Posted on October 1, 2013 by Steve Horsmon
So. There it is.
The question that has been in your head for quite some time now.
Maybe you’ve never said it out loud before or have seen it in writing.
Maybe you’ve been secretly talking about it with your therapist, your mom, or your friends. Or…your lover.
This question causes some of the most painful thinking and talking a person can imagine. There’s a really good reason for that.
“What should I do about my marriage?” is a trick question.
The question implies that the marriage is as detached from you as a leaky faucet or tired old car. Those things have gone bad on their own without your involvement. The decision to fix or replace them can be a nagging and difficult one. But in the end, it’s just a matter of time and/or money.
Most people view their troubled marriage much the same way. It seems to be an autonomous entity that either works or doesn’t. It should be easily fixable or replaceable. Therein lies the trick. It’s not.
Why do we believe the solution to an unhealthy marriage is to fix or replace our spouse?
Maybe it’s not our spouse exactly.
Maybe it’s fixing or replacing the house, the in-laws, the job, or the lifestyle.
Maybe if there was more money, less stress, more free time, more sex, or more respect everything would smooth out.
Maybe if ALL the variables around us could align JUST SO then we would finally achieve the level of trust, respect, happiness, love, and PASSION we think we deserve.
The trick question implies that we might have some control over the marriage or spousal “beast” to have those needs met the way we want them met.
The trick question implies that the decision can actually be made without including ourselves as part of the problem.
It’s the wrong question.
The only rational and actionable question is:
“What to do about myself in this marriage?”
That is the right question.
The truth hurts
There is a pain associated with asking the right question. A very real pain.
It’s the pain of realizing that our ability to directly influence the outcome of our marriage is out of our control.
It’s the pain of guilt inflicted stomach knots when we are faced with acknowledging our own contributions to an unhealthy marriage.
It’s the pain of coming to terms with the fact that we have no power over the choices of other people.
It’s this pain which causes so many of us to focus our attention elsewhere and ask the wrong questions.
But, by asking the right question you can finally see clearly the things you CAN control.
And the good news is that it is only THOSE things that have a chance at improving your relationship with ANYONE – including your spouse.
The things you can control
The things you CAN control do not include changing anyone but you.
The things you CAN control will not automatically improve your marriage.
But, the things you CAN control will immediately start changing the ENERGY in your marriage.
It is the nature of the environment that YOU choose to create and live in that determines the choices of others close to you.
If you want your spouse to join you in a healthier and happier marriage, the changes you choose to make in yourself MUST MATCH the environment you desire.
There is no guarantee that the changes you make will improve or save your marriage. Remember, that is out of your hands. However, those changes will improve or save you.
The changes you make must be for you only because that is who you choose to be, for this or ANY relationship.
That is all you can control. Your spouse gets to make their choices accordingly.
If you are the smart, loving, strong, and generous person you think you are, this should be easy, right? I can tell you it is not. It’s work. And just like any good thing in your life, it’s worth working for! We’re never as good as we think we are.
So, what do these changes look like? How do you know what to do or how to do it? These are very personal choices you must make on your own.
Do any of these feel right for you?
Here are some of the personal change values some of my married clients have chosen to adopt and live by:
- When I speak to my spouse my intention will always be from a place of love.
- I will always deal with conflicts with the goal of making my spouse feel my respect.
- I will work on choosing healthy responses instead of destructive reactions to stress.
- I will learn what my spouse’s real emotional needs are and begin to meet those needs without judgment or conditions.
- I will make my boundaries clear for bad marital behavior and live by those standards each day.
- I will not apologize for being a passionate, sexual person nor for my intention to enjoy those gifts in my life.
- I will stop acting with judgment, resentment, or disappointment and will stop taking everything personally.
- I can’t control the choices my spouse makes but will invite them to enjoy our marriage based on healthy shared values.
These are just a few of the types of changes a partner can choose to make NO MATTER WHAT anybody else thinks or does in response. They are for you and you alone.
A choice to make these changes is a commitment to yourself. You may need some help or encouragement from a professional counselor or life coach. It is some of the most valuable and important work you can do. Consistency is extremely important.
It might improve or save your marriage. It might not.
But it is the only chance you have.