Can a marriage become dead, or is it simply my pride and fear of putting my all into the marriage once again to make it work? I don’t want to get divorced and become another welfare statistic. My husband started changing about three weeks ago (just a few days shy of seeing our marriage counselor alone one time), and has been involved a bit more with the kids. Being close to him physically or emotionally makes me cringe.
I feel like my options of staying or going are like choosing fleas or lice. Which anxiety do I want more? I saw my mother self-sacrifice in her marriage, which left her unable to have healthy emotional attachments with her children. She stayed with my dad although she knew he was abusing his own children. That can never make for a healthy mother and wife.
Yes, marriages will die from years of neglect. They can also blossom again under the right conditions. I don’t know the specific dynamics of your marital story, but if you’re surveying the withering remains of your marriage wondering if it’s possible to revive it, I’ll be the first to tell you that you and your husband should do everything you possibly can to make it work.
Clients and acquaintances ask me on a regular basis when it’s okay to pull the plug and divorce. That’s a question I can’t answer. It’s not fair for me to insert my opinion on when enough is enough. I can help individuals understand their situation and clarify what’s happening to them. I can encourage couples to keep trying to work things out if they want to. However, the individual decision to divorce rests on the individual asking the question. They have to be responsible for the train of consequences that follow, positive or negative.
If both of you are committed to working on improving the marriage, then I recommend you continue to work on it. I have seen countless marriages not only survive, but thrive after years of neglect, addiction, abuse, and affairs. It’s excruciating work, but if there is a commitment to heal, things can get better.
I know it seems irrational to encourage ongoing work on a marriage that seems dead. However, Dr. Ed Tronick, a pioneer in studying family attachments, said “we thrive in the messiness of human connection. Without it, we wither.”
Some messiness is dangerous and needs strict boundaries when dealing with abuse, addictions, or infidelity. These situations require strict structure and support to help families heal. Every marriage requires self-sacrifice, but not at the expense of physical safety of yourself or the children. Your mother’s self-sacrifice in the face of danger wasn’t protective and didn’t hold your father accountable for his abusive behavior. Never hesitate to create accountability for physically or emotionally hurtful behaviors from your husband to protect yourself or your children.
The garden-variety messiness common to all families of trying to hear each other’s needs, learning how to connect, and other dynamics are worth working with as long as possible. Divorce doesn’t have to be your first line of defense. There are dozens of ways to set healthy boundaries that send a clear message of what will not be tolerated.
I believe families can heal with the proper support, resources, and lots of patience. You may be writing this question after years of struggle without much hope for change. Even though you’re tired, you’re still asking the question if there is hope. If you’re asking that question, you’re still facing the relationship and can watch to see if he will work with you to rebuild this marriage.
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Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He specializes in working with couples in all stages of their relationships. The opinions stated in this article are solely his and not those of St. George News.
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