Thousands of couples are struggling in their marriages. Maybe you
are one of them. You could write a book entitled How to Be Married and
Miserable. Some of you have been married for five years and others for twenty-five
years. You entered marriage with the same high hopes with which most of
us said, "I do." You never intended to be miserable; in fact, you dreamed that
in marriage you would be supremely happy. Some of you were happy before
you got married and anticipated that marriage would simply enhance your
already exciting life. Others entered marriage with a deeply dysfunctional
history. Your hope was that in marriage you would finally discover meaning
In every case, a man and woman anticipated that marriage would be a
road leading upward, that whatever life had been to that point, it would get
better after marriage.
Your experience, though, has been that since the mountaintop celebration
of the wedding, the road has wound downward. There have been a few peaks
of enjoyment and a few curves that offered a promising vista. But the vista later
turned out to be a mirage; and the marital road again turned downward. For
a long time, you have lived in the valley of pain, emptiness, and frustration.
You live in a desperate marriage.
You probably really don't want to divorce. For
many of you, religions beliefs discourage you from
taking that exit. For others, the children strongly
motivate you to keep your marriage together. Still
others find enough moments of happiness or support
to keep your hopes alive for a better marriage.
You sincerely hope that things will get better.
Many of you feel that you have tried to deal with
the issues that have kept you and your spouse from marital unity. Most are
discouraged with the results. If you have gone for counseling, it has not been
very productive. If you have read books, you have read them alone, wishing
that your spouse could hear what the distant author is saying and be moved
to change. Some of you have tried the calm, cool, straightforward method of
gentle confrontation. Your spouse has responded with silence. In desperation
some of you have tried yelling and screaming. Your pain has been so intense
that you have actually lost control trying to express it. In some cases your loud
cries for help have prompted your spouse to launch a counterattack. In other
cases your spouse has simply withdrawn.
The problems with which you and other married
couples grapple cannot be solved by quiet
parlor talk. Nor do the problems melt under the
intense heat of pious platitudes. The problems,
like cancer, eat away at the vitality of a marriage.
The problems vary from couple to couple, but the
intensity of the pain runs deep for all.
Through the pages of this book, I will take you
behind closed doors into the privacy of my counseling office and let you listen
as husbands and wives share their painful situations. I also invite you to
listen to what people tell me at the marriage seminars I lead across the country.
(I have changed names and details to protect these people.) I urge you to
believe that there is hope for your desperate marriage.
FINDING LOVING SOLUTIONS
In this book I will talk about how to deal with a spouse who is irresponsible
or a workaholic; a spouse who is controlling, uncommunicative; verbally,
physically, or sexually abusive; unfaithful or depressed; a spouse who is
an alcoholic or drug abuser. For all of these situations-and others-you can
find loving solutions that may preserve your marriage and can make you feel
good about yourself and your spouse.
I am under no illusion that I can provide a magic formula to bring healing
to all such marriages. However, I do believe, based upon my own experience
in counseling, research in the field, and sound moral principles, that there is
hope for desperate marriages.
I believe that in every troubled marriage, one or
both partners can take positive steps that have the
potential for changing the emotional climate in a
marriage. In due time spouses can find answers to
their problems. For most couples, ultimate solutions
will depend not only upon their own actions
but also upon the support of the religious and
therapeutic community in their city. But I will say
it again: There is hope for lasting solutions in desperate
EXPOSING THE MYTHS
If you have a desperate marriage, it's time to practice reality living. Reality
living begins by identifying myths that have held you captive. Then it accepts
them for what they are-myths, not troths. You can break their bonds as you
begin to base your actions upon truth rather than myth.
Reality living means that you take responsibility for your own thoughts,
feelings, and actions. It requires you to appraise your life situation honestly
and refuse to shift the blame for your unhappiness to others.
Look at the following four statements. Answer them honestly with true or
1. My environment determines my state of mind.
2. People cannot change.
3. In a desperate marriage, I have only two options-resigning myself to a
life of misery or getting out of the marriage.
4. Some situations are hopeless-and my situation is one of these.
If you answered "true" to any of these statements, please read on. In fact,
all four statements are false. Unfortunately, many people in desperate marriages
base their lives upon these commonly held myths.
Those who accept any of the four myths above will act accordingly, so that
their actions become a part of the problem rather than a part of the solution.
Let's look at the outcome of accepting and acting upon each of these myths.
MYTH NUMBER ONE: My environment determines my state of mind.
The commonly held view of our day is that we are all victims of our environment.
This myth is expressed in the following statements:
"If I grew up in a loving, supportive family, I will be a loving, supportive
"If I grew up in a dysfunctional family, then I am destined to failure in
"If I am married to an alcoholic husband, I will live a miserable life."
"My emotional state depends on the actions of my spouse."
This kind of approach to life renders anyone helpless in a hostile environment.
It prompts feelings of hopelessness and often leads to depression.
In a desperate marriage, this victim mentality leads a spouse to conclude,
"My life is miserable, and my only hope is the death of my spouse or divorce."
Many people daydream of both.
Your environment certainly affects who you are, but it does not control
you. Rather than being a helpless victim, you can overcome an environment
cluttered with obstacles, whether blindness (Helen Keller) or polio (Franklin
Roosevelt) or an alcoholic parent, whose abuse has influenced your attitudes
in marriage. Your environment may influence you, but it need not dictate or
destroy your marriage and your life.
MYTH NUMBER TWO: People cannot change. This myth purports that
once people reach adulthood, personality traits and behavior patterns are set
in concrete. Those who believe this myth reason that if a spouse has demonstrated
a certain behavior for a long period of time, he or she will continue to
act this way.
A wife assumes that her husband, who was sexually active with multiple
partners before marriage and sexually unfaithful after marriage, is addicted
to this behavior and cannot change.
A husband assumes that his wife, who has been irresponsible in money
management for the first fifteen years of marriage, will always be financially
If you accept this myth as truth, you will experience feelings of futility and
hopelessness. The fact is, you can go to any library and find biographies of
people-adults-who have made radical changes in their behavior patterns.
Saint Augustine once lived for pleasure and thought his desires were inescapable.
Charles Colson, the Watergate figure, repented and began an international
agency to offer prisoners spiritual help.
People can and do change, and often the changes are dramatic.
MYTH NUMBER THREE: In a desperate marriage, I have only two
options-resigning myself to a life of misery or getting out. Those who
believe this myth limit their horizons to two equally devastating alternatives,
and then become a prisoner of that choice. Thousands of people live in
self-made prisons because they believe this myth of limited choices.
Shannon and David believed this myth. For fifteen years they experienced
misery and contemplated divorce, but as they left my office after six months
of counseling, David said, "I used to leave your office with rage in my heart
toward Shannon. Today I leave realizing what a wonderful wife I have."
A smile spread across Shannon's face as she spoke. "Dr. Chapman, I
never dreamed that I could love him again and we could have the marriage
Obviously, Shannon and David broke the bonds of this myth. You can do
the same. Do not let yourself believe that you have only two options in a desperate
marriage. Don't simply settle for misery or divorce.
MYTH NUMBER FOUR: Some situations are hopeless-and my situation
is one of these. The person who accepts this myth reasons: Perhaps there
is hope for others, but my marriage is hopeless. The hurt is too deep. The damage
is irreversible. There is no hope. This kind of thinking leads to depression
and sometimes suicide.
I listened with tears as Lisa, a thirty-five-year-old
mother, shared her story of watching her
father murder her mother and then turn the gun
on himself. Lisa was ten when she experienced
this tragedy. No doubt her father felt his situation
You may have struggled in your marriage for
years. You may feel that nothing you have tried has
worked. You may even have had people tell you
that your marriage is hopeless. Don't let yourself
believe that. Your marriage is not beyond hope.
This book will explore the nature of problems
in desperate marriages and encourage you to dismiss
these myths and take steps toward healing rather than sinking deeper
into the misery of such relationships. But first, let's look at what has become
a rather popular approach to such major marital
problems, namely the exit marked divorce.
LOOKING HONESTLY AT DIVORCE
Ours has been called the "Throwaway Society."
We buy our food in beautiful containers, which we
then throw away. Our cars and household appliances
quickly become obsolete. We give our furniture
to the secondhand shop not because it is no
longer functional, but because it is no longer in style. We even "throw away"
unwanted pregnancies. We sustain business relationships only so long as
they are profitable to the bottom line. Thus, it is no shock that our society has
come to accept the concept of a "throwaway marriage." If you are no longer
happy with your spouse, and your relationship has run upon hard times, the
easy thing is to abandon the relationship and start over.
I wish that I could recommend divorce as an option. When I listen to the
deeply pained people in my office and at my seminars, my natural response is
to cry, "Get out, get out, get out! Abandon the loser and get on with your life."
That would certainly be my approach if I had purchased bad stock. I would
get out before the stock fell further. But a spouse
is not stock. A spouse is a person-a person with
emotions, personality, desires, and frustrations; a
person to whom you were deeply attracted at one
point in your life; a person for whom you had warm
feelings and genuine care. So deeply were the two
of you attracted to each other that you made a public
commitment of your lives to each other "so long
as we both shall live." Now you have a history together. You may even have
patented children together.
No one can walk away from a spouse as easily as he or she can sell bad
stock. Indeed, talk to most adults who have chosen divorce as the answer, and
you will find the divorce was preceded by months of intense inner struggle,
and that the whole ordeal is still viewed as a deeply painful experience.
Evelyn was sitting in my office two years after her divorce from Bill. "Our
marriage was bad," she said, "but our divorce is even worse. I still have all the
responsibilities I had when we were married, and now I have less time and
less money. When we were married, I worked part-time to help out with the
bills. Now I have to work full-time, which gives me less time with the girls.
When I am at home, I seem to be more irritable. I find myself snapping at the
girls when they don't respond immediately to my requests."
Thousands of divorced morns can identify with Evelyn. Divorce doesn't
treat them fairly. The stresses of meeting the physical and emotional needs of
their children seem overwhelming at times.
Not all who undergo divorce experience such hardship; yet all find the
adjustments painful, even when they remarry.
Wayne was all smiles when he said to me, "I finally met the love of my life.
We are going to get married in June. I've never been happier. She has two
children, and I adore them. When I was going through my divorce, I never
dreamed that I would be happy again. I believe now that I'm about to get my
life back on track."
Wayne had been divorced three years at the time of our conversation.
However, six months after his marriage to Beverly, he was back in my office,
complaining about his inability to get along with
Beverly and her children.
"It's like I'm an outsider," he said. "She always
puts the children before me. And when I seek to
discipline the children, she takes their side and disagrees
with me. I can't spend a dime without her
approval. I've never been so miserable in my life.
How did I let myself get into this mess?" Wayne
is experiencing the common struggles of establishing
a "blended family."
And what about the children who watch their parents divorce? In her
book, Generation Ex, author and child of multiple divorces Jen Abbas writes
As I entered adulthood anticipating my hard-earned independence, I was
stunned to discover that my parents' divorces seemed to affect me more each
year, not less. Even though I was successful academically and professionally,
I found myself becoming more insecure each year about my emotional
abilities. As I began to see my friends marry, I started to question my
ability to successfully create and maintain intimate relationships, especially
my own future marriage. I began to see how the marriages-and divorces-of
my parents had influenced my relationships, especially when it came to
trust. And when it came to love, I was paralyzed because what I wanted so
desperately was that which I feared the most.
Through the years I have counseled enough divorced persons to know
that while divorce removes some pressures, it creates a host of others. I
am not naive enough to suggest that divorce can be eliminated from the
human landscape. I am saying, however, that divorce should be the last possible
alternative. It should be preceded by every effort at reconciling differences,
dealing with issues, and solving problems. Far too many couples in
our society have opted for divorce too soon and at too great a price. I believe
that many divorced couples could have reconciled if they had sought and
found proper help. Thus, the focus of this book about desperate marriages
is not on divorce but on something I believe offers far more hope. It's what I
call "Reality Living."
Reality living, which begins by recognizing the myths and continues by
rejecting those myths, ends up embracing the positive actions that one individual
can take to stimulate constructive change in a relationship. In the
next chapter I will give you the basic principles of this approach, and in the
following chapters I will show you how to apply these principles to various
kinds of desperate marriages.
Excerpted from "Desperate Marriages: Moving Toward Hope and Healing in Your Relationship" by Gary Chapman. Copyright © 0 by Gary Chapman. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.