What to do in a Marriage Crisis
The first thing for any individual facing marriage crisis to do is to accept the crazy, panicky feelings that always come with it. The person who wants to leave their partner is usually feeling fearful but determined, and maybe a little guilty, and the person who is being left goes into a freaked out state called “Attachment Panic,” the relationship version of the adrenaline-pumping fight or flight feeling humans feel in life-threatening situations.
They become obsessive about the relationship and situation and pull out every tool in their toolbox in a futile effort to get their partner to return and end the crisis. At the core are two people with different needs – one to get away, and the other to hold on to what once was.
Both states are the norm when a marriage crisis begins.
What to do #1: Accept that feeling whatever it is that you feel, whether crazy, guilty, uncertain, fearful, or whatever, is normal for the situation.
Also, I want individuals to know that the feelings both partners will feel are fluid (changing readily; shifting; not fixed, stable, or rigid) – it is very common for whatever feelings to rise and fall, flip and turn … one person wants to stay one day, leave the next, then, who knows? You feel soft and tender toward your partner, then angry, blaming and dismissive. It’s all part of marriage crisis, so learn to ride the waves in as calm as state as possible … we won’t know where it’s all going to end up for quite some time.
What to do #2: Ride the waves of fluid feelings that will run the gamut.
When in a marriage crisis you must become aware that the extreme thoughts and feelings you are having is energy that is storing up in your body, much like steam in a teapot. When we have intense feelings, the healthiest thing you can do is to release them in the healthiest possible way. The unhealthy option is to sweep feelings under a rug or try to suppress, ignore or numb your self with medications or alcohol. Part of managing a marriage crisis in as positive a way as possible means avoiding self-destructive actions and behaviors, and if you want to come out the other end of this situation in as healthy a state as possible, and maybe even reconciled with your partner, you must deal with your feelings head-on. So it is imperative that you do talk therapy with a therapist you trust and also learn relaxation techniques to lower your brain waves from a crazed state to a calm one. These two positive interventions may well make the difference of you coming out of this a wiser, better, stronger person rather than a broken and bitter one.
If you are on a tight budget, search for low cost therapy where you live. You may find a spiritual leader in your community willing to process your feelings with you, a domestic violence center, local university, or other community or mental health center. Yoga, meditation, or any classes such as this will be immensely helpful, so I implore you not to ignore this very important piece to getting through your marriage crisis.
What to do #3: Process your feelings with a therapist and learn relaxation and meditative techniques to lower your heart rate during stressful times.
What NOT to do in a Marriage Crisis
The nature of a marriage crisis is that we are dealing with two people who are in a stressed and freaked-out state, and that’s why it’s so important to not make any sort of major decisions until a significant amount of time has passed and your feelings have settled down. Marriage crisis means the dust is kicked up and we cannot see things clearly, or at all, and only time can let the dust settle so that we can sort through and ascertain reasonable and true feelings about what is in you and your family’s best interest moving forward. I often tell my clients that you must look at it like your IQ has dropped by about 20 points during a marriage crisis, and we do not want to make any irrevocable decisions or take any over-the-top actions that we won’t be able to easily recover from.
What not to do #1: Do not file for divorce, take money or sell, hide or destroy things that do not solely belong to you or say things that will be used against you.
Most of us turn to our friends and family in a marriage crisis and pose situations and questions to them about our partner and what we should do or say. The problem is, your friends and family are only hearing one side of the story and no doubt have only your best interest at heart. You must keep in mind that they are not trained counselors, and basically cannot be counted on for anything other than advice and suggestions that should be taken with a grain of salt –I cannot tell you how much misguided, terrible advice I have heard from my clients who reported to me what their friends and family were telling them to do. A good rule of thumb is to stay away from what I call the “negative choir,” which is people who urge you to toss in your hand and end the marriage without giving it the proper amount of time to see if it can be saved.
Instead, surround yourself by people who are friends of the marriage and encourage you to make the best decision for yourself and your family, whether it is to stay or leave. People who really care about family will not be encouraging you to rush the divorce process unless you are in a known domestic violence situation, and if you are, that changes everything.
What not to do #2: Do not invite or allow conversation with friends and family who are not supportive of you taking your time to make the best decision for you and your family. Remember, if they aren’t encouraging you to do that, they don’t have your best interest at heart.
Regarding the relationship with your estranged spouse, emotions and stakes are high, and it is of vital importance that we not do any more damage at this point than has already been done. Many of the points listed above are designed to not increase the mess we have already created, but as difficult as it is under these crazy circumstances, I need you to show as much respect and grace toward your spouse as you possibly can. As emotions are high in marriage crisis, this will involve enormous amounts of self-control. I frequently hear stories of threats, emotional blackmail, name-calling, ugly words, email and texts, and there is no excuse or justification for this. I can tell you that if I was in a marriage crisis and my spouse behaved in such a way, it would make my decision of whether to stay or go very easy. In other words, I would not to stay with someone who felt the way to keep me was to bully me into it. If you think about it, why would anyone want to work things out with someone whose chosen tactics are to demean and shame them into returning to the relationship? Any recipient of such behavior should never let it have a positive payoff – do that and you teach your spouse that ugly behavior works. I say, no way.
What not to do #3: Do not lower yourself by using nasty behavior or words toward your partner or anyone. Stay on the high road and be respectful at all times. You won’t regret it.
Schedule a 1-hour consultation with Doctor Becky
One of the services I offer is to be there personally for people going through a marriage crisis. I am a Marriage & Family Therapist and have thousands of hours of experience dealing with individuals and couples in crisis, and I can coach you through your most difficult times. So if you read through this site and decide you would like a personal one-on-one either in person or by phone, email, or Skype/FaceTime, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 501-590-9200.