Some years ago, my wife and I were on the brink of divorce. My wife and I were separated and things weren’t looking good. I was in shock and had absolutely no idea what to do or expect. I made some pretty foolish moves and said some stupid things. But I loved my wife and our two boys and knew I had to try whatever I could to save the marriage because I knew I wasn’t done and I believed my wife wasn’t either. Luckily, I was right. And through patience and hard work, I was able to bring my marriage back from the edge. Today, my wife and I have a wonderful relationship built on love and support. Here are five things that helped me along the way.
I remembered why I was in the relationship in the first place.
I got married to a woman I absolutely fell in love with in every way. We had two amazing sons. And somehow, it fell apart. It was a shock to realize that what I had taken for granted — the four of us, together, for the rest of our lives — was not a given. I always had the same thought turn up in my head: We are supposed to be old and wrinkly together sitting on a porch somewhere reminiscing. That was the plan. The long haul. Instead of using that as a way to mope, everything I did and said was done solely to get to that porch with my wife, being old together.
I censored the unwanted advice.
When my wife and I were going through it, it seemed like everyone had advice. I heard it all and ignored most of it. I just knew that no matter what led to that point, my friends and family were going to around me and be on my side. The same was true of my wife’s friends and family. I felt that nobody was concerned about right or wrong. It was a true civil war. I filtered through mountains of advice of what to do and what to say. I formed my own mantra from it all and went with it, which brings me to number 3.
I allowed myself to sleep on it.
Every decision I made during the day regarding my situation with my wife, my family, my children all had to pass one test: When I went to sleep that night, and put my head on the pillow, I had to believe that my decision was the right one. If I ultimately could not say that just before I went to sleep, I had to consider another course of action. I had to be at peace with myself during this process. I was trying to preserve a marriage and do the right thing for our two boys. Difficult, for sure, but worth the effort regardless of the outcome.
I stayed involved with my wife.
Throughout our break, separation, whatever we called it, I made sure that we did things as a family. We attended birthday parties for the kids together, we had family outings. If we were both free, we went to dinner with the kids. After all, we weren’t divorced. Despite not being on the same page with each other, we could both agree that we were still a team committed to raising our kids together. Whatever happened to our relationship, we would still be on that team. I approached it as good practice for the future, whatever it may be.
I never, ever trash talked my wife.
The easy thing to do would have been to talk badly about my wife. And in the beginning of our conflict, when it was fresh and anger and hurt were my primary emotions, I made that mistake. But I realized pretty quickly that all the negative talk was not helpful. I started keeping comments about my wife to myself. If we had any chance to right this ship, I realized that talking badly about my wife wouldn’t help matters. I had to remind myself that we fell in love, we had children together. Suddenly, she was supposed to be the villain? That logic made me feel like that just reflected poorly on the choices I made in life, not her.
I’d try to proverbially walk a mile in my wife’s shoes.
At some point, I started trying to figure out what went wrong, I knew that there were two of us in the marriage. I knew that my wife had to feel that in some way, she was right, too. So I had to think about what she felt. About how much she had on her plate. Marriage, house, kids, job; within 3 years our two person relationship renting a little apartment turned into real adult stuff. I began to understand why she was so stressed out.
I didn’t give up.
The biggest turning point was when I began to understand my role in what happened. It made me realize that I had to work to fix our relationship, and to fix what I had done. We started to communicate more, something I credit with saving our relationship. I was determined to explore every avenue, exhaust every possible way to get the two of us, old and wrinkled, sitting on that front porch together.
So here the two of us are: 17 years under our belt and two amazing sons. We went through some shit, but we came out on the other end better than when we started. We’re happier now, we understand each other better than before and we’re excited for what comes next.
Here’s what I know now that I didn’t then: Marriage is work. It’s good work and worth it but you can’t just put a ring on and coast along and think everything will be okay. It’s respect, communication, compromise; being on the same page for big decisions and the idea that the whole thing is worth it. And trust me, it is.