Monday, February 8, 2010
Regaining Respect Following a Marital Crisis
In my marriage counseling practice, I see many couples whose marriage is in crisis following a variety of hurtful behaviors such as having an affair, gambling away savings, or striking out in an abusive manner. In my e-book, Deciding What You Want, I give some guidelines for deciding whether or not to reconcile the relationship following a marital crisis.
This is a very personal and difficult decision; some couples find a pathway to forgiveness while others at best forge a cordial distance never to be truly reconnected, even if they remain married. I find that the path to forgiveness and a loving connection is likeliest when the offending behavior can be isolated as not reflecting the person’s character. It is most difficult when the offending behavior leads to a reevaluation of the person’s character, often expressed as, “He’s not the person I married,” “She’s not the person I thought she was,” or “I feel as though I have been married to someone I barely know.”
Can you love someone you don’t respect? We can certainly be attracted to and even marry someone with undesirable traits, but you would say his or her good qualities outweigh the bad. During a marital crisis, that balance can change and the very behaviors that once attracted you now lead you to reevaluate your partner’s character. Now you are not distancing from your partner’s hurtful behavior; you are distancing from a person you no longer value as a partner.
Can respect be regained after it has been lost? After you have decided that your partner is not someone you would choose again, can you regain respect for his or her character? Often I have observed that the offending partner sets out to “prove” they can offer their partner an improved relationship simply by reassuring their mate that the offending behavior will not happen again. This is ineffective because the issue is much larger than whether the offending behavior will be repeated.
Can you respect yourself? Respect from others begins with self-respect. Are you able to forgive yourself and feel that you are basically a good person deserving of other’s respect? Or do you feel you have to “sell” yourself by manipulating other’s impression of you. Respect is not something that changes quickly or easily. Are you patient as you wait for your partner’s assessment of you to gradually change or do you press for reassurance of your partner’s love?
The way you handle a marital crisis can become a more important measure of your character than the promises you offer to your mate. Your partner’s negative beliefs about your character lead to unfavorable predictions for how you will handle the crisis. It is important to be unpredictable. By this I mean that you must behave in a manner that does not support those negative beliefs.
If you have struggled with a loss of respect for your partner or have struggled to regain your partner’s respect, I hope you will share your experiences with me – either in comments or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I look forward to hearing from you.