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Can you turn an unhappy marriage into a happy marriage? Perspective from a Texas family attorney

The issues that you are facing in your divorce are likely ones that you have been trying to avoid dealing with. Most people, I believe, would prefer to focus on the areas of their life where they are succeeding and push to the side those areas where they struggle. I can think back on my life and this is the case with me in many ways. When I was playing sports growing up, it was always more fun to practice on those skills that I had already shown an aptitude for rather than work on those things that I have struggled with. We do not want to confront those things in life that bring us hardships.

Learning the skills that it takes to keep a marriage healthy and fruitful can be hard as well. Most of us were not born with the skills that naturally lead to good marriages. We have to develop these skills over time. Often times the skills can only be developed when we confront those marital problems that I just finished discussing in the previous paragraph. However, when you have put in the effort to establish a healthy marriage and those efforts have not worked out it is time for you to make a decision. That decision is either to continue to work on the marriage or to move towards divorce.

What were your expectations of marriage?

From my experience working with families in southeast Texas, many people who hire an attorney to start a divorce case often have very different views and expectations about marriage in the early years of the relationship. Some folks, I gather, have watched their parents either have strong or weak marriages that have heavily impacted their own view of the institution. I would first advise you to take a look at your own family history and to determine if your problems lie more so with bad memories of your childhood rather than with your spouse. Sometimes it is hard to distinguish between the two. 

Ultimately, when I have spoken with clients who have gone through their divorce they will tell me that their life did not automatically improve just because they got the divorce from their spouse. What you may not realize is that your marriage is one where good things happen as well as bad. The bad often overshadow the good, but there are likely to be good aspects of your marriage as well. A divorce completely throws those good aspects out the window and forces you and your spouse to focus on the negative aspects.

Seeking outside intervention to strengthen a marriage 

The idea of getting a therapist or counselor involved in your marriage is something that people in generations past did not really do. There may have been some outreach to friends or family for advice but rarely were people in a position to be able to consult with a person who works in the field of marriage and family development. 

From clients that I have worked with in the past, I can tell you that this is changing now. Many clients have sought intervention from a counselor or therapist in order to help heal their marriage or at least increase the frequency of helpful communication between husband and wife.

You may have begun to consider whether or not you should consult with a marriage therapist to help strengthen your own relationship with your spouse. However, there are no how-to guides on how to save a marriage or how to consult with a therapist that I am aware of, so I would like to share with you some practical tips on how to meet with a marriage therapist.

First, I would look for a therapist that has been educated in the field of marriage and family counseling. This person ought to have experience in counseling other people in similar situations as you and your spouse. Many therapists will advertise to you that they are therapists with experience handling family-related matters, but then when you actually start to talk to him or her you will find that their experience is lacking in divorce-related problems.

How many of the therapist’s clients are couples going through marital difficulties? You can check the internet to see if there are any lists of therapists in your area that can perform this type of service for you and your spouse. You may also want to check with your health insurance provider to see if they have the names of any marriage counselors who accept your insurance. 

Make sure the counselor will meet with you and your spouse together

This is an issue that I have learned comes up with many therapists that people will attempt to seek treatment with. A good counseling session will focus on you and your spouse as a team, rather than both of you as individuals. While your needs as an individual are important if your therapist focuses too much on each of your individual perspectives that may lead to advice tailored towards divorce rather than reconciliation.

What to do if you are willing to work on your marriage but your spouse is not

Whether it is trying to get out of debt or trying to save your marriage, it takes a dual effort from you and your spouse to see to it that this happens. One of you working really hard to save money cannot compensate for your spouse going to the mall every evening and buying up clothes left and right. Likewise, you could be putting all of your efforts into saving your marriage but if your spouse does not act in the same way then all your efforts will be fruitless. 

It can be frustrating and even demoralizing to be in a marriage that you believe is worth saving but your spouse thinks otherwise. At the very least, your spouse may believe your marriage is worth saving but if he or she does nothing to help save it the opposite may as well be true. 

Keep in mind that in Texas all it takes is for one spouse to file for divorce. It doesn’t matter what their justification is for the divorce- if your spouse wants out of the marriage it will happen as long as the procedural requirements are met. It doesn’t matter how hard you have worked to save the relationship or what the circumstances of the divorce actually are. 

What does a healthy marriage look like?

As a family law attorney, I am able to see what many unhealthy marriages look like. I could go on and on about the characteristics that I have seen many marriages take on over the course of time that have led to divorce. However, I would like to look at this topic from the opposite perspective. Namely, what are some characteristics that I have seen in my life that most any healthy marriage embodies?

Right off the bat, I would tell you that strong marriages are ones where both spouses are committed to one another and committed to the marital relationship. These folks think long term about goals for their marriage as well as about the consequences of their actions within that marriage. When problems come up, committed husbands and wives are willing to set aside their personal desires and do what is best for the marriage unit as a whole.  

Next, successful marriages are ones where the spouses communicate well with one another. Even if people in strong marriages do not communicate well, they will definitely communicate frequently. Think about your marriage in terms of whether or not you both interact with one another respectfully and use those interactions to solve problems together. If you and your spouse cannot help but communicate with each other in hurtful, angry ways then it is likely that yours is a marriage in trouble. 

How satisfied you are with your marriage will go along way towards establishing whether or not yours is a successful marriage. Notice that I used the word "satisfied" rather than "happy." Marriage is not always about happy times, as life tends to not always be about happy times. Happy is a word that is important to a marriage in many ways, but as adults, we cannot always be happy. However, we can almost always be satisfied with the state of our marriages if we put forth the effort to communicate well with one another.

The next two signs of a successful, healthy marriage are connected. First, take a look at how you and your spouse resolve the conflict between the two of you. It is a foregone conclusion that there will be some degree of disagreement between you and your spouse during the course of your marriage. A great marriage is not one where the couple never fights or gets into disagreements. However, how the married couple reacts to this disagreements will more often than not tell us the state of that marriage's health.

For instance, a healthy marriage is one where violence is never the result of the conflict. Yes, there may be legitimate issues in your marriage that are going to come up and need to be discussed. Setting aside problems in your marriage in order to minimize conflict is not healthy. However, it is also not healthy to escalate the problems that you are dealing with violence. It is undoubtedly unhealthy for your marriage and also necessitates the involvement of law enforcement.

Faithfulness in the marriage is an obvious link to having a strong and healthy marriage. If you cannot remain faithful to your spouse, or your spouse to you, then the foundations of your marriage weaken significantly. The physical bonds between husband and wife impact every other area of your relationship. From my experiences working with many people going through a divorce over the years, infidelity is one of the leading causes of people filing for divorce.

I would tie in emotional unfaithfulness as well as financial infidelity into this topic. If you are not engaging fully into your marriage due to hang-ups you have with another person that is a sign of a failing marriage. Additionally, if you cannot trust your spouse to be on the same page as you are from a financial perspective then this too is a factor in how a marriage can weaken from within. Trust is incredibly important to have a healthy marriage.

Finally, it may seem obvious but you and your spouse actually need to be able to spend time together in order to have a strong marriage. I have seen clients talk to me about how their marriage survived even though one of them was living abroad for years or months at a time. I would argue that when spouses are separated for months or years on end they no longer have a healthy marriage, but some sort of pen pal relationship. The intimacy and shared purpose of marriage are lost when you are separated by distance for that long of a time period. If you are stationed abroad for military service that is different, and obviously not something that will be long term. I am speaking about those people who choose to live in different households a long distance from their spouse for other reasons.

Impact of your divorce on your children- tomorrow’s blog post topic

If you find yourself in a position where you believe divorce is your only option, I would like for you to join us tomorrow to discuss how your divorce will impact your children. I believe that there are elements to divorce that most people do not consider when it comes to their children. In tomorrow’s blog post I will share with you some information on this subject. 

In the meantime, if you have any questions about the material that we presented today please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys offer free of charge consultations six days a week here in our office where your questions can be answered and issues addressed directly.


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