Not quite long ago, I was witness to a ten year marriage falling apart. The session at the family court was distressing, to say the least. Not to mention, the sight of innumerable people lined up to utter I want a divorce immensely disturbing. As a romantic who believes marriage is for keeps, I have a hard time figuring those failing marriages where people give up because ‘it isn’t working anymore.’ Don’t get me wrong- I am not some traditionalist who works to eliminate grays and vouches for the black and white spectrum of feelings. But when people say it isn’t working anymore, I have a hunch they expect that their marriage was working on its own for years and suddenly, the engine seems to have shut down. Not one partner, for a moment, questions whether they’d simply forgotten to load up on the fuel!
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The more I dwelt on the matter, the more clearer it became. Most failing marriages weren’t an outcome of the obvious precipitating factors like infidelity, addiction or abuse. They were sucked up in an evil vortex of the ‘it isn’t working anymore’ syndrome. A quick Google search on failing marriages popped further depressing numbers. One in two marriages falling apart was as scary as it could get. Of course, statistics are dubious entities but the fluctuation in numbers can be evened out to correspond to a 50% divorce rate if one were to consider that the marriages that, in fact, remain intact also include those couples who stick together owing to financial, social, religious reasons or stay together because of the kids, simply resign themselves to their fate or seem determined to beat the fear of being alone or the hassle that tags along with the legal red tape. Threatens your entire belief system, doesn’t it?
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The problem with most failing marriages is that the crisis isn’t an affair. It isn’t money or sex either. It is simply a downward spiral of what precedes the ‘it isn’t working anymore’ outburst. It begins when one or both partners begin to go through the motions. They are tired of their needs not being met and even, more tired of trying to make their partner see that their needs are being discounted. So, they simply stop asking. They stop trying. They give up and go about their usual tasks without as much as a beep. The breakfast table is set, the kids are sent to school, the laundry is done, work commitments are taken care of, the ’how was your day’ conversation, too, seems to be unaffected. From the outside looking in, it wouldn’t let up. It wouldn’t seem like anything was failing. Like anything was falling apart. And then, the bolt came crashing down.
They couldn’t pretend, forever. They felt worn out, worn down by the façade.
As justified as the reason may seem to you right now, bear with me a little longer. Having looked at several failing marriages up and close, if there’s one thing I can tell you- it is this- these marriages didn’t fail because they stopped working. They failed because the partners stopped trying to make it work. They told themselves the wrong story- the story that it wasn’t worth the fight, it wasn’t worth the pain and that they were doing the right thing in just allowing the other to have his/her way, in refusing to talk it out and stop trying in vain. As if marriage was magic that could just happen- like they didn’t even need to flick the wand!
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Don’t think I am making sweeping generalizations- coz some of these couples did have the fight. But the end result was the same deluding story they fed to themselves- the same choice. Skipping the communication, skipping the work and expecting things to fix themselves or simply, resigning to them if they didn’t. This is where it went wrong, where they left the gates of their marital home wide open for disaster. Everyone has needs and NEEDS are non-negotiable. As much as you try to ignore them, stay shut or lie to yourself about how they don’t matter, you are simply feeding yourself an excuse to avoid the tough talk. Perhaps, you fear that the conversation can only go one way. But what you don’t realize is that the fear of this imagined conversation is making you tread the same path- the one that leads to the end!
And you can switch paths, change the journey, turn your destination to a ‘happily ever after.’ All you gotta do is see through a few simple reasons why failing marriages thrive:
1. Marriage requires hard work, throughout
No force other than mutual effort to build, nurture and sustain what you have chosen together can power a relationship. If you refuse to buy into the idea that marriage is hard work, perhaps, your feelings will fast be dissolving and the risk of falling apart shooting through the roof. I wouldn’t deny that with love, sustaining a marriage might seem like just the kind of hard work that makes you take your wife by the waist and break into dance jigs all across the space of your living room; but, sometimes, you may find yourself out on the porch or in the lawn- you may be soaked to the skin by the rain or trip over a boulder. Are you willing to break your back nursing your partner through that boombox cough that comes next or giving up much of what was scheduled for two weeks getting them through their twisted ankle? FYI- it is tougher than this. Tempers flare, voices rise, people say and do regrettable things- but it is the couple that is accepting of their love and the work it requires that stays united, at the end of it all.
2. Your marriage is different from your wedding and everything that preceded it
If I said that reading this sentence could get you married, would you do it? Just like signing papers down at City Hall- no wedding gown, no bachelor/bachelorette parties, no ring, no friends, no family, no celebration- just marriage! Would you do it? If you hesitated even for a split second, don’t set yourself up for a failing marriage. Marriage is more than the gown you walk down the aisle in, more than the flowers that dot the marriage hall, more than anything that’s part of that one big day. Marriage is your BIG life, together. And it isn’t easy. So, don’t hyper focus on that 0.00001% of the pie, if you have reservations and can’t seem to develop an appetite!
3. Marriage doesn’t fix problems
If anything, it amplifies them to a hundred times their original size. Suddenly, not flushing the toilet or leaving greasy dishes in the sink and wet towels on bed may seem herculean tasks to fix! A ring or a wedding certificate isn’t your one stop solution kiosk. It will pull you deeper into a person’s life and if you aren’t willing to wade through the sh*t, you certainly shouldn’t be expecting to partake of the treat!
4. Marriage requires making and keeping the ‘I do’ commitment throughout
Marriage requires you to choose your partner, as you CHANGE together. You wouldn’t be the same people you married, 5, 10 or even 20 years down the line. But can you be accepting of the changes, because you chose to love each other? Saying ‘he isn’t the same person I married’ or ‘she and I have grown apart’ is simply admitting one’s failure to accommodate change, to keep pace with it. Change is a given- can you work to be compatible and choose each other, despite it all?
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5. Fighting fair is part of the deal
I won’t be a shrink and tell you how to. I will just let you know it is needed!
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And if you think it is easier said than done, here’s how you can start the conversation:
“Hey hon, this isn’t easy for me to say and probably, won’t be a walk in the park for you to hear either. But it is important that you hear me out- completely. I haven’t exactly been happy with who we’ve been recently. There’s no way you could know because I stopped speaking. I own that bit. I am sorry. But here’s the thing- I want [xyz] and the last time I brought it up, you got upset so I stopped talking about it. I just didn’t stop wanting it though. I love you and want this to work out more than anything but I also want [xyz] and not having it causes me pain. Can we work out something without you having to feel badly about this? It won’t work if you just give in and I get what I want but you add on to your pile of your resentment. It isn’t a one-way street. Is there a midway?”
Conversations are easy, because you speak to the one you choose to share everything with. BEGIN.
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