We had been married for about a year and I was really frustrated. My husband owned his own business and to me, it felt like it was the mistress in our marriage. He worked long hours which meant I spent a lot of time by myself. It wasn’t that I didn’t have friends I could spend time with. I did plenty of that, but I really wanted time with him.

I knew Jay wasn’t intentionally trying not to be with me. In reality, he had a demanding job and it revolved around other people’s schedules. In the midst of feeling lonely and frustrated, I knew I needed help. The question I had was, “What do you do when you know your marriage needs help?” At that particular moment, I reached out to a friend who had been married forever. I knew I could count on her to listen and give me sound words of wisdom.

Thirty years of marriage and a career focused on marriage have taught me a lot about what to do when my marriage is in trouble.

Truth be told, it would be unusual to be married for any length of time and not have troubled times. It’s the reality of two people coming together, trying to do life together. It’s often complicated. Unexpected challenges can throw you for a loop. The good news is, although perfectly good marriages get derailed, the right help can often get the marriage back on track and move on down the rails.

Here are 4 things you can do if you find yourself in a marriage that feels like it is in trouble.

1. Surround yourself with people who are in healthy marriages. 

Too often, when things are hard it’s super tempting to hang around people who will “take your side” and offer lots of advice that they sincerely believe is helpful. In reality, their advice isn’t always beneficial. It would be like taking your car to someone who is not a mechanic and asking them what they think is wrong with your car. Then you let them tinker with it when they really have no clue how to fix the problem. What’s most helpful is to have people who are willing to listen, hold you accountable for your part, and help you keep putting one foot in front of the other.

Before we talk about anything else, I think it is important to say that if you find yourself in a marriage where someone is or might be emotionally or physically abusing you, you should seek help immediately by calling the Domestic Violence Hotline. They can help you create a plan to get to a safe place. The number is 1−800−799−7233. Thehotline.org also has lots of helpful information.

2. Counseling is for sure an option. 

Just like you would not put your children in the hands of just anyone, you don’t want to put your marriage into someone’s hands just because they have the title of counselor or marriage and family therapist after their name. Check out reviews online. Also, ask trusted friends if they know of counselors that have been helpful to their marriage or friends’ marriages. 

When you do call a marriage counselor or therapist to make an appointment, ask to have a  10-15 minute conversation with them to find out more about their experience with your particular issue. Tell them what your expectations are and what your end goals are. Do you want them to be directive in their approach or do you want more of an opportunity to process what is going on? All of this will be helpful information to them as they talk with you. 

If you don’t feel like they are relatable or have enough experience with your issue, say “Thanks for your time” and move on. Even if your spouse does not want to go to counseling, it doesn’t mean you can’t work on making your marriage better. It only takes one person to decide to do things differently to change the marriage dance. 

3. Online coaching and experiences.

These can also be helpful for you as an individual or as a couple. One word of caution: many people who have experienced and reached the other side of a crisis together become experts about their own situation, but present themselves as experts who can help others survive similar crises. Be careful to avoid putting your marriage into the hands of well-meaning people who may not have the experience necessary to be helpful to you. 

4. There are many resources (including some outstanding books) you might find helpful.  

In case you are wondering what my friend said, she asked if I had shared my frustrations with Jay. I told her I had not. She encouraged me to talk with him, but to really think about my words carefully. She also reminded me that we’re on the same team and that the goal was to figure out together the best way forward. I took her advice. Although she has left this earth, I can still hear her voice in my head on the hard days reminding me that my marriage is worth fighting for, and asking for help is courageous and wise. 

If you were to ask me now (almost 31 years into marriage) if it’s been worth it, I would say without a doubt. BUT, that doesn’t mean we haven’t had our share of hard times. There have been plenty, but it feels like the hard times were like good seasoning on food. It permeates through and just makes it better. Our marriage is better because of the hard times and being willing to ask for help.

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear someone is monitoring your computer or device, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

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