Myth: I need to stay in my marriage “Until I have TRIED EVERYTHING!”

I want to address something I see a lot in my coaching practice, and have heard in countless circles of friends.  It’s this idea that we have to “try everything” before we get divorced.  I even recently had a man tell me that even though he knows his wife doesn’t want to reconcile, that he refuses to agree to divorce until he has “tried everything to save it.”  This came from a man whose wife cheated on him, left him with their 3 children, and asked for a divorce.  Yet, he still wanted to keep trying things to “save” his marriage.  He has a deeply held belief that he would be a “quitter” or somehow “less-than” if he didn’t keep trying.

I will point out that I once too was that person who felt like she needed to “try everything.”  The (religious) culture I grew up in taught me that divorce was failure, and that if I chose to divorce I was not only messing up my life now, but condemning myself for the afterlife and all eternity.  I would be “less-than” my current, (very unhappily) married self, if I was to divorce.  That ideology kept me in a loveless, and emotionally unhealthy and, often abusive marriage.  I was unwilling to give up my title in the afterlife until I had “tried everything” to save our marriage.  The problem was, unless my husband was willing to change, and learn to stop being emotionally and sexually abusive, I had no business being in an unsafe situation.  And yet, I was told by many people, including leaders of my church, that the reasons I was bringing up were not reason enough to divorce and I was simply “giving up.”

Let me tell you this, I am no quitter, and I was going to make dang sure that I had tried everything.  It took me 9 years before I left.  NINE!!  In those 9 years I loved myself less and less and became a shell of a person.  I think back to my younger self and wish I could have wrapped my arms around her, told her how wonderful she was, and how she didn’t have to “keep trying.” She didn’t have to wait until things were “bad enough” or complete a checklist of things to try.  The marriage was not a compatible match to begin with, but I didn’t understand that then.

From the place I sit now, where I understand more about human behavior and our brains, I want to offer you this: when someone shows you who they truly are, believe them the FIRST time.  Don’t waste precious years of your life trying to “fix” something.  If someone cheats on you and tells you they want a divorce, believe them, and care for yourself enough to walk away.  

In my work as a life coach I help my clients understand what is happening in their brains, naturally.  Or put another way, I show them what their brain is used to doing, unchecked, and unmonitored.  “Listen,” Brooke Castillo says, “your brain is like a toddler with a knife.”  Just picture that for a moment.  I’ve had toddlers, and I wouldn’t want any of them running around with a knife.  I’d want them supervised because if they ran around, unchecked, a lot of things could happen that don’t lead to good results.  I love this work, of getting to show my clients their brains.

This is what I know to be true: there are Circumstances in our lives, like other people’s behaviors and the weather, that we have zero control over.  We then have a Thought about that Circumstance, and it is our THOUGHT that creates our Feelings.  It is NOT the Circumstance that creates our Feelings.  It is our Thoughts that create our Feelings!  Our Feelings then drive our Actions, and our Actions create the Results in our lives.  And the best news of all, is that you can change your thoughts.  That means that your new, chosen thought, can change your feelings, which will change your actions, and create a new result.  We call this work “model work” because we look at things through the lens of this truth model.

On the surface it might seem like “try everything” is good advice.  Let me explain why I think it is a destructive thought.  It might “save” the marriage for a time, meaning it might hold off the divorce, but it won’t save a marriage.  Instead, it slowly destroys the person who is thinking it and who is losing their sense of “self” more and more every day.  You see, when you tell yourself, or someone else, that they should “try everything” to save their marriage, it is implying that they have ANY power over the other person’s actions, thoughts and/or feelings.  It simply is not true.  I ONLY have power over ME!  I do NOT have power to change any other human.  So not only is it useless to think we have the power to change another adult human, it is self-damaging to believe so.

Something else I see happen when people say they are going to “try everything”, is use it as an excuse to play the victim, and blame the other person entirely for the divorce.  When someone says, “I don’t know what happened, I TRIED EVERYTHING, I was willing to work on the marriage, the OTHER PERSON chose this divorce.  NOT ME!” they are giving their power completely to the other person and trying to avoid taking any responsibility for what went wrong in the relationship.  I can honestly say that there were things that I wish I had done differently in the marriage in response to my husband’s behavior.  His behavior is his to own, and MY behavior is MINE to own.  But it is very hard to see what you are doing wrong, when you are being a self-righteous, and playing the victim.

I will be clear, I am not here preaching divorce.  Not at all!  I am a cheerleader for healthy marriages, and one of the ways I do that is help people understand, and take back their own power.  We are not just at the mercy of other people, we can have full control over our brain, and create the life we want, no matter how other humans behave.  And I believe that the happiest of marriages are those that are between two humans who both manage their minds, and hold onto the power in their own lives.

So please, if you have a friend come to you and they are telling you how hard things are in their marriage or relationship, DO NOT tell them to make sure they “try everything” before they quit.  Learning to love themselves, I think, is the best fix for a broken marriage.  When you have two humans who love themselves, they are free to love each other.  When you have one or two humans who do not love themselves, they do not have the capacity to fully be in love with the other person.  

If you have a person you care about and you are trusted enough that they come to you with challenges they are facing, and you don’t know what to say…sending them to talk to a trained life coach would be a very kind, and helpful suggestion.  Way more helpful than the guilt-inducing advice of “try everything.”  That is not to say that myself, or my fellow life coaches are somehow better than you, the trusted friend.  It is simply to say that we are trained to help our clients clearly see their minds, and give them the tools to decide what to do in their own lives.  I do NOT tell my clients how to fix their problems.  Instead, I help them clearly see the problem, understand where it comes from, and teach them tools that they use to make their own decisions.  And let me tell you that the most powerful advice comes from your own, clear mind.

I am here, and I love to help.  If you’d like to schedule a free discovery call to experience how I can help you clearly see your mind better, I would be honored to talk with you.  The first call is always free, and I guarantee you will leave that first session with tools you can use to create a wonderful life for yourself.  Schedule your free call HERE.

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Kendra Last Avatar

My name is Kendra Last

I’m a life coach and author of the book Journaling to Recovery: A Reference Guide to Healing from Betrayal Trauma. I have been working in the betrayal recovery world for almost a decade. I’ve been there, and I will help you let go of the pain of the past, help you recognize your own inner beauty and strength, and help you learn to celebrate yourself again.

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