How Can I Save My Marriage?

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.
Don't pine for a magic pill to save your marriage. It doesn't exist.

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:

  • Offer strategies and techniques which you may not know even exist and are better suited to your problems or goals.
  • Act as an external accountability resource, making sure you are actually doing the things you say you want to do to improve your marriage.

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.

Begin With 2 Questions

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:

  • Is that really the problem? Often, a problem exists because there is a more fundamental issue that has not been addressed. For instance, a husband may load the dishwasher or clean the living room differently than the wife does. She complains that he does not do the work right. Is the problem really about the best ways to do chores? Or is there a more fundamental issue, such as she believes he doesn’t recognize and validate her thoughts and feelings? Now you may be thinking, and especially if you’re a guy, “How in the world did you make that connection?” Well, I haven’t a clue how the professionals do it, but serious research and scholarly papers talk about this kind of thing all the time. Problems are often rooted in other, hidden problems. (Using medical terms, your problem may be a symptom of an underlying cause.)
  • Are you ready to hear what you least want to deal with? When you try to address an issue and, as noted above, it isn’t the real issue, it can feel like you’ve been hit with a ton of bricks when the real issue does emerge. For example, a husband or a wife engages in lots of activities away from home. You, as the spouse left at home, believe the problem is your mate doesn’t spend enough time with you and is inconsiderate. And that may very well be true. Sometimes we spread ourselves too thin making commitments to others, and our marriages get neglected as a result. But, there could be another reason. Are you ready to hear that why your spouse is gone so much may be because of you? Do you criticize rather than complain? Which do you find easier to say: “You never spend time with me,” or “We don’t spend time together like we used to.” It doesn’t take much to turn a complaint about something into a criticism of someone. In fact, it is one of the easiest things to do. It can happen unconsciously, and easily become habitual. One result is that the person criticized may start distancing him-/herself from the critic. Now this is only one example of what a real, hidden issue might be. Yours may be different. (In my case, both of us contributed to the real problem, though at the time we thought the other was the problem.) Realizing that you may be the cause of your marital problems can be gut-wrenching. Are you ready to face that possibility?

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.

Next, Do This

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:

  • Give a sincere compliment for an action or behavior you like. No need to get all gushy about it; keep it clean and simple, be done with it and move on. And don't get upset if he/she doesn't notice or respond in the way you want.
  • If you do the cooking, fix your spouse his/her favorite meal because “I thought you might like it.” Don’t make it because you want something from him/her. Don’t expect anything in return. Make it because it is his/her favorite.
  • If you don’t normally do the cleaning, dust a room or two. (Here’s a hint for you guys: Don’t say, “I thought I would help you out.” Women tend to think of housework as a shared responsibility since you live there, too. If you lived there alone, you would clean the place. “Helping” her means you think it’s her job. You may have a clear delineation of roles in your family where she does the cleaning, but it’s better if you have a good reason she will appreciate other than “helping.”)
  • Tell a joke you know your spouse will find funny. Remember, your sense of humor may be different. Your spouse may find certain subjects not funny. Think about what your spouse will like.

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:

  • If your spouse routinely gets up earlier, you get up also, keeping him/her company, fixing breakfast and having conversation. These are actions that show you care.
  • Take an interest in things your spouse likes to do. If it is something you just can't get excited about, at least recognize and acknowledge what it does for him/her.
  • Be understanding that the hard work your spouse does is tiring. You do benefit from his/her hard work, so show appreciation. Let him/her nap and get refreshed.
  • Sincerely listen when your spouse talks. Stop whatever you are doing to give him/her your full attention.
  • Meditate on the good aspects of your relationship. You can even recall those good aspects that long ago faded, and realize that if you had them before, you can have them again.
  • Hold your tongue. Be slow to confront.

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.

“This Will Save My Marriage?”

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.

Fix your marriage's foundational issues first, then work on other matters.

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.

And Then, Do This

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.)

I truly recommend getting Lee Baucom's "Save The Marriage" e-book and ancillary materials. I have read all of it, and it is good information that will help you. I wish I had known this stuff when my marriage was in trouble; I might still be married had I put his ideas into action.


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.

Understanding Men
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.

Understanding Women
“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

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Quote: If your marriage is to go where it's never gone, you have to take a path you've never taken.