January 15, 2024

How to Save a Marriage: The Best Kept Secret

I've been married twice. The first time I got married, I had no idea how marriage worked. My first husband was Brazilian, living in Brazil, and he moved to the United States to be with me. We had a rocky relationship, and it only got more fraught as time went on. A couple of years in, we threw in the towel. I chalked it up to being immature, young, and naive. That could’ve been the case - I’ll never know. My second marriage was years later, as I chose to be single for a while after my divorce. We were very different, but felt like it could work. Opposites attract, right? Isn’t that what all the romantic comedies say? Even though we were older and allegedly wiser, our marriage quickly started to fall into what felt like a pit of quicksand. Before we knew it, we were wondering what on earth happened and how on earth we got here. We had no examples of how to save a marriage; no one looked like us. It seemed like divorce was the only thing that made sense, until we attended something called Retrouvaille. I’ll tell you more.

Dancing, Not Quite Tangoing 

It Takes Two to Tango

In between my first and second marriages, I had a series of relationships that obviously didn’t work out. One of them sent me right into a therapist’s office, and I have remained with this therapist on and off for the past decade or so. Her support and advice has given me tremendous perspective and courage to shift, pivot, and do very hard and necessary things. Things I never thought I could do because I was fearful. I’m living to tell my tale, though. She has given me many tools on my end of how to save a marriage, my marriage in particular, but it does take two to tango. No one member of a marriage can save a marriage alone. It only works when both people are working on it together.

Exhausted from All Those Feelings!

Feelings Are for...Everyone!

After my husband and I went through what I hope is the most terrifying and traumatic experience of our marriage (one that I will eventually share), he got into therapy as well. He had never done much work on himself, as is common in the male community. Self-improvement, feelings, getting to know oneself better…that’s for the weak, you know? What poppycock, and what a pitiful societal message that is sent to boys and men. Stuff your feelings down, guys, so you and your wife can have a miserable marriage and existence together. I digress. He went to therapy, learned a few tips and tricks and new habits, and seemed to be improving. I thought for a while he was learning how to save a marriage, but lo and behold I was wrong-ish. Single therapy improves a single person, not a marriage.

Sick of Therapy!

There's Me, There's You, and There's Us

We decided we needed to go to therapy together at some point, because while the individual therapy was working in some areas, it wasn’t showing us how to save a marriage. Each of us was improving, but WE weren’t improving. First we had a female therapist, and she was fine until she expressed some opinions that I couldn’t live with. The trust was gone, and so was I (mentally). Therapy with her was over. After a bit of waiting, we tried another therapist, a male this time. We both enjoyed him overall, but ultimately the therapy was simply not working. There were also a lot of family of origin issues that I wanted to address, and I wasn’t feeling satisfied with how they were being addressed, or not addressed. Therapist #2, be gone. Fail as fast as you can so you can get to the right stuff.

What Brings Me Joy? Not This Marriage (So I Thought...)

I Give Up

There came a point where I just thought “screw it, I’m never going to get over my hurts and my issues” and we just began to somewhat exist together. We stopped joint therapy, he stopped individual therapy, yet I remained in mine. Our behavior towards each other was not of the mindset of how to save a marriage. On the contrary, it was quite possibly how to destroy one. While we weren’t abusive, aggressive, or anything overly harmful, we just kind of stopped caring much. At least I did. My actions towards my husband were more along the lines of disgust and apathy, as well as victimizing myself, citing past hurts repeatedly. It was a vicious cycle of misery that I was completely ready to end. The merry-go-round of hell was finished, and I was hopping off. Victory!

Water Under a Bridge

But Wait...

My announcement to end the marriage came shortly after a (wonderful) trip we took, ironically. There was little indication that our marriage would be coming to a close to others, but I realized there was so much water under the bridge. I couldn’t continue on the way we were. I just knew that this was the right choice and cutting my losses was the solution. How to save a marriage was about to become a distant memory. But...there’s always a “but”, right? There was this program therapist #2 had mentioned for marriages in distress called Retrouvaille. It’s a worldwide program whose positive statistics are almost unbelievable. It continued to niggle at me, and I sent an email to find out more. I got an immediate response back from the director of the local chapter, and I promptly ignored it. I let the sign up deadline come and go, and two days before it started I emailed the director and thanked her for responding, but my marriage was over and we wouldn’t be attending. She told me to come if I still had the desire, which threw a monkey wrench into my plan of calling it quits. I asked my husband if he wanted to go, he said yes, and we signed up for this infernal weekend. Fuck.

Surprise! Hope!

There is Hope After All

As we drove the hour to this retreat center (I hate retreat centers because I think they are gross), I couldn’t believe what I was doing. We arrived in the evening, wondering what on earth we were thinking. I made sure my husband knew that I had a 1% hope rate that this would teach us how to save a marriage, and a 99% rate that it was over, according to me. We were both dejected. We saw about 10 other couples looking the same way as we did, but they showed up for it, too. The presenting couples and the ones who had been through the program were noticeably happy, kind, and enthusiastic. It slightly annoyed me. The entire weekend was grueling and long, but had more work and tools on how to save a marriage than we’ve ever learned. By Sunday, the entire group of couples (including us) had a palpable change of heart. Everyone wanted to work on their marriages and finally knew how.

Telling the World!

Loud and Proud

While I’m writing this in real-time, having just gotten back from this program, I desperately want to scream from the rooftops how valuable this weekend was. As they said during the weekend, “it might just be the most important thing you and your spouse ever do for your marriage.” They weren’t kidding. Despite years of therapy, advice, trying to work on things together, the tools just weren't there or didn't resonate. Additionally, having other couples whose marriages were virtually over, then repaired through the tools they learned through Retrouvaille was immense. We hadn't known anyone who looks like us, leaving us to feel isolated, like freaks, and alone. After this weekend, I know we aren’t alone and we have people who, after just meeting us for a short weekend, love us, support us, see us, and accept us for the broken people we are. I’ve never felt so comfortable, and I’m proud to be in this number of Retrouvaille alums.

Hop off the Fence (or Railing) and Go!

Get off the Fence and Go

If you’re looking to see how to save a marriage, your marriage, look no further. Take it from someone who’s had more bad years than good with her husband. We are finally able to comfortably and confidently work on loving each other and celebrating each other for who the other is. Trying to pretzel someone to your own desires is never going to make a marriage work, much less flourish. The embarrassment, shame, and heartbreak start to lift after attending this program. I can’t wait to fully immerse myself into this community, and start giving back to anyone whose marriage is suffering and needs help. Take it from me, it’s not too late. You haven’t learned all the tools, and you haven’t heard it all yet. And never underestimate what a weekend can do in your life.
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