This has been in my drafts folder for a while – then today @couplethings (AKA Couple Things) asked some questions they get regularly, and the first one was “What if I’m the only one who wants to work on our marriage?” So …
More often than I hear, “She won’t work on it”, I hear “She won’t change” but I think it’s the same thing. My bride and I hear this kind of thing often, from both men and women. The one who’s communicating with us feels they are willing to work on the marriage, but feels their spouse is not. Notice the word “feels” twice in there? See more on that below.
My short answer, assuming the person’s feelings are correct, is to work on yourself, and do what you can do for your marriage without your spouse’s involvement. When you change, you put pressure on your spouse. That can result in a variety of things both good and bad, but it is almost certain to result in some sort of change on her part. Even if the results seem bad, that can be a good thing in the long run. Marriage issues don’t get better on their own, and the longer they are left alone, the worse things get. Many marriages that could have been saved end in divorce because no one had the guts to work on things before it was too late. When you change, you end the status quo, and start a cascade effect. If your spouse has been unwilling to work on the marriage because they hate change, you have removed that obstacle by starting change. As long as change is being forced, maybe they will get involved.
If nothing else, working on you will help you deal with your spouse in better ways. A counsellor, and particularly a marriage counsellor, can help you understand and avoid the traps and bad habits that have made arguments worse. So, even if your spouse does not change, you can learn to be less hurt by her bad choices.
Bottom line: Do something. The sooner the better. Push her to get help with you, and if she refuses, go alone.
Now as to why I hedged on the validity of the question. “I’m the only one willing to work on the marriage” sometimes means “She is unwilling to deal with what I think is wrong” or “She is unwilling to work on it the way I think it should be worked on” or “She has some other issue she thinks is more important than the issue I want to work on.” Likewise “She won’t change” can mean “I can’t get her to do what I want” or “She won’t change the way I want her to change. “
Sometimes both husband and wife want to work on the marriage, but they have a difference of opinion about what needs to be worked on, or what needs to be worked on first, or how they should go about working on it. My theory is that those who really want help will be willing to go to a trained third party and let that person decide what needs to be worked on the most, and how that should be done. If one of you is willing to do that, and the other is not, then the one who is unwilling to do it looks to me like the one who is not willing to work on the marriage.
And yes, you can end up with someone who is no help, at least for you. Check the link above for more on that.
Image Credit: © Christos Georghiou | Dreamstime.com