Can a marriage be saved from the brink of divorce? What would that even look like? I’ve collected stories and advice for couples hoping to save their marriage from divorce.
When someone signs up for my email list, they get a little welcome email which asks them to respond back stating something they are currently struggling with in their marriage.
I get quite a few of these emails each week.
At first I was surprised to find how many of these emails expressed marriages in dire straights- on the brink of divorce, dealing with things like infidelity, addiction, abuse, etc. I’ve received three such emails dealing with infidelity just this week.
This has caused me concern many times because I feel inadequate to offer them anything helpful, never having experienced any of those problems firsthand.
But then I thought, while I don’t have experience with a marriage in dire straights, I can certainly point you to people who have been there and who can offer hope.
So the past two weeks I’ve been scouring the internet for helpful articles and stories for couples on the brink of divorce who are making it work.
Because if you are in this situation, it can often seem like you are all alone- surrounded by happy couples with no problems. Like this woman said,
“I always wound up asking [my friends] if they knew anyone—anyone—who had been through this and made it out the other side, anyone who’d survived an affair and come out happily married. Because I wanted to believe it was possible, and to know how it could be done. What was normal? Was there a road map? How long would it take? None of my friends seemed to know such a couple. Other marriages might have survived an affair, but no one was talking.”
At the outset, let me say that you are certainly not alone, and I sincerely hope you find peace and hope and forgiveness regardless of where your marriage lands.
Let me be clear (again) that I am not anti-divorce. I do not think every marriage should be saved and I don’t judge couples for whom this is the best option (the stories of hope section includes two such couples).
This post, however, is primarily for those who have already made the decision to stay and need some hope and direction for what is ahead.
So here are the results of my digging for stories of hope for couples on the brink of divorce:
Stories of Hope: Saving a Marriage From Divorce
(the titles are links)
I found this little gem in O Magazine online. The author is utterly real and relate-able.
Her story starts out with her being the mistress to someone else’s affair before she was married, so she begins by outlying why affairs are so alluring. Then, years into her own marriage, her husband cheated and she got the other end of the experience.
Here are some of my favorite quotes:
This is another long-time favorite marriage article of mine. All about disappointments and adjusting your expectations.
“There may come a time when you look at your spouse and look at your life and come to the hard realization that the dreams you once had will never come true with this person. That truth hits hard. You may feel trapped and backed into a corner with the only feasible solution being the big “D” word. The thought of moving on can be so scary and yet alluring all at the same time. The thought of a fresh start, a second chance to begin again and to get it right this time around. These thoughts begin slowly at first like a quiet whisper at the very back of your mind. But with every argument, every hurtful word, every disappointment, that voice that tells you that, ‘you deserve better’ gets louder and stronger. It will convince you that you’ve done all you can. It will try to steal your hope. That voice will make you believe that things will never change. And then, as the final and fatal blow it will stir up bitterness and resentment. That voice will aim to harden your heart and convince you that the only thing left to do is walk away.”
Alright, so this couple did get a divorce, but I put it in here first off because it shows that even with divorce, there is still a lot of work to be done in healing, forgiveness and self-growth. Also, I like what he says about the importance of overcoming shame (which secretly underlies a lot of our misery and bad behavior) and how he describes why he cheated.
“You can change your thoughts which change your actions. You do this by getting help from someone you trust. You do this by choosing to believe that you can be more than just these addictions, or problems. You CAN do something about it.
. . . To this day, Lynn and I are still friends, business partners, and co-parents and we get along just fine. That is thanks to both of us, putting in the work to heal, grow, forgive, and strengthen our relationships with ourselves.”
So this couple also eventually ended up splitting up years after this was written (yet remain very close), but I include it here because it is such a good description of what making it work when its hard actually looks and feels like.
“Real love is about METAMORPHOSIS, and metamorphosis IS FIFTY SHADES OF PAIN – just ask the butterfly. To let love work on you, to let the metamorphosis happen- you must allow the illusions of who you thought you were to fall away, look reality dead in the eye and open your arms wide to the REAL him, the REAL you, REAL marriage.
. . . Start feeling loving feelings a little each day. Download the truth that: Yep. FEELINGS FOLLOW WORK. REPEATEDLY ACT LOVING AND EVENTUALLY- You will find yourself FEELING LOVING. Promise yourself you will never forget that love is not something to wait for or wonder about or search for or hope for but SOMETHING TO SHOW UP EVERYDAY TO CREATE. LOVE Does Not Just Happen. It’s FORGED.”
Advice from Experts
This is a great article written for a spouse who has had an affair who wants to save their marriage. It is full of experts and authors sharing actionable steps.
“Research shows that if the betrayed spouse needs to process what happened or talk about feelings, healing won’t happen unless the unfaithful spouse is willing to participate in the conversation openly and honestly, in a reassuring way,” she said. “Sometimes the unfaithful spouse’s shame gets in the way of being present for these conversations. Know that you can acknowledge that shame and still be willing to put it aside so your partner knows their needs are paramount.”
Written as a partner article, this is what to do if you have been cheated on. Again, full of helpful quotes from experts.
“Give yourself permission to feel every emotion that comes your way: sadness, bitterness; hopelessness; total, utter rage — all of it.
. . . You may feel like a victim now but you remind yourself that you haven’t been totally robbed of your agency. You still have a say in what happens next in your relationship.”
This is a reader question answered by a couple’s therapist. In it, she gives eight insightful questions to ask yourself as well as some strategies to heal.
“As a couples therapist, I see many couples that come into treatment despondent and angry. There are years of damage and mistrust. . . . In all of these cases, at least some of the time, there is hope for true and genuine reconciliation. Of course, this can happen if and only if both spouses are open to the idea of changing how they think of the relationship and how they interact with each other. Don’t expect this to be a quick or easy process, but it is possible and I have seen it happen.”
My Two Cents
As I read through story after story after story of infidelity and broken marriages this week, I started thinking about my research as a graduate student studying criminology.
For my master’s thesis, I wanted to answer the question, “Why can some prisoners come out of prison and stay out and when so many end up back in? What is the difference between them? What characteristic or factor is the turning point?”
To answer this question, I spent hours and hours interviewing prisoners and former prisoners. I attended re-entry programs and questioned the instructors.
I’m not the first person to ask this question of course, and the literature outlines many contributing factors to recidivism: employment, family support, access to good programs, social economic status, race, etc.
But what I found in my interviews was that some people could have every box checked- a good job, friend and family support, the best programs and still end up violating their parole time and time again. Whereas others had everything against them and were still able to stay out of the system.
I concluded that the biggest factor boiled down to DESIRE. The important role of personal desire and conviction just couldn’t be ignored. If a parolee didn’t REALLY want to stay out of prison or get clean- no program, child or job could make them change.
And for those who seemed to have all odds against them who got clean and stayed out of the system- the difference seemed to be that they really, really wanted it. Wanted it enough to change at great personal sacrifice. Wanted it enough to seek and receive help. Wanted it enough to go through the really, really tough times.
I wonder if it isn’t the same for the couples who make it work and those who don’t? (not that I think marriage should be likened unto prison 😉 ) I’m no expert in this field, so it’s just a hypothesis.
The tricky thing in marriage, though, is that it takes TWO people who really, really want to make it work. Want it enough to change at great personal sacrifice. Want it enough to seek and receive help. Want it enough to go through the really, really tough times.
We can only ensure one-half of the desire necessary unfortunately. Our spouse is responsible for the other half.
I think this couple is a great example. While reading this man’s story, it felt different from the many, many other infidelity stories I had read that day. It felt like, wow, I actually believe they are going to make it work. The difference was that they convinced me that they both REALLY wanted to make it work.
Its like what Richard Paul Evans said, “We’ve learned how to take care of each other and, more importantly, we’ve gained the desire to do so.”
The desire needs to be there. A lot of it.
I know its not that simple- that a strong enough desire isn’t the ONLY thing necessary. Just like its not that simple for parolees to break free of the criminal justice system for good. Some people have every factor against them and for them its almost impossible. Its SO much easier to go back.
Likewise, some couples have every factor against them- histories of addiction, infidelity, depression, mental illness, personality disorders, financial strain.
For every couple though, I do believe a strong desire to stay is the starting point. And I definitely believe in the power of selfless love, devotion and commitment to work miracles. I really do.
I don’t believe saving a marriage is the best path for every couple. There is legitimate abuse out there.
Only you can decide whether or not your marriage should be saved. If you are trying to make that decision, marriage therapist Jennifer Finlayson-Fife offered some great questions to ask yourself in my interview with her for my upcoming book. She said to ask yourself:
- Is making room for this person going to make me give more than I can really give?
- Am I prepared to live with the consequence of breaking my family?
- Can I stand by my decision weighing the cost it will be to all of us?
- Is this decision being driven by my fear or by my clarity?
- Ultimately do I want this enough? If I don’t want it, is it because of my weakness or my strength?
- Is my decision coming from the best in me or the worst in me?
Whatever you choose, I believe the path ahead must include a lot of inner-work toward healing, peace, hope and forgiveness.
Good luck friends. I’m rooting for you.