Many therapists share that they have been married for many decades and therefore know what it takes to have a happy marriage. Most therapists don’t talk about their failed marriages for fear that couples will take that as a sign that they are ineffective therapists.
I am taking a risk by telling you this.
I was married for 15 years, in that relationship for 20 years, and I am finishing up my divorce. Yes, I have children. Yes, it is difficult and painful. Yes, I am absolutely certain that it is the right thing for me and our kids. And still, it sucks.
As a therapist, I don’t like to disclose much about myself to my clients in order to uphold healthy boundaries. However, I have decided to lean into my discomfort in an effort to support hurting individuals and couples who are walking through a difficult season.
Recently, I had a couple on my couch and the partner who is desperately wanting to reconcile the marriage said, “I don’t know if I can do this anymore.” What she meant was that she couldn’t stand her partner’s uncertainty about the marriage and was considering pulling the plug to end her suffering. This is what I said to her: ‘do you think getting a divorce would be any easier?”
It’s not. Believe me. I know this from experience. Pulling the plug would have just changed the direction of her pain, not end it. Sometimes, like in my own marriage, it is unavoidable in order be healthy and happy. There are times when a marriage can not be saved, most notably when a partner must change a behavior in order for the other partner to feel safe or happy in the marriage but is unwilling or unable. But sometimes, the idea that ending it will stop the pain is a tempting delusion.
It took a lot of years for me of trying to salvage a marriage that was irreparably damaged for me to walk away. My experience gave me a very clear picture of how much I was letting go of when I filed for divorce — the shared history, the partnership, the connection, the united home. For many struggling in their relationship, these very same things look different— baggage, imprisonment, resentment, even boredom. It’s only when they are gone that they sparkle and we see how valuable they were.
I see it. I know it.
I admire and respect the couples I work with who are willing to sift through the darkness together to recover the shine — couples so committed to each other that they will do whatever it takes. That shared history is priceless.
It is worth it. I believe that whole heartedly.
I have seen couples reconnect by embarking on the therapeutic journey toward a healthier relationship together and I have been so grateful to help them get there.
And I also know the flip side. There are times, such as my own marriage, when nothing can be done — even after years of therapeutic work. Holding on is like trying to hold on to air. The diamond is just a heap of dust and the only thing left is to walk away. I know that path intimately — I know what it looks like when you get there, what it feels like to be there, and what it takes to walk through it. I have helped clients, both in couples work and individual work, navigate that path too.
So can your marriage be saved? Despite my experience on both sides of the couch, it is not a question I can answer cleanly for you or any of my clients. My task as a therapist is to help you find the answers. From my standpoint, any marriage where both partners are willing and wanting to honor and respect each other is a marriage worth trying to save. If you and your partner are willing to work through it in therapy, that is a very good sign. However, if you’re in a different place like I was where your world feels shattered because you know that your partner is unwilling or unable to make the kinds of changes you need to feel safe and secure, I can help you navigate that path too.