By Guest Blogger Suzanne Danhauer
2015 was one of the most painful years of my life. I never want to repeat it, and at the same time I am intensely grateful for it.
We had been married 13 years. We had two high-demand careers, 4 young boys, packed schedules, and lots of responsibilities. There was no priority on us as a couple. We went out one evening, and he told me that he was “done,” didn’t feel respected, and had put the “last brick” on his wall. I had felt intensely lonely and unloved by him for a long time as well. Several months later, he moved out. That was the most painful day that either of us has ever experienced. I once read about a marriage that had almost died the “death of a thousand paper cuts” (i.e., all the “little things” piling up). That phrase described our experience.
We have been back together over a year now, and our marriage isn’t just good. It is amazing, and we are enjoying each other more now than ever before. We moved into a new home and recently took an incredible anniversary trip out of the country for a week without our children. I remain in awe and am filled with gratitude for how much our relationship has changed and grown.
What brought us from a hopeless situation to a marriage that is vibrant and solid? For us, some of the strategies that made a major difference included:
- Focus on changing myself. Early on during that painful year, I began to consider ways that I could change (rather than waiting for him to change). How could I respond to him differently — with more kindness and patience and humility? How could I respond to stress and that constant overwhelmed feeling with more calmness and perhaps more humor? I decided that I would work on me without expecting change in return (at least not right away).
- Acts of kindness. I knew that the “little things” – both positive and negative – matter a lot. So, if lots of little negative things left us in rough shape, I sought ways to show small acts of kindness to him. I tried to keep doing this even when there was little to no response.
- Search for knowledge that could help. For a person with four children who never had time to read, I completed 14 books between January and September on topics like marriage, avoiding divorce, faith, priorities, and negotiation. The most impactful book that I read was For Women Only: What You Need to Know about the Inner Lives of Men by Shaunti Feldhahn. It described survey data from thousands of men that provided incredible insights into their inner thoughts and feelings, I learned so much about the fundamental differences in how we are wired as men and women. I found information I had been seeking on respect and what it means to men. Most men would choose to be alone and unloved rather than feeling disrespected. Wow. As a couple, we have benefited tremendously from the findings in this book and its counterpart about women’s inner thoughts and feelings. There have been lots of “aha” moments for each of us.
- Persistence. I had an overwhelming sense that I needed to “stay the course” and continue to work toward reconciliation even though I had no indication that this was possible. I had heard multiple stories of others who regretted giving up on their marriages too early. This part was incredibly difficult as the waiting seem to go on for what seemed like a very long time.
- Focus on the good that can come from pain. As a psychologist, some of my research has examined how positive changes can come about from very difficult situations. Deep down, I believed that somehow, something good would ultimately come out of an intensely painful situation.
- Exercise. In addition to walking and practicing yoga, I started to ride my bike for the first time in 11 years. I rode the 7-mile loop around Salem Lake over and over and over. It helped me to feel better emotionally and physically. (I figured that keeping myself looking as good as possible wouldn’t hurt either!)
- Assume positive intent. Starting to assume that your spouse acts in a certain way because (s)he doesn’t care about you or your feelings is deadly. Learning to assume that the other person isn’t actively trying to be hurtful when one of us ends up feeling hurt or angry has been huge for us.
- Seek help. We also worked closely with a marriage therapist and found it incredibly helpful to have an objective person to guide us. I have read that most couples wait years too long to seek help. We definitely waited too long.
- Pray (and pray some more). I believe strongly that my prayers, my husband’s prayers, and the prayers of many other people for us were incredibly powerful. I prayed for my husband daily. I prayed for grace and peace and strength daily. I knew that I needed to trust in God even though the situation felt hopeless. Somehow, amidst the tears and sleepless nights and feeling of numbness, I also experienced an amazing calm during that summer. I believe that was truly amazing grace.
I know that my situation could have very well ended differently. On multiple occasions, my husband has thanked me for fighting for us. Hearing that means the world to me.