Sometimes people call me to ask for marriage counseling and explain that their partner is not interested in help or in saving the marriage. Often these people have children who are still at home. How can a marriage like this be saved?
I spend a lot of time on the phone with people who call me and I ask lots of questions. I don’t understand how this can work by booking on line or speaking to an assistant. I need to know about the problem, it’s duration, time of onset, and who is involved.
Very often when someone wants a divorce yesterday, they are having an affair.
I will see the partner who wants the help and urge them to find out what they can about the possibility. As long as an affair remains secret, it is impossible to repair the marriage. The secret interferes with the intimacy of the relationship and drives the couple apart. It stops the conversation and without conversation there is no relationship.
The truth needs to come out. Usually if someone thinks there is an affair, there is.
It is important, if things remain secret—-or not, for the partner in front of me to keep things calm and to avoid drama.
This is a difficult but necessary prescription. The partner who wishes to save the marriage needs to go on with his or her life and let the affair play out. Most do end with time.
Overall, men who don’t feel good enough (see Private Lies, Dr. Frank Pittman) and women who are angry cheat. The best course is to see a therapist who believes in marriage, remain calm and avoid anger.
Most men will eventually find that all women are alike and the safest woman is the one he already has who knows his imperfections.
So saving the marriage is about staying loving and busy doing other things while the affair runs its course.
Sometimes there is not an affair. Sometimes a partner is scared of adulthood and just doesn’t want to grow up.
Again, calm is the ticket. I would want to know about all the negative interactions and suggest the partner in front of me do something different from the usual.
I once saw a couple in which the husband worried continuously about his health. If he got hiccups he thought he was dying and would go to bed to rest for several days, thereby missing work.
The next time it happened his wife threw herself into a panic declaring that without him she would surely die and she collapsed on the bed. At this point her husband got up and soothed her saying, “there there dear. I’ll be alright”. Doing something different often turns things around.
I recently saw a man whose wife greeted him with divorce papers when he came home from work. They have two young children. She had taken them off for the weekend, leaving the divorce papers on the table.
She had seen a lawyer and the documents asked for full custody and child support and alimony far beyond her husband’s earnings.
The husband was horrified. He said he had no idea that this was coming. He made an appointment to see me. She refused to come but she agreed to see the church counselor. At that meeting the counselor confirmed that the wife wanted a divorce so that was what was happening and maybe if the husband complied they could reconcile later. I did not see that as very helpful.
I tell my clients that just because you are invited to a divorce doesn’t mean you must accept the invitation. When he later came to see me I sent him home to explain divorce to her.
Since he wanted the marriage, he certainly was accountable for his verbal abuse and independent decisions.
However, divorce means he would also ask for the kids and to not like the behavior of a partner and to refuse to live with that partner makes it confusing to send children to live part time with someone you yourself can’t live with.
This husband talked about his great sorrow for a number of misdeeds but he also talked about the expense of divorce, supporting two households, and the fact that the highest winners in divorce battles are the attorneys.
In short, I recommend that my clients explain to the partner what the word DIVORCE really means.
Today this couple is in marriage counseling doing quite well.
Marriages where only one partner wants the marriage, may not always survive. However, I believe in marriage, I don’t recommend divorce, least of all with children, and I think that patience, absence of drama, and a focus on reality make it possible to pull many marriages off the brink of disaster.