Does this Sound Like You?
I meet a couple in my office for the first time. The husband called me earlier this week in desperation. His wife had forced him to move into the other bedroom and was threatening to kick him out of the house.
As they sit across from me, I see that she is fuming–her eyes sending darts in his direction. And when she looks at me, her eyes fluctuate between anger, desperation, and hopelessness.
He knows that he has made multiple mistakes. And she has had enough.
The mistakes could be as dramatic as an affair, but they might also be multiple irritations that have built up over years, sometimes decades. And she simply “cannot take it anymore.”
The scenario above is a composite of couples that I see that are in the “crisis mode.” Sometimes it is the wife who is desperate and the husband is the one who is ready to call it “quits.”
Both the husband the wife are miserable, sometimes devastated. One (or both of them) wants to feel better –no matter what “better” looks like.
Or so they think.
No matter what they perceive the “trigger” to be for these particular crises, chances are that their relationship has drifted apart and become more and more antagonistic over the years. They can’t figure out exactly what happened. They don’t know how to start over – or if they even want to.
The Three Doors
During this initial counseling session, there often is a mixture of tears, anger, hurt, and exhaustion. They probably have already discussed from time to time whether or not to end the relationship. Perhaps they have children. And often they really do care about each other. But for reasons they do not understand, they simply cannot seem to “get along.”
As a result, they drift back and forth between staying in their marriage or simply calling it quits.
I often point out that part of their frustration, anger, and resentment stems from the fact that they continue to fluctuate between three different doors. They go through one, don’t like what is happening (or what might happen). Then they “back up” and try out another one.
Often one or both partners cannot seem to decide which door they are going to enter. And they do not know if they are willing to stay in that room long-term.
What are these Three Doors?
Door #1: Continue the relationship just like it is now for the next 30 years.
Considering this option never takes very long. Both are passionate as they answer (sometimes in unison): NO!!!
So we begin with agreement. They do not believe (nor do they want) this relationship to remain the same. This response from the couple is always the same — whether they have been married two years or 40 years.
Door #2: Separation and Divorce
This option is very appealing to one or both. They are miserable and at this point they are willing to do anything to simply feel better.
I often hear phrases like “This is not what I signed up for,” or “He/She is a different person than the one I thought I was marrying,” or “When we were dating everything was great, but after we said ‘I do,’ everything seemed to change.”
The solution that seems the fastest and most simple is to separate and divorce. Many tell me that they get along better when they are apart. And it must be better for the children to have two parents that are simply friends (that do not live together) rather than a married couple that are constantly arguing and yelling at each other.
There is no question that one or both spouses will experience a short-term relief and a sense of new hope if divorce is their decision. Often making the decision itself seems to make them feel better.
In almost every case, however, the stresses become greater during the divorce process. In addition, relationship issues usually exist that need to be addressed and resolved – whether or not the couple pursues a divorce or not.
An honest explanation of what happens in divorce can be found on our website: “15 Hidden Costs of Divorce”
So although Door #2 seems like a good approach, the long-term consequences are almost always worse than the short term challenges of going through Door #3.
Door #3: Commitment to Work on Relationship
This the most difficult door to walk through.
It requires hope. Hope that many couples have lost. One of the roles of the therapist is to help both the husband and the wife understand that hundreds of couples “In Crises Mode” have not only repaired their marriage, but experienced joy that they never thought possible.
It requires commitment. The couple must agree not to threaten the “D” word and that they will work on their marriage relationship for at least six months.
It requires doing things differently. You may remember Dr.Phil’s famous question “How’s it working for ya’?” Each spouse must be willing to completely change his or her approach to the relationship. The therapist helps the couple begin to discover and navigate this journey that is new, scary, but also exciting.
It requires a heart change. Behavior changes by themselves do help in the short term. But they rarely last unless the heart also changes.
It requires risk. There is no guarantee that the other spouse will work just as hard. There is no guarantee that the relationship will really improve.
But Door #3 is Worth Taking the Risk
Multiple secular studies have documented that when the couple is willing to work on the relationship in a different way, over 60% of “Couples in Crisis” not only stay married, but experience a relationship for which they had longed, but had given up hope.
So, my advise to those of you who are struggling in your marriage—it is worth the fight! There is hope. It is possible to experience the depth of connection, intimacy and joy that God intends for the marriage relationship.
After working as a Chemical Engineer for 36 years, Steve Fox took early retirement so that he could focus his full-time attention on helping others to discover how to improve or repair their marriages as well as other family relationships. Steve also helps others begin to “dream” about what will help them become fulfilled in their career and life.
Steve earned an MA in Counseling from LSU and is now a National Certified Counselor and Counselor Intern with Crossroads. He has worked with couples on a ministry basis for over 20 years and has a counseling focus with couples, families, career coaching, and addiction counseling with families.
Steve’s complete bio can be found here.