When Do I Pull The Plug On Our Marriage?

When Do I Pull The Plug On Our Marriage?

When Do I Pull The Plug On Our Marriage?

What do you do, when your spouse goes behind your back and makes special deals with the kids, and tells them not to tell you?  

And if you have a question you’d like me to address on this podcast, don’t be shy, we’ll all benefit from your question so come on over to my website, neildbrown.com and enter it there today. And while you’re there, download a free copy of my Parental Burnout Recovery Guide.

Today we’re hearing from Mary  from NC.

Mary writes:

Are there circumstances under which parental undermining by a spouse, when all of your advice to Toni (mother of 2 you referenced in your podcast, My Husband Undermines My Parenting) has been tried that warrant breakup of a marriage?  My spouse goes behind my back and grants the children's requests for things he and I already agreed not to grant.  He admits he told the kids to keep quiet not to upset me.  I don't know what to do.  We have seen two therapists and my spouse agrees to support me.  One specific suggestion about taking cell phones away went unheeded and therapist failed to reiterate her suggestion when I brought it up.  I got duped by both of them and I feel like therapy is a waste of time.

Mary thanks for your question and it’s important because divorce is a BIG DEAL.  So knowing that, how do you know if your situation is hopeless and you’ll never be able to be reasonably healthy partners as parents, as leaders of the household and of course, be able to share affection and care for each other and have some fun together? 

So how do you know?

Circumstances for Divorce

Divorce is a very personal decision and some individuals will stick out an unrewarding marriage to spare the kids the experience of going through divorce and living in two households. 

Some people simply know that they are done, the marriage isn’t working, won’t work, and they have moved on emotionally.  They no longer envision a life with the other person and the thought of being divorced offers a feeling of relief. They don’t have any doubt or second thoughts. 

If there is abuse and it’s causing trauma and your limits and boundaries aren’t being honored, that would be a time to go. Sometimes a person will realize they simply married the wrong person. Perhaps they were too young when they married and when they grew up, realized that their partner’s goals, values, and lifestyle doesn’t work for them. In those cases, divorce seems like a challenging but necessary or at least understandable choice. 

But when someone is wondering about divorce, more often the situation lives in a gray area.

  • What if I did things differently?
  • What if I could communicate my needs differently? 
  • What if I let go of their faults, and accepted some of the issues that bother me, could I enjoy them and be okay with them then? 
  • What if we did therapy together?
  • What if they got into therapy; maybe they could change?

Here is how you can lift the fog and get to a place of greater clarity.  Relationship and family dysfunction always lives in a negative pattern. A predictable pattern with poor and often destructive outcomes.

Our Role in Negative Patterns

So first, we have to figure out how we’re participating in the negative pattern.  When a negative pattern involves kids, I call it the Control Battle or “The Beast”.  When it involves a couple, I call it the Negative Cycle but either way, it’s a stuck negative pattern that we participate in. 

When a negative pattern involves kids, I call it the Control Battle or “The Beast”. When it involves a couple, I call it the Negative Cycle but either way, it’s a stuck negative pattern that we participate in.Click To Tweet

We’re generally pretty clear about what our partner is doing that is upsetting to us and is wrong behavior. We’re less aware of what we’re doing that encourages their behavior.  Mind you, that’s different than causing their behavior because we all need to take responsibility for our own behavior. In Control Battles and Negative Cycles, each person sees their behavior as a justifiable response, to the other person’s behavior. “I do this because- you do that.”  We tend to forget that we’re 50% of the relationship and that’s a heck of a lot of influence in any situation. 

In Control Battles and Negative Cycles, each person sees their behavior as a justifiable response, to the other person’s behavior. We tend to forget that we’re 50% of the relationship and that’s a heck of a lot of influence in any situation.Click To Tweet

So step one is to figure out what our participation in the pattern is.  That isn’t always easy to do but here are a couple of hints on how to discover it. 

Our participation in a Negative Cycle or Control Battle is generally emotional, reactive, and assumes we simply can’t engage our partner or kids with openness, clarity, and authenticity. 

So our participation is one of three things:

  1. Passive and avoidant,
  2. Upset and angry, or
  3. Enabling and not setting healthy personal limits. 

Our participation can be different ones of those at different times for instance, you tolerate a negative behavior staying supportive until you are completely depleted and then blow up. 

So once you see where you are in the pattern, find a healthy alternative.  Here are some healthy alternatives:

  • Respond don’t react,
    • Respond without hostility or avoidance,
    • But with respect, honesty, clarity and authenticity.
  • When engaging on a difficult issue, make quality statements and ask quality questions.

Let me explain and this is a way to improve communication in general.

Using Quality Statement and Quality Questions to Improve Communication

Very often, we make statements that are close ended. They are statements that take a position of righteousness, or simply a declaration, such as, “I can’t believe you did that.” or “You said you wouldn’t do that anymore and you did it again.” 

These statements don’t invite a quality conversation.  When the other person responds, their response will be a defense or an argument.

A quality statement is not close ended and invites the other person’s point of view. For instance “I thought we had an understanding that we were going to remove the kids’ phones for a few days and you’ve given them back their phones.  Help me understand where you’re coming from.”  Or for instance, “I thought you said you were going to cook dinner tonight, and it’s getting late. Is that still your intention?”

So a quality statement invites the other person into the conversation and assumes there might be other information or other points of view that you aren’t thinking about.  It doesn’t mean the other person is right, but it invites the conversation to go deeper. A quality statement is often followed by a quality question.

Alright, so what’s a quality question?  Well first let me show you a poor quality question, which is often a statement disguised as a question such as, “Why did you do that?” or “Can’t you ever keep an agreement?” 

A quality question is one where you actually want to know the answer and you assume the other person has information you need. 

So to a teenager it might be, “I thought we had an agreement that you would do your homework before any gaming and I didn’t see any homework getting done and you’re gaming.  Can you help me understand why that is?”

The teenager is likely to say, “I didn’t have any, or I only have a little and I will do it later.”  Then the parent can respond appropriately without inviting a fight while teaching respectful communication.

In Conclusion

So Mary, you’re asking about whether or not your situation is hopeless and whether you need to pull the plug on your marriage.  Is your personal relationship with your husband any better than your parenting relationship?  Is there any fun and affection in your relationship?  That would have to factor into your decision.

Divorce isn’t going to improve your parenting relationship.  You can get co-parenting counseling after divorce or you can see if counseling with the two of you can work now.

I agree, your husband going behind your back and telling the kids to keep a secret from you is messed up.  It puts the kids in the middle, triangulating them and that’s destructive to kids. 

Mary, in your question, you say your husband tells the kids not to say anything to you so you won’t get upset.  So my wild guess is that your getting upset, and your husband’s going behind your back and the kids ending up in the middle, and probably manipulating is the dysfunctional pattern in your family. 

Your couples’ therapist might be overwhelmed by your frustration and maybe we can call it anger, and your husband’s avoidance, maybe victimhood, and sabotage.  So here is what I advise you to do. 

Go to your next appointment and bring your best self along, ready to make quality statements and ask quality questions.  The first issue to ask about is the dysfunctional pattern in the family.  Ask the therapist how they see it; if my wild guess is correct or if it’s something different.  Then ask about your role in the negative pattern and what it would look like if you were dealing with the behaviors your husband and the kids present in a healthy way.  

With that information, you can go to work on growing those skills.  When you are bringing those skills and the more positive mindset that goes along with those skills to your family, let’s see what you get from your husband then.  If nothing changes then, and there is no nourishment in the relationship for you, you might want to end your marriage.  On the other hand, if you are no longer participating in a Negative Cycle or Control Battle, no guarantees but, it could be a happy surprise. But either way, you’ll be a happier, less frustrated, more positive individual, and if you can get that, well, that’s worth the effort.

So listeners, when we’re frustrated with our children, or our partner, it may be time to ask the question, what are we doing that might be evoking the behaviors that we loath.

And I really mean it when I say, please, take care of yourselves; you need it, you deserve it, you’re worth it.  Bye for now.


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