Before jumping into marriage forums, be aware of the problems you face using them. Most of these forums remind me of the scene in the movie Titanic as the ship slowly rolls over and dumps everyone into the ocean. Hundreds of people desperately try to save themselves and lend a hand to others as they can. But in the end the vast majority succumb to the tragedy. Very few survive. Reading marriage forums, I get the sense that these people are overwhelmed by forces beyond their control. They reach out to one another in an effort to save themselves, but they are all slowly going down.
Reading marriage forums will allow you to see you are not alone, and realize that your marital problems are normal problems that lots of others also deal with. One forum participant wrote that she gained insight into how she was contributing to her problems. Another stated that she realized she was right to expect better behavior from her husband. But, as a third put it, forums can also make you cynical about marriage.
Some marriage forums have been around for years. They have thousands of problem threads (postings where one writes about his/her problems and others post their advice or comments). Whatever the problem, someone has written about it and others have offered their advice or related their similar stories. With most threads the advice is naturally conflicting as it comes from different people with different experiences. Some would say that is good because the person is getting a true variety of opinions. You are more likely to gain a different perspective on your problem.
Still, I see three problems you will face if you use marriage forums.
Other forums revolve around a particular subject, such as ADHD, mothering, or Catholicism. Some of them contain sections on marriage and relationships. These types appear to have more thoughtful and helpful comments. You are less likely to run into the kinds of problems mentioned above or the examples below. Still, even single-issue forums can offer advice that doesn’t always work or hold true.
Here is an example of what you will find in marriage forums. A thread from a wife looking for advice on improving her marriage wrote: “I would never leave him just because he has a mental illness, but I WILL leave him if he is aware of it and doesn't seek treatment.” One advice giver, however, seemed determined to sow thoughts of divorce in her mind. Writing “If I were a 25 year old woman with no children to consider and with the world at my feet, I would divorce the [husband] unless…” and then listed a stringent condition that the husband’s mental condition must significantly improve. He later reminded her that by delaying the breakup of her marriage, she would have fewer men available to choose from later. It is certainly not the kind of advice the woman wanted. After I pointed out that she had explicitly stated that she wants the marriage to succeed and he should support her in that, he replied that “after seeing so many young codependent caregivers go down the path I took, I strongly disagree with you.” He simply could not get outside of his own somewhat similar situation and be supportive. Instead, he went so far as to label her as codependent even though her postings showed that she obviously wasn’t. If you want to use a relationship forum, be prepared to hear from folks who will not support you.
In another thread one response appeared to be very promising. A woman was giving advice on handling the aftermath of emotional and physical affairs, and I thought was doing a good job. But in the midst of her advice she remarked that it is a given that the moment a spouse choses to cheat, the other spouse has the moral absolute right to divorce and walk away from the marriage with a clean conscience.
Because all of the seemingly good advice that came before and after this statement lends credibility to it, many will not question it. They will fail to recognize the distortion of morality in what she wrote. Many religions, although permitting divorce, would have trouble with the words “absolute” and “clean conscience.” Catholicism, the largest of the Christian religions, would reject the statement outright. So, again, do you want to be led into questioning your sense of morality, or do you want information to solve your marital problems?
A secondary problem with her statement is that it is not true in all cases. Infidelity is often the result of a relationship that has deteriorated from other reasons. Both spouses may have caused or allowed the marriage to decay and pushed the cheater toward seeking someone else’s attention or affection. It is true that the cheating spouse is to blame for his/her really bad choice, but in this situation the other spouse also bears some responsibility.
One final example: In another marriage forum thread a woman stated her problem. It was serious, but nothing extreme. A responder posted that he had “no personal experience or other qualification to have an opinion.” He did not give her any specific advice regarding her situation, but I was stunned by what he wrote next. I spent some time looking at his own threads, and discovered that he is a really nice guy. He did some things he’s not proud of, saw the error of his ways, reconciled with his wife, and is being very proactive in making sure he doesn’t screw up in the future. So why would he write what he did in the general advice he gave? He wrote that “there is nothing wrong with calling it done…and it’s better to move on.” Maybe, just maybe, if she was a close friend he had known for years along with her husband, understood their situation, had many long conversations with both of them, knew that their relationship would not improve and knew that they could never be happy together, then maybe reminding her that she has the option to divorce would be okay. But this is an online forum. She is a stranger to him. She told her story in less than 550 words. He had read only her point of view, and knew nothing of her husband’s perspective. By his own admission, he was unqualified to comment. And yet, he encouraged her to give up.
If you choose to look for answers in marriage forums, be critical of every piece of advice you get. You will receive too many suggestions to look exclusively to your own happiness, and not that of you and your spouse together.
If you have children, you will be told that they will adjust to divorce just fine. But that isn’t true. The concept of a family where parents and children can work out their issues is foreign to these advisors.
Be prepared to hear that marriage counseling doesn’t work. This will come from people who tried it. They, like me, didn’t have a clue as to how to pick the right counselor, and what to watch out for. Marriage Guardian has an entire marriage counseling section that shows how it can work.
Know that your sense of right and wrong will be challenged. Again, analyze and be critical of their advice.
you go to the marriage forums and begin to feel a sense of
hopelessness, just remember that you are not on the Titanic. Your
marriage is not some great vessel over which you have no control.
The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work
For Men Only: A Straightforward Guide to the Inner Lives of Women
For Women Only: What You Need to Know about the Inner Lives of Men