously
tried all your options before choosing that one. Recognize that divorce
also has costs and consequences; there is no option that is pain free. If
you are going to have to endure some emotional pain and discomfort anyway,
make it count for something. Make a real concerted effort to work at
counseling. You, and your kids, deserve your best effort.
Second, even while waiting to start counseling, make a conscious decision
to give your spouse the benefit of the doubt. Often when we are stuck in a
painful place in marriage, we begin to see everything negatively. We start
to assume that everything that our spouse says and does is wrong or
intentional, for the express purpose of hurting us. While you don't need
to completely disregard all of your assumptions, do try to set them
aside temporarily and give your spouse the benefit of the doubt. You can
always pick up your concerns later if/when necessary or warranted. Look
for the positive and good in your spouse. Try to remember what you liked
about them, and what attracted you to them, when you first met.
Third, when conflicts arise and things begin to get more intense or
argumentative, decide together to put the issue on hold until you can
discuss it with your counselor. There will be no real benefit to trying to
talk things through on your own when the conversation turns
confrontational, especially if you consistently have gotten stuck in this
same conflict before. Of course, it will be important to talk about it
with the counselor and not avoid the conflict. But deciding together to
table the discussion until counseling will keep you both from causing
any additional emotional pain or hurt. It can actually be seen as a way of
caring for your spouse and your relationship.
Lastly, try to find some positive activity that you can do with your
spouse. Read a book on marriage together. Go to a marriage conference
together. Go hiking together. Try a new restaurant together. Think of
some of the activities you used to enjoy together, and give them a try.
Building in some positive experiences with your spouse will be helpful.
You can begin that now, even while waiting to start counseling.
Marriage can be hard, but divorce is also hard, and costly. Make your pain
count for something. Try some of these initial steps as you pursue
professional counseling. You, your marriage, and your kids are worth your
Willa Williams is a licensed marriage and family therapist. She works at the Biola Counseling Center as a therapist and at the Biola Center for Marriage and Relationships as a consulting therapist. She has a Master of Arts in Religion from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (Deerfield, IL) and a Master of Arts in Counseling in Psychology from Trinity International University (Deerfield, IL). She is Level 3 Trained in the Gottman Method of Couples Therapy. Before coming to Biola, she served overseas at the Spanish Bible Institute in Barcelona, Spain, where she taught a class on counseling skills for pastors and served as the staff therapist for the students. She has been married for more than 30 years and has two teenage children. She has a passion for healthy relationships and enjoys working with couples as well as individuals. She appreciates the immense impact that healthy marriages and relationships have on couples as well as future generations.