There may be ways to pull a marriage out of a crisis situation, and some experts believe it begins with getting help from outside the relationship.
Almost everyone would try something to save a troubled marriage, according to a recent poll from GFK Roper Custom Research
. The poll, commissioned by Divorce360.com, showed that 85 percent of people who have thought about divorcing their spouses are willing to make an effort to save their marriages. Most people, 58 percent, said they would get help from a marriage counselor.
The next most popular option, from 46 percent of people, is to move to another town or city. More than one-third of people would ignore that a spouse is cheating if they thought it would save their marriages. Slightly less popular as a choice, from 30 percent of respondents, is the option of changing their minds about children: They would either have kids or not have kids if they thought it would rescue their relationships.
Seventeen percent of people said they would quit their jobs if it would help their relationships. At the bottom of the list, just nine percent of people would switch religions to salvage their marriages, and 6 percent would have plastic surgery.
The poll was conducted by phone in September. More than 1,500 people responded to questions about a variety of marriage- and divorce-related issues. The margin of error for the study is plus- or minus-2.6 percent.
The poll results reflect the kinds of things counselors are seeing in practice. Mark Rogers, who works to help couples repair their relationships when they are in crisis, said he can divide what people do to salvage their relationships into two categories: “smart stuff and stupid stuff.” Rogers, who has a doctorate in counseling psychology, is a cofacilitator for the Relationship Rich
training workshop for couples in Texas. THE STUPID STUFF
The stupid stuff, as Rogers calls them, are things people do out of desperation to keep their relationships intact. Rogers said those actions include getting pregnant to keep a spouse, begging or going on expensive vacations. “You can’t buy a marriage back into health,” Rogers said, “and certainly you can’t make a marriage better by adding a whole ‘nother person into the mix.”
People make irrational choices when they are desperately trying to save their marriages, Rogers said. They might move, accept a spouse’s infidelity or make other deep sacrifices. One thing they all have in common, Rogers said, is denial that the relationship is failing. He said moving doesn’t work because it just relocates the problem. Ignoring cheating doesn’t work because the spouse is disregarding the fracture in the relationship.
The point at which a person is willing to make such sacrifices is marked with panic at the crisis stage in the relationship, he said. “I think when people get to the desperate stage, that’s when they start to do all kinds of dramatic gestures to stave off the apparently inevitable disaster at all costs,” Rogers said. “Once things get bad, they are willing to try.” But at that point, it is probably too late, Rogers said. By the time the desperate spouse realizes the intensity of the problem, the other partner has likely given up, he said. No matter what the partner does, the other has already decided to leave.
Once that decision is made, it is difficult to go back, he said. “That usually means that the switch has been flipped, by the time the person says they will leave,” Rogers said. “Once that switch has been flipped, it’s pretty hard for the switch-flipper to flip it back.” Sacrificing a piece of oneself to make a partner stay is no way to repair a marriage, Rogers said. “That’s a really bad way to get the relationship back,” Rogers said. “That’s not a good partnership.” THE SMART STUFF
Instead, Rogers said he recommends spouses in crises look at the smart stuff – ideas that can help get a relationship back on track. The smart stuff usually has to do with psychological repair on one’s self and the relationship, he said. His first recommendation is to get some sort of outside help, whether it be from a counselor, a therapist, or a clergy member.
“It’s really rare for people who have reached a crisis to be able to put it back together without outside help,” Rogers said. “What you need is someone in an objective sort of position who can reflect it back to you.”
The next recommendation Rogers offers is to look at what one is doing to contaminate the relationship. It is easy to blame the other person, but analyzing how one is infecting a relationship is necessary to the repair process. Rogers’ third recommendation is to frame the problems in the relationship as maturity issues rather than character flaws. He says that couples that act maturely can improve the way they treat each. “If you do that,” Rogers said, “You get a lot farther down the road.”