How a couple on the brink of divorce saved their marriage.
Suzie couldn’t take it anymore. After 15 years of marriage, 4 kids, 3 marriage counselors, and 6 therapists, she was ready to throw in the towel. Her husband Steve had been getting more controlling, angry, emotional, and confrontational over the past five years and the last two years were almost unbearable. They didn’t talk any more. They just argued about everything.
Suzie didn’t feel loved anymore and was tired of feeling sad, depressed, and hopeless. She decided that if things didn’t drastically improve by the time their oldest daughter graduated from high school in six months, then she was going to move out and divorce Steve. They both agreed to give it one more chance.
When I first met them, I could tell that they loved each other very much and were both genuinely interested in working things out. They were frustrated that they hadn’t found a way to improve things, and that in spite of their well-intentioned efforts, things had actually gotten worse. They were also depressed because they didn’t have much hope that they could turn things around. They were concerned about how their marital problems were affecting their kids and were even more concerned about the damage a divorce would cause.
Not surprisingly they told me that the problem with their marriage was their partner. Steve said that if Suzie would just change then everything would be better. He was just fine and only got angry when she triggered him. Suzie of course said the same thing about Steve. Neither of them was willing to budge. They were each convinced that their view was correct. They were right and their spouse was wrong.
Suzie’s trust was broken because Steve promised he was going to change, but never did. She felt she couldn't believe anything he said. She responded by completely shutting down: she didn’t want to talk to him, be around him, be affectionate, or be intimate with him. Steve’s trust was also broken. He was no longer feeling loved by her as he had demanded many times. In his view, she had already given up. He was the sole breadwinner and thought that going through another round of marriage counseling was just a waste of time and money. This just made him angrier and more aggressive.
I scheduled weekly sessions for the three of us to focus on the relationship dynamics. They learned how to improve their communication and were coached on how to use each technique. They learned more about love and how to be more loving. They learned how to better understand each other. They also worked on resolving conflicts by being more collaborative. Instead of being stuck with a choice between what each of them wanted, they created the ability to find a better solution that met both of their needs. Each partner focused on making changes to themselves they were comfortable making, and they set goals each week on specific actions they would take.
I scheduled weekly individual sessions so each spouse could talk openly to me about their questions and concerns. They learned how their beliefs, expectations, experiences, and fears were affecting their relationship. They discovered the root cause of their challenges. They learned why they had been unsuccessful in changing their behaviors even though they promised they would, and why things were getting worse. They learned how to make real changes that would last. They received new tools, developed new skills, and discovered new perspectives that helped them to better navigate their relationship and their lives.
They worked hard and, in just eight weeks, were able to create a much stronger relationship with a higher level of love, honor, and respect. They created a new shared vision for their relationship. Over the next four months, they were able to rebuild trust, improve their communication, and rekindle their passion. After their oldest daughter graduated high school, they renewed their vows.
They were successful because they were committed to making their marriage work, open to new ideas, focused on better understanding each other, and took action to change themselves so they could be more loving.
Author's Note: this is an anonymous success story. Steve and Suzie are not their real names. I also disguised them a little bit by changing some of the details of their life to conceal their identities. The information about their transformation, however, is accurate.