Relationship Advice: Rules For Struggling Spouses

It is a scenario no one ever wants to find themselves in; never even imagines could happen to them, but one that is all-too-familiar to far too many people: a marriage falters, and it looks like the future is not as stable as you once predicted. 

In many ways, a scenario that can be summed up in just three words - “a marriage falters” - seems too simplistic, too neat, to describe the turmoil of experiencing the occurrence it describes. When a marriage is on shaky ground, perhaps even to the point where both parties are actively considering divorce, the entire foundation of your life can feel threatened. Not only is your romantic life faltering, but the rest of your life is impacted too; married couples tend to become intertwined with one another, their lives blending into one, a “me” becomes “we” situation - if that marriage is suddenly under threat, then you can begin to question everything. 

How marital troubles affect people 

Given the severity of the consequences of marital issues, it is entirely understandable that people do not necessarily act at their best when experiencing these problems. Under stress and strain, with the security people relied on for years suddenly threatened, it’s inevitable that many people experiencing this issue won’t necessarily be able to sustain their best behaviour. Everyone reading this will have known at least one person who has gone through a divorce and acted in ways that are, sometimes extremely, out of character at times during the experience. 

However, while it is entirely understandable that people struggle to act as they usually would during times of marital strife, there is no denying that poor behaviour can complicate the issues to a point of no return. When both parties are behaving in ways they would never normally conceive of acting, purely in response to the stress they are under, then cracks in a marriage can become gaping chasms, and make a scenario that might have once been rescuable completely impossible to navigate. 

So what’s the solution? 

If you find yourself going through a difficult patch in your marriage, there are a number of things you can do to try and control the experience, and alleviate the extra stress caused by problematic or confusing behaviour. 

Below, you will find a few “rules” that all couples should try to stick to when experiencing difficulties in their marriage, or even beginning the process of seeking a divorce. These rules should ideally be agreed to by both parties, but there are also a few suggestions for how you can cope if your spouse refuses to engage.

Rule #1 - Never argue in front of your children 

Whatever the reason, however time-pressured the situation is, and regardless of how angry either of you becomes in the moment, this rule is a hard and fast one: don’t argue in front of your kids. Children who see their parents arguing will likely struggle with the consequences for many years to come; long after the anger of the moment has dissipated, and even when both you and your spouse have forgotten that an argument ever took place: your children may remember.

As a result, just walk away from one another if a situation is escalating. Refuse to engage, to even discuss the matter, while your children are in earshot. 

Rule #2 - Be honest about where you are “at” 

Married couples who are experiencing difficulties know that things aren’t right. This clarity can be incredibly difficult to cope with, and very isolating, but it also presents an opportunity for honesty. 

It’s important to be honest with your spouse regarding how you feel about the marriage and its future. If you still feel that you can work on the issue (or issues) and still feel that you have a future with this person, then tell them. It’s also important to tell them if the opposite is the case; if your mind has been made up and you believe divorce is the only way forward, then communicate this to them as soon as possible. 

A lack of honesty about how you feel will complicate the arguments further and, if you choose this route, make it all the more complicated to deal with matters such as divorce proceedings and joint custody child support arrangements. It will also save you a lot of time and energy; after all, if you’ve already 100 percent decided divorce is the only option, there’s very little point going through with options such as counselling. It’s better to be upfront and admit where you’re at and how you think the future will look; honesty is vital for your future relationship with your spouse, be that in terms of remaining married, or after you have divorced.

Rule #3 - A closed matter is a closed matter

Let’s say you and your spouse have an argument about household chores on Monday. The argument happens and reaches a conclusion; the chores are managed; and you both move on. 

Then, on Saturday, you and your spouse have an unrelated argument - and one of you brings up the argument you had on Monday. This is incredibly unhelpful, and traps both of you in a cycle where nothing is ever really settled, and no conclusions can ever be reached. 

Wherever possible, agree that when a matter is closed and rectified, then it’s over - there’s no space for lingering resentment or upset, it’s just finished and done. This ensures that after every argument, you can both move on, and embrace a fresh start, rather than continually toiling over problems of the past. 

Of course, this can be difficult, especially if the argument on Saturday is identical to the one you had on Monday, with the same topics and points of disagreement being considered. Nevertheless, try and evaluate each argument on its own merits and as a distinct, unrelated issue; otherwise, you’ll never be able to escape, either through reconciliation or via divorce, the problems you have encountered in the past. 

Final thoughts 

Of course, there is always the chance that you choose to abide by these rules, but your spouse doesn’t. In this scenario, the greatest power you have is silence. The rules above are fair and even-handed, so seeking to stick to them is entirely reasonable - if your spouse won’t, then they are the cause of the issue, and silence is your only choice. Refusal to engage may feel petty, and be extremely difficult, but it’s often the best choice when you’re going through a tough time. Make it clear you are willing to discuss matters with them, but only if they play their part and abide by a few, simple rules that are designed to ease the situation for everyone involved.