In this month’s Change Anything column, Patricia S. shares the specific strategies she used to save her marriage.
My husband and I have been married for nearly twenty-seven years. However, it wasn’t until five years ago that I began to understand what it meant to be completely committed to another person.
At the time, my job as a nurse educator required me to travel for eight years. My husband was upset with me for being gone so often and I was frustrated because my expectations of having a clean house, full refrigerator, and happy children were often unmet. I was the stereotypical husband and my husband was the stereotypical wife. The strange role reversal was further complicated because we were mad at each other all the time.
One night after I returned from a work trip, we hit an all-time low. After realizing my husband didn’t want to be with me for more than an hour, I asked him if he wanted to continue this relationship. I was devastated when he calmly replied, “Well, no. Not really.”
I knew we had to change because I didn’t want to lose the marriage. I knew my children would suffer and that I’d miss him if we weren’t together. And I also knew that if we were to change, I’d have to start with myself. There were obvious things he did to create problems, but sober reflection helped me see I wasn’t innocent either.
After some initial false starts, we started to rebuild our relationship. It took five years of hard work, but we improved our relationship and strengthened our marriage through the following strategies:
Source 1: Love What You Hate—I was motivated to change by two examples of difficult marriages. I watched as the father of my daughter’s best friend had an affair that devastated the family. I remember thinking, “I don’t want to go through this, and I especially don’t want my children to go through it.” This realization motivated me to work through our problems, no matter how difficult or frustrating.
I was also motivated by remembering the constant fear I felt as a child watching my parents fight. My parents won their fights by yelling the longest and loudest. In one argument, my dad shoved a piece of furniture out of place, slammed the door, and left for a few days. I remember being so scared they would divorce. I didn’t want my children to live with that same fear.
I also drew on my religious faith regarding the sanctity of marriage. One day in church, I was nearly brought to tears when I reread our marriage vows and realized I needed to start over. For better or for worse took on a whole new meaning as I recommitted to our vows and applied my stubborn tendencies to saving rather than destroying our marriage.
Source 2: Do What You Can’t—I realized I needed to hold a few crucial conversations with my husband and that I needed to learn how to hold them. I signed up for Crucial Conversations Training, read the book, and listened to the audio companion. With these new skills, I learned how to make it safe for my husband to talk to me. I started by working on me first and gradually learned how to hold a successful crucial conversation with my husband.
Sources 3 & 4: Turn Accomplices into Friends—My husband was a wonderful example of what it means to be a devoted spouse. One night when I was sick, he picked up a prescription for me at 2:00 a.m. When I apologized for the inconvenience, he simply said, “I love you. This is part of it.” This was a turning point. Those words made me understand what it truly means to be committed to somebody and to be their friend instead of working against them. I began to see him more as an ally and coach. We also had other “friends” in the form of a marriage counselor who gave us advice and encouragement.
Source 5: Invert the Economy—Some of our marital stress was a function of our lifestyle. We simplified our lives so I didn’t have to work two jobs which reduced my anxiety and gave us more time together. Removing the financial incentive to be apart was crucial to our making things work.
Source 6: Control Your Space—We also made a decision to move from Minnesota to California in hopes that it would improve our health problems. I have a chronic illness that was exacerbated by the cold climate of Minnesota, and my husband suffers from depression. Sunny California has made all the difference. We spend more time outside doing things we both love and have reexamined our lives and values.
I can honestly say the longer we are together, the less attached I feel to my old self. We have stopped pulling our separate ways and now allow the full expression of each other’s personalities to show without fear of reprisal. The time we spend together is so enjoyable. It has taken a lot of work but it has been worth it. We’re holding hands again and heading off in the same direction.
Editor’s Note: Similar stories of inspiring change will be featured in our upcoming book about personal change due to be released Spring 2011. If you have an inspiring story of personal change, please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org and include “Change Anything Story” in the subject line of your e-mail.