What Happened? Why Do Many Lose Hope?
No one decides on their wedding day that their marriage is going to end. The anticipation and excitement of this new union are at first contagious.
But later, so many marriages seem to lose this hope. It often is replaced by an almost constant sense of despair: Fear without hope.
During the first “Hunger Games” movie, President Snow makes an interesting comment: “Fear does not work, as long as there is hope.” Why does he make this statement?
Why is Hope Important?
Hope provides us with the motivation to take risks. Hope provides us with the motivation to work for something better. As long as we have hope, we can endure until our hope is realized.
Fear and frustration can affect us, but as long as we have hope that there is something better, fear and frustration cannot overwhelm us.
When Did It Begin to Go Wrong?
During their first several years of marriage, almost every couple develops some unhealthy patterns in their relationship that are difficult to break. And many of these patterns become entrenched as they enter their second, third, or fourth decades of marriage . . . if they make it that far.
After a time, the partners drift apart – not intentionally, but it “just happens.” Kids, softball games, soccer games, ballet, work, in-laws. Dr. James Dobson calls it “routine panic.” And there is no time just for “us” – for the couple to regain the intimacy and “connection” in the relationship that first attracted them to each other.
What replaces their earlier attraction becomes irritations over their differences: The same differences that once were intriguing, interesting, and exciting transition into anger and frustration.
Often dangerous thoughts enter the mind of one or both partners – “Why should I continue this relationship? Am I ready to stay married to this person for the next thirty years? Do I even know this person anymore?”
Is hope for what we once had even a possibility? Why should I take the chance to be disappointed again?
Is It Worth It?
The real question is: Is it worth the “work” to try and not just repair the damaged relationship, but to rekindle what we once had? And is it worth the risk to become vulnerable and open myself up to more hurt?
There are certainly those who have been married for decades and are miserable.
But many couples begin to experience the value of an intimate, joyful, fulfilling relationship with the person they married decades ago (yes – decades !). But their marriage has certainly not always been so . . . enjoyable.
The Decision to Stay Married has Surprising Results!
An independent secular study by the Institute for American Values surveyed 5232 married adults. Of this group, 645 spouses rated their marriages as “unhappy.” The study followed these couples for more than five years.
Of this group of “unhappy” spouses, “Two out of three unhappily married adults who avoided divorce or separation ended up happily married five years later.”
For those who simply made the decision to “stick it out” and work on their marriage, over 65% considered themselves not just “still married,” but “happily married” five years later.
But why should we risk hope, when we have only experienced disappointment in our marriage? Ask yourself the question: Have I really ONLY experienced disappointment? Or is that all that I remember right now because I am so angry or hurt?
Does This Sound Like You?
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.
If you and your spouse seem to be constantly in conflict with only brief pauses of relative peace, read on . . . .
There Are Really Only Three Options:
The options below are based on concepts developed by “Couples on the Brink”
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 advice 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.