First, if I were to give you a definite “yes” or “no” answer to this question then I’d be establishing myself as a total incompetent. Only an incompetent marriage counselor would give you definite reassurances about saving your marriage without knowing your particular situation. That’s not to say that I can’t help you with the question. But instead of answering the question I’m going to detail several criteria to help you answer the question for yourself.
There’s one more truth that needs telling before we get to the criteria: We need to be careful about what we mean by “being saved.” If we mean co-existing together in misery then your answer would be easy. If both you and your partner are willing to stick it out no matter what, then your marriage can be “saved.” You just have to resign yourselves to spending the rest of your lives together even if you’re both in misery. But I don’t think you want your marriage “saved” in that sense. I think you want the emotional/spiritual quality of your marriage to be saved so that both of you can enjoy each other for years to come.
Let’s re-frame the question like this: “Can love be resuscitated in my marriage?” If we put the question that way then there are five factors that I often find blocking love’s revival. If you see one or more of these blocks in your marriage then you have a very low probability of ever reviving love without an effective intervention. See if these make sense to you:
One partner is already attached to an alternate future
This may seem to be a strange way to put it but it’s entirely accurate. We don’t just bond onto our partners. We bond onto an imaginary future that our unconscious maps out for us. It’s called “context” and it has an extremely powerful influence on our emotions. When a partner has consolidated another intuitive future that doesn’t involve the marriage then it’s almost impossible to regenerate attraction to the other partner. “Elvis has already left the building.”
One partner insists on the passive love model
The passive romantic love model is a western invention. Listen to how we describe it. We “fall in love.” We’re not responsible for it. We fall into something that’s outside of ourselves. It’s magical or perhaps even divine. So when the house of cards collapses after a few years of living on top of each other the partners feel betrayed. They feel they must have been tricked! The shame gets projected into blame which ricochets around in the relationship cutting the partners to shreds. No wonder that half of the marriages in the US will end in divorce. Do you think that the other half are living in bliss? Only a minority of partners know how to get the juice from the squeeze. Those partners have a different model of love in which they feel responsible for cultivating affection instead of taking it for granted. They know that it takes work and discipline to protect and grow feelings over time. If a partner doesn’t have this mindset then he or she won’t perform the due diligence that’s required to grow passion.
A partner is already using legal force on the other
If one partner has legal action going against the other then marriage counseling won’t work. The background emotions of fear and anger will suffocate any growth of affection. Nuff said.
A partner has an outside romantic relationship
I hate to give the legal profession credit but they have an entirely accurate concept in “alienation of affection.” We have one attachment system that gets developed with our parents and then later it gets plugged into our romantic relationship. If we place that attachment system into an outside relationship then it severely disrupts feelings for one’s partner. I find it interesting to see how the feelings for one’s spouse can change dramatically depending on whether the person has made recent contact with their outside squeeze. Most decent marriage counselors know that marriage counseling won’t work in the context of an ongoing affair. I often tell people that if they want to free themselves from an affair to work on their marriage then they have to take their hope (for the other relationship) out behind the barn and shoot it! Otherwise their efforts to heal their marriage will be doomed.
A partner refuses to address an emotional incapacity
This is a tough one because even most marriage counselors fail to address emotional incapacity. The truth is that many people have emotional problems that disrupt what’s known as emotional regulation. They hit pockets of emotion that make them momentarily stupid and destructive. The result can be violence, repetitive affairs, broken agreements, lying and refusal to be accountable in the marriage. The most common causes include addictions, trauma and metabolic illnesses such as bipolar disorder. Some of these can be rather subtle such as early attachment trauma that gives rise to a Borderline Personality Disorder. When a partner has emotional dis-regulation then the very foundation of the marriage is fractured. If you think the foundation of a marriage is love then you’re wrong. The foundation is the integrity of both individuals who are stable enough to be responsible even when they’re disgusted with each other. If a partner is emotionally unstable then he or she won’t have the discipline to protect and feed the relationship. He or she will just emotionally react and won’t do the work. It’s as if a farmer refuses to irrigate or cultivate the field. No work – no crop, only weeds. Character counts.
That’s it! These are the factors that stop any progress in marriage counseling unless they’re eliminated. And it is possible to remove most of them if a partner is willing. Partners can get treatment for trauma, bipolar conditions or addictions. Partners can say goodbye and cease communication with an outside lover. Legal action can be stopped. But bear in mind that the probability of these things happening will decrease over time. When you confront your partner to stop outside contact with a lover or you confront him to get treatment for his alcoholism then that starts the clock. As time goes on and your confrontations are unproductive then the chance of a turnaround becomes slim. After a year it’s miniscule.
If none of these blocking factors are present in your marriage then there’s a good chance that love can be resuscitated. It would probably require that you both work with a skilled marriage therapist. Of course that topic is worth another discussion. How do you find a marriage therapist who has the necessary knowledge and skill to really help you?