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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 SimplyEJ.com. 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