By Toni Coleman, LCSW, CMC


Too many people find themselves taking their relationship for granted. They think their problems can wait until they have enough time and energy to address them. Then one day they are abruptly confronted with the possibility that it may be too late. When this happens the impulse to quickly fix things often kicks in, and the sense of urgency coupled with panic usually makes things worse.

It may be that the relationship is on life support and past saving, or it may be possible that with the right interventions and a willingness on the part of both spouses, rescue and recovery are possible. If you believe this relationship is worth saving, here are some tips to help you take a healthy step toward recovery.


Here is what NOT to do:


Do not threaten.

Tactics like predicting how sorry your spouse will be if they leave, promising to keep the children from them, warning that they will be left penniless, or any suggestions that family and friends will turn on them—are all threats. Not only will these make the situation worse, they will also reinforce your spouse’s decision that leaving is the only option.


Do not beg.

It’s surprising how many people resort to begging in the hopes it will elicit feelings of sympathy, guilt, and even remorse from the spouse who wants out. Instead, it triggers feelings of disgust and resentment that lead to more anger and even a feeling of desperation to get away from their toxic spouse as soon as possible.


Do not over promise.

Don’t make promises to change, claiming to be the person your partner wants you to be. Hearing this from someone, who has been unresponsive to change up until your partner said he or she was done, can bring about resentment and anger that the partner had to make threats to ignite any desire to work on the relationship. It will also sound unrealistic. The partner will be thinking, “Yeah, until everything just goes back to the way it was.”


Do not try to make your partner jealous.


This is another classic move we see too often. All it does it bring back bad memories of 8th grade, and make you look foolish and even pathetic to your partner. Not only will he or she not feel jealous, he will think less of you and might even wonder what he saw in you in the first place.


Do not allow yourself to be manipulated.


If you are on the defensive, promising what you likely cannot even deliver, begging for forgiveness, and taking all the blame for what went wrong in the relationship—you are primed for being taken advantage of. Your relationship could continue with you doing all the giving and your partner all the taking—while they remind you of how lucky you are to be with them. This bad idea will lead to burn-out, and no marriage with this dynamic is a happy or sustainable one.


What you should try, instead


Have a heart-to-heart talk about what went wrong in your relationship.


The announcement that your spouse wants out of the relationship could not have come as a complete surprise to you. There must have been problem issues that were making both of you unhappy. These are what you need to discuss with both of you talking about how you were being affected, how sorry you are for how you mishandled the problems, and what, if anything, either of you are willing to try before deciding to call it quits. Even if your spouse is resistant, it will be important for your partner to hear you acknowledge your awareness of what was unhealthy and not working and your willingness to make addressing it a priority now.


Assess your relationship chemistry and pinpoint areas of greatest need.


There are three elements that make up relationship chemistry—physical, intellectual, and friendship. Examine each of these and rank them according to what was strongest to weakest in your relationship. Identify which one was neglected or even totally lacking as time went on. Then, make that element your primary focus. For instance, if sex was bad to non-existent—take steps to reconnect. Set aside time for date nights, show regular affection with a light touch, a hug, an arm around them, sitting together on the couch, holding hands, and kissing. These are all forms of foreplay, along with words of affirmation, recognition and appreciation. Don’t force it. But when a situation or interaction gives you an opening—take it


Focus on the little things.


This can include anything at all. A kind word, taking a moment to say something supportive or positive, ask a question, listen, or doing helpful little things to make the day just a little easier and nicer—are all the small things that long-term relationships lose after time, due to the stress and overload of daily life.


Consult a competent counselor, then go alone if your spouse refuses to go along.


Professional help has saved many a relationship/marriage. Having an objective person with the experience and skills needed to successfully turn around a relationship crisis is a no-brainer. Most insurance plans pay for at least a portion of this service. And if you tell yourself you just can’t fit it in, don’t have time—it may cost you your marriage.


Happy relationships are carefully tended by both individuals. This care involves taking time for one another, making an effort, even when you are exhausted or strapped for time, and making your relationship a priority instead of putting it at the bottom of your list or not putting it on your list at all—or just thinking that this can wait until later. Later often arrives when it is too late. If your relationship is in trouble, act now.


Toni Coleman possesses a master’s degree in Clinical Social Work, a certificate in family therapy from the Family Therapy Institute in Alexandria, VA, a certification in Neuro-Linguistics Programming Techniques (NLP), and is a certified life coach. She is a Virginia licensed couples, marriage, family, and group therapist who has been in private practice for 26 years. 


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