Saving a marriage often requires you kill it first.
It’s like a doctor having to re-break a leg bone that tried to heal itself despite being infected and badly out of alignment. The only option is to break it again and allow it to heal from a healthier starting point.
John and Jane decided their marriage would never heal as it was. They had waited too long. A festering infection of self-righteousness, insecurity and resentment was scarring their hearts and polluting their minds.
The good news was they both saw it and wanted to change it.
So, in the quiet hours of a Sunday morning they nervously agreed to humanely euthanize their first marriage. It was time. There was no more quality of life left. It was time for compassion – time to let it go.
It was a leap of faith. It was a commitment to each other that they weren’t going backward no matter what.
They just weren’t sure which way was forward.
Doing it Differently This Time
The unorthodox approach they chose wasn’t just about killing their first marriage.
They knew their second marriage would be just like the first if they didn’t change everything.
Their previous attempts at marriage counseling seemed to make things worse. John and Jane subconsciously used the process to build a case against each other. They took their pain and frustration to counseling sessions in hopes of being heard and proving each other was to blame. Neither felt accountable for making any personal changes. So, they quit going and blamed each other for the failure.
This time around there would be no couple’s therapy. No more blame. No more excuses.
If their second marriage was to be successful, they would agree to work privately – apart from each other. They would commit to a process of personal accountability for BEING a better partner rather than demanding their partner be better.
For them, being a better partner had nothing to do with better communicating, compromising, sacrificing or negotiating. That’s not where they needed help.
Being a better partner meant improving their expectations.
Along with killing their first marriage, they would need to agree to kill some expectations. Both had accumulated a toxic collection of expectations of each other.
- I expect you to make me happy.
- I expect you to read my mind.
- I expect you to make me feel secure.
- I expect you to want sex when I want sex.
- I expect you to be perfect.
- I expect you to never disappoint me.
- I expect you to be more like me.
They learned that a list of expectations like these set them up for failure. Neither stood a chance of meeting those expectations. And when they predictably fell short, another argument ensued.
The biggest problem with expectations like these was that Jane and John never even thought about what they expected of THEMSELVES. They were so busy judging each other against the unattainable list of expectations, they were blind to how they were showing up to the party.
Without a clear understanding and commitment to their own standards of behavior, neither stood a chance of actually BEING a stronger, more loving and more intentional partner.
John and Jane knew this was the key to eliminating self-righteousness, insecurity and resentment in their new marriage.
And they both knew declaring and committing to their own standards of behavior was a personal journey. Setting new expectations for themselves was a private matter.
They weren’t negotiable, debatable, or up for discussion.
John and Jane agreed that they each needed to establish who they wanted to be in this marriage without the help of the other.
Their new self-expectations must be more important than the marriage itself.
John and Jane’s List of Expectations
After a few weeks of private work with the professionals of their choice, John and Jane decided to compare notes. They had a babysitter come by on Friday evening and they headed out for dinner to a quaint restaurant not far from home.
At a corner table, under the light of a single candle, smiling and a little nervous, they exchanged lists and read quietly.
- I will treat you with love, kindness, respect and compassion because I want to, not because I expect you to do the same.
- I will respond to the natural stress and strain of our marriage from a place of love and strength without needing to find blame for my negative feelings.
- I will pull my weight in our family and consistently maintain a sense of balance in everything needed to keep our family running smoothly.
- I am responsible for my own moods, happiness, and sense of well-being.
- I will respond to conflict with an open mind and calm demeanor. I will not waiver from and will stand up for my values of trust, respect and kindness within my family.
- During disagreements, I want you to feel heard and respected more than I want to be right.
- I will honor your insecurities and will never intentionally use them against you. I will never call you “crazy” again.
- I will respect and support your need for personal time to recharge and to pursue personal goals and dreams.
- I will be your most dependable and consistent source of strong emotional support, affection and intimacy of all types.
- I will choose you everyday as my friend, my lover, and my partner.
- I will always treat you as a capable and caring husband and father
- I will accept your love and allow you to comfort me.
- I will not withhold my affection to make a statement or to hurt you
- I will not intentionally trigger your defenses when I am upset.
- I will always support your need for personal time alone so you can reconnect with those you love
- I will not hold you responsible for making me happy and feeling good about myself.
- I will be generous with my respect and appreciation of you because I know how much it means to you.
- I will be direct about my needs and won’t expect you to know what I’m thinking or feeling.
- When we argue, I will treat you with the respect my man deserves.
- I will trust your intention toward me and our family is always from a place of love and caring.
When they finished reading they looked up and just stared at each other. It felt like an eternity to John.
Then he felt Jane’s bare foot sneaking up his left leg as she said, “This is pretty big change for both of us. Do you think we can stick to it?”
John grinned and said, “It would have been tough in my first marriage. We were never on the same page. I’m feeling really good about this new woman. We make one helluva team.”
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Photo: amslerPIX / Flickr