Healing your marriage is about deciding what changes your relationship needs in order to be stronger, healthier and happier, and then making those changes happen. It is about taking charge and not letting the winds of fate control your lives. “Yes,” you say. “Where do I begin? What do I work on? How am I going to save my marriage?” Well, your answers begin here.First, check yourself. Are you mildly anxious about your marital problems? Or are you in full-blown panic mode? Perhaps you feel paralyzed and unable to do anything? Take a deep breath. Exhale slowly. The more calm you are, the more clearly you can think and improve the odds of successfully dealing with the issues.
I know you are looking for the magic words that will solve everything, but there is no quick-fix. This is a process. Others have gone through the same thing you’re going through, and they came out of it with better, happier marriages. You will, too. So relax. Take a few more deep breaths. Get even calmer.
Next, decide which route you want to take. Is self-help the proper way to go for you and your spouse? Self-help is the topic of this article, but your choices include marriage counseling and combinations of the two. There are advantages and disadvantages to each method of saving a marriage. Take some time to consider each way. Among the advantages of self-help is the satisfaction of solving your marital problems on your own and not having to entrust the fate of your marriage to a stranger. But, one of the better advantages of marriage counseling is that you have a third party to help identify those perceptions you’ve formed which are flawed, though you don’t realize it.
You could also combine the two approaches and use the assistance of a professional counselor to help you chart your course. A counselor could, among other things:
Choosing between marriage counseling and self-help, or a combination of the two, should not be a snap decision. Read more about the advantages and disadvantages of marriage counseling, and those of the self-help approach to saving your marriage. And keep reading to learn more about the self-help way.
You may have a good idea what your marital problems are, and want information designed specifically for that. A lot has been written about communication, infidelity, intimacy, and a host of other topics. The list gets fairly long. But, before you jump into materials on your specific issues, answer two questions:
The point of these two questions is this: Start your self-help program with some general material first. Get a better overall perspective on marital relationships, understanding yourself, and understanding the opposite sex ( Understanding Men and Understanding Women will help). Then adapt this information to your situation. You may find that your specific problem disappears on its own as you discover and work on more fundamental issues. If not, you are at least better prepared to work with more targeted "save my marriage" kind of information.
Lee Baucom’s Save the Marriage package of materials is a good starting point, as is John Gottman’s book The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. Baucom does a great job in showing you how to get a different perspective on all aspects of your marriage (and even on perspectives themselves). Gottman describes the dynamic happily married couples have that keep the negative feelings they have for one another from overwhelming their positive feelings. The book includes short tests and exercises designed to help you understand that dynamic, and to get it for your marriage.
Every marital situation is different, so think of these next items in
terms of having a playbook, a list of actions you can take depending on
current circumstances. There is no step-by-step process that works for
everybody all the time.
Whatever you do may cause a suspicious reaction. Don’t get angry or upset. In fact, if you expect a bad reaction, you’ll be better prepared to handle it. You may even find it humorous that you predicted a bad reaction. But don’t be derisive if you mention that. Soothe your spouse’s suspicion or bad reaction with kind words and honesty. Just say that you are trying to improve your relationship with him/her. You may want to avoid using the word “change.” Some people might take it as an attack on their character.
When negative things happen, avoid being critical or contemptuous. Don’t say things that begin with “You never…,” “You always…,” or (my favorite) “You’re such a…” Calmly explain why you see the situation, not the spouse, as negative, and why it upsets you. In the ensuing conversation don’t get defensive, but don’t refuse to talk, either. Inject a little positivity into the conversation or argument. For example, try a little humor to lighten up the situation a bit, if you think your spouse would be receptive. If the humor backfires, simply be honest and explain that you want to diffuse the tension and you really don’t want to fight.
So, what are some concrete steps you can take, actual things you can do to improve your relationship? Start off small. Don’t try for a big change right away. Begin on a positive note, saying or doing little things that would make your spouse feel good about being around you:
Self-help ideas to save your marriage can be as simple as muting the TV when your spouse talks and turning toward him/her to listen. Making a conscious effort to have a little more connection between the two of you is a very basic idea, but is so often overlooked.
Here are some ideas others have shared with Marriage Guardian:
You see, others can come up with simple ideas that can improve their marital situations. You can, too.
In the dating world, before a guy asks a woman to go out with him, he knows he has to give her a reason to say yes. He has to give her some attention, show her he is interested in her, behave like someone she might like to be with. If a woman wants a man to ask her out, she has to give him a reason to ask by showing interest in him. And if she does the asking, she has to give him a reason to say yes. This principle also applies in marriage, especially when the relationship is in trouble. That person may be your spouse, but that isn’t enough of a reason for him/her to want to be around you. In a perfect world it might be. But in this imperfect world everyone needs help from their spouse to maintain attraction and interest.
At this point you might be thinking, “Is this supposed to save my marriage? I’ve got a serious problem here. How can this possibly help?” The answer is in two parts.
First, like an old house undergoing renovation, you don’t fix the cracks in the walls first, and then fix the cracks in the foundation. You work on the foundation first. Your relationship needs foundational work. Patching other problems first only provides a short-term fix; the “cracks” will reappear much sooner than you think. And their reappearance will only dishearten you, making future repair attempts less likely. Your marital problems developed over time, and it will take time to repair the damage.
Second, everything I’ve written above is in line with Baucom’s and Gottman’s theories, as well as that of many others. As I said on the home page of this website, my job is to weed out the useless information and provide you with advice that works. This is the beginning of what works.
So, follow the advice above, and then do this - do more of the above. Lots more. The common thread Gottman found that predicts divorce so well is weaved into it, and it is this: for a marriage to be stable, you must have lots more positive interactions than negative interactions. How much more? Twice as much? No. Three times as much? No. The positive has to outweigh the negative by at least five to one. This is not a number pulled out of a hat. It is a fact.
Begin saving your marriage by creating some positive moments in your daily lives together. Avoid critical, contemptuous and defensive remarks.
I believe it was James Carville, Bill Clinton's political adviser, who said, "If you say three things, you've said nothing at all." Well, I've said more than three things here, but then, I'm not giving a political speech. And you are not going to find the answer to saving your marriage in a single idea. What you have in front of you, though, are the first steps in getting to a happy marriage.
Take time to absorb this site and the recommended readings, but don't put off doing it into action. If I had known sooner what I know now, I would still be married. So get moving! (Bookmark this site so you can easily find it again.)
Some have been referenced above. Others have not.
How to Save a Marriage When You Feel Paralyzed
If after reading the article above you still feel like you don't know what to do, or that anything you try will just blow up in your face, read this.
One of the keys to a happy marriage is understanding your husband. Why do they think and act as they do? Understanding men is not so difficult.
“Women! I just don’t get them.” Is understanding women beyond your comprehension? You are not alone. This will help you figure out what women want.
Getting Help from Marriage Forums
Before jumping into marriage forums, be aware of the problems you face using them. Marriage and relationship forums can mess with your mind.
Advantages & Disadvantages of Marriage Self-Help
Marriage counseling works under the right conditions. But the advantages of self-help to improve a marriage can outweigh those of therapy.
Return from Save My Marriage Self-Help Introduction to Marriage Guardian Home Page
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
That's Not What I Meant!: How Conversational Style Makes or Breaks Relationships
The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work
His Needs, Her Needs: Building an Affair-Proof Marriage