Does anyone make it back from the brink?
January 15, 2013 1:55 PM   Subscribe

Have you been in a marriage or LTR where you were on the brink of breaking up but then you didn't? If so, how did that work?

The scenario - one partner wants out due to years and years of the other partner not participating in the marriage/family, tons of broken promises, etc. Second partner says "let's work on it" and schedules marriage counseling.

My question is this - have you been through this and ended up staying together? If so, what happened to make you stay? Was there a particular thing that made you "fall in love all over again"? How did you deal with the memories of years and years of hurtful words/actions?

How long did the process take before you decided to stay together?

Are you genuinely happy/content with the decision to stay? Or at some point was it just good enough to stay even though you knew it was never going to be very good or great? How confident are you that you will stay together long term?

I'm really interested in hearing from people who have been together for more than 10 years and who have kids. And hearing from the partner who wanted to leave.
posted by dawkins_7 to Human Relations (10 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Please forgive my cynicism, but this sounds a bit like an XY Problem:

You're trying to do X, and you thought of solution Y. So you're asking about solution Y, without even mentioning X. The problem is, there might be a better solution, but we can't know that unless you describe what X is. This causes people trying to help to go through many iterations of "try this", followed by "that won't work because of". That is, depending on the circumstances, other solutions may be the way to go.

So my question is: what are you really trying to ask us?

You can always ask anonymously if you need to.
posted by Shouraku at 2:46 PM on January 15, 2013 [4 favorites]

What I want to know is what is the process like if you stay together? Right now I feel like there is no hope so it's really hard for me to imagine myself staying. I think, though, that if I heard from some people who said, "yeah, I was thisclose to leaving but we worked through our issues by doing X, Y, and Z." then I could start to see a possibility for us. I understand that everyone's experience will be different.
posted by dawkins_7 at 3:09 PM on January 15, 2013

Shouraku, I disagree. I think at the tipping point of a choice, it can be helpful to hear from people who took the option to do the graft to try and make things work, and how it turned out, whatever the reasons behind it not working.

I know because I've been there, only a year ago in fact. My relationship was incredibly fragile, I was considering whether it would last the year out and behaving badly, and my SO had all but checked out at times for one reason or another.

Anyway we stuck it out, and here we are doing pretty well as it goes, although there's still work to do - maybe there always is.

Anyway what happened to make us stay in it? We talked, long and hard (my GOD was it hard to talk that deeply).

What made us fall in love again? Not just loving, but cherishing each other again. We identified taking each other for granted, and basically demanded more love from each other. It felt arbitrary at first but now it feels incredibly natural again.

How did we deal with the past? File it under "past" and use it appropriately, ie for the occasional learning point but after that as little as possible.

How long? months so far, maybe it'll be years. But it doesn't feel much like hard work any more.

And long term... well, the truth is I don't know if we'll be together forever. But right now it's awesome and as long as I can see "us" making us happy, then yeah, we'll be in it.
posted by greenish at 3:20 PM on January 15, 2013 [5 favorites]

For people to offer success stories that mirror your situation, we really need to know about your individual circumstances.

Right now we know that:

1) You are in a situation in your relationship that you feel is hopeless.
2) Before you leave this relationship, you want to know if the deal breakers are something that can be overcome.

If you want to see if there is a "possibility for us", maybe you could start by telling us a little bit about the situation, if you feel comfortable doing so. Otherwise, read greenish's story.
posted by Shouraku at 3:25 PM on January 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

IF the OP wants stories of marriages returning from the brink, he or she doesn't need to spill the details of their own situation.

dawkins_7, while I am absolutely not one of those "every marriage can be saved!" people, the reality is that marriages do recover from alcoholism, abuse, infidelity, and all kinds of lesser transgressions. It's not unusual for couples to enter therapy with one partner feeling the outcome is hopeless. Some percentage of those marriages survive.

Therapy is an intensive process and couples with good outcomes make themselves emotionally vulnerable to one another in that process. You may find that radical honesty engenders intimacy.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:47 PM on January 15, 2013

Three years into my own relationship, I told my boyfriend that if he didn't agree to come to counseling with me, I was packing a bag and moving out -- maybe not permanently, but at least for a while, because I was sick of the fighting. That was fourteen years ago; we got married almost ten years ago.

What made it work was finding a good counselor who was interested in helping us each learn to be honest and kind with ourselves and with each other. There was stuff I was keeping from him, stuff I was keeping from myself, and ways in which I was making things worse to which I was honestly blind. There was one quite memorable moment in which my boyfriend was saying "Oh my gosh! And then she does this thing! And then she does this other thing! And it's so frustrating!" and the therapist was saying "Wow, I can see why that would be frustrating! KathrynT, what's your process in making those choices? Do they feel like choices, or does it feel like the only option?" and I was all "Wait a minute, can we go back to the framing where I was always right and all the problems were his fault? Because I was definitely a lot more comfortable there!"

The honesty was so important -- including the honesty to say "I feel like things have been one-sided for years, and I am resenting the idea that I have to do even one more iota of work here." It was a big step for me to realize that stating a feeling like that wasn't a requirement for me to change, or even a call to action, it was just a statement. As DarlingBri says, the emotional vulnerability and radical honesty really is the meat of the matter.
posted by KathrynT at 4:53 PM on January 15, 2013 [9 favorites]

Short answers: yes and therapy.

Long answer: My spouse made some poor decisions, after a period of us struggling in our marriage, when we'd been married about 10 years and together for 16. When I learned of these decisions, I told him that he had a week to either get us an appointment with a marriage counselor or GTFO. He got us into a great therapist within days. We've done individual sessions, couple sessions, and a few family sessions with our kids.

About 18 months later, we still see the counselor weekly, and have mostly moved beyond the original crisis that sent us there and into the things that were problems in our relationship and family for a long time before. We're both working on it, and we've explicitly committed to actively doing so for as long as necessary. Honestly, it has helped us become, individually and as a couple and a family, happier then we'd been for a long time. That doesn't mean we didn't come close to ending our marriage. That doesn't mean it won't happen sometime in the future.
posted by Lulu's Pink Converse at 6:20 PM on January 15, 2013

You might be interested in the article linked in this fpp, as well as the discussion in the thread itself.
posted by rtha at 6:30 PM on January 15, 2013

I've been through that, came apart and ended up back together. Good bit of therapy and space. I was married in 1993, divorced in 1998 and then remarried in 2012. On and off romantic relation ship for the 10+ years we were divorced .

I think we would have been back together sooner if we'd concentrated more on our individual issues and not worried about salvaging the relationship. We were always involved in each other lives to a greater and lesser degree depending upon the current state of the relationship and we always cared for one another and showed it to whatever degree we felt it at the time - little animosity although the divorce proceeding were unpleasant. I think the relationship rekindled itself once that was no longer a conscious goal and we relaxed.

My situation did involve children but the were technically mine (didn't matter to her that they werent which kept us involve with each other - they lived with us for 6--7 years and she was as much mother as anyone) and they were high school age and not ..... behaving optimally.

The breakup occurred during HIGHSTRESS times. (I was also in law school but working a 75% schedule in a staff position with a good bit of responsibility and she was full time working as a dean at a hoity toity-ish college), We had to wait for the children to mature, me finish LS , let some resentments drain away and let things settle down before we could get solidly on the trail for a few years.

Anyway my advice, useful or un-useful is to focus on working on both of your selves initially and then bring each of your new knowledge to a sit down/date/oh my god I event seen you in so long I cant control myself dustup(within reasonable means that doesn't constituent assault)

I am a lawyer (NOT YOURS Haha) but dealing with this kind of thing i know some that some woe woe on the defendants side raise fees sky high.

BUT THE BOTTOM LINE - Partner who doesn't keep promises you must do so to persevere th relationship.
posted by Carbolic at 8:08 PM on January 15, 2013

Yes, several times for different complicated reasons. Family therapy helped once, but the second time it was the agreement to separate not divorce and realizing that living apart was far more painful than the work required to change. Also, we have had complex mental and physical health challenges with five children, and have found that the overall stress is terrible, but parenting has largely drawn us together rather than apart. Seeing each other as good parents has been a driving reason to keep working on marriage. Also, seeing a marriage as a changing beast helps.

I particularly like this quote from Mary Doria Russell's The Sparrow:

“..."we all make vows, Jimmy. And there is something very beautiful and touching and noble about wanting good impulses to be permanent and true forever," she said. "Most of us stand up and vow to love, honor and cherish someone. And we truly mean it, at the time. But two or twelve or twenty years down the road, the lawyers are negotiating the property settlement."

"You and George didn't go back on your promises."

She laughed. "Lemme tell ya something, sweetface. I have been married at least four times, to four different men." She watched him chew that over for a moment before continuing, "They've all been named George Edwards but, believe me, the man who is waiting for me down the hall is a whole lot different animal from the boy I married, back before there was dirt. Oh, there are continuities. He has always been fun and he has never been able to budget his time properly and - well, the rest is none of your business."

"But people change," he said quietly.

"Precisely. People change. Cultures change. Empires rise and fall. Shit. Geology changes! Every ten years or so, George and I have faced the fact that we have changed and we've had to decide if it makes sense to create a new marriage between these two new people." She flopped back against her chair. "Which is why vows are such a tricky business. Because nothing stays the same forever. Okay. Okay! I'm figuring something out now." She sat up straight, eyes focused somewhere outside the room, and Jimmy realized that even Anne didn't have all the answers and that was either the most comforting thing he'd learned in a long time or the most discouraging. "Maybe because so few of us would be able to give up something so fundamental for something so abstract, we protect ourselves from the nobility of a priest's vows by jeering at him when he can't live up to them, always and forever." She shivered and slumped suddenly, "But, Jimmy! What unnatural words. Always and forever! Those aren't human words, Jim. Not even stones are always and forever.”

posted by viggorlijah at 2:06 AM on January 16, 2013 [16 favorites]

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