If you’ve found yourself straddling the fence and it feels like your only two options are to stay in an unsatisfying relationship or get divorced, it’s a tough place to be. It’s also a critical time where your immediate actions can make a big difference to the outcome of your marriage. Hopefully, the third option is to improve your marriage and enjoy your relationship once again.
Examine What Needs to Change
You can’t fix the problem until you’ve really taken the time to identify what the problem is. Simply deciding, “I’m just not happy,” doesn’t offer much of an opportunity to fix the problem. However, if you can identify concrete reasons why you aren’t happy, it’ll be a much better start.
Make a list of what would need to change for you to feel more satisfied in your relationship. Do you need more affection? Do you want more independence? Do you want to feel more emotionally connected to your spouse? Try to make the list as specific as possible.
Communicate Your Needs
Talk to your spouse when you are both calm and have plenty of time to talk. Bringing up your dissatisfaction in the midst of a heated dispute will only make things worse. Instead, talk to your partner about scheduling a time for the two of you to talk.
Have an open and honest conversation with your spouse, but do so in non-blaming manner. Use lots of “I” statements. Instead of saying, “You never spend time with me,” try, “I’d love for us to find more time to spend together.”
Focus on listening more than you talk. Showing your spouse that you are open to ideas and suggestions can go a long way to making the conversation a successful one. Avoid making threats or ultimatums that send the message, “Do this or else.” Otherwise, you’re likely to get your partner on the defensive and if you’re not prepared to follow through, you’re empty threats will have only damaged the marriage more.
Focus on Changes You can Make
You can’t force your partner to change. You can however, focus on changes that are within your control. Your energy is much better spent focusing on changing your behavior. If you make some changes, the result might be that your partner chooses to change.
Set daily goals for yourself. Your goal might be as simple as, “I’m going to smile, hug my spouse before I leave to work, and concentrate on not being irritable toward him today.” Or maybe you’re going to try to behave more affectionately toward your spouse. If you have a goal each day, it can help you to focus on what is within your control in the marriage.
Reduce Distractions and Outside Influences
If you’re straddling the fence about whether or stay in the marriage or leave, the last thing you need is outside influences distracting you. Well-meaning friends and family sometimes offer lots of advice and words of wisdom. However, this can distract you from your goals if you’re not careful.
A friend who says, “If he hasn’t changed by now he’s never going to change,” could influence your attitude toward your marriage. Or a mother who frequently says, “You can always stay here,” might also give you that extra push to go out the door before you’re really ready.
Sometimes another potential love interest can also offer a distraction. If you’re having an affair, it’s going to cloud your judgment about your marriage. It’s impossible to focus on your marriage if you’re involved with someone else.
But it doesn’t even necessarily have to be a sexual affair for it to be a distraction. Emotional affairs can also cloud your judgment. If you’ve been talking a lot to a co-worker or confiding in a special friend about things that you don’t talk to your spouse about, it can mean that your energy is being displaced.
If you have people, or even work or hobbies, that are distracting you from focusing on your marriage, it’s important to reduce or eliminate those distractions. If you want your marriage to improve, it needs to be a priority in your life. You’ll need to be able to put your energy and attention into the marriage without distractions from outside influences.
Don’t Stay to Justify Leaving
Sometimes people stay in the marriage after they’ve come to the conclusion they will leave, just to justify their decision. They might provoke their partner on purpose at times or start fights so they can feel better about the fact that the marriage isn’t working out and it’s okay to leave.
If you’re 99 percent certain you are going to leave, it’s likely that you’ll look at your partner’s actions in a different light. You’ll likely interpret your spouse’s words and behaviors as proof that the marriage is going to end. It’s also likely to change your behavior. You might be less kind, less affectionate and more irritable, which can evoke more unpleasant behavior from your spouse, which will further justify your efforts to want to leave.
Put energy into improving the relationship instead of looking for reasons to end it. Try looking for reasons why you should stay or proof that if you work on things, you can make it better. If you put your energy into fixing things rather than looking for reasons why you should leave, you can make a difference.
Seek Professional Help
Marriage counseling can help you find ways to revitalize and improve your relationship. You can meet with a marriage counselor by yourself, if you aren’t sure what to do or if counseling is right for you. Ask questions and learn more about what a counselor can offer you and your marriage.
BMWK – If you are on the fence and considering leaving, please make sure you have considered all of the options above. Is there anything else we should add to this list?
Find out more about Amy Morin and her article What to Do When You’re Thinking about Ending the Marriage on The Marriage Counseling Blog (http://marriagecounselingblog.com)
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