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Before Taking That Road....STOP, LOOK AND LISTEN

"Enough is enough -- I'm out of here!" How many times have you felt like saying this to your mate? We all feel like handing our spouse walking papers from time to time. We ponder whether it would be easier without the day-in, day-out confrontation of a troubled marriage. Who needs it?

© 1999, by Jodie Lynn

Whether the big "D" word -- divorce -- is lurking in the back of your mind or on the tip of your tongue, before you take that road, if you're not in an abusive or life threatening situation: Stop, Look and Listen. Step back and get a clear view of your marriage so that you know -- without a doubt -- that divorce really is the best option for you and your family.

STOP: Stop listening to what everyone else is saying! People are full of advice. They all mean well, but can be very confusing. Unless you are undergoing professional counseling, tune everyone out. If you are going to professional sessions with your spouse and seem to be arguing more and more, tune the counselor out as well (and/or find a new one). Some arguing may indicate that a counselor is probing sensitive issues. In that case, they really are doing their job and it's working for the two of you. But if therapy doesn't turn into constructive criticism (or something better) within 6 to 8 weeks, it may be time to look for another route of help.

LOOK: Look at the relationship between you and your spouse through a positive perspective. Right now, you are probably seriously contemplating divorce, but what would happen if you were to try a checklist with a bird's eye view? This procedure will take a little work -- but it's worth it. Go to a quiet spot (no kids) and really concentrate. Take along a pen and notebook. At the top of one page, write the headings: PROS and on opposite side of the page write CONS. Does this look familiar? It's the old Ben Franklin method. It works on many topics.

Take a deep breath and write all the negative things about your partner under the CONS heading. Keep a box of Kleenex handy. By the time you get this done, you will feel better (whether you can tell it or not) and there may be plenty of "stuff" written down. This is perfectly fine and perfectly normal.

Take a break if you need to and clear your head before continuing to step two. You may have to really work on this one. Yep, it's time for the list on the PROS. Of course, this is the side for positive "stuff." Put on some favorite music, take a deep breath, wiggle your fingers and rotate your head. Think back to the time when you first fell in love with your spouse. Think about good times and fun times. For right now, try to put all hard feelings aside. In the past, you've cared and shared with this person. Try to remember some "happy thoughts." Upon completion, this side may be shorter -- don't worry about it.

LISTEN: Listen to your heart. Take a long hard look at the words in each column. Reach down deep into your heart. Are there things on the "con" list that you might be contributing to? If you tried to change some habit or communication method with your spouse, would a better response be forthcoming from him? In other words, how could you personally improve your marriage and the line of communication for its success?

Go through each negative item and rate it on a scale of 1 to 10 -- 10 being really important. Is it possible these traits could be worked out between the two of you? A bad marriage is almost always the result of two people. Each person has contributed to the "mess." If you can accept that, and assume part of the blame -- it's a great start. On the other hand... if things really are terrible, don't shoulder blame that isn't yours. Part of being honest means acknowledging the work you have done and realizing that it's your mate's responsibility, too, to make the marriage work.

Next, ask your spouse to complete the very same list of pros and cons. After waiting 24 hours, exchange lists. Don't discuss them. After waiting another 24 hours, get together (without kids) and compare notes. Try to discuss differences calmly without any finger pointing or blaming. Be completely honest -- both about what you love and what you find difficult. Set these rules before meeting!

Ask your spouse if he/she is ready to discuss the marriage's good and bad points. If another day or two is needed in order to digest all of this, so be it. This is your marriage on the rocks -- not a drink that will go flat within minutes. Take all the time that's needed for the other person to feel comfortable. Not every marriage can (or should) be saved. But if you can work on the Ben Franklin project together, it might help to shed some light on unknown areas that may have been previously forgotten or overlooked. It will give you a clear and honest view of where you both stand. If it doesn't help this marriage, it will certainly give you a better understanding of what you need from your next relationship.

FINAL THOUGHT: DON'T WAIT UNTIL THE LAST MINUTE TO DO THIS EXERCISE. For many couples who have waited until the last minute, this exercise may not make a difference at all. It's actually a fun activity to do at least once a year even in a healthy marriage. As years pass, our ideas can change as well as our likes and dislikes. This personal at-home-workshop can provide updated information as we grow and change in our daily lives and enhance the strength of our marriage. And, as always, never stop dating your spouse. Make time for a date between just the two of you at least once a month.

Jodie Lynn is a nationally syndicated columnist of Parent to Parent, and author of Mommy - CEO (Constantly Evaluating Others), Five Golden Rules. She invites you to enter her Mother's Day contest and spread a little cheer. See details at her web site: Parent to Parent

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