Is it really possible to save a hopeless marriage?
I would respond to this question with an indubitable "no" had I not experienced my own miracle.
My husband and I had been separated for a little over a year. We were about to meet with a marriage counselor - even though I didn't think there was a slight chance we could turn things around. We were hurt, angry and resentful beyond measure.
Our counseling meeting came to an end without us coming to an agreement. We were sent home with a challenging task: to take ourselves back to the time when we first met and fell in love, and make an inventory of the qualities we'd liked in each other.
I went home resolved to do the exact opposite. I was afraid those memories would only bring pain ... but thoughts rushed through my mind. I couldn't help but wonder, "Is there a possibility I could learn to love this man again?"
My husband and I met the following day. To my surprise, he showed up with a humble attitude that helped me take my own guard down for the first time in months. We discussed openly our individual needs and desires without feeling the need to judge one another or defend ourselves.
Right then, we decided we deserved to give ourselves a second chance. This was the first of many conversations that laid the foundation for saving our hopeless marriage.
They say love is a decision, and I agree. These are the decisions that saved our marriage, and they might save yours. Read through them with your spouse, and choose ideas that resonate with you. Then, come up with as many more as necessary.
1. Love yourself
To love another, you first need to love yourself. Your heart needs already to be filled. You can't give out what you don't have, and you can't expect from others what you don't give to yourself.
How do you love yourself?
Nurture yourself in body, mind and spirit. Be kind to yourself. Be accepting and forgiving.
It is your responsibility to fulfill your own needs. Lack of self-love may manifest as insecurity and emotional codependence. Love yourself!
2. Fall in love with your partner - every day
Take your attention off of your spouse's flaws. You must focus on the positive aspects of your partner and your relationship.
Nourish your love. Cultivate romance, emotional connection and physical intimacy. Have heart-to-heart conversations. Reminisce about the best moments of your relationship.
Strengthen the bond you share through comforting and passionate touch.
3. Strive to be happy rather than right
The need to be right is driven by your ego's desire to be in control.
Accept the fact that you and your spouse won't always share the same perspectives and opinions. Let go of the need to define everything as right or wrong, win or lose. In a marriage, either everyone wins or everyone loses. At the end of the journey, is it really worth losing a marriage so you can be right?
4. Set healthy boundaries
"Healthy personal boundaries = taking responsibility for your own actions and emotions while not taking responsibility for the actions or emotions of others."
Know yourself, and discover where you stand. What do you like? What do you need? What do you want? Know when to say "yes," and know when to say "no."
Respect your spouse's boundaries as well. Boundaries give each individual the opportunity to grow, and ignoring boundaries causes conflict in marriage.
5. Make your marriage your first priority
Once kids come into the marriage, it is easy to find yourself allowing parenthood to rob time and energy from your marriage.
Remember that you and your spouse were together before your children entered the picture, and you and your spouse will be together after your children leave. The relationship of the couple comes first - then the kids. In the end, a healthy marriage is the best help for kids while they are growing up and after they leave home.
6. Start over
It's human nature to err. Commit to hitting the reset button - over and over again. Forgive and forget past wrongdoings and shortcomings both of your partner and of yourself.
As a couple, discuss how you will handle stressful situations. Will you give yourselves time to sit with your emotions before confronting one another to avoid hurtful responses? Will you reach out for additional support (e.g. a spiritual counselor, marriage counselor)?
Ultimately, avoid living in the past. Learn from it, and be willing to start over as often as necessary.
It's been almost two years since that first conversation when my husband and I renewed our commitment to our marriage. We have sorted through the mess to recover the treasures.
As we have learned to respect our unique attributes, needs, wants and goals as individuals, we have also committed, as a couple, to work toward one common goal: creating a solid, lasting marriage - one day at a time.