Can a do-it-yourself divorce prevention plan work?
An emotionally healthy marriage has extraordinary and lifelong spiritual, physical and emotional benefits. This not only true for you and your partner, but for your kids. The question of when relationship counseling is necessary to save or transform a marriage is asked very often. It's a totally normal question and one completely worth asking. When money is an issue, it's even more important to ask. A properly trained and insured counselor can charge anywhere from $70-$270 per hour. And it's critical you work with a counselor if required, who is experienced in helping and not harming your marriage.
Is it possible for a couple who are really having problems or on the verge of a break up, to seriously turn things around without the help of a professional counselor? The answer to this question depends on the level of "emotional distress" present in your relationship. It also depends on the couple's ability to suspend any judgment on whether or not they can turn things around. Their mutual follow-through on daily study and practice of new relationship skills together is also essential. Perhaps the most critical success factor in both self-help and therapeutic relationship re-building is the total commitment on the part of both partners to try their very best, despite how hurt or angry they feel in the beginning. Here are some critical questions to ask when you're considering couple's counseling versus marital self-help.
Are You Experiencing:
- Unmanageable levels of frustration, anger and profound sadness or hurt?
- High levels of verbal criticism and defensiveness when trying to resolve issues?
- One or both partners always shutting-down emotionally, disconnecting or turning-off emotionally instead of acting in spite of their negative emotions to turn things around?
- Reconnection avoidance, where one or both partners expresses inflexible "relationship contempt" (for example immediate eye-rolling, impatient sighing and impatient angriness) when the other partner tries to communicate, apologize or repair and reconnect emotionally?
For some partners, things can be so painful or anxious (i.e. if there's been cheating) that they are unable to calm themselves or effectively soothe their partner, in a way that lets them talk properly and start to repair emotional injuries and move the relationship forward. Other couples are more able to stay calm, communicate and problem-solve effectively, even when there’s been cheating or an emotional affair. They know when it's time to take a break and come back and start communication again when they feel more calm and in control.
It's perfectly normal for many partners to feel badly hurt and/or and so scared (that it seems they can only believe their most important human relationship is ending), that they can't help getting angry at or walking away from their partner as a way of trying to defend themselves from their pain. They don't understand that underneath the anger and fear there is profound love and deeply frustrated yearning for emotional reconnection. Reconnect your hearts and minds at this underling level and your relationship will start to fix itself. You can fall more deeply in love than ever before. Aferall, if you didn't love your partner so much you wouldn’t be so hurt or frustrated in the first place.
Yes, the vast majority of marriages can be saved. Many spouses or partners don’t realize that a deep loving relationship can be re-built again no matter how hurt or angry they feel right now. This is true even when there's been a serious transgression like cheating or when major relationship needs have not been properly communicated or satisfied for months or even years at a time. In fact, just about any marriage or relationship can be saved and utterly transformed, as long as both partners learn and practice some very basic relationship building and maintenance skills.
However, what if there's been partner violence or abuse in the relationship? When it comes to partner violence, emotional or psychological abuse, immediate safety has to come first. In the event of an immediate danger, the proper authorities must be contacted. It's the law. However, once a proper level of safety has been established, even marriages that were plagued by violence and serious substance abuse for years can be saved and transformed through specialized, evidence-based therapy.
How do you start to save your marriage without a counselor? The best way to figure out if you can save your marriage without counseling is by taking 3 weeks and really trying your best to learn and implement 4 basic and proven strategies.
- Suspending any assumptions or beliefs that the relationship is "too broken" or can't be fixed, until you've developed and implemented a clear divorce prevention strategy. The first step in saving your marriage is to make a pact to work on it together no matter what it takes.
- It also means that you both need to commit to becoming armchair relationship experts. You'll need to start by reading 4 books I recommend by the world's leading relationship experts and researchers.
- Committing to 1 hour per day of intensive learning, reading and practicing of your new relationship building and communication skills together. You'll need to making time and space free of any type of distractions to read, learn share, test and build your new couple’s communication and problem solving strategies together. This is also a great pre-cursor to caring you your absolutely essential weekly date night in stone.
- If things are too intense at first when talking and working things out together, read and learn independently. You need to know when it's time to take a break from communication by taking your relationship love pulse and knowing when it’s time to take a time out to recover and when it makes sense to get started again together. Reading independently will enable you to process and learn what you’re reading from your marital distress. You can then come back to your communication together with new deeper insights and fresh communication skills.
How else do you know if you need couple's counseling? Counseling may be needed if you find that you're unable to stick to the minimum of one hour per day of concentrated learning, listening and practicing together or independently (at first). This could mean that the shut down and avoidance pattern is too strong to manage alone. It could also mean that one or both partners are not fully committed to the process because of an error in what they believe is possible, and starting off with your mutual marriage saving pact is essential. A huge signal that you need counseling: you can't maintain your "Hurt Free Zone."
Again, if anger is unmanageable or if there is any real risk of things spiraling out of control in partner violence, counseling is necessary. If there are serious mental health issues, those need to be addressed in counseling, but they do not mean you can't save your marriage with help. It's okay to take a break until you find the kind of experienced Couple's Counselor who will do more good than harm to your relationship. In fact, if any of the "emotional distress" patterns described above (except risk of harm which requires immediate intervention) continue to persist after 2 or 3 weeks of solid mutual effort, counseling is probably going to be very helpful.
Are your experiencing a relationship crisis? I'm online right now to listen to you via secure chat. I'll answer your most pressing relationship questions and help you set up a personalized divorce prevention action plan.