- If your marriage is on the verge of divorce, there are several ways you can still give it another shot.
- Marriage counselors, psychotherapists, authors, and consultants offer their advice for couples having relationship trouble.
- Visualization, writing lists, and reflecting on the reasons you're with your partner can all help improve communication and repair the relationship.
- "The important thing for couples to remember," says counselor Patrick Di Vietri, "is that both parties must make the same choice in order for things to work out."
If you're on the brink of a divorce, know two things. First, we're sorry to hear that. The fracturing of a marriage or other close relationship is a hell of a thing. Second, we want to offer some help. Because, while it may seem futile, there's always a chance to get your relationship back to where it once was. It just takes work (a lot of work) — and the right direction. That's why we spoke out to an assortment of counselors, psychotherapists, authors, and consultants, all of whom have experience with couples at the DEFCON-1 level of relationship trouble, and asked them for the last-ditch advice they give those who are considering divorce. Here's what they offered.
"By the time a couple is saying they want out, their entire focus is often on escaping their present problem with the unrealistic belief that everything will be better when they do. When a couple comes to me with this mindset, I have them fast forward to a post-divorce life: sharing custody (especially around holidays), birthdays, and other significant celebrations; visualizing their exes moving on with new partners, and dating again. Many times, they realize that the grass on the other side is much browner than they thought it would be. Visualization can really put people in touch with what life could be like versus what they see in their escape fantasies. The usual outcome is a shift in their focus — everything that is bad and wrong turns to what brought them together in the first place, what does work in their relationship, and what they could be giving up that can likely never be replaced."
- Toni Coleman, LCSW, CMC, Psychotherapist, Relationship Coach, Divorce Mediator at Nova Divorce Mediation in Virginia
Realize you have a choice
"As a therapist, I am a huge advocate of Viktor Frankl and his Logotherapy approach — basically reminding couples that they have a choice. That choice may not be easy to recognize or to follow through on, but through making a choice, even the most hopeless-seeming dynamics can start to improve. The important thing for couples to remember in this situation is that both parties must make the same choice in order for things to work out. If both people choose to work on the marriage, then they are also choosing to work on communication patterns, priorities that may have gotten in the way of the relationship, and wounds that each other have caused. In my experience, couples do not go into counseling unless they have hope that they can save the relationship. In these scenarios, it is imperative to give the couple some perspective, which starts with reminding them that they always have a choice."
- Patrick Di Vietri, Licensed Professional Counselor / National Certified Counselor / Director of Therapy Services, Hope Therapy and Wellness Center in Virginia
Understand that you've let your partner morph into your enemy
"Intimate partners unconsciously look to one another to validate and 'grow' the parts of themselves they could not acknowledge, experience, or express in their families of origin. The same qualities we adore and idealize in our partners at first become the most frustrating to deal with because they represent the shadow parts of our own minds that we don't allow ourselves to feel, leading us to reject them in our partners, too. Most couples don't see what's truly driving their arguments, and get stuck in endless cycles of defensiveness, withdrawal, or angry demand. Some partners become so disillusioned and filled with hate that they just give up in hopeless resignation. The thing to remember is that every argument contains a secret wish for growth. Don't let your partner morph into your enemy. Instead, stop the cycle and unlock the potential of your marriage to be the powerful force for healing and growth that it can be."
- Ma'ayan Greenbaum, PsyD, Licensed Psychologist & Online Conscious Couples Coach in New Jersey
Write a list of critical changes
"When couples come in on the brink of divorce, I tell them to write down three absolutely critical changes that your partner would need to make in order for you to want to reinvest energy into the relationship. The key to this exercise is to stop pointing fingers without taking personal responsibility for change. When there is a mutual and responsible effort to embrace your partner's list, a reconstituted optimism will be injected into the relationship. Why? Because it's fair! Both partners are simultaneously accepting the need for change."
- Dr. Joe Luciani, psychologist, author, wellness coach in New York
Recall how you first met
"I've seen this technique work time and time again - go back to treating your spouse the way you did when you first met them. Over time, marriages become soured by the ebbs and flows of daily life. When two people can go back and recapture what they first loved about their partner — thus amplifying it in their mind — they can start putting the bricks back in a crumbling wall. Often, my male clients will say, 'I don't like drama.' To which I say, 'Then why do you create it?' If your wife is angry all the time, what did you do to make her so angry? Go back to treating her the way you did when you first fell in love with her, and do it for at least 90 days. If things get better, there's your answer."
Drain your 'resentment tank'
"On average, couples wait up to six years from the start of their problems until they actually seek therapy. By that time, resentment is very high for one or both partners. I ask them, 'What percentage of your resentment tank is full?' Once we establish that concept, we work on what caused it to fill up, and how we can drain it. Too much resentment clouds communication, and most issues stem from misunderstandings. Examine what your partner's needs are, and learn new communication techniques that can help you meet them."
- Julie Bjelland, LMFT, psychotherapist, author in California
Ask this question…
"'How can I express my love to you today?' Ask each other that question every day. Your partner should tell you how, very explicitly. It can be the smallest of tasks — like a hug, a kiss, or a simple 'I love you' — or something more like helping out with household chores, watching the kids, or coordinating a date night. The point of this task is to help the couple focus more on their partner's feelings, rather than think about how they, themselves, are being taken for granted."
- Michael Bouciquot, MS, registered marriage and family therapist intern in Florida