It is common that only one spouse is willing to work to save a struggling marriage. Fortunately, in many cases, one partner can make changes that will turn the marriage around dramatically.
Some marriages need to end, especially if there is abuse involved. But in many cases, marriages can be improved with the initial efforts of just one spouse. It is often helpful to walk through the steps with a professional marriage counselor who can help you adjust your approach to your particular situation. The following are the things I suggest to my clients.
Avoid these tactics
No one stays happily married by force or guilt. Do not cry, beg, threaten, or guilt your spouse into staying. While those tactics may work for a short time, they will increase resentment and distance.
Do not make the mistake of thinking it is all your fault – or only the fault of your spouse. Marriage problems usually arise because two good people have made small mistakes that have added up over time, or they have clashing personality quirks. These issues are in and of themselves fixable with the following techniques.
Determine your WHY
Ask yourself: “WHY do I want to save my marriage?” Write down every reason you can think of, and refer back to this list often to help you maintain your focus and purpose. I recommend you keep this private.
Change your thinking
There are multiple components to this step.
- Remind yourself why you fell in love in the first place. What enduring qualities attracted you? What did you enjoy doing together? How did he or she make you feel? Why? Each day, spend time remembering those feelings and seeing your spouse as you once did. Fall back in love.
- Do not just focus on the problems, focus on what is good. It is extremely important that you do not badmouth your spouse to your friends. Yes, you need friends to support you, but ask them to support you in saving your marriage and helping you focus on the positive. What does your spouse do, right now in your current situation, that is good? Bring home a paycheck? Help the kids with their homework? Take out the trash? Focus on that.
- Redirect your thinking when you find yourself dwelling on the negative. Turn on happy music, do an engrossing activity, help someone else.
Change your approach
Whatever you are doing must not be working, so try a different tactic. This is where a counselor can be particularly helpful.
- Are you being too clingy or attentive right now, when your spouse is not feeling reciprocal? Step back a little, but remain available and emotionally present, if not always physically present.
- Have you distanced yourself because of your pain? It is time to step forward into the relationship. Say or do at least one nice thing every day for your spouse. It could simply be to say, “You look nice today” in the morning.
- Remember what little things you used to do for your spouse to show affection and try again. Did you surprise her with flowers every now and then? Try it. Did you make him his favorite dish? Make it. Then build from there.
Focus on yourself
While changing what you think and what you do toward your spouse, you also have to change what you think and what you do toward yourself. Unhappy people have unhappy marriages. If your marriage is making you unhappy, you need other means of happiness in your life.
Work on your own health: physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual. As you do this, not only will you be strengthening yourself for a happy life even if you cannot save your marriage, you will be making yourself more attractive to your spouse. Strength, confidence, and health are much more attractive than weakness.
As a marriage counselor, I help walk people through the changes they need to make to lead them to happier, healthier lives and relationships. If you are in the New York City area, contact me and let us work together on your marriage.