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Is This Marriage Viable?

Rachel Alexander March 16, 2022

{4 minutes to read}  This article, and the series that follows, are based on interviews I had with couples’ counselor Meredith Keller, LPC, ACS. Therapeutically, Meredith seeks “make room” for both parties in a session, so that each person has the necessary space to be heard and experience one another in the interaction.

My upcoming blogs will feature excerpts from my interviews covering many topics and questions. Today we start at the beginning, with the first question that needs addressing before diving deeper:

Is my marriage viable?

How do we evaluate the age-old question — should I stay or should I go? What makes a marriage viable?

And when is it time to call it a day?

Willingness: The Key Ingredient

Is the other person willing to engage with you at some level in a calm discussion on topics that are important to one or both of you regarding the relationship? Are you?

One of the signs of a relationship’s viability is whether the partners are able to engage at some level in a composed discussion on topics that are important to one or both of them.  In the relationship, is there a willingness and an ability to have a dialogue at some level related to the relationship? If there is amenability and some flexibility around this, it is one good indicator that the relationship can develop and grow. Why is this so important? Let’s unpack it a bit.

If there is willingness to turn towards communications about the relationship, there is a likelihood of some capacity and insight as to what is involved in fostering a relationship with another; an awareness that includes the voices of both participants.

  • Perhaps the willingness indicates that the parties place value on relationships themselves.

    • Evidence of a mutual investment.

    • Openness to talking about the relationship likely indicates a certain level of maturity and development and the wherewithal to tolerate some discomfort in exploring a personal realm with another. This also may indicate the resilience required to work on and stay with the relationship.

    • Perhaps sheer courage is required (or can be fostered) to verbalize the implicit and never-before expressed. Kindness and candor must harmonize. An interest in learning about what is needed, hoped for, and hurting in the other.

    • Willingness to find a way together through conflict may evidence the ability to tolerate closeness and dissonance simultaneously. Perhaps this is the complicated paradox of the human relationship.

By contrast, if one or both partners refuse or resist engaging in discourse about the relationship itself, there is limited real estate to develop. It is a closed door without a welcome mat. An avoidance or rejection of addressing the relationship can indicate ambivalence about or even disownership of the relationship. It may demonstrate an inability or distaste for investing the emotional stamina required to learn more about the other’s experience. An inability to tolerate engaging can indicate an individual with a sense of self too compromised to hear criticism without feeling attacked.

Let’s differentiate unwillingness from inability. You may have a partner who is willing to discuss important subjects but lacks the skills or knowledge to do so. Know that these communication skills can be learned (most often people learn this in therapy and some learn it as part of their professional development). Therefore, if your partner is willing to attend couples therapy or counseling from a religious leader with you (even if he/she cannot yet communicate effectively), this is a strong indicator that this can be a good and viable relationship.

There can be many reasons an individual is unwilling to discuss the relationship, however, regardless of the reasons, the net result is the same. Unwillingness to verbally address relational concerns is a serious impediment to making, deepening or repairing a relationship.

Something to consider, before turning to questions of repairing the marriage. More to follow.