(IMPORTANT NOTE: In many situations of emotional, mental, or physical abuse, the abuser uses intimidation, manipulation, and gaslighting to keep their victim stuck in the clutches of an abusive relationship. If you believe you are in an abusive relationship, please seek help. Here’s an article on recognizing the signs of abuse, and the information for the Domestic Violence Hotline.)
I tried to ignore the shrill beeping, but eventually the loud, persistent wail of the smoke alarm pried me from my bed.
“Oh crap.” I thought.
I had heard smoke alarms go off before… but it was always because a battery needed to be replaced.
This was different.
It was 2 in the morning, and I could hear my neighbors in my apartment building running down the hall.
“Oh crappy crap crap… this is a real fire.”
My instincts kicked in.
I grabbed my laptop (#priorities), put on pants, and cracked my door open.
The hallway was FILLED WITH SMOKE!
“Oh sweet merciful lord of crap,” I thought again.
I ran away from the smoke towards the stairwell, sprinted down 2 floors, and joined the growing mass of residents who had also been pried out of their peaceful night’s sleep by a screeching 2:00 am fire alarm.
The sirens of fire engines pierced the quiet night as we all stood outside and wondered whether or not our homes were about to go up in smoke.
Thankfully, everyone made it out safe and sound and nobody was hurt.
And you know what’s crazy?
Nobody ran back inside the burning building!
“Duh Nate, of course nobody ran back into the building that was on fire. That would be a profoundly STUPID thing to do!”
(Here comes today’s lesson… are you ready?)
Of course nobody ran back into the burning building!
You were probably taught from a very young age that the first thing you do if you’re in a burning building is get the frick out of there! You don’t go back in for ANYTHING!
Old family photos, kittens, your LEGO collection… none of it is worth your life.
And if there’s something (or someone) that needs saving, that’s what firemen - with their protective clothing, and oxygen tanks, and fire hoses - are for.
You just don’t run back into a burning building. Ever!
It’s too dangerous and so stupid!
And yet I hear from couples every week who are living in relationships that feel more like a metaphorical towering inferno of all-consuming flames and smoke than a loving safe haven.
A husband constantly berates, insults, and demoralizes his wife.
A wife tells her husband she is done with the relationship, and that he can expect zero love or affection from her going forward.
A husband who demands perfection from his wife, and gives her the silent treatment for days as punishment when she doesn’t live up to his expectations.
A wife who expects a husband to read her mind and make her happy - and when he can’t, she blames her husband for her problems and seeks love and affection from other men.
These people come to me asking for help.
“What do I do? Please help! I love him/her. We have kids to think about...”
Staying together “for the kids” is not a good fire escape plan. Your best alternative is to… get out of the burning house and DON’T RUN BACK IN!
So… I should get divorced?
Now hold on there.
That doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to get a divorce, or even separate. But you sure as heck can’t just stay exactly where you are without making any changes, and just hope to not be swallowed up in the blaze burning around you.
Here’s the thing that’s hard for a lot of people in terrible “burning house” relationships to swallow: The disaster of a relationship you have right now? Yeah… you helped create that.
Maybe you didn’t actively start the fire. You may not have even fanned the flames.
Maybe all you did was sit there and watch your partner start it. Then you did absolutely nothing to put it out before it got out of control.
Whether you were actively or passively involved in the fireball you’re in, part of the reason your relationship has gotten to the point it’s at right now is because you were complicit.
Now here’s the great news!
If feel like your relationship is worse than walking through the pits of hell every day - or one that might be headed in that direction - you can absolutely do something about it!
You can get yourself and your marriage out of the burning building.
But just like being a firefighter who saves people from burning buildings requires courage and bravery, so does saving yourself from a burning marriage.
For some people, it might mean mustering up the courage to leave the relationship and say, “I refuse to sit here and burn. I owe it to myself to save myself. I am worthy of more than this.”
For others it might mean that you grab a fire extinguisher and you put out the flames that have started to consume your relationship.
It might mean you put your foot down and saying, “The way you’re talking to me is not ok. If this relationship is going to continue, you are NOT allowed to call me those names, or treat me this way. You can leave now. Don’t come back until you’re ready to treat me with kindness and respect.”
It might mean telling your partner, “I’m so lonely. You work such long hours, and I feel like I’m just not a priority anymore. If we want to avoid having this marriage burn to the ground, I need to feel like I’m more important than your job.”
It might mean owning the fact that you’ve been depressed and that you need help getting it under control so you don’t spiral, lose yourself, and drive your partner out of your life.
It might mean saying, “If you continue to say ‘no’ to any sort of physical intimacy in our marriage without explanation, you’re saying ‘no’ to a marriage. I’m not ok with that. Let’s get you the help you need… otherwise, it seems to me that you’re saying ‘no’ to being married to me. I love you, but I also respect myself enough to not stay in a lifeless, passionless marriage.”
These are scary things to say and do.
But the alternative is to let the blaze continue to grow. You might run outside and take a deep breath of air by reading a book, talking to a therapist, or listening to a podcast… then you run right back into the fire.
This is not a recipe for success.
Put out the fire, or get out of the house and don’t run back in!
Need help putting out the fire?
A great first step is to take the Legendary Love Challenge. You’ll get a really clear idea during that challenge what you need to do to set your marriage on the track to success.
It’s something you can do without the participation of your partner, and if you complete the challenge, it’s 100% free. Just give me your email address below and I’ll send you details: