A 7 step-by-step guide before you consider calling it quits.
Albert Einstein once said, "We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them." How can you and your spouse be expected to fix a troubled relationship without gaining new information and a new perspective?
My husband was very done with our marriage by the time he told me, so there was no counseling, long conversations, or reading books together. Instead, for the next two years, I poured all that longing for redemption into healing myself.
I read constantly, I went to therapy, and I learned as much as I could about human nature, chemistry, the heart, and the brain. Now, I need to share what I know with you.
Please don't tell your spouse you want a divorce without following through on these resources and completing all the steps detailed below, in exactly the order you read them.
If you've thought about divorce, consider this article divine intervention steering you in another direction, for the time being. You might still decide you want a divorce by the time you complete the tasks I'm giving you, but you'll be able to say, "I tried" with conviction.
No one marries thinking they'll divorce, but if it's heading that way, we sure are quick to blame our partner for not trying, or not doing enough. And you might be thinking, "My divorce won't be that bad; my divorce won't be like so and so"s."
Stop right there. Your divorce will be far more horrific than you can ever imagine. No one takes being told they're no longer "the one" well. It's the ultimate rejection to the one person you promised to love and cherish, until death.
You have no idea how your spouse will react emotionally to the divorce, and you cannot control them, their emotions, or their behavior.
I challenge you to take action yourself, with or without your partners participation. I fully believe that by accomplishing these tasks, you'll change your behavior, which will impact your marriage and thus, your spouse, whether or not they engage in this learning.
And in all likelihood, at some point, your spouse will get curious about your newfound knowledge and skills, and start asking questions.
Disclaimer: This article isn't meant to cover abusive relationships, addiction, or affairs. There are many other useful references for those specific damaging behaviors.
1. Watch these TED talks.
There are eight talks contained in this list that just might save your relationship. It's a total of two hours and nine minutes for all talks. Each of the next eight days, watch one talk, think about it, and have a conversation with your spouse about it.
Ideally, you and your spouse will watch the talks together. If things are still civilized, go for a walk after the talk and chat about what you heard; hold hands if you can. Listen to your partner's thoughts and express yours, respectfully, using "I" statements. If you don't know what an "I" statement is or how to use it, click here.
These talks will teach you about the threats to marriage, the chemical and hormonal reactions your brain experiences early in a relationship that must wear off, and ways to explore your expectations of marriage.
2. Go to the 5 Love Languages website.
Complete the short quiz and learn your love language. Read a synopsis of the five different ways people communicate love.
Think of how you've expressed your love. Does your partner have the same love language as you, or is there a basic communication barrier that is easily fixed? Ask your partner to also complete the quiz, and to learn about your love language. Now compare notes.
There are also free study guides on the website to help you learn how to incorporate speaking to your partner in their language, how to ask your partner to speak to you in your language, and how to recognize bids of love from your partner in their language.
I recommend getting one of Dr. Gary Chapman's books for deeper understanding.
3. Read The Zimzum of Love by Kristen and Rob Bell.
This book gives language to what a marriage really is — an invisible entity of energy created by you and your partner that responds to the everyday moments of life and the way you process your lives together.
This book gives you the ability to talk about the space between you by providing you language, and practical advice and tools you can use to grown or repair that connection. The space is responsive, and needs to be sacred, yet it's the sum of everything you each are, including your baggage.
The reader is asked to partner with their spouse to actively treat and work the marriage intentionally; the language is generally "we," not you or I. However, you're also challenged to take responsibility for what you've contributed to that space.
4. Spend time alone.
If it's financially an option, take a trip by yourself for as long as practical. Not with girlfriends or buddies — completely alone. Even better, if you can, take yourself on a retreat or to a conference where you can learn about love, marriage, or yourself.
This advice is three-fold. You need a chance to miss your spouse. You simply cannot miss someone you see everyday, particularly if there are hard feelings. In marriage we get tunnel vision of that day, that week, that month, forgetting the big picture.
You desperately wanted this person in your life at some point or you wouldn't have gotten married. Have they really changed that much, or is love buried under resentment and grievances?
During this time alone, you can also give serious thought to what divorce might look like for you, one, five and twenty years down the road. Where will you live, will you be able to afford your current lifestyle (not likely), who will you spend holidays with, what will you do with the time when your children are with the ex, and then once they're grown?
During this time I also want you to spend some time snooping around on the web reading the millions of articles that describe the triumphs and struggles the reality of divorce entails.
5. Stop looking externally.
And stop blaming your spouse, since there are two of you in this rowboat. Yes, he/she has done wretched things in the marriage. We all have. Are you solely dissatisfied in your marriage, or is there unease, longing, or discontent anywhere else in your life?
I think too many of us easily assume that if we're unhappy in our marriage, we'll then be happier out of the marriage, but I don't think that reality necessarily translates. Wherever you go, there you are.
Spend some time alone going for walks, journaling, or talking to a professional about your general wellbeing. And treat yourself holistically — physically, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally.
Tend to all four pillars of health in your life and uncover if you have work to do on your own, within your marriage, that would bring a happier, healthier and more balanced you to the partnership. Your happiness is your responsibility, not your spouses.
6. Have the hard conversation.
Read this article I wrote about a divorce proposal with some examples of language and how to initiate the conversation.
At some point you need to start the series of difficult conversations that ought to lead up to a divorce. The conversation isn't a one-time event; there's simply too much to talk about.
I highly recommend you approach the conversation as an idea, not an absolute. Stating you want a divorce doesn't give an opportunity for your spouse to say much. I strongly advise against threatening divorce as a manipulation tactic to get the other to change their behavior.
Any behavioral changes you do see will be reactionary and short-term. Nor should an ultimatum ever be issued. No matter how unbearable things seem between you, the conversation needs to be respectful, and there must be space for a reply from your spouse.
If you have been applying what you have learned in the previous steps and feel like you still want a divorce, you have one last task you must complete, and you must give this last step a couple of months.
7. Go to therapy.
Traditional talk therapy can be intimidating for men, and women generally find more success in that setting due to their verbal skills. Anthropologist Helen Fisher notes from an evolutionary standpoint that men faced their enemies but sat side-by-side with friends.
I champion therapy and believe that both parties can find assistance in that setting; however, resistance from a male partner seems to be common. I'm using the term therapy loosely here, as any helping professional will do.
There's an entire new methodology available to you via marriage/relationship/divorce coaches, some of whom practice over Skype so you can be in the comfort of your own home. You can seek a therapist that might use non-traditional exercises to supplement talk therapy. There are also weekend retreats for couples that are very hands-on with practical exercises.
One therapist my ex and I saw had us play a game: we each got half of a very large, shallow Tupperware container filled with rice, and could choose amongst hundreds of tiny children's toys. The instructions were to represent ourselves and our lives with those toys: what was important to us; what we wanted; where we saw life going.
The therapist decoded the meaning of the toys we selected and arranged. She noted the similarities we held — where we were close as a couple and could do some work to come together — and where a conversation needed to occur because we diverged. Non-verbal tasks such as this will be more comfortable for a man but can be just as meaningful.
The point of therapy is to learn to recognize the communication break-downs which inevitably happen, to learn new ways of thinking, to forgive your partner for their flaws and mistakes, to learn compassion for yourself and your partner, and to learn practical tools you can actually implement to change behavior.
Therapy is not a quick fix. The first session is usually just information gathering. You'll also need time between sessions to practice the skills you're provided and complete your homework. Please give this at least four to six sessions over about two months.
A reminder of what Albert Einstein says: "We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them." I hope you'll partake in learning the tools I've offered you, which will change the dynamic of your relationship.
I wish you light and love in your transformative journey as you strengthen the connection between you and your partner.