We’ve all seen the wedding cards that talk about “happily ever after.” We’ve all heard the wedding songs about “happily ever after.” There is not one girl who hasn’t seen the movie or read the book about a handsome prince sweeping away his beautiful princess. Everyone identifies marriage with this magical theme, and for the most part we wait to find our dream partner, get married and live happily ever after. This is sweet, it’s heartwarming, but it isn’t exactly true. Marriage requires work, and there are tough times in a marriage, and some of those times take years.
It is no surprise that the majority of the couples I work with report the reason for their marital difficulty is feeling distance in the marriage or falling out of love. When did either of those reasons become a reason to break up a whole family? The couple that tells me straight faced, we need to divorce because we are no longer in love, but admit to loving one another boggles my mind. What does that mean? It means they are stuck in a rut, and they have no idea how to work with the situation. They begin fighting because they are frustrated with their lack of feeling, and they tell themselves, as well as the kids, that a divorce will be better than fighting with one another. This is total nonsense. If choice A is staying together while continuing to fight, and B is getting a divorce, let’s talk about choice C, which is working it out and understanding one another.
Abuse is not a rough time; it is a sickness. I do not advocate for working through abuse. In fact, abuse is one reason to divorce. An abuser needs professional attention and help to make the necessary changes in his or her life.
- Marriage retreats are very important, and for the most part inexpensive, and a wonderful way to help guide you through rough spots in your marriage.
- Talk more to your partner than you do to a friend when you are going through a bad time within your marriage. When you talk, say one sentence to your partner’s three. Usually there is a lot of talking too during a bad period of marriage, but less talking with.
- Withdrawing from intimacy is very common during the bad years, but not wise. In fact, it will worsen things. You may not want sex, but do touch them or hold their hand when possible.
- During the bad years it is common for one partner to move out of the marital bed. If you do this, the sooner you move back in the better. Sleeping separately will destroy your marriage quickly. It shows your partner rejection and there will be a sense of abandonment. One night won’t hurt a marriage, but more than a week will.
- Write to one another. Most people can write what they feel easier than they can say it. I have worked with couples that repaired their marriage with emails and handwritten letters more successfully than talking.
- Begin talking about your first date memories. What did you like about one another? Try to get some of that feeling back as frequently as you can.
- Begin dating your spouse again. Try to experience new things with them, and take a break from talking about the things that are upsetting you.
- Become a team against the issue that is making the marriage fragile. If it’s a child or an illness, you can handle it better if the two of you remain a team.
- Engage yourself more in a class, support group, church or supportive friends. Some problems cannot be solved, but supportive friends as well as your faith can help you both accept the situation better.
- Remind yourself that you took a vow and divorce is not a good option. This has helped more couples than I can count. In the end, it is the commitment that will get you through the long tough days/months/years.
Every happily married couple I know has had bad times. It is normal; it is to be anticipated. I would be nervous about marrying anyone who wasn’t open to talking about how to handle the difficult times prior to becoming my partner. Marriage is a lifestyle. It is an incredible shared journey with another person. That person will be your teacher, lover, best friend, worst friend, and co-parent. They deserve the best of you, the worst of you, and the truth of you. It’s not about being married “happily ever after,” it’s about being married “authentically ever after…and finding the happiness in that.”