Relationship Connection: Fleas or lice? How long do I hang onto my marriage?

Question

Can a marriage become dead, or is it simply my pride and fear of putting my all into the marriage once again to make it work? I don’t want to get divorced and become another welfare statistic. My husband started changing about three weeks ago (just a few days shy of seeing our marriage counselor alone one time), and has been involved a bit more with the kids. Being close to him physically or emotionally makes me cringe.

I feel like my options of staying or going are like choosing fleas or lice. Which anxiety do I want more? I saw my mother self-sacrifice in her marriage, which left her unable to have healthy emotional attachments with her children. She stayed with my dad although she knew he was abusing his own children. That can never make for a healthy mother and wife.

Answer

Yes, marriages will die from years of neglect. They can also blossom again under the right conditions. I don’t know the specific dynamics of your marital story, but if you’re surveying the withering remains of your marriage wondering if it’s possible to revive it, I’ll be the first to tell you that you and your husband should do everything you possibly can to make it work.

Clients and acquaintances ask me on a regular basis when it’s okay to pull the plug and divorce. That’s a question I can’t answer. It’s not fair for me to insert my opinion on when enough is enough. I can help individuals understand their situation and clarify what’s happening to them. I can encourage couples to keep trying to work things out if they want to. However, the individual decision to divorce rests on the individual asking the question. They have to be responsible for the train of consequences that follow, positive or negative.

If both of you are committed to working on improving the marriage, then I recommend you continue to work on it. I have seen countless marriages not only survive, but thrive after years of neglect, addiction, abuse, and affairs. It’s excruciating work, but if there is a commitment to heal, things can get better.

I know it seems irrational to encourage ongoing work on a marriage that seems dead. However, Dr. Ed Tronick, a pioneer in studying family attachments, said “we thrive in the messiness of human connection. Without it, we wither.”

Some messiness is dangerous and needs strict boundaries when dealing with abuse, addictions, or infidelity. These situations require strict structure and support to help families heal. Every marriage requires self-sacrifice, but not at the expense of physical safety of yourself or the children. Your mother’s self-sacrifice in the face of danger wasn’t protective and didn’t hold your father accountable for his abusive behavior. Never hesitate to create accountability for physically or emotionally hurtful behaviors from your husband to protect yourself or your children.

The garden-variety messiness common to all families of trying to hear each other’s needs, learning how to connect, and other dynamics are worth working with as long as possible. Divorce doesn’t have to be your first line of defense. There are dozens of ways to set healthy boundaries that send a clear message of what will not be tolerated.

I believe families can heal with the proper support, resources, and lots of patience. You may be writing this question after years of struggle without much hope for change. Even though you’re tired, you’re still asking the question if there is hope. If you’re asking that question, you’re still facing the relationship and can watch to see if he will work with you to rebuild this marriage.

Stay connected!

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Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He specializes in working with couples in all stages of their relationships. The opinions stated in this article are solely his and not those of St. George News.

Have a relationship question for Geoff to answer? Submit to:

Email: geoff@lovingmarriage.com

Twitter: @geoffsteurer

Facebook: facebook.com/GeoffSteurerMFT

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2014, all rights reserved.

 

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12 Comments

  • Younglings April 30, 2014 at 9:36 am

    How high is the rate of extramarital affairs with this culture of getting married right out of high school?

    • Johnson May 1, 2014 at 6:04 pm

      Probably higher than they admit. Plenty of unhappy and bored housewives in this neck of the woods. Met a few who act like they don’t know me when they are with other women friends. Just saying.

  • Beaver Native April 30, 2014 at 9:52 am

    If there is abuse, run! If there is infidelity, you need to determine whether this is an ongoing situation or a one-time weakness. If it is a one-time weakness, you need to decide whether or not the marriage is worth salvaging and determine what you can live with. If your spouse has broken no vows, don’t break yours. Instead, do everything within your power to save the marriage, also realizing that it takes two to make a marriage work. If, despite all you do, your spouse wants a divorce, there’s not much you can do about it.

  • Terry April 30, 2014 at 10:37 am

    Yeah right
    Let a woman cry to a bishop and he will have sympathy and do the wrong thing, like show up at my home and take my wife away . Them apologize to me later

    • Billy April 30, 2014 at 11:29 am

      People whine to their bishops about everything cause they can’t manage their own lives. A bishop is likely to give a woman some church book instructing her on being a good house wife and how to serve her man. Then she’ll go get a prescription for anti-depressants and call it all good.

  • Tightlipped April 30, 2014 at 6:18 pm

    I’m from the Fillmore Beaver area myself. I couldn’t agree more. Like Beaver said its a two way street to make marrige successful. I fill like Billy and Terry need to get help from Beaver and not worry about the bishop. Terry if a bishop shows up at your house and takes your wife that’s kidnaping, unless your wife choose to leave with him for protection. He could be the only man she trusted. Billy I’m glad to see you believe women can’t manage their own lives, always are told what to read then get on drugs to cope with life. Your mother, sisters, aunts, daughters, grandmother, wife are any females in your life should be proud of your comments. You have also proved your behind the times, if the couple is gay the wife doesn’t have to be a women. Where I live we have a low devorce rate. Any you men and women want to learn how to keep each other happy we will teach you how at Filmore Beaver area we are happy happy happy

    • Billy April 30, 2014 at 7:18 pm

      I’m talkin about the women here who are always talkin about whatever daily drama they think they have with their husbands and how they go to some bishop for advice. I overhear the talk all the freakin time. And they’re young. Kids! They live in a small world. They have no concept of the world except what their church and their bishop and their husbands tell them.

      • Applejack May 7, 2014 at 11:34 am

        I know. It creeps me out when I hear that some man I don’t even know and am not related to might know more about me then I want him too because a I’m friends with a Mormon man or woman who goes to their Bishop for advice about how to handle everything under the Sun.

  • Annie April 30, 2014 at 8:14 pm

    The skilled and therapeutic Bishop that’s the Roto – Rooter man?? How did he become a chosen Person?

  • gerry April 30, 2014 at 9:37 pm

    You’ll drink the night away
    And forget about everything
    This city desert makes you feel so cold
    It’s got so many people, but it’s got no soul
    And it’s taken you so long
    To find out you were wrong
    When you thought it held everything

  • Drunk Gerry May 1, 2014 at 9:06 am

    Drunk Gerry makes mo sense than the Dr. Listen to the words from he that come teach, there’s a big difference between teach and preach. It’s very simple pattern how each of us can learn, we learn from him with knowledge. Billy says she can never learn. Billy proved again he thinks women have no mind, there world is so small as is their mind. He explains so beautiful how the young women’s world is so small. She can’t think for her self, born without a ball. Thankfully there are men around to shape these beautiful minds. And as for what I get from Billy he teachs them from behind

  • Peps May 2, 2014 at 6:13 pm

    Why are you and your husband seeing a marriage counselor if you’re not going to give it your all? Save the money for the divorce. Give it your all or give up.

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