“I don’t know if I can keep doing this (marriage) much longer.” I said this statement at one point in my marriage when things felt like they were falling apart. And my wife of sixteen years has said it, too. I’ve also spoken with plenty of couples who have said things like this at some point in their marriage.
There are some commonalities research has shown can help save your marriage when it feels like it is falling apart.
Connect regularly with people who are happily married.
Notice I didn’t say perfectly married. Look for couples who are healthy. Invite them to coffee and dessert. Talk to them. Listen to them. Watch how they interact with each other. Pick their brains. Find people who will hold you accountable, not pick sides. People outside of your marriage often will see things about you that are difficult for you to see about yourselves.
And disconnect from people who are not for your marriage.
People that will allow you to continually talk about what’s wrong with your spouse and constantly tell you that you’re better off without your spouse are not going to be helpful in saving your marriage.
There are experiences available for couples facing distress in their marriage. Some places offer classes; others have Intensive Experiences available (DivorceBusting.com, WinShape Intensives, Smalley Institute). First Things First also has free resources to use in the comfort of your own home. Additionally, you may want to find a good marriage counselor to help you walk through your issues. If there is one thing I have learned in my own marriage, it’s the longer you wait to ask for help, the harder it is to ask for help. Put your pride aside and ask for the help you need if you are currently struggling.
Look at Your Perception of Your Marriage.
New research indicates that how you perceive the relationship and your partner’s commitment to it is the biggest predictor of the quality of your relationship. Think through what you perceive about your spouse and their commitment level. The research says that your perception accounts for nearly 50% of your relationship satisfaction. When we focus on the negative things our spouse does, we train our brain to see the negative.
Communication has always been the issue married couples say they struggle with the most. It can be frustrating when you feel like you’re never able to address and resolve the real issues because the two of you can’t figure out how to effectively express your thoughts, feelings, and desires. Since many of us marry someone with a different communication style, learning to speak, hear and be heard has proven to be less natural than we expected. I was married 7 years before I learned how to effectively communicate with my wife. It was a skill I had to learn. I had been repeating the same communication mistakes over and over.
★ These 7 keys to communication really helped my marriage.
Don’t be afraid to lead the dance.
Yes, it takes two people to dance, but one to lead. Michele Weiner-Davis, marriage expert and author of Divorce Busting, tells couples, “If your spouse started paying more attention to you, making suggestions about trips you could go on, new hobbies you could do together, how would you be different in return?” Most say, “I would be nicer.” Then Weiner-Davis asks people to describe the ways in which they would be nicer and encourages them to start doing that immediately. So many spouses stand around waiting for the other person to just do something. If you want things to be different, don’t be afraid to make the first move.
“Don’t wait for your partner to be more likable – you be more likable,” Weiner-Davis says. “Ask yourself in what ways have you pulled back from your relationship. Your partner’s distance might be the result of you pulling away, too.”
Practice good self-care.
Taking care of yourself can improve your marriage. Be active by pursuing interests like gardening or biking. Read some good books and practice mindfulness. By paying attention to your mental health, your perspective will often improve.
Think about your daily interactions with your spouse.
Dr. John Gottman, researcher and marriage therapist recommends a 5:1 ratio of interactions – meaning for every negative interaction you have with your spouse, you need five positive interactions to balance that one negative interaction. Expressing affection, showing appreciation, and doing small acts of kindness are positive interactions which balance the negative ones.
Talk to each other about your needs.
When we have needs and expectations that aren’t being met, resentment builds. Sometimes our partner is left to figure out the expectations because they are left unspoken. Sincere, honest communication about your needs and expectations takes the guesswork out of the marriage. And, it can shed light on expectations that just aren’t realistic at the moment.
Acknowledge what you can’t fix.
Dr. John Gottman’s research has uncovered that 69% of issues in relationships are unresolvable. It’s not necessarily a bad thing. It just is. Some common differences include disciplining children, balance between home and work, and political views. Learning to communicate and manage these differences can provide opportunities for marital growth. Besides, who wants to be married to someone who is exactly like them in every way?
It has been said that lack of forgiveness is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. Forgiveness is a gift you give yourself as well as your mate. The act of forgiveness does not mean you condone hurtful actions; it does mean you have made an intentional decision to move on.
Remember, you are on the same team.
At some point you began to feel like you are adversaries. Instead of attacking one another, attack the issues as two people working together on the same team. The outcome may really surprise you.
★ Saving a marriage that is falling apart is 100% possible. It will take courage, work and intentionality. Rebuilding trust, seeking to understand one another, and cultivating a culture of appreciation is a process accomplished through many small steps over time. 16 years into our marriage, we’d both tell you our feelings of despair early in the marriage were the catalyst for intentionally creating the marriage we want.
And, we are still working on it today.
***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear that someone is monitoring your computer or device, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***
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