While not all relationships can be saved, many who are teetering on the brink of separation or divorce can find new life if both people are willing to do the work. If you hope to save your marriage, be prepared for a lot of hard work. And if you succeed in turning your relationship around, you just might turn it into something more beautiful than you ever thought possible.
The story you’re about to read comes from a couple who thought their marriage was doomed because of an affair (their names have been changed to protect their privacy).
I’ll never forget the frantic phone call from Jane. She needed to see me ASAP. Today. Within an hour, if possible. She just found out that her husband, Jack, was in a six-month affair and she didn’t know if she should stay, leave, or even try to think about saving the relationship.
Leaning Towards Divorce
When we first started the session, Jane told me out about how all of her family and friends said leave him now. Kick him out. Don’t look back. You can never trust a man who has cheated on you. And she was leaning towards taking their advice.
She had already told him that morning that he could no longer stay in their house, that he had to move into a hotel. And that she was going to tell their two children that daddy was going to be gone for quite a while on work. At the end of the first session, Jane had changed her mind in some ways. She decided that she was going to allow him to still see the kids every day, telling them that daddy was at work but he would be around for an hour a day to say hi and to put them to bed.
But Jane was still stuck. Should she bother wasting time, money, and effort to try to save her marriage when John had told her he wasn’t sure if he’d ever want to come back to her?
Working Though Painful Emotions
I gave her a series of writing exercises and continued to meet with her for the next four weeks as we processed her anger, guilt about the potential of divorce, frustration of being another statistic on the divorce chart, what to do with the children and her husband – the questions went on and on and on.
One day out of the blue I got a phone call from her husband. John wanted to come in and see me. He was confused. As we sat down and started to talk he opened up honestly about not being sure if he wanted to leave the women he was seeing, or return to his wife and children. He said he was embarrassed, because most great dads wouldn’t have a problem with making the decision to keep their families together. He said most great dads in his situation would realize they had made a mistake and want to come back home. But he was totally unsure what to do next.
I reassured him that being confused at this point was perfectly natural and part of the process. I told John I wasn’t going to push him to make any decision about staying or leaving, but I was going to give him homework that he had to do six days a week in order to help him process all of his confused emotions, just like Jane’s confused emotions, to come to a conclusion that was best for him, his wife, and his children.
I don’t use shame and guilt in my practice as a counselor and life coach. People have enough of that already. My role is to give my clients exercises to help them go deeper into their conscious and subconscious minds so that the solution they come up with is their own, not mine.
What Role did you Play in Your Marriage Breakdown?
Within a few more weeks of working with Jane, I gave her an exercise that is probably one of the most difficult ones for people who are trying to decide what to do about their marriage after their partners have cheated on them. I had her go home and write about all the steps that she had taken in the past several years that had helped to push her husband out of their bedroom. Jane was perplexed; she didn’t think that she had played any role in him cheating on her.
That’s a common response from the person who did not stray. Most of them want to believe that they had no responsibility for the affair at all. But Jane was different. The next week she came in with a list of ten things she had done over the past six months that had helped to push her husband out of their marriage, such as:
- She had shut down emotionally.
- She had shut down physically.
- She told him that she had no interest in having sex with John but didn’t give an explanation why.
- She went to bed earlier than him.
- She got up earlier than him.
- She avoided eye contact and communication with him almost every day of the week.
When she came back in and shared all this with me she had tears in her eyes. Before completing this exercise she never thought that she had played a role in her husband’s cheating, but now she was ready to fight for her marriage. She was serious. She was not going to let it go.
Coincidentally, a couple days later, John came in with all of his writing exercises and he said the same thing. He was committed to going back to his wife if she would take him.
Creating a Stronger, Happier Marriage
I worked with them individually for the next eight months, a total of 12 months of individual counseling and coaching. At the end of the year they reconciled. When they both took responsibility for the resentments and shutting down in their marriage, one of the most beautiful things happened: John and Jane had created a new union that was 100% stronger than anything they had ever had in their 18 years of being married.
That was ten years ago. About once a year I hear from them, and it’s always a glowing report. They’re working harder than ever to stay open and honest with each other. John and Jane are more in love now than they were on the day they married.
You Could Save Your Marriage
And this can happen to you, too. If you’re struggling in your relationship and think divorce is the only answer, know that if you’re willing to put in the work, be honest, humble and vulnerable – even if only one partner is willing to start the counseling process at first – you could save your marriage. I’m not going say it’s easy work, but it’s worth it.
So the choice is yours. You can turn your relationship into something more beautiful than you ever thought possible.
It’s never too late to save your marriage. Unless you do nothing.
For the past 27 years, number-one bestselling author, counselor, life coach, and TV and radio host David Essel (M.S.) has helped thousands of people save their marriages and relationships. He describes himself as a Master Teacher, Author, Storyteller, Little Kid in a Man’s Body, Adjunct Professor, Seeker, Finder, Addiction Recovery Coach, Inspirational Speaker, and All Faiths Minister who marvels at the beauty of life: the life that God has blessed him with. To find out more, visit www.davidessel.com