This article was written by guest author Petra Blank who used MarriageHelper’s resources to help save her marriage.
In 2011, I was hit by a truck…
Not literally, but rather figuratively through finding out that my husband had began an affair with a coworker.
This was a major wake up call for me. Although I could have left, I decided to stand for my marriage. It was the most difficult and painful four years I’ve ever gone through. Yet, it was also the most rewarding. It took me on a quest to learn as much as I could on how to save my marriage.
I stood for my marriage for four years. Was it hard? Yes. Was it worth it? Yes.
You see, it’s fairly easy to be a good spouse when things are going well. It’s when you’re going walking through hell and fighting daily for your marriage that you can see what you are really made of.
When your marriage experiences crisis, you can choose how you respond.
How Are You Going to Respond?
Are you going to respond out of your emotions to your spouse’s hurtful actions? Or are you going to take the time to think about your options and then make a better decision? If you find yourself wanting to repay your spouse for their hurtful actions, keep in mind that people’s actions are a direct reflection of how they feel about themselves.
What I have found to be one of the biggest obstacles to stay on track with was dealing with the emotional pain–to keep going even when the situation looked hopeless. Interestingly, I was able to find helpful tidbits here and there. I have learned quite a bit on this subject over the last four years.
Below is a summary of what I have gathered over those years. I have not come up with any of these suggestions alone, rather I have collected information from valuable sources.
How to Deal with the Pain
The underlying premise of most of these tactics is the concept of taking a different approach in your thought life. Often all that is needed is a different perspective. Keep in mind, what works for one person might not work for another–we are all very different.
I strongly recommend getting a good coach! A good coach will be able to help and guide you in making sound decisions as you move forward. Be really careful though to find one that sees your marriage as the patient and not the individual person’s happiness.
In extreme cases, the emotional pain might be too strong, causing you to feel like you can’t go on and you might consider hurting yourself, your spouse, or their affair partner (if there is one). If you feel this way, please get professional help immediately. (If you feel this, please contact the Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1 (800) 273-8255)
Sometimes, all you might be able to do is throw yourself a pity party. Accept these moments, be gentle with yourself, but don’t stay there. A friend once told me, “If you’re going through hell, keep on walking”.
In order to get out of this painful situation, you will have to take action.
For Immediate Relief:
- Practice belly breathing
If you are not yet familiar with this method, lie down on a flat surface, put your hands right underneath your ribcage, and breathe in a way that will only lift your hands. Once you know what it feels like, you can do this anytime, anywhere. This kind of breathing is sending a message to your brain to calm down.
- Find a safe place to vent
Be really careful to only do this with people you can trust 100%, preferably a professional. You don’t want to poison the well about your marriage with friends and family.
- Yell from the top of your lungs as long and as loud as you can
Of course, do this in privacy. Maybe even into a pillow! You don’t want to scare your children, pets, or have your neighbors call the police. It can be helpful to get your emotions out instead of keeping them in.
- Let the tears flow
Crying will help your body to get rid of stress.
- Physical movement
Stomp your feet, go for a rigorous walk, or workout.
Write down your anger, resentment, and/or hurt. Do NOT give it to your spouse though! You may even want to destroy it afterward.
- Express yourself artistically
Dance and/or sing your heart out. Do something creative or artistic.
Once you feel a little bit calmer and stronger, try these things:
Smiling will actually help you feel better. There is always something to be thankful for, even in the midst of pain and sorrow. Think of what you’re thankful for and the smile will likely appear on its own.
- Be patient
Your marriage did not get into trouble over night; therefore, you are not going to get out of it over night either. Patience is key.
- Plan things you enjoy doing
I vividly remember at the beginning of my husband’s affair when I was disinvited from joining him on a business trip to Hawaii. Shortly before he left, I found out by accident that he was taking his mistress instead. After the initial shock wore off, I decided to have a good time on my own and planned something nice for myself for every single day he was gone.
- Look at your situation as a challenge you take on
I believe that situations will only present themselves as a problem to us if we have lessons to learn and room to grow. Otherwise, we would not perceive them as problems. Therefore, every difficult situation presents this opportunity. There are even people who say, “you either win or you learn”. My perspective is that when you learn the lesson, you are going to win no matter what the outcome.
- You are responsible for your day
Don’t be a victim. Other people can only ruin your day if you give them the power to do so.
- Set an intention for the day first thing in the morning/review in the evening.
Every day when you wake up, put aside a few minutes to think about what you would like your day to look like. Set an intention! You have a lot more influence on what your day is going to look like than you might think. My intention is always the same, to try and look through everything that presents itself to me through the eyes of love. What is going to be your intention? Maybe it’s going to be to stay calm and collected, no matter what life or your obstinate spouse throws at you? Then, review in the evening on how you did. Some days will be better than others. If you didn’t live up to your expectations, be gentle and forgiving with yourself, and get back up in the saddle again the next day. Every day is a new opportunity!
- Accept that you are going to feel uncomfortable
Embrace it. If you feel okay in the situation you are in, you most likely would not feel the need to do anything about it.
- Put a good support system into place
Work with a coach, find people in similar situations, surround yourself with people who support you as much as possible, and stay away from people who undermine your efforts or pull you down. Consider joining Marriage Helper’s private Facebook group for people standing for their marriage.
- Be there for other people
Helping other people will help you to feel better. There is only one caveat in doing this–you have to do it with pure intentions. If you help somebody with the only intent to feel better or you do it grudgingly, it’s not going to work.
- Be gentle and forgiving
…With everybody involved, including yourself. Forgive as soon as you can. This does not mean that you are okay with what your spouse did to you. Forgiveness is vital. As long as you cannot forgive, you are only hurting yourself. Maybe you have already heard the saying, “Not forgiving is like drinking poison and hoping for the other person to die”.
- Work on your PIES
Work towards becoming the best you P(hysically), I(ntelectually), E(motionally) and S(piritually). Work on being the best person you can possibly be every single day; not only because you want to save your marriage, but do it for yourself. That way, your spouse’s reaction to your changes (or lack thereof) won’t deter you. It will instead give you the strength to persevere.
- Be grateful
Be on the lookout for all the things you are grateful for, even in your spouse, and the situation in general. Write them down daily. It is not possible to feel grateful and unhappy at the same time.
- Visualize your future
In detail, visualize what you want your future to look like. Write it down and look at it often.
- Write a personal mission statement
What kind of person do you want to be? What are your goals? Read your mission statement often. And then… write a marriage mission statement!
- Read books of/listen to uplifting people.
(Consider reading Dr. Joe Beam’s book, The Art of Falling in Love, or subscribing to the Marriage Helper podcast on iTunes)
If you are not a praying person, consider a time of meditation.
- Practice mindfulness
I cannot stress enough how helpful this concept is! Be in the present moment, the here and now. Do not think about the past or worry about the future; but instead, be in the here and now only. When you manage to do that, you will find that with very few exceptions each and every moment is absolutely perfect in itself. The only person keeping us from experiencing the world this way is ourselves!
- Know you WILL feel better again
Remember, feelings are forever changing. You will feel better again.
- A thought is just a thought
Our thoughts can only hurt us if we believe them. Often a little change in perspective is all that is needed to look at a situation differently. Our thoughts lead to our feelings. This is a very interesting concept I have heard. It is actually quite simple. If our thoughts are mainly positive, we will feel good. Unfortunately, the same is true the other way around. When we learn to guide our thoughts towards the positive, our feelings will follow.
- Find humor in the situation
Often we find ourselves in situations where we have a choice to either cry or laugh. Choose to laugh…just not in your spouse’s face. I was really surprised by how often I could laugh about what was going on around me. If it hadn’t been so sad at the same time, it would have made for a great soap opera. And on that note, don’t take yourself too seriously either.
- Take a few steps back and look
Look at what’s occurring as if it were on TV, or on a movie screen, and you are just a spectator. This came very easy to me because I felt as if I had woken up in the wrong movie anyway.
- Get enough sleep
If you have trouble sleeping, write down the thoughts that are keeping you awake, then put it aside, and try to get those important hours of snooze again.
- Have a regular workout routine
I found yoga to be particularly helpful in feeling calmer, stronger, and more grounded.
- Your spouse CAN change their mind
Here is a word for the people who are convinced that their spouse is never going to change their mind. Your spouse has changed their mind before and they can do it again. If they hadn’t changed their mind, you would not be in this situation in the first place, right?
All these things have helped me to transform painful feelings into becoming a stronger and better person. The “funny” thing is that as you work on improving yourself, you are making yourself more attractive–including to your spouse! It is very important that you make these changes not to win your spouse back but rather for yourself. Otherwise, you will eventually revert back to your old ways.
The Hard Truth
After four years, I came to the conclusion that all my efforts did not save my marriage. Hard as it was, I never felt that my efforts had been in vain because I had learned so many valuable lessons through all of it. I felt at peace, that I had given my marriage the best shot I could, and I had no regrets. Things were falling into place for me and I was moving on.
Then out of the blue on the day before Mother’s Day, I received a text message from my husband, asking me if I would still be open to reconciliation…
As I write these words, my husband and I have reconciled as of May of 2015. Day-by-day our marriage is becoming better. Even if I had not succeeded (a mere 6 months ago it appeared I hadn’t), I wouldn’t have wanted to give up any of the lessons learned. Painful as it was, it was truly worth it.