"We really do still love each other," the husband said, "and we want to stay together."
"But we really don't like each other very much right now," the wife added.
Some very difficult life circumstances over a long period of time had taken a toll on their marriage relationship and this couple were trying to find the way back to the close relationship they'd previously enjoyed.
Love is certainly important in a marriage relationship. Strong, committed love can get you through some of those tough times when you don't really like each other very much. Love is all you need? Sometimes love is all you have!
But like is very important as well--at least if you're interested in an enjoyable, nurturing, satisfying relationship. When you do not like the person you're doing life with, life with them becomes a chore, a duty, a burden. How do you fight back from that?
The first step is to honestly assess what has happened and how you got here. You cannot change what you do not face! I emphasize honestly because if you're not honest about the problem, you will apply an incorrect and ineffective solution. Ask yourselves the hard questions: What have I done that has damaged or contributed to the health of our relationship? What solutions have I tried? What fears/resentments am I hiding from my spouse? What coping strategies have I used, that may have temporarily alleviated some of the pain, but over time have been more harmful than beneficial?
The next step is to own your part. You will notice the questions in the previous paragraph focus on assessing your part in this situation--not your partner's. The reason for this is very simple. You can only be responsible for and change yourself--your thoughts, words, actions, and reactions. You cannot do anything to change your spouse. Too often couples get bogged down in blaming the other for the problems. If only he/she would change! We wouldn't have these problems! Very rarely is only one person responsible for difficulties in a relationship. Sometimes that is so, but it is not usually accurate, honest or beneficial to begin at that assumption.
The next step requires an honest conversation with each other. Share what you've learned about yourself. Ask forgiveness for the part you have played in damaging the relationship. Extend forgiveness to your partner. Ask how you can contribute to the health of the relationship from this point on. Again, honesty is essential or you will not be addressing, finding effective solutions for, or working on, the actual problem.
Once that hard work is out of the way, produce a plan for the future. Remind each other of the reasons you liked each other enough to enter into a relationship in the first place. Find ways to intentionally feed and cultivate those things. Invest in each other. Remind each other of the damaging patterns you've developed over time and consciously work to break them. Continue to be open and honest. Continue to assess where the relationship is and what progress has been made. Feel free to edit, adapt, change, or completely scrap possible solutions that are not working. Work together for each other and for the relationship.
This can be a long and difficult process and you may need help. If the problem is deeper and more difficult than simply drifting apart, you will need help. When hurt is deep, when it doesn't feel safe to be honest and vulnerable, when forgiveness seems impossible, you need someone to walk through this process with you and help to keep the focus on healing and growth. Finding a marriage counselor sooner, rather than later, is always the better choice! You can like one another again! There is a better way.