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August 04, 2010

Marriage—Till Death Do Us Part or Until It Gets Tough? How To Fight For Your Marriage

Many couples struggle with knowing what to do regarding strife in their relationships.  Some wonder if it would be better to separate, some think they should stay together for the kids’ sake and some have no idea what they want.  They know, however, that they’re unhappy.

My belief about marriage is that people should do whatever they can to make it work.  My particular bias is that when it comes to children it is even more imperative that couples do absolutely all they can to make it work.  I believe that if people want out of a marriage, they have to earn their way out.  You earn your way out by doing everything in your power to make it work.  If, after they have done everything, it still isn’t good, then I believe it’s time to call it a day. 

I realize this thinking goes against what many people believe and I’m okay with that.  I don’t believe that people should stay together no matter what and, in fact, I think that is irresponsible and, at times, dangerous.  Nor do I believe people should divorce just because things got a little tough or they “fell out of love” with one another (without trying to fall back in love).  Relationships should not be abusive, toxic or harmful in anyway—to the adults...or to the children who are witnesses.  Relationships should be supportive, loving and a place of refuge -- not dread.  I believe all people and all children deserve this kind of relationship.  Any relationship that falls short in these qualities is not enough in my eyes.

Doing everything you can to make your marriage work means:
•    Working your side.  Too many people defiantly point a finger at their partner demanding that they change.  Working your marriage requires that you stop pointing at your partner and start looking at you.  If you need to set a limit on a behavior, then set the limit and follow through.  Don’t, however, sit back and think all the change should come from your partner.  We all have our human imperfections.  Work yours.
•    Getting professional help and actively participating in the work.  If things are so bad that you‘re thinking of leaving a marriage—get professional help.  The chances of you being able to create the change you need is slim without help.  Once you are receiving help, you need to do more than just show up.  Do the work.  In fact, do the work even if your partner isn’t.  As you get healthier, you will not be able to behave unhealthily, so get yourself healthy regardless of what your partner does.  This is the best gift you can give your children.
•    Warming up to your partner.  If your partner is doing their part to change things, you need to warm up and let their change in.  It’s not okay to endlessly throw their past mistakes in their face.  It’s also not okay for you to be cold, stoic or mean because of the past.  If you can’t forgive them, stop pretending you’re trying to make it work.  Tell them you can’t get past it and let them go.  Otherwise, you do the work needed with a good spirit.
•    Being honest.  Now is not the time to sugarcoat the truth.  Your marriage is on the line and you owe it to yourself and your partner to be honest about what is and is not working for you.  Too many people (women especially) say things are fine when they’re not.  They distort the truth because they don’t want to be mean.  But it’s mean to lie.  Stop trying to be nice and, instead, be authentic.  It’s the only way to create a great relationship.
•    Being accountable.  You need to listen to what your partner doesn’t like about you and be accountable for those behaviors.  If you make mistakes—own them.  Don’t get dismissive or defensive every time your partner complains about something, but then expect him/her to be receptive and accountable when you complain about something.

If you’re struggling in your marriage and not sure what to do--try to fix it.  Follow all the steps above before making a decision.  Once you have done everything to make it work, you will be in a better position to make a healthier long-term decision.

CHALLENGE:  If your marriage is on the rocks, start stepping up and trying to make it work.  Incorporate all of the steps above and see what happens.


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