QUESTION: Dear Anne – Should I fight for my marriage? … or would doing so weaken my position? And perhaps even set me up for continued abuse?
Okay, so let’s say, the person you love, has gone off the deep end and has not only acted unfaithfully, but above and beyond that is being mean in unthinkable ways. Their behavior is frankly horrible. And while you may or may not have seen previous signs of this unwanted behavior before, you NEVER imagined it could get to this. (And you are nice people!) What is happening right now, does not make sense.
“I’m leaving our marriage, because you don’t like sports.”
“We don’t laugh together anymore.” (Really? What has the unfaithful spouse been doing lately to bring more laughter into the marriage?)
“You’ve been controlling me.”
We have a saying at Beyond Affairs, “The thing is not about the thing.”
The Finger of Blame
A person who is having an affair will often pick a fight in order to justify to themselves their wrongful behavior. To avoid painful self-reflection, they cast the finger of blame towards the innocent party.
Usually, the one leaving the relationship has spent months, and sometimes years, creating a distorted story in their heads to somehow justify their wrongful behavior to themselves.
When the wounding spouse tells the innocent spouse that they are ending the marriage, the innocent spouse usually feels shock, devastation, hurt, rejection, fear, loneliness, anger, depression, and confusion! Even if there have been problems (which there may not have been), you never imagined something like this could be happening to your relationship. You know the path they are choosing is not only hurting you, it is hurting them! The fact of the matter is if they continue like this they will end up being the one with the biggest hurt. If you want revenge, it’s simple. Let them go. Without knowing it, they are destroying their own lives.
Emotions are out of control
Hurt and misunderstanding are having a hay day!
It looks as though your relationship has ended. What are you supposed to do?
Today, I found myself reflecting on this question. When someone you love says your relationship is over, do you respect their boundary and wait? Give them time? Or do you fight for them?
I began thinking about all the “sensible” approaches one might read in books, hear from your friends, and/or your counselor. Sometimes the advice you get doesn’t even match, and sometimes you just find yourself more confused than ever.
ANXIETY – Worrying about the Past & Future
You find yourself, asking the question: What’s wrong with me? What did I do wrong?
This is anxiety – worrying about the past. No doubt you have made some mistakes. Every human being has. That said, most likely, you have been a good wife, husband, mother, father.
Then you ask: What should I do? You are afraid – afraid of making a mistake, afraid of doing the wrong thing, afraid of losing the relationship, afraid of being alone, afraid of being judged, criticized, and rejected.
This is also anxiety – worrying about the future.
What you want to aim towards is to stop living in the past. Whatever has been cannot be undone, only learned from. Stop worrying about the future. Fearing the future only makes things worse. Aim to live in the moment. What are you feeling? Own those feelings.
The Irresponsible & Over Responsible
There is a responsibility continuum. Some people are irresponsible. They are the worst. They say mean things, blame others, hurt people, don’t keep their promises, get angry, abusive, and usually struggle with addictions. In short their lives create problems for the people around them, because they keep messing up. Their family is walking on egg shells.
Other people are over responsible. They say they’re sorry all the time, even if they haven’t done anything wrong. They show up on time, pay the bills, manage things, care for everyone, and say “yes” all the time. These people are great to be around, always so nice, always doing everything for everyone, yet they are equally out of balance.
Both the irresponsible and the over-responsible are wrong. Healthy lies in the middle. There is a balance.
How to work on yourself…
If you are over-responsible, you need to move back to the center of the responsibility continuum, and stop carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders. Don’t do for others what they should be doing for themselves. Don’t fix everything. Say “no.” And speak up for yourself. You are not really loving people, when you allow them to mistreat you.
If you are irresponsible, you need to start taking responsibility, move down the responsibility continuum towards responsible. You are responsible for your own life. Quit blaming everyone else for the problems/hurts in your life. Get some help for your addictive behaviors. You think your, “I’m going to do life my own way” approach is a sign of your independence and freedom. What you don’t realize is the paradox. Your rebellious spirit robs you of the very freedom you are fighting for.
Self-control and responsibility give you your freedom. Being irresponsible keeps you in chains.
Most of the people who will read this article are the overly responsible … And they are in a relationship with the irresponsible.
WE TEACH PEOPLE HOW TO TREAT US
If we are not being treated with respect, we are responsible for allowing this to happen, for putting up with it. It is the responsibility of the over-responsible one to stop enabling the abusers behavior by continuing to be nice and quiet when we are mistreated. Most do this because they are afraid of conflict, afraid of being alone, or because somewhere along the line, they have developed a deep sense of unworthiness, and don’t see themselves as worthy of being treated better.
Now your eyes are opened. You can no longer remain in your state of comfortable abuse. Your relationship is hanging in the balance and you want it back! So you are reading this article, hoping that I’m about to lay out the magic formula that tells you how and if you should fight for your marriage…
You are unique, your spouse is unique, and the relationship dance, the two of you have been dancing is unique too. There is no one size fits all solution. There are, however, principles that make relationships work.
Desperate times may call for desperate measures
When the “shit hits the fan,” it’s time for common sense (a very uncommon thing), and time to follow your heart. After all, you are the only one who is going to live with the outcome of the choices you make.
Like the words in the Bon Jovi song …
“It’s my life. It’s now or never. I ain’t gonna live forever. So I’m gonna live like I’m alive!”
In almost every situation in my life, I make big decisions carefully. I do my research. I seek good counsel. Carefully and thoughtfully I proceed. I make sure my actions are above reproach, and that no one can point fingers of blame at me for the way I handled myself. And in most of life’s situations this is a good idea and serves me well.
WHAT DID I DO WHEN MY HUSBAND WAS LEAVING ME?
When my husband was leaving me for another woman, as I reflect back, I did not actually act this way. I didn’t have time! There was no formula. No one understood me and my husband anyway. (You can read about all this in My Husband’s Affair)
In addition to getting mad (expressing that to God in my private prayer time), I took a stand in my heart. I said to myself, no way, THIS IS NOT GOING TO HAPPEN!!! I am going to fight for my marriage! In my case, I suppose, I had two things to go on. 1. I knew my husband was a good man, and that he loved me. (That’s important, because it’s not true for everyone who will read this article.) 2. I have an unshakeable personal faith in God, and I know He has the power to hit my husband on the head with a spiritual 2×4 (big long piece of wood). I know how to pray. (And thank goodness, sometimes God hits me on the head with that same 2×4!)
The fight for marriage
What I did to fight for my marriage … in the most unconventional ways, was not written about in affair recovery text books or approved by any counselor. Here are some the things I did to fight for my marriage.
- I put on my sexiest clothes and showed up unexpectedly at my husband’s workplace.
- I asked a man (whom I knew my husband respected) to go talk to my husband.
- When my husband got angry because our daughter called the other woman and was shall we say, unkind, and my husband told me to get my daughter under control, I informed him that our daughter was not going to be required to behave at a standard that was higher than that which her own father required of himself. I suggested he get the log out of his own eye instead of worrying about the speck in his daughters eye.
- I chose to confront the other woman (nicely and wisely with dignity). My husband forbid me. I did it anyway. (Last I checked it’s not that smart to listen to someone who is not in their right mind at the moment.)
The Ultimatum Letter – Love, Truth & Dignity
5. When my husband told me he was now going to be just friends with the other woman, I gave him an ultimatum. My ultimatum letter was neither angry, nor full of threats. It was a letter full of love, truth and dignity. But it didn’t pull any punches. “If your “friendship” with this other woman is so important to you, there is no time like the present for you to leave. If you want to be with me, this “friendship” ends now.” Was my husband, excited about this ultimatum letter?No he was not! Fighting for your relationship doesn’t mean your actions are going to make the other person happy, not initially. You have to understand, when someone is going off the deep-end, rarely do passive, saintly words of kindness, shake them out of their insanity.
6. I enrolled myself in university. By doing this I was growing as a woman instead of focusing all my energy on what he was or wasn’t doing.
7. I bought new clothes.
8. I made my husband accountable by telling a small group of close friends and family.
9. I was bold, fearless, and courageous. What did I have to lose? (I was already losing it, in my passivity!)
WHAT I WAS NOT DOING – (This is important too)
I did not yell and scream. I did not embarrass myself. I did not shame my husband. I did not use foul language. I did not wrap my arms around his leg when he tried to leave. (This seems strange to say, but others have tried this, and may mistakenly think this is fighting for the marriage. It’s not. That’s being unattractively needy and lowering your value.) I did not defame my husband publicly. I did not create an unpleasant scene at his workplace. I did not give away (or throw away) our money and/or possessions. I did not act irresponsibly. I did not break any laws, hurt anyone, damage property, or harm myself. I did not seek revenge. (Really there is a part of me that is revengeful … but I’ve really learned if you leave revenge up to God, he does it better.)
SHOULD YOU FIGHT OR SHOULD YOU WAIT?
Nineteen years later, from a healed and restored position, and with many years experience helping others, I asked my husband, where do you think we would be now if I had not fought for our marriage? What would you have done?
Here is his wise answer:
We really don’t know what we would do in any situation that we have not actually been in. We might think we know, but all too often, if it ever comes to it, we find ourselves not doing what we were sure we would. But what he has observed is this:
If the person you love is “ending your relationship” and you do not fight for it, if they are an “engager,” engagement makes them feel loved and cared for (even if the engagement is an argument with swear words). Disengagement makes them feel like you don’t love them. It can make someone feel like you don’t care.
When the abandoned person fights for the marriage, it either has a positive effect or it’s neutral, having no effect.
When the abandoned person waits passively, it either has a negative effect or a neutral effect.
Can I change the other person?
You cannot change another persons behavior, make up their mind for them, bully them or shame them into doing anything, but fighting for the relationship has a potential for positivity, and at worst is neutral.
Just remember that “fighting” for the relationship means putting out bids for connection with strength and dignity. It means being courageous, bold and valuing yourself.
Bullying, shaming, being mean, threats, anger, aggressiveness, hitting someone, belittling, or desperate behavior IS NOT “fighting” for your relationship. Instead they are signs of your own character weaknesses and are damaging towards your relationship.
The decision and choices are yours
It’s your life. It’s your relationship. It’s your future. You cannot control another person. You cannot force someone to love you, or to be kind to you. But you do get to decide how you will respond to the person you love and their wrongful behavior towards you.
You ask: Should I fight for my marriage?
You get to decide. Don’t be over responsible. Don’t be under responsible. Don’t be anxious. Don’t beat yourself up about the past. Don’t worry about the future. Live in the present. Own your feelings. Follow your heart. Don’t let pride keep you stuck.
Be strong and courageous!