Next Ariella's therapist helped her to explore what about her past led her to choose a man who was so unresponsive to her concerns, so "all about Jason." The parallels with her dad, who like Jason had been so special and yet so self-centered, struck her first. She realized too how similar Jason was to her older brother Ted whom she had always adored. That comparison triggered even more hopelessness for Ariella. Alas, if she had chosen poorly, what more could she do?
"I'm afraid he's never going to change," Ariella told her therapist, "and that I just can't stand living with him any longer," Ariella realized. That night she told Jason she had decided to seek a divorce. Note that Ariella didn't threaten divorce. She never mentioned the word until she had decided that this was the only option that remained to her if she wanted to live her life in emotional and physical safety.
Fortunately, in spite of her therapist's semi-helpful, semi-problematic interventions, Ariella's quiet announcement of her decision provoked an unanticipated reaction from Jason. He was shocked. And suddenly motivated to make changes. The idea that his wife, whom he adored, might leave devastated him, and at the same time woke him up from his self-centered bubble.
Jason and Ariella started in therapy that very week. Once there, Jason proved to be a dedicated learner. Now, just three months later, their relationship is getting closer and closer to the marriage of both of theirdreams.
Case II: Skill-Building
Janet and Harold chose a different route. Janet in this case was the one who said, "No way. I'm not going to do therapy. I hate going to doctors, and a therapist sounds even worse."
Harold had read that when just one spouse goes to treatment, the odds go up that the marriage will end in divorce. Worse still is if both spouses go to separate therapists.
Harold though was a do-it-yourself'er by nature, much like his wife. So Harold scoured the internet for how to fix a relationship. To his delight, Harold found that skill-building is an alternative strategy to therapy for marriage mending.
Getting marriage help can be fun, on your own or together.
Janet noticed that her husband was spending extra time at the computer. She also noticed that he seemed more tactful when something bothered her, and more interested in hearing her perspectives.
One evening she looked over Harold's shoulder when he was concentrating on something on the computer that had a video on it. Turned out he was working on games and quizzes on a marriage education skill-building website. He was learning how to talk more cooperatively, how to listen like a teammate instead of like an opponent, and how to interact only in a calm and constructive emotional state instead of in the bickering mode they used to do. Before long Janet and Harold both became equally engaged in learning new collaborative communication skills.
Janet and Harold fit the adage, "If we knew better, we would do better." Talking now in a far more cooperative and open way, bit by bit they both felt increasingly safe sharing more, dealing with their differences, and even radiating more open affection with each other.
Case III: Go positive.
Judith had tried for years to get Peter to "shape up" as a husband. The more she suggesed, cajoled, or criticized, the less he seemed to learn. Finally, she gave up.
Better yet, Judith did a flip. She decided that the only person she would try to change would be herself. Instead of suggesting that Peter could fit more dishes in the dishwasher if he loaded it with all the dishes facing the same way, she herself loaded the dishes her way, and then said, "He's not me. It's okay with me for him to do it his way."
As she felt more relaxed around Peter now that she was no longer trying to fix him, Judith one evening had an astounding realization. She was looking at Peter's chaotic arrangement of dishes that he had thrown into the dishwasher when the thought came to her that she sure was lucky to have a husband who voluntarily cleaned up the kitchen after meals. Judith rose up from where she'd been resting, walked shyly over to Peter, and hugged him warmly.
Appreciation and gratitude heal many marriage problems.
"I sure am lucky to be married to a man who's such a willing participatant in keeping up a clean house," she murmured, kissing his ear.
Guess how this marriage has turned out?
Susan Heitler, PhD, a Denver clinical psychologist, is author of multiple publications including From Conflict to Resolution and The Power of Two. A graduate of Harvard and NYU, Dr. Heitler's most recent project is a marriage skills website, PowerOfTwoMarriage.com.