You are having problems with your marriage and nothing you have tried seems to work. What is your next step? Should you start looking through the phone book for a divorce lawyer? Do you work on getting your partner to go to marriage counseling with you? Do you have a session with a relationship coach? Do you just wait and hope that things will get better? With so many opinions and services available, how do you decide on the next best step for you?
Before you rush into a course of action, ask yourself a few key questions:
1. Is the way my partner and I have been working on our relationship helping?
If the way you and your partner are handling your relationship problems is not helping, then don't continue to use this method. The more damage that is done to a relationship, the harder it is to recover from. Try something different. If you don't know what to try, then it is certainly time to get help from someone who knows how to make things better.
2. Are there any immediate dangers to life or property if something is not done?
The time to separate is when staying together will do more harm than good. This is most obvious with a pattern of physical or emotional abuse. During the separation, it is important for the couple to continue to work on the relationship with an experienced marriage counselor. Although friends often recommend a lawyer rather than a counselor, most often people will leave one bad relationship just to have another unless they learn how to change their patterns.
3. Is my partner willing to go to counseling with me?
If your spouse is willing, marriage counseling can help the two of you to discover the destructive pattern that you are involved in. You will practice together skills that are important for breaking out of that destructive pattern. The presence of a counselor will help you both to stay focused and keep from going off into other unproductive areas. The counselor will not take sides.
4. Does my spouse blame me entirely for the problems?
Fear can cause spouses to shut down and withdraw, deny, and blame. Don't continue to confront your spouse at this point. Arguing with an angry, stubborn, or withdrawn spouse is no more helpful than arguing with an angry, withdrawn, or stubborn child. Waiting for your spouse to open up or agree to counseling will keep you stuck. Work with a relationship coach on positive goals. This will decrease conflict, and improve your relationship. Coaches excel at getting people unstuck.
5. If my relationship could be improved, am I willing to work on it?
If the answer to this is "no," then you have no energy left for working on the relationship or you are looking for someone's permission to get out of the relationship. Some people attend counseling with the hope the counselor will recommend divorce. Do not use either counseling or coaching as a method to get you out of your marriage. Lawyers are better at that.
6. How long am I willing to live with this situation?
Can you continue with your relationship the way it is for 3 more months? for 3 years? Hope is important. It is what encourages us to take actions such as apply for a job, ask someone out on a date, or work on our marriage problems. Hope must be combined with learning and action in order to produce good results. Many people fall into the trap of believing that understanding, alone, brings a solution. Seeking endlessly to understand a problem is just another way to avoid taking effective action.
To summarize, marriage counseling is very good for working together with your partner. Relationship coaching is very good when your partner is not ready to work on things. The only person who can keep you stuck is you. The most risky thing to do is to continue waiting and hoping without taking action.
Jack Ito PhD is a licensed psychologist and relationship coach. For 14 years he has helped more than one thousand men and women to have better relationships. Sign up for his Relationship Coach newsletter and get a FREE Relationship Planning Guide. Get relationship advice daily at the Relationship Coach Blog.