This is the first in a series of educational posts geared toward those who are trying to reconcile their marriages.
Marriage reconciliation is a tricky business. You really cannot go it alone, because, coming out of the gate, virtually none of us has the experience or wisdom necessary to bring a troubled marriage back into safe harbor. In fact, most of the things we’d be likely to do — pleading, begging, arguing, appealing to reason or emotions, etc. — are not just counterproductive, but also harmful to the reconciliation effort.
Furthermore, those who do seek professional help typically go to one of the thousands of credentialed marriage counselors who offer their services in cities both big and small. Although there are some good counselors out there, the overall picture is pretty bleak: at least 70% of people who start marriage counseling report themselves as less happy a year later. What’s more shocking is that 50% of people who undertake traditional counseling report getting divorced within that one-year time frame. This is quite abysmal: one normally wouldn’t go to a doctor for a relatively routine yet somewhat serious complaint (e.g. bronchitis) and expect a cure rate of 30%, let alone a morbidity rate of 50%. That’s just plain unacceptable. I know of far too many people who have gone the traditional counseling route who end up resigning themselves to separation, divorce, and the subsequent agony. It’s all so needless.
Those of you who have been reading this blog regularly will know that I often refer to my own “reconciliation program;” those of you new to this website should know that I have a reconciliatory discipline that I follow that works and is proven to be at least 90% effective. Some of my readers know about this, because they are fellow practitioners of that same program, other’s don’t. I did write about this in one of my first blog posts: I’m a Marriage Fitness practitioner. I’m not a huckster, but I do stand behind things in which I believe. One of the few links you’ll see in my sidebar is to the Marriage Fitness website, because I think it’s important that people facing serious marital crises be able to find the help they need, and this program (run by Mort Fertel) is, in my opinion, simply the best one out there. It’s a program that brings about true personal transformation, and with that transformation comes a transformation of the energies of the marital relationship, and that in turn provides a very powerful momentum toward marriage reconciliation.
The principles are simple: implement the best possible relationship habits and skills, and simultaneously work diligently to change the aspects of yourself that led to your marital crisis. These two principles are pretty much all that one needs to know about reconciling a troubled marriage.
Well, actually there is one additional thing. Pushback. It’s one of those unpleasant side-effects of the reconciliation process. You do all the right things, you work on your “fixings” and employ those awesome relationship skills and what happens? Your spouse grows cold. Your spouse rejects you. He says spiteful things. She hangs up on your phone calls, or shuns them to voice mail. He rejects your gifts, or refuses to see you for weeks on end. It can be depressing, dispiriting, and discouraging. Just read through a sampling of posts on this blog, and you’ll find plenty of examples of pushback.
Yet it is also a sign of health. Much like the human organism manifests unpleasant symptoms in ridding itself of an illness, so too does a spouse manifest unpleasant symptoms when ridding his- or herself of egocentric behaviors whose only purpose is to destroy the marriage.
Pushback comes primarily from one place: pain. The obstinate spouse is riddled with pain. He feels he has suffered tremendously at the hands of the spouse who wants to reconcile. Yet that reconciling spouse is simply showing the obstinate spouse that she has chosen the moral position — a position in which promises are honored and from which one simply does not walk away just because things got difficult. The obstinate spouse finds this hard to understand, because from his perspective, there are no viable remedies short of exiting the marriage. This, of course, is not true. (Just click one of those links above if you need further proof.)
Pushback can be difficult for the reconciling spouse to bear. This is because the reconciling spouse typically has as much egocentric territory to defend as the obstinate spouse. This is the human psychical equivalent of two islands bashing against each other, refusing to cede any ground while also refusing to recognize that they’re both made of the same stuff: ego. It’s only when one loosens the grip of ego and begins to see suffering the obstinate spouse endures because of his desperate ego-clinging that the whole situation starts to become more workable. In short, if one can loosen that grip, then one begins to develop compassion, and that will change the tide toward reconciliation.
Even so, that doesn’t mean that dealing with pushback is easy. I’ve seen plenty of it over the past 8 odd months, and I know many others have seen worse pushback than have I. What do I do about it? Ignore it. That’s pretty much all you can do. Ignore it and soldier on. In fact, I have a slogan:
When you get pushback, then push back harder!
That doesn’t mean you have license to be rude, nasty, inconsiderate, or in any way to return the behavior the obstinate spouse is showing you. Quite the contrary. It means that you push back with unconditional love, with understanding, and with genuine concern. This is how you reconcile your marriage. Every day you relentlessly push in the direction of reconciliation, setting the agenda by showering your obstinate spouse with unconditional love. It pretty much always works. But you do need a method, and that’s why programs like Marriage Fitness are so effective: they’re organized to give you those tools, and and a plan of implementation in which to use them.
But hey, you don’t need to believe me. If you’re skeptical at all — and you should be — go over and check out the Marriage Fitness forum. Unlike the many other forums I visited on my initial searches for guidance and wisdom, this forum is not filled with angry, vindictive spouses looking for divorce. Quite the contrary: it’s one of the most positive and supportive places I’ve ever found for people experiencing marital crises. And, there are plenty of experienced practitioners there who would likely be happy to fill you in. Who knows, you might even find me there.
Just remember: pushback is a symptom, and it’s usually a symptom of health.