|What’s Stopping You From Saving Your Marriage?
Posted: 18 Mar 2010 06:03 PM PDT
I get a lot of emails that go something like this:
My husband is condescending, annoying and downright mean. He hates me. He complains about everything that I do. I work my butt off trying to make him happy and I never get a thank you. The only time he ever remotely smiles at me is when he wants to have sex. And I am no longer attracted to him. I don’t know if I ever was. My marriage is dead. I hate my in-laws. I don’t know why I ever married him. We have nothing in common. He is mean to my friends. He’s a terrible father. I’ve tried everything and nothing ever changes. Help!
If I write back and say, “It sounds like your marriage might be broken. Maybe it’s time to consider divorce,” I usually get back something like this, “Oh, he’s not so bad. Things are okay.”
Are you confused? I certainly was for a long time.
And then I thought back to my own marital problems. When things were at their worst, I would go out to dinner with friends. They’d ask me about Mark. I’d rant and rant and rant. I would say that my marriage was dead. I would say all sorts of things about his character. Oh, I had a good, long, satisfying rant.
But if someone asked anything to the effect of, “Why don’t you leave him?” I would back off pretty quickly.
Why? Because the misery I knew was less scary than what I didn’t know, and what I didn’t know was this:
1) Could my life become even worse if I left him?
2) Could my marriage become even worse if I tried to improve it?
The first one is self-explanatory, yes? (No?) The second one? Not so much, even though most of us are guilty of succumbing to that second fear quite often. For instance, how many times have you read a piece of marital advice—either here or elsewhere—and thought, “I can’t do THAT. If I did that, _____ would happen”?
These are all examples of what psychologists call mind reading and fortune-telling. I don’t know about you, but I didn’t go to school for either of those. I can’t read minds and I can’t see into the future.
Chances are, you probably can’t either.
Which means that all of those excuses for not saving your marriage come down to one thing: fear of the unknown.
Let me tell you something that I learned from fixing my marriage:
Fear is almost always worse than reality.
As Seth Godin so aptly put it in a recent post: Anxiety is nothing but re-experiencing failure in advance. What a waste.
In other words, what we imagine we will experience is usually much scarier than what we actually will experience if we face our fear. If you keep a journal, you will be able to prove this to yourself. Jot down what you are afraid to do and why. Rank your fear on a misery scale of 1 to 10. Then do it. No matter what transpires—good or bad—rank how you feel about the end result on the same misery scale. See which is worse—the misery you thought you would experience or the misery you actually did experience.
Let me tell you something I learned from my Karma Project:
The vast majority of people are inherently good, and that includes your spouse.
You only perceive them as bad because you can’t empathize with their suffering and why they make the choices they do. Most people act in hurtful ways for one of four reasons:
Note that “because they enjoy watching you suffer” is not one of those reasons. Again, you can prove this to yourself. Before each and every interaction, tell yourself, “All people are inherently good. All people want to do good.” Then treat people as if you thought they were as good as Mother Teresa or some other Saint of your choosing. See what happens. I think you’ll be surprised. (Note: Serial killers might be an exception to this rule).
Now, let me tell you one more thing about fear of failure:
Doing nothing is worse than trying something and failing.
Some of the things that you try to improve your marriage will not work. But that’s okay! At least now you know what doesn’t work! Think of marriage improvement as a science experiment. You are trying different hypotheses and testing to see if they have validity. Some won’t. Some will. But the only way you can see what works is to try something, anything, and everything. If you do nothing, your marriage will continue to be miserable or it will get worse. That’s a given. If you do something, your marriage might improve.
So pick something to try, either from one of my past posts, from a book or from another marriage improvement site. Tell a friend that you are going to try it (to keep yourself accountable). Pretend you are on a roller coaster with the harness locked over your body and after it has pulled from the gate. Your plan is already in motion. You can’t get off. Take a deep breath and take your marriage for a ride.
What are you afraid of? What have you thought of trying, but come up with an excuse for not trying? Why have you chickened out of marital improvement? Do you think I’m full of compost? Can you come up with a good reason for not trying? Leave a comment.
Download your copy of Project Happily Ever After: Relationship Rules.
In this free e-book, you’ll learn some of the strategies I used to turn my Mr. Good for Nothing into my Mr. Good for Something, including ten Relationship Rules.