“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used to create them.” Albert Einstein
I received a client application recently that shared with me, “We have so many problems and we’ve been disconnected for so long that I don’t know if it will do any good for me to work on the marriage if he’s not also working on fixing the problems in our marriage. Is it possible for me to fix a marriage by myself?”
Many of us believe that in order to fix a relationship, both parties need to be present and actively working on the issues within the relationship. But I would argue that’s not actually true…
It rarely happens that the two people in the relationship are ready to do that level of work at the same time and if one partner won’t work on the marriage until the other is ready…
Nothing gets done…
No one moves forward…
The same old patterns keep repeating inside the relationship…
And the marriage continues to become more and more disconnected.
I can argue that just like one person can destroy a marriage, it only takes one person to fix a marriage.
That’s because our relationships are a dance with one another. As we take a new step or change directions, there’s a reaction to that by our partners. As we evolve our approach and the way we communicate about the issues, the response we receive in return changes.
When You Change, Things Around You Change
Let me bring this to life for you with one of my clients that I’ll refer to as Gabrielle. Gabrielle was a professional working mom of three beautiful girls, who had a recurring experience with her husband, Devin.
He would say he would be home in an hour, but it was more like three hours, making her feel like she had to do all the heavy lifting in the house and with their three kids.
He would say that he wouldn’t make big decisions without talking to her first, but he continued to do so, making her feel irrelevant.
He would say he would help with the kid’s homework and cleaning up after dinner, but often would fall asleep on the couch while watching TV.
Over the years, this made her feel incredibly alone inside her marriage. Even though he was physically present and certainly wasn’t a bad guy, she felt as through they were leading two separate lives under the same roof and the disconnection between them was growing wider and wider.
So, not long after we began working together, not surprisingly, Devin fell asleep on the couch with their little one around 8:00 pm. Gabrielle stayed up and helped their older daughters get their homework done, have some quality play time together and get ready for bed. In the past, she wouldn’t say anything to him about it, but she would harbor some resentment, being more quiet and withdrawn from him the next day without ever explaining why. Then, in the midst of the next argument, potentially days or weeks later, the frustration from him always falling asleep on the sofa and leaving her to take care of everything would reer its ugly head.
But now, she knew better. She knew there was a better way to handle this if she was genuinely going to attempt to heal their marriage.
That evening after putting the girls to bed, she went downstairs, woke her husband up and asked if she could speak with him about something. She told him what her evening looked like while he slept and although she appreciated how hard he worked to provide for their family, she shared how lonely and isolated she has been feeling inside their marriage and that she genuinely missed him.
That moment of vulnerability was scary as hell for Gabrielle, but the response from her husband was worth it. He listened, he heard what she said, he apologized and said he would try to do better and to be more engaged and supportive in the evenings. He said that he appreciated her and also missed her on many nights as well…even when they were seemingly together.
There wasn’t an argument. There wasn’t resentment built-up. There wasn’t destructive passive-aggressive behavior from either partner. There was openness, honesty and vulnerability in the moment between two people who love each other but have been struggling for awhile without knowing how to fix their marriage.
When Gabrielle changed her approach, her husband changed his. That’s the dance; but it takes one person in the relationship to take the lead and the responsibility to approach the problems in the relationship differently than how they’ve always been handled previously.
Just as much as we know what buttons to press to expose the worst parts of our husbands, we actually have the ability to focus on and bring out the best parts of our husbands as well. It’s just that there are some tools we haven’t been taught to use and we have some old habits and patterns that need to be challenged and changed.
That’s why one person doing the deep work of healing the hurts and evolving how we engage can make all the difference in a marriage, even if our husbands aren’t hiring a coach or seeing a therapist or even reading a book on relationships.
One person has the potential to create new possibilities that did not exist previously.
One person has the ability to change their own actions and behaviors, which automatically elicits a different reaction or response.
One person has the ability to take the brave steps forward to learn how to create and sustain a healthy, loving, lasting marriage over time.