It’s frustrating when you know your marriage is broken and yet your husband won’t do anything about it. He won’t read a marriage book, won’t go to counseling, won’t even have a conversation about it!
It can make you crazy.
I mean why even try if he’s not going to do anything?! Especially if the problems are mostly his fault. Then it really seems hopeless that things will ever improve.
I remember feeling this way early in my marriage. I was dreadfully unhappy and felt neglected and overburdened with the finances and the household chores.
I often fantasized about divorce, which seemed like it would solve all my problems. But I knew divorcing would have some drawbacks too, so I decided I would get my husband to shape up instead.
As Catherine Aird said, “If you can’t be a good example, you’ll just have to be a horrible warning.”
Here’s what I learned about what NOT to do:
1. Ask your husband to read marriage books or blogs or listen to podcasts
I thought John should read marriage books, especially the ones I was reading (being the very good wife that I was). That way he would understand what he should be doing better!
But he wouldn’t read them.
That hurt because I believed it meant our marriage was not that important to him!
So I read the books to him. But that didn’t seem to help matters. At all.
I bet you can see why, huh?
2. Have a State-of-the-Union address on the couch
I’d also try to get John to talk, to have a State-of-the-Union address where we’d sit on the couch and talk about what he was doing wrong. And I’d say, “If there’s anything you want me to do differently, I’m totally open—just say so.”
But mostly I just wanted him to realize how awful he was being and make an effort, any kind of effort, to improve.
Still, he refused.
That hurt even more because even though now he knew what he should do differently, like the dishes, he wouldn’t do those things.
This proved he was an uncaring, inconsiderate slob!
3. Go to marriage counseling
When John was obviously avoiding such conversations (and most conversations) with me, I insisted we go to marriage counseling.
My intention was to have someone else tell him how wrongheaded he was so that he would finally see the error of his ways and improve.
He didn’t so much agree to this as finally give in to my constant nagging about it, probably to shut me up. So we went.
And wouldn’t you know it, that didn’t work either!
Over $9,000 dollars and more than a year later, I was on the counselor’s couch more convinced than ever that I should end my marriage.
But I couldn’t go through with it. Too embarrassing.
So I got some ideas from wives with happy marriages. Of course their ideas sounded pretty wacky to me. But I was desperate, and he was neeeever going to change any other way, so I was out of options.
And a funny thing happened when I decided to experiment with those wacky ideas, which I had hoped would make my husband shape up!
I started to notice that maybe I was part of the problem. At least, a small part.
Then, after a while, I realized I was half of the problem.
And then, a while later, after I apologized to my husband for the umpteenth time, it occurred to me that I might have been a lot of the problem!
Sure I was the only one TRYING to save my marriage, but I had been doing all the wrong things.
So that was informative and pretty painful too but enlightening. And that enlightenment began when I started doing these things to save my marriage when he wasn’t trying.
Here’s what worked to fix my marriage:
1. Getting back on my paper.
That’s number one.
My paper is where all my decisions are, like what I do with my time, my attitude, my tone of voice, what time I go to bed, how I care for myself.
Everybody else has their own papers too, including John.
But for the most part what he’s doing on his paper is his responsibility and not mine.
Of course I have influence over his decisions.
Tons of influence.
But I was squandering it when I was constantly telling him he had to improve.
He spent most of his energy defending himself against me. Poor guy!
I was also avoiding my own paper because I’d been trained not to think about myself. I didn’t want anyone to think I was selfish and demanding.
So I became controlling and overbearing instead, focusing on what I thought my husband wanted or should want or should do, which I can’t control.
Just because I can’t control his paper doesn’t mean I’m never going to get what I want. Just the opposite, in my experience.
And this is the second way to save a marriage when only one is trying…
2. Honoring my desires, even if I’m uncomfortable desiring them
Once I knew what I wanted, other people, like John, didn’t have to guess. I could just tell him what I desired.
To my surprise, that was very motivating to him.
So when I reflected on my true desires instead of my complaints and expressed those in a way that inspired my husband, he started racing to give me what I wanted.
And all those things I complained about wanting him to change back in the bad old days?
They were unexpressed desires that are now fulfilled (including him doing the dishes).
Then I felt so much less hurt and upset because it was clear my husband did care about me.
Which brings me to the third thing for saving a marriage when only one is trying…
3. Getting happy
I was waiting for John to make me happy, but he couldn’t because I didn’t know how to get happy.
As it turns out, only happy people have happy marriages.
When I got happy and pleasable, that gave him a glimpse of hope he hadn’t seen in a long time that he could be successful at making his wife happy, something that my research shows all husbands care deeply about.
But Laura, you might argue, your husband didn’t say he was leaving or threaten divorce.
You might argue that it’s much harder to save a marriage when you’re the only one trying if he’s halfway out the door already.
And I get it. It’s terrifying to feel like saving your marriage isn’t up to you.
I remember feeling the same way.
The illusion that I couldn’t improve my relationship was so big that I was stuck permanently.
I still remember being astonished that it was absolutely in my power to change the course of my marriage and my life by starting with my own paper.
So I’m always hopeful and curious to know what might happen for you if you start focusing on your own paper too, even if you’re the only one trying to save your marriage.