During a marriage crisis, you can feel like your whole world is falling apart and all of your dreams are being shattered. Hearing the words "I don't love you anymore," "I want a divorce," or "I don't know if I want to stay married" can leave you reeling from the shock.
Many feelings surface after the initial stunned reaction: anger, fear, anxiety, confusion, resentment, bitterness, desperation, and depression. Everything seems mixed up and slightly unreal, as though this is really happening to someone else, not to you. But, unbelievably, it is happening to you.
This is when you have to use every ounce of courage and strength that you possess and a lot that you didn't know you had until now. Immediately, you have to create space for some private time so that you can take care of yourself, regroup, and create a plan of action.
You might need to take a day off from work, spend some time talking with a close friend, buy a notebook and start writing down your feelings and thoughts, or take a long walk in the park. Another option is to call and schedule a counseling appointment for yourself as soon as possible.
Next, spend some time thinking about how you'll handle the situation. Your goal is to buy time so that your spouse doesn't bolt out of the door prematurely. You want to slow things down so that your spouse can have time to reconsider and, if at all possible, agree to go to counseling with you.
During this time of crisis, you will have to be the "guardian of the marriage flame." It will be up to you to keep hope and love alive so that the fire won't go out. You can complain that it's not fair and that it shouldn't be this way.
But the bottom line is that if you want to save your marriage and your partner wants out, it's going to be up to you to take positive action. During the crisis, you'll need to be willing to do much more than your fair share to keep your marriage alive.
And that means that despite your fear and anxiety, it's up to you to keep hope alive-hope that your marriage will make it-hope that your partner will change his or her mind-hope that your marriage can survive this and be even better than ever.
Here are some tips on how to keep hope alive and cope during this time:
1. Don't give up on your marriage no matter what your spouse has said. People often change their mind. No situation is hopeless if at least one partner is willing to do whatever it truly takes to preserve the marriage. There is always hope that your marriage can be transformed by loving energy. Many spouses reconsider their initial impulse to leave and decide that they have invested too much time and energy to just throw their marriage away without at least trying marriage counseling.
2. Don't take everything your spouse says personally. People often say extreme things when they are upset or trying to justify what they're doing. A partner who feels guilty about telling you she wants a divorce may get really angry instead. A spouse who has never expressed his true feelings about things may finally explode with a long list of your faults through the years.
3. Really anchor in your mind that how you react to the situation will have a major impact on how things go from here. If you keep badgering a spouse who wants some emotional space, you are giving her the perfect excuse to go ahead and leave. You can't control what your spouse chooses to do or not to do, but you can control how you choose to handle the situation.
4. Allow yourself to be "confused." If your spouse asks what you're going to do next, just say that you're confused and need time to think, that you don't want to make any rushed decisions. Being "confused" can defuse a spouse who is just waiting to pick a fight. It also buys you some time.
5. Honor your spouse's request for emotional space, if that is an issue. Back off and take some time to regroup, stabilize yourself, and take the spotlight off of your partner for the time being. You have much to lose if you let your anxiety take over and demand immediate answers to difficult questions.
6. Make a list of all the different things you can do to ground yourself and get more balanced emotionally and physically. Include things like working out at the gym, getting a massage, walking or hiking, letting close friends be supportive, listening to inspirational tapes on the way to work, reading books about people who have survived hard times, receiving power from your spiritual roots and connections, attending services at your church, temple, or mosque, or starting individual counseling sessions. Then make plans to implement the ones you think will help the most.
7. Decide that whatever happens in your marriage, it's important to you to know that you gave it your best shot and that you tried everything you knew to do. So instead of trying to constantly try to figure out what the odds are that your marriage will survive, instead put your energy into doing what you can in a helpful way every day. Be proactive and take positive action.
8. Start expanding your life to include some new interests and activities. Don't wait until everything is settled about your marriage before you start enjoying as much of your life as you can. Your marriage situation may be unresolved, but that doesn't mean you need to brood and obsess about it all the time. Stretch yourself to broaden your world. When you are enjoying yourself by participating in activities that interest you, you become more interesting to others, including your spouse.
9. Make a conscious choice to remain positive and to have the expectation that something good and helpful will come out of this experience in the long run. Your expectation will affect what happens. If you are doubtful, the energy of doubt will permeate your efforts. Tell yourself that there's always a creative solution to any problem. Trust in your ability to be creative, flexible, and resilient.
Nancy J. Wasson, Ph.D., is co-author of Keep Your Marriage: What to Do When Your Spouse Says "I don't love you anymore!" This is available as an e-book at http://www.KeepYourMarriage.com ,where you can also sign up for the free Keep Your Marriage Internet Magazine. Nancy can be contacted at Nancy@KeepYourMarriage.com.