Is There Hope for My Troubled Marriage?Almost every couple I see in the counseling, at some point during that first meeting, will say, “Is there hope for us?  Can this get better?

For the sake of our discussion, let’s assume the couple asking this question is not in any way, shape or form in an abusive relationship in which an [exit stage left] is not only imminent, but necessary for the health and wellbeing of at least one person in the relationship.

No, for our purposes, this is the couple that looks like the perfect American family on the outside:  Nice house, nice cars, 3 nice kids—the Soccer Mom and the Dutiful Dad.

On the inside, however, their relationship has slipped into insidious ambivalence.  Most of their time is devoted to hauling children hither, thither and yon—as all good parents try to do.

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But where there is time for each other, there is no passion.   Bride and groom, even in each other’s eyes have become “Mom and Dad” or worse, simply a cohabitant.

So, Is There Hope for Us?

When someone asks me this question, I usually respond with “I don’t know.  It’s not my marriage.  Do you think there’s hope?”

I understand that people may think I’m being glib here, but honestly, asking a third party who barely knows you if they think your marriage can be saved is like asking a stranger on the street whether or not he believes you’re going to go to Heaven when you die.

Usually the couple answers somewhat exasperated, “Yes, that’s why we’re here…”

Then it’s time to assess motivation.  How motivated are you to change your marriage?  What is it about your marriage that’s worth saving?  

About that last question… What is it about your marriage that is worth saving? 

One of the saddest experiences I’ve witnessed with a couple in therapy was when the wife answered this question with a list of very pragmatic reasons that had everything to do with convenience (finances, the kids, stability, safety, social standing), and absolutely nothing to do with the person sitting next to her.  The husband was profoundly hurt, and rightfully so.

I’m sorry, but you don’t go to marriage counseling to save your kids from being a statistic, save your degrees of comfort or any other external thing.

Well, maybe that’s what got you in the door, but if we can’t adjust that mindset from saving my level of comfort to saving my marriage—my sacred bond to the person I vowed to love and cherish til death real quick, I have absolutely no idea how to help you—at least not with working on your marriage.

The Real Question to Answer

So what am I saying?  Is that person beyond help? Is that marriage doomed?

No, not necessarily.

Again, I don’t think its my role to tell you that.  At the same time, we have to realize that people cannot go around spouting off that marriage is a sacred covenant between two people and God, and then present to counseling with the idea that a marriage has to last because if it doesn’t, I can’t keep the car I want because I won’t be able to afford the payments!

It just doesn’t work like that.

As for the couple, I posed a very difficult question to the wife, “Let’s pretend that you could keep all those components that you just mentioned if you two were to separate — would you still be here working on your marriage?

I’m not going to tell you what her answer was… her answer isn’t important.  You, my reader, who may be in a quandary about what to do—your answer is what is important.

Why There’s Still Hope for Your Marriage

And let met tell you, that even if you answered, “No.” That’s okay… even then; there is still hope for you and your marriage.

Why?  Because you were honest and you expressed your truth in this moment, there is hope.

I think you’ll find many experts that say truth and honest communication are the foundation of the most rock-solid marriages.  For you, however, our goal might not be fixing the marriage directly, but doing some personal soul searching to figure out when you lost sight of your spouse, and how you might take steps to regain vision of them as your partner for life.

Call me “fluffy” or “idealistic” but I truly believe that the couple within the marriage already possesses the answers to her fix a relationship.

Counseling doesn’t give answers as much as it gives you the space and tools to uncover them.

And if you don’t like what you find, well… we’re here to address that too.  The caveat to that is that all parties need to know where they’re starting from, and that the other will reciprocate the efforts of one.

Even from the deepest, darkest, seemingly blackest pit of a painful dysfunctional marriage, two strong individuals and partners can emerge.


About the author 

E.J. Smith

E.J. Smith is a Nationally Certified Counselor, motivational speaker, writer and advocate for survivors of sexual abuse. She is also the face (and mouth) behind Born in New Jersey, and transplanted to Texas, this self-professed holistic health nut enjoys a wide variety of athletics, reading, and cooking. Raised Catholic and the wife of an active duty Marine, E.J. uses introspection and pragmatism to help readers create loving, fulfilling relationships from the inside out. Follow EJ on Twitter @SimplyEJS

Dustin Riechmann created Engaged Marriage to help other married couples live a life they love (especially) when they feel too busy to make it happen. He has many passions, including sharing ways to enjoy an awesome marriage in 15 minutes a day, but his heart belongs with his wife Bethany and their three young kids.

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  1. One of the best things that has helped my wife and I not fall into “Mom and Dad” in each other’s eyes is to step out of that role once in a while by taking a no-kids vacation (or stay-cation). It allows us to temporarily be a couple again for 100% of the time. We typically do a yearly anniversary trip and then a couple weekends or nights spread throughout the rest of the year. The key factor is to send the kids to stay with family (or whomever you trust with your kids for more than a night) and truly allow yourselves to remember why you got married in the first place.

    1. I wholeheartedly agree with you, Brad. As much as I understand and value the importance couples place on being good parents, I think the part of that role modeling for our kids that people often forget is how to be an engaged, attentive spouse. Sounds like you and your wife are doing a phenomenal job of modeling that– your future daughter/son-in-laws will be most grateful!!!

  2. I think there is always hope so long as you can avoid living in the past either through regret or being overly nostalgic. Life (and a marital relationship) is constantly in flux. Once your realize that change is natural and good, you’ll realize the purpose behind your current challenges.

    There’s no doubt adapting to one another in times of difficulty takes work. However, that work is what makes the end result that much more sacred.

    Youre story about the wife giving pragmatic answers to the therapist is upsetting because it’s all too common to most distraught couples.

    Materialism and perception of how things “should” be often get in the way of a natural progression between a couple. They create added pressure and you illustrated that point pretty well. Thanks for a solid article here 🙂

    1. I so appreciate your feedback, and I particularly agree with the idea that marriage is not a stagnant concept or condition. Relationships and people can and do modify, change, grow, etc… the idea is to keep the lines of communication open enough so you can grow together!

  3. I so appreciate how you’ve highlighted how marriage gives out what you put back into it. Yes, as therapists, we want so much to help the couples that come to see us, but turning to a therapist to solve your problems without hard work behind it is fruitless. Ultimately, your marriage will flourish or fail based on what each person in the marriage is willing to put into it – and I say that with the humility of being a spouse myself! I know it’s not always easy, but I find it incredibly comforting that we “possess the answers to fix the relationship. ” Great article E.J.!

    1. Thank you so much, Stephanie! It’s always such a treat to get such positive feedback from someone who is not only a spouse, but in the profession as well. And you are so right, both partners have to be willing to contribute and support the other through the counseling process. I try to remind clients that along with the sacrifice of their work (rather than mine), they are also the ones who are able to take credit for their growth and success.

  4. My husband and I have been married 33 years – we’re both 53. After menopause
    about 10 years ago, I developed a terrible anger problem. My husband and I
    went to marriage counseling but I stopped going after a couple of months. My
    husband had begged me to stay in counseling for my anger issues but I didn’t
    listen. He put up with my anger for years but eight months ago after one
    final angry outburst I had toward our 16 year old daughter, my husband had a
    meltdown, cried and said “that’s it.” He left saying he wouldn’t live
    another day like this. But after 2 weeks “Eddie” began to come home on
    weekends. He stays near his work about 3 hours away Monday through Friday.
    We don’t sleep together or even in the same room, but are on good talking
    terms and go out to eat and do errands together when he comes home. I love
    him dearly and he’s a great dad to our daughter. Since he left, I’ve been
    going to a therapist for anger management and working very hard learning how
    to manage it. My therapist thinks I’m doing well and others have noticed a
    change too. When I asked my husband if he thought I was doing well, he sort
    of minimally agreed that I was. But when I press him about reconciling, his
    standard line is, “Today I don’t want to be married – who knows how I feel
    in a year.” He refuses to discuss reconciliation and won’t go back to a
    therapist with me for marriage counseling. I’m nice to him, cook him dinners
    and I guess I’m just hoping he changes his mind. Occasionally he reminds me
    that he still wants a divorce but he hasn’t made attempts to file papers. He’s
    said if we divorce it will be in two to three years.
    So, my question is, should I keep things the way they are and hope things
    get better? Or should I file for divorce in the near future? I want to make
    sure he knows I want to work things out and that I love him, but I don’t
    want to scare him off. Every time I bring reconciliation up he changes the
    Finally, 3 more questions:

    1. His emotions run hot and cold. One day he wants a kiss and a hug (not
    sex), the next day he doesn’t.
    Whats up with that?

    2. Do you think there’s a way I can bring romance back into the picture
    without seeming needy or pushy?

    3.During Xmas holiday I asked my sister “Why he hasn’t come home as yet and in which she said”Because he knows 1-you want him home 2-he knows he can come home at anytime.
    What does that all mean?


    P.S. As of January 20th he will be back in the area full time because he got a job here.

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