Don’t Give Up on Love: Six Things to Consider When Your Relationship is in Crisis
By Jed Diamond, PhD, for the NABBW
Let’s face it, we all want to have a joyful relationship that lasts through time, but many of us despair at having what we so desperately need.
- Many of us are single and long to be married.
- Many of us are married but are unhappy and are thinking of leaving.
I’ve been counseling men and women for more than 40 years and I have seen more than 10,000 couples. Clearly there are some people who should not be married and need help separating in a way that is least destructive to the couple, as well as their children.
However, I’ve found over the years that divorce is rarely the answer. Most people, even those who feel most in despair about their marriage, can find the love that was lost. No one says, “I’m happy and in love. I think I’ll leave this relationship and look for something better.” People only consider leaving when they are in despair. They hunger for love, but feel they can’t get it. They are in pain and getting away seems to be the best option.
But here are some things worth considering.
1. Remember what you wanted when you “tied the knot.”
Think back to the early days of the relationship. Remember how you felt, the hopes and dreams you had. Reflect on the qualities you saw in the other person and the reasons you wanted to make a life together. If you’re like most of us your expectations were unrealistic. You thought there would be a few ups and downs, but you didn’t think it could ever get this bad. But it was good once and it can be good again. “On the rocks” doesn’t have to mean the end of the relationship. It can also mean the end of old patterns that are no longer working and the beginning of something entirely new.
2. It only takes one person to change a relationship for the better.
Most of us believe that it takes two people make a relationship work. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, “I still love him and I want things to work, but he wants out so there’s really nothing I can do.” Non-sense! What he’s really saying is “I’m suffering deeply and I don’t know what to do to make things better.” You can make things better for both of you. You just need help finding your way. Or I hear from men who will tell me, “I love her, but I’m not in love with her any more. I have to leave to find the love that I’m missing.” Non-sense! Real love doesn’t die. It just gets buried in the debris of our stressful lives. Or it dries up from lack of life-giving nutrients. There’s a reason you’re not feeling the love and you can get the love stream flowing again. You just need help getting the blocks out of the way.
3. Under 40, you’re too young to give up on love — over 40 you’re too wise to give up easily.
We don’t understand that love takes time to deepen and we have to have lots of stressful experiences to teach us the lessons we’re here to learn. We think the lessons of love are gentle. They’re not. They can be brutal sometimes, but we only learn them by staying with that special someone.
When my wife and I were a young married couple, we attended a workshop on marriage enrichment lead by the legendary psychotherapist Carl Rogers who had been married for over 50 years at the time.
In the course of the evening, Rogers recalled his long-term marriage. “I still remember those times when things were rough and we were thinking of splitting up,” he said, looking lovingly at his wife.
I couldn’t imagine the “great man” having a rough marriage, but he floored me when he went on. “Remember, there were those 8 or 9 years when things were awful.” 8 or 9 years? I couldn’t imagine having six months of awful times and hanging in there. But having been married now for more than thirty-five years I understand that bad times can last a long time, before good times return.
No one says, “I’m happy and in love. I think I’ll leave this relationship and look for something better.” People only consider leaving when they are in despair.
4. You’ve already invested a lot and it’s a very valuable investment.
How much is a good marriage worth? A recent study reported in the prestigious International Journal of Epidemiology calculated that marriage brings the same amount of happiness as $132,400 of annual income. What do you lose when you separate? Separation would take an additional income of $249,700 of income each year. These figures don’t even calculate the actual cost of separation and divorce (moving out, two households, lawyer’s fees, etc.). And if you’re a guy, you’ll be healthier if you stay married. A major decline in health costs an additional $946,000 a year.
Whether you care about your relationship because you know how much a good relationship can contribute to your health, wealth, and joy in life or because you work hard for you money and you don’t want to waste it; you owe it to yourself to find out how you can prevent a marriage meltdown.
5. Consider seeing a marriage counselor, not a divorce counselor
I know a lot of marriage and family counselors. Some of them are good. A few are bad. And there are few who are outstanding. But here’s the problem. Many counselors don’t have the years of experience it takes to give people the best chance of success. Those who have many of years of experience often got their training during a time when personal happiness took precedence over the happiness of all those in the family—the husband, the wife, and the children. These counselors may consciously, or unconsciously, recommend that couples go their separate ways before they have looked at all alternatives.
I tell couples who are looking at divorce that there are three possibilities to consider:
- There are some blocks in your relationship that need to be removed so that the love you both want can return.
- Your relationship is over and it’s time to go your separate ways.
- Your old relationship is over and it’s time to bury it and let a new relationship be born.
I’m not personally invested in 1, 2, or 3, but most men and women who look deeply find that their real happiness is found by pursuing the hard work of 2 or 3, rather than the hard work of 1. You’ve already invested a lot in your marriage. It’s a good idea to take the time and effort to invest in a really good marriage counselor.
6. Focus on what you want, not what you don’t want.
Too many counselors were trained to deal with the symptoms of a bad relationship such as depression, anger, sexual problems, and stress. I’ve found that it’s much easier, as well as less costly and time consuming, to teach people to change their attitudes and focus on what is good about their relationship. Focusing on the negative generally leads to more problems, while focusing on the positive leads to more love, intimacy, and passion.
There’s wisdom in the realization that “where we put our attention, expands.” Focus on love and we get more love. Focus on what is wrong in our relationship and we get more of what is wrong. That doesn’t mean we pretend that there are never any problems. It means that we can always focus on what we want, rather than on what we don’t want.
If you’re concerned about your relationship, but haven’t given up hope, drop me a note (be sure and respond to my spamarrest request if it’s the first time you’re writing to me) to set up a free consult. Jed@MenAlive.com
Jed Diamond, Ph.D. has been a marriage and family counselor for more than 40 years. He is the author of 12 books, including Stress Relief for Men, Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places, Male Menopause, The Irritable Male Syndrome and Men Alive: Stop Killer Stress with Simple Energy Healing Tools.
He offers counseling to men, women, and couples in his office in California or by phone with people throughout the U.S. and around the world. To receive a free subscription to Jed’s e-newsletter go to www.MenAlive.com. If you are looking for an expert counselor to help with relationship issues, write Jed@MenAlive.com. Or, join Jed on Facebook!