I was talking to a colleague the other day and was shocked when he said, “All marriages end in tragedy.”
When he explained that all marriages fall victim to either divorce or death, I realized the truth in his words, but as a couples coach — and someone married for 30 years myself — I didn't find the idea at all comforting.
I try to put a positive spin on things whenever I can, so I concluded the following: if all relationships must end, what happens while we’re still in them should be seen as even more important.
This time of year gets a lot of people thinking about their relationships. The seasonal emphasis on joy, love, and family only serves to highlight any existing marital shortcomings. Many put on a happy face to get through the holidays when they are really feeling miserable inside. Others, maybe even you, feel that while their relationship isn’t horrible, it’s just not all that it could be.
Thoughts of breaking up and starting over fresh in the new year may be swirling in your head along with those sugarplums.
But it isn’t so simple to pull the plug when you are married, especially if there are children in the picture. So, what can you do? How do you fix a broken marriage?
First, stop thinking about the problem as a simple matter of "Do I stay or do I go?"
Deciding to end a marriage is rarely that simple. Unlike falling in love, falling out of love doesn’t happen overnight. You continually evaluate and reevaluate your relationship and intimacy over time, whether you are aware of it or not, so the most effective way to approach this process is intentionally and consistently.
A questionnaire called the Stages of Change in Relationship Status (SOCRS) was recently developed by psychologists at the University of Tennessee to help couples guide their thinking in order to identify exactly which challenges exist in their relationships.
In each of the stages below, give yourself nine points for every statement you agree with, for a possible total of 36 points per stage. The stage in which you score highest is representative of your current relationship status.
Stage 1: Pre-contemplation (No change being considered)
I am happy with my relationship as it is.
My relationship is ﬁne; there is no need to change it.
My relationship is not that bad.
There is no need for me to do anything about my relationship.
Stage 2: Contemplation (Beginnings of relationship distress)
Sometimes I think I should end my relationship.
I believe that my relationship is not healthy for me.
I’m beginning to see that my relationship is a problem.
I’m beginning to feel the harmful impact of my relationship.
Stage 3: Preparation (Deciding to end the relationship)
Although it is difficult to end my relationship, I am making plans to do it anyway.
I have started working on ending my relationship, but I would like some help.
I intend to end my relationship within the next month.
I intend to end my relationship very soon, but am not sure the best way to do it.
Stage 4: Action (Implementing a plan to end the relationship)
I have told my partner that I am ending the relationship.
I talk less to my partner when we’re together.
I have started spending more time with other people and less time with my partner.
I ﬁnd myself thinking about my partner less and less.
Stage 5: Maintenance (Following through on a plan to end the relationship)
I changed my daily routine to avoid any association with my partner.
I avoid places where I know I will see my partner.
I have thrown away items that belong to my partner or taken steps to get rid of things that remind me of him/her.
I will never return to my partner.
The earlier you explore where you are on this scale, the more likely you are to catch the deep issues before it is too late to work together to create — or possibly recreate — the relationship you really want.
Addressing challenges or unhappiness in your marriage should happen as early on as possible.
While you can turn your relationship around at any of these stages (yes, even at Stage 5), waiting to fix things reduces your chance of success. Wherever you are in the process, ending your marriage does not have to be the outcome. You can get off the divorce super highway.
So, while yes, all relationships will eventually end — you get to choose how yours will play out.
Me? I’m going for ‘til death do us part.
Lesli Doares is a therapist, couples coach, and the founder of a practical alternative for couples worldwide looking to improve their marriage without traditional therapy. Call Lesli at 1-919-924-0463 to schedule a free 1-hour consultation. If you want to learn more about how to stop settling for a “not bad” relationship, read 3 Secrets to a Kick-Ass Marriage today.
This article originally appeared on YourTango.