Encouraging Your Spouse to Believe in Your Marriage

Ann was frustrated, frightened and lost when she explained to her best friend, Cindy, “I don’t know what to do. When Bob comes home, he stays isolated in his own little world. He just withdraws and won’t communicate.

“After dinner, he turns on the TV and tunes me out. It is almost like he doesn’t care about me or our marriage. He doesn’t seem to have any confidence in us being happy together anymore. He seems to have given up on us. I tried bringing up going to a marriage counselor, but instead he said we can ‘figure it out ourselves.’

“I am afraid that I am going to lose him if I haven’t already.”

Do you feel like Ann? There is the old saying that you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink. Ann has been unable to even lead the horse to water.

How does something like this happen to a marriage that was once happy? What makes two people who were once deeply in love stop valuing and caring for each other the way they once did?

In some cases people are torn apart by serious betrayals, like affairs. In other cases, a couple may simply stop connecting and communicating, and in time, the relationship erodes. Either way, the results are similar: The marriage comes apart at the seams.

When you hear Ann’s description, you know Bob has lost hope.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Even if you have no idea how to lead the proverbial horse to water, you can learn. And today I am going to teach you how. I will explain one way you can reverse the erosion of your marriage and build a stronger, happier relationship.

Drifting Apart

Ann and Bob are no longer the close, loving couple they once were. Over time their marriage has taken a backseat to other things such as jobs, kids and outside interests. They have neglected each other and, as a result, both have lost their in-love feelings.

They may feel that they are taken for granted much more than they are appreciated and valued. Since neither feels special anymore, the chances of the marriage surviving have declined. Ann is leaning in, wanting to actively save the marriage. Bob is leaning out and has given up on Ann and their relationship. He has become uncooperative in seeking help or addressing issues.

Out of Sync and Out of Touch

For example, in the narrative above, it is Bob who seems to think it is a hopeless situation and has become reluctant to make an effort to repair his marriage. He probably thinks something like, “I don’t want the rest of my life to be like this. I want something more. I want passion and I deserve better than this.” Another possibility is that he has become immune to the distance or coldness between them.

Bob probably believes that neither Ann nor anything else important to him about their relationship can change. This mindset can come about when one spouse thinks and feels that the marriage has already been given “too many” unsuccessful attempts at change. These attempts have not been recognized and have not been effective, resulting in an unwillingness to invest any more effort.

Of course, it is tough on Ann if Bob seems content with the status quo or has lost confidence in her ability to make positive changes. When confronted with issues or concerns, Bob might say, “I’ve got it,” because he is tired of being badgered and is trying to disengage. Consequently, he still does not make any changes Ann can notice and, to her, her words appear to go in one ear and out the other.

Bob feels frustration and resentment and can’t imagine making a change.

Like Bob and Ann, your relationship has likely become adversarial instead of friendly. Even if there isn’t open hostility, the two of you probably aren’t getting along. If you are going to save your marriage, you need to correct this situation soon. Your marriage is dependent on it!

Because it is so important, I want to offer a few suggestions.

Step 1: Reviving Your Friendship

If you are in a situation similar to Ann’s, you need to practice thinking like a friend. If you don’t believe that your spouse is your best friend, you should start by thinking that you want to be your spouse’s best friend. In order to get your spouse to be your best friend, you must first become his or her best friend. You have a much better chance of proactively changing yourself than you do changing someone else.

Just like Ann, you need to analyze your own thinking and behavior to figure out if your responses are the responses a friend would make. If they’re not, you must figure out how to change them.

For example, if Bob comes home late and hasn’t called, Ann shouldn’t fly off the handle. That would send the message that Bob is her adversary. Instead, she should be a best friend, starting with a friendly tone of voice. Instead of giving him the expected chewing out, she should express her concern.

The first time Ann acted this way, Bob would probably test her new behavior, because she violated his negative expectations. It is her “job,” then, to remain in the friend position with understanding and empathy. In so doing she will be creating positive momentum rather than the confrontation he was expecting. By consistently staying in friend mode, she would be beginning on a path toward positive change.

In the narrative above, Bob feels out of love, but it is my belief, strengthened through my experiences of working with many couples, that his love is still there. His love has been covered up-in remission, so to speak. There has to be a friendly, cooperative mood to revive his belief in their marriage so his love can come out of hiding. By continuing to be a friend, Ann can build hope in him that things might change for the better. She needs to maintain a continuously pleasant atmosphere for this opportunity to happen.

As you maintain your positive attitude, you should notice a friendly shift in your partner’s attitude. When this friendly shift continues for a while, discussing aspects of your relationship should bring you closer together.

Step 2: Leading the Horse to Water

Sometimes getting your spouse to the first step is the hardest part. One situation where a counselor can be particularly helpful is if your partner is significantly leaning out of your relationship. If your spouse is not too far gone, a good and effective counselor can sometimes turn the situation around by rekindling hope.

The metaphor I think of to describe this process is related to the dying embers of a fire. If you have skill and experience in working with fire, and you nurture one or two of those embers and provide some fresh fuel, you can usually bring the fire back to life. You will know if you are consistently maintaining your stance as a friend, because adversarial exchanges will diminish. By itself, this change is often enough for the other person to consider working again on the relationship, whether in do-it-yourself mode or with a counselor.

Step 3: An Effective Alternative to Counseling

If your spouse refuses to attend counseling, don’t lose hope. Although it was not a scientific study, more than 60% of the 5,000 people who filled out our marriage survey in October 2009 reported being married to a spouse who refuses counseling.

If your spouse doesn’t “own the healing process,” your relationship may spin further out of control. That is why I suggest that you do the following:

1. Get a conversation going about your relationship. Without blaming anyone, tell your partner that you don’t like the relationship you’ve developed and that you expect that he or she also doesn’t like what you as a couple have become. Ask if that is true or not.

2. Reaffirm your loving and caring feelings for your spouse. Express your desire to make your marriage better. Ask where your spouse stands regarding your feelings and desires for healing your marriage.

3. Invite your spouse to be involved in the solution. If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.

4. Ask for ideas to repair your marriage. Will you work with a counselor or do it yourselves? What ideas does your spouse have for improving your relationship, without playing the blame game? Of course, you want to find a way to focus on the solutions rather than on the problems; however, I want to note that you have to consider the problems at some point to figure out the solutions.

Please note that every step along the way of inviting your spouse to “own the healing process” includes your spouse in the decision-making steps and asks for feedback. After all, you want your spouse to feel that he or she has made these decisions independently.

If your spouse gives you the opportunity, and you consistently maintain your friend mode, you just might start to crack that numbed exterior. Remember that you don’t want to recreate the old, broken marriage. Instead, you want to create a marriage that is better than it ever was before. I wish you success in your endeavors to create a wonderful marriage.

Wishing you hope and healing for your marriage,

Stephanie Anderson


Marriage Sherpa

P.S. I’m interested in hearing your comments and questions. Simply go to the bottom of the message and post a comment at the bottom.

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