This week I coached a woman who just confirmed that her husband was having an affair. She was desperate to know…
“How did you do it Diana?”
“How did you save your broken marriage?”
As I coach her, we will spend weeks on what I am going to share with you in this short article. But hopefully this overview will give you a little more clarity or hope if you are in a strained marriage too.
My marriage had been deteriorating for 15 years, little by little. My husband and I drank to ease our stress and pain. And we argued about almost everything. I stopped drinking and started working on myself, but my husband was not on the self-improvement track with me. Eventually, I found myself in a divorce attorney’s office, deciding which to file for—divorce or separation.
That same week, my husband miraculously returned to a stable job and stopped drinking. Was he finally ready to change? I paused. I didn’t file. Months later, we started the road to restoration.
8 STEPS I TOOK ON THE JOURNEY TO RESTORE MY BROKEN MARRIAGE
First of all, there is no magic formula to repair a broken marriage. It’s different for every person and every couple. There is no instant fix. And, these are only some of the things that help me stay and rebuild my marriage, but they were some of the most important.
PRAY – TURN TO GOD
The weight of a broken marriage was far too much for me to bear. I needed to bring in the big guns. I needed my all-powerful God to carry the load.
I read scripture and I prayed. I hid in the closet, and I prayed. I cried under the covers, and I prayed. I screamed in the car, and I prayed. God was my anchor, my rock, the only true stability when it felt like my world was falling apart.
When restoring my marriage seemed impossible, God was my only hope.
LIMIT THE PEOPLE AROUND YOU TO THOSE THAT SUPPORT YOUR DECISION TO WORK ON YOUR MARRIAGE
There were a few people in my life that were critical of my decision to stay instead of divorce. They were unsupportive and may not have had my best interests in mind. I limited my time with them.
When you are in a marriage crisis, you need compassionate support and those who can look at the bigger picture. Sure, divorce would seem like an easy fix, but when restoration might be possible, you get to save a family, preserve a union, and grow in character and wisdom. Restoring a marriage is the long haul, big picture move that requires non-judgmental support and encouragement.
SEEK PROFESSIONAL HELP
As I tried to save my marriage, I had the support of Christian mentors and a professional marriage counselor. When I sought separation, I had that same support. When my husband and I worked to restore our marriage together, we each had a mentor, we had marriage mentors, and a marriage coach. (Dr. Rick Marks, Relate Well Institute – he’s the best!) I can’t see how we could have done it alone. We needed expert help.
ADMIT THAT DIVORCE IS AN OPTION.
You heard me. Divorce is an option.
Many Christians like to proclaim that divorce is never an option. I used to proclaim that too. That mindset resulted in me feeling trapped in a miserable marriage with no way out. I was devasted and hopeless.
When I finally made divorce an option, I was empowered by choice. I was no longer stuck in my marriage, and if I was going to stay—it was my choice. Today, I own my choice to be married. I take full responsibility for how I show up. I take responsibility for what I bring to the relationship. I choose marriage, so I want to bring my A-game and do my part to make it amazing.
ALLOW YOURSELF TO FEEL ALL THE FEELINGS.
Marriage is not bliss. Marriage is 50/50. Half positive emotions and half negative emotions. Or in a broken marriage, it might be more like 90/10.
The problem is that, even when marriage is naturally filled with negative emotion, we try to push it away and not feel it. Who likes to feel negative emotion, right?
Acknowledging our emotions, naming them, and feeling them is the mature way to be responsible for ourselves. This allows us to stop making our spouse responsible for everything we feel.
If you are feeling jealous for example, notice it, admit it, and experience it. Not ruminate and perpetuate it, that is not helpful. But, allow it for a time. Notice what if feels like physically in your body. Don’t push it away, and don’t react. Just sit in it. Be human and let yourself feel. Now you are managing your emotions instead of letting them dictate your actions.
For more help with feeling feelings, check out Know What You’re Feeling.
CHOOSE THE THOUGHTS YOU THINK ABOUT YOUR SPOUSE
Thoughts are optional. When you think a bunch of condemning, critical, or judgmental thoughts about your spouse, you are punishing yourself. How? Well, how do you feel when you think it’s all your spouse’s fault, they’re doing it wrong, they’re the problem? You probably feel things like resentment, frustration, and hopelessness. Those are not the feelings that drive restoration.
Try choosing thoughts like, “Even though it’s hard for me to love him, I know God loves him.” “Today is hard, but maybe it’s possible that we can figure this out.” “I know my spouse is hurting too.” These thoughts make room for love, hope, and compassion. You get to choose your thoughts. Choose ones that point in the direction you want to go.
DON’T TAKE ANYONE ELSE’s ADVICE (UNLESS YOU WANT TO.)
I got advice from at least three wise people at every critical juncture in my strained marriage. The advice from these different people never matched, but that’s okay. The ultimate decision was mine anyway. I got to decide which advice I would take, and which didn’t feel like me. Ask for advice, consider it with an open mind, use what you want, and set the rest aside.
It took a long time for your marriage to get where it is today. It will take a long time to repair. That’s okay.
It also takes a long time to shift your mindset. If you are moving from judgement to compassion, it can take a lot of practice and a long time. How long? There is no right answer. It just takes time.
Your spouse is on his/her own journey. Be patient. It’s not your journey to manage, control, speed up, or slow down. Let it go.
There you have it; some key things I did to help my marriage. No marriage is the same and these steps won’t work for you the same way they worked for me, but maybe some of them will help.
Five years after seeing that divorce attorney, my husband and I are finally enjoying a restored marriage. We’ve let go of the past and we are looking toward our dreams for the future.
We still disagree, get frustrated, and need a break. But, overwhelmingly, we give each other grace, love each other unconditionally, and we’re patient.
Some of you reading are in a painful relationship, I know it. If you need me, I’m here to help. Next month I am rolling out a 12-week coaching program specifically for women in challenging marriages. It could be just what you need.
In the meantime, if you want to connect with me, schedule a consultation here. I know it can be tough. I’ve got you!
If you like this article, check out Handling Relationship Tension With Maturity.