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How to Save Their Marriage

September 24, 2014

Spoilers: This is not directed at my friends and family, because we already went through this and came out healthy. Sean and I are fine. This is for several sets of friends having bad times. (Weirdly, it never rains relationship trouble, but it pours.)

We hate to see friends and family unhappy. We hate it when people split up, whether that’s a friendship or a relationship or a full on marriage. It’s hard on everyone, because things get awkward and weird and everything changes, and the people involved are unhappy. It’s most especially hard on kids, if kids there are. (Talk to me about this sometime; I’m a child of divorce, divorced myself, married to a divorced man who is a child of divorce, and so on it goes.)  Divorce is HARD.

When I was separating from my first husband – we had been a sort of romantic dream team for those around us, apparently…deeply in love, never arguing, building a life and dreams – no one could understand why. Many friends and family members tried to support our marriage. Things couldn’t be THAT bad, could they? Surely you can work on this? Surely if you try, go to counseling, do something, things will get better?  Have you read this book? How about that one? What does HE think? We’re here to help you with your marriage!

Dearest family and friends of those touched by divorce: Stop it. Stop supporting the marriage.

You quite frankly don’t know enough about the marriage to support it. You don’t know the counseling we may have been to, because for whatever reason I don’t feel like outlining my every counseling session, and what happened in them, with you. You don’t know the sexual problems we might have had for years, because we don’t really talk about that stuff, and I don’t want to make you uncomfortable or shame my partner or myself. You don’t know about the long, long months of miscommunication, of trying yet again, of feeling the hurt or the shame or the misery or the anger. You. Don’t. Know.

Where do you draw the line? Should we get more counseling if he hits me? After all, maybe things will get better. Should we work on things if he hasn’t touched me in years, hasn’t acted like a partner in forever and a half? Is there a book I can read to make HIM understand that calling me a worthless cow isn’t supportable for a long-term relationship?*

So, stop it. Your best bet here is to support the person you love. Be open. Talk through what they want to talk about, paying more attention to what they say, what they ask, than the things you want to tell them. Stop shaming a man for leaving to want a better life. (Feel free to shame him if he doesn’t take responsibility for his kids.) Stop shaming a woman for leaving to want a better life. (Feel free to shame her if, kids, etc.)  Stop SHAMING them. They’re ashamed enough already, because they know divorce is hard, and it hurts others too. I know, I do. I know.

I have so much more to say. So much more I want you to know. But those are really the important parts. Stop trying to save the marriage. It’s not your damn job, and you have no idea if it SHOULD be saved. Support your friend/loved one, because he or she is in a tough, tough time.

Comments are open.



*None of these are real life examples of me or of mine. This is on purpose. My divorce, and his, and hers, and theirs and the other ones, aren’t your business to save.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. September 24, 2014 4:40 pm

    If you know someone well enough to ask, “What led you to decide to split up?” and listen to the long answer, then ask that question.

    If you don’t know someone well enough to ask that, then don’t try to change her decision.

    • September 24, 2014 4:44 pm

      What an excellent metric. This also gives the person in crisis the perfectly reasonable path of “I’m sorry, I don’t want to discuss that right now / with you / at all / ever”.

  2. Elysia Barber permalink
    September 27, 2014 4:49 am

    Very nicely written. I agree with you 100%. I am never sure why people think they are helping when they do these types of things. Being on the receiving end of it never felt like support. It felt like societal pressure to conform. Until you have walked a mile . . .

  3. March 26, 2015 5:25 am

    One problem I have found is that a person has probably already made up their mind before they start expressing the problems to family and friends. And then if the person isn’t assertive that the decision is already made, the family/friends are in “help the relationship” mode because it’s new to them, and the breaking-up person might even ask in desperation what can they do, and we “helpfully” provide ideas because we haven’t been involved or even aware of the process so far. In many cases it’s a time shift problem.

    Even in a recent situation I wasn’t as bad as the first time, but I later realized that the decision was already made before the idea was expressed. Hell I was even told it was 50/50 and was asked for feedback.

    But I’m getting better. A few more family divorces and I’ll be really good at this!

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