I’m often asked by people facing marital problems whether it’s possible to save their marriage alone, without any real help or effort on the part of their spouse. So, can you save your marriage alone?
The answer to this question is pretty simple: yes, it is possible to repair your marriage even if you’re the only one trying. Allow me to explain how and why…
How Marriages Actually Function
Right off the bat, it’s important to understand two things:
- Your spouse is unhappy with your marriage as it stands right now. In other words, your spouse isn’t necessarily unhappy with you, but he/she certainly isn’t pleased with your marriage. That means a positive change to your marriage — whether it’s initiated by your or your spouse, or even if it happens on its own — is likely change your spouse’s feelings about the marriage, and make them more likely to buy back in and re-commit to a future together.
- You and your partner communicate in a revolving stimulus — essentially a “response pattern”. What you do and say is the stimulus. Your spouse’s reaction is the response. You then react to their reaction, etc. The same thing occurs when your partner does or says something. Over time, the two of you have developed a pattern of common actions and reactions, but when the ‘stimulus’ changes, the response will also change. This means that changing your behaviour will impact your partner’s reaction, and overall the entire relationship.
Let me explain these two concepts further by using a simple hypothetical example.
You and your spouse always argue about traveling to visit family on holidays. Your spouse wants to drive 5 hours every Christmas and Thanksgiving to have dinner with the in-laws, but you hate those big family dinners. Each time your spouse asks you to join for these holiday family trips, you refuse and complain, and your spouse then becomes upset and withdraws. A massive argument ensues, your spouse threatens to take the kids and go without you, and then the argument spirals into a bigger feud over your unwillingness to ever do what your partner wants.
In this example, the original issue (the ‘stimulus’) is your spouse’s desire to visit family. The reaction is your refusal to do so. Your spouse then re-acts to your reaction with a further complaint. An argument follows, and the pattern continues. In the end, you both wind up unhappy, and your marriage suffers from the argument. Obviously, when this happens regularly, both of you are going to be unhappy with the marriage and your life in general.
Disrupt The Negative Cycle — On Your Own!
This “action and reaction” cycle that constitutes every marriage is one of the reasons that you can save your marriage alone. Simply put, you have the power to disrupt the negative cycle by making a change to the action or the re-action.
Think about it: in the example above, what if you simply agreed to visit your in-laws? The reaction from your husband or wife would all of a sudden be positive instead of negative. The argument, withdrawal, and unhappiness that follows would simply vanish with one change to your own behavior.
Now, obviously, there are times that you can’t (and shouldn’t) simply give in to your spouse’s demands and do what he or she wants. But, in the case discussed above, perhaps you can reach a suitable compromise: that you’ll visit the in-laws at Thanksgiving but not Christmas, for instance. Or perhaps you can agree to go this time, but skip every second major holiday. This type of conflict resolution can be invaluable and help you save your marriage alone, without your partner’s help.
Simply put, by making a small change to your own behavior, your partner won’t need to use their coping mechanism and the negative cycle of actions and re-actions no longer needs to occur at all. If this happens enough, a new pattern of behaviours will emerge. Assuming the new actions and reactions are positive, the relationship will take a turn for the better.
Advantages To Working On Your Marriage Alone
There are actually some real benefits to starting to work on saving your marriage alone, without any input from your partner.
The first major benefit is that, typically, talking with your spouse about the problems in your marriage actually only makes matters worse. This may seem counter-intuitive, but talking through problems tends to simply reinforce the fact that there are major issues plaguing the marriage in your spouse’s mind, and focuses the attention (for both of you) onto these problems. In plain English, it’s better for you and your spouse to be spending quality, positive time together than to re-visit the same issues and arguments again and again. So, by taking the first steps on your own, you can help to create this more positive atmosphere in your marriage without reminding your spouse about the problems that led you to this point.
The second benefit is that, when you’re on your own, you can begin to make changes immediately. Unlike in marriage counseling, where it may take weeks or months to make progress (especially if you’re only seeing the therapist weekly or even less frequently), changes to your own behavior and to the stimulus-response cycle described above can begin now. That means that you can begin to work on mending your marriage today, as soon as you finish reading this article.
You Can Do It Alone, BUT….
As I’ve illustrated on this page, it’s very possible to save your marriage on your own, without any help from your partner. But that doesn’t mean you should assume that you know exactly how or what to do — which is why I recommend you invest in a quality marriage-saving program like Mend the Marriage. It’s totally affordable and, according to many clients I’ve worked with, an invaluable resource in repairing a broken marriage.