On Marital Discord, Part III: Tips for Staying Together in Spite of Strife

Annah ElizabethUncategorizedLeave a Comment

As far back as March, journalists began talking about a Maria/Arnold reunion.
And a few days ago, HuffPost Celebrity reported that Maria was recently seen wearing what looks like a wedding band.
These thoughts simultaneously ran through my mind.
Who cares?
Just leave them alone.
And yet, I find myself watching.
Secretly rooting for them.
For the man and woman who are not infallible.
For the millions of partners who could use more examples of couples who work things out.
Will Smith once said, “Divorce isn’t really an option.”
And for the most part I agree.
Too many people bail at the first sign of trouble.
Too many people overlook this golden nugget: “It takes two to make a marriage work,” my therapist once said, “but only one to screw it up.”
Too many are unwilling to look in the mirror, inside their souls, and ask the tough questions regarding their contribution to the marital conflict.
What is my part in this strife?

Am I an enabler? An instigator? A control freak?

Am I being open to consider different ways of handling situations that seem to be causing turmoil?
Have I done all I can do to be the best person I can be in this relationship?
Am I making excuses for myself?

I’ve put up with her shit way too long.

He’s never going to change. Why should I bother?
There’s nothing I can do…
Am I making excuses for my partner?

She had a tough childhood.

His parents were the same way; so he never had good role models.
There are situations, such as domestic violence, where you shouldn’t spend much time trying to figure it out.
In those cases, safety is your number one concern, and you should focus on the recruitment of professionals to help you move forward.
But what about the rest of us, especially those with children?
I’ve heard more Baby Boomers exclaim, “My parents should have divorced long before they did.”
Unfortunately, our parents grew up in an era where mental illness (including depression) was a taboo topic and talking to a therapist was definitely not dinner table discussion.
And for most, the option didn’t even exist.
When our negative emotions such as pain, suffering, doubt, fear, and anger are closeted, they fester in the dark, often becoming bigger and bigger until one day they burst.
Today, however, counseling is more widely accepted, and support groups exist for many conceivable subject matters.
We have options. Options galore.
Sometimes, one of the best (first) options is separation.
You’ve heard it said many times, “There’s a fine line between love and hate.”
In my first piece On Marital Discord, I posed a series of open-ended questions.
These are questions that people like Warren and me, Will and Jada, and Maria and Arnold (if the media reports are true) are discussing as they try to salvage their marriages.
More than their marriages. Their relationships with their partners.
So, what’s a couple to do when they have reached the point of feeling like enemies?

I’ll never forget one of the pivotal moments in my marriage.

Warren had come to one of my counseling sessions.
The wrangle we had on that couch was loud and heated.
I had reached the point of loathing Warren. And he me.
Every conversation became a battle of wills.
A melee of You said/I said.
A confrontation of Right vs Wrong.
And of course, Right was on each of our sides.
“You two are like dogs that won’t give up the fight,” my counselor said.
“Did someone hold a gun to your head and force you to marry him, Annah?”
“And Warren, did someone hold a gun to you your head?”
Images of why I married this man came flooding at me.
He and I had become the best of friends before we ever went out on a date.
His kindness. His gentleness. His easygoing nature. His zany sense of humor. His willingness to let each of us live our own lives. His support of any profession or hobby I chose.
I had lost sight of all of those traits, buried them beneath my anger…
That’s the first step. Go back to your friendship.
How do you go about trying to reconcile differences?

Remember that your differences are most often divergences of opinions, and not personal attacks.

Remove Ever Afterwords from your conversations.
State your feelings in a less accusatory way. Instead of saying “You do this/You don’t do that,” present your feelings. “I feel like/I need/I would like…”
These three simple, albeit complicated approaches will work wonders in diffusing some of the immediate tensions, allowing you to get down to the real root of the conflicts you are facing.
How do you find separate spaces from which to heal, without adding financial stress—or possibly more money stress—to the mix?

This one can be a little tougher, but it can be accomplished.

Renting another house or apartment is ideal, but can ultimately create more stress by adding financial strain. Don’t despair, though, because if you are creative, you have options.
When Warren and I couldn’t stand to be in the same room with each other, let alone the same bed, we gave each other private spaces. We turned one of our other rooms into a dual purpose area, so we could each have our own privacy and place of retreat.
That option had worked well once, but after Warren’s second affair, we found this approach wasn’t successful.
We owned a rental property that happened to come vacant, so we took an air mattress over there and used that space to sleep for a few weeks. We felt it was important for our children to spend time with each of us, so we alternated nights at home. The living was rather rudimentary, but it served the purpose.
We needed the income from the property, so as soon as it rented, Warren began staying in a camper we had.
And then, when winter set in and that was no longer an option, he stayed with friends until such time we were able to carry on civil conversations and had decided we wanted to do everything possible to remain united by our vows.
What do you do if you have children or another family member living in the house?

First and foremost, remember that the walls and doors have ears.

Warren and I sat our children (ages 14, 12, 9) down immediately after his second affair. We told them that Mom and Dad were having some troubles. We assured them that our problems had nothing to do with them whatsoever, and that they were our first priority. And we asked them to be patient and to give us space and privacy if we asked for it.
We thought we had covered all of our bases, but two years after the fact Fave Son told me that they all knew about their Dad’s affair. “We could hear you talking,” he said.
So, we sat each of them down individually, asked them what they knew about our troubles. If they understood what an affair was, explained why we hadn’t felt it appropriate to go into detail earlier. That they lacked the life experiences and knowledge to comprehend the subject matter.
We asked if they believed that it had nothing to do with them, and we gave them opportunity to have of their own questions answered.
Every couple who has faced marital discord has labored over these and many other questions.
Hard as it might be to comprehend when you feel as if you can’t spend one more minute with the person you married, it is possible to overcome seemingly monumental conflict.
I have said during some of the most challenging times of my life, “I will know it when it happens.”
In other words, something it going to occur that will direct me to the closure I need.
But until then, I’m going to exhaust every possible resource to find my own answers, to accrue the resolutions I need to curb the turmoil in my head and in my heart.
Resourcefulness, creativity, and fortitude are some of our biggest allies when it comes to mending.
They are some of the greatest tools we possess. All of us. You, Me, The Girl Next Door, and even those like Arnold and Maria.
What strategies have you utilized to help carry you through marital conflict?

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