Sometimes, letting go seems like the easiest thing to do. But think about this: you’ve invested so much of your time and energy into another person (and possibly little ones); you’ve made a solemn promise; and you still know there’s love, even if it’s hiding underneath the surface. This article will show you how to save a marriage and avoid divorce, even if you’re the only one trying. If you want to resurrect the happy times in your marriage and put the rough ones on the back burner, read on for a discussion of how to do just that.
Finding out What Went Wrong
Make an effort to figure out what went wrong. You can’t move forward if you don’t know what’s keeping you back. Most relationships — and people — suffer from a few flaws, and perhaps those flaws are getting in the way of a healthy relationship. Your job is to take a long, hard look at what you think went wrong. Here are just a few:
2. Figure out if what went wrong is something fixable. It’s a perfectly natural response to try to save your sinking ship, but what if the ship is so tattered that it isn’t worth saving? No one can make this decision for you, but know that certain flaws in people or relationships might not be worth trying to save.
- Growing incompatibility. Work, family, stress, finance and everything else our modern world throws at you can cause people to reveal their true colors. Are the real-world husband and wife very different from the fairy-tale version?
- Infidelity. Is the guilt of an affair weighing on you or your spouse? Did confession cause everything to suddenly blow up?
- Lack of communication. What you say doesn’t get processed by your spouse, and what your spouse says doesn’t get processed by you. Maybe neither of you says anything at all.
- Death of a loved one. You or your spouse’s world changed irrevocably after someone close to you died, and you can’t go back to the life you had before.
- Money. Someone is a spendthrift and the other is a penny-pincher, and the twain never meet. Or maybe growing financial insecurity is making home life bitingly negative.
- Sex. If sex is a physical symbol of your love for one another, the wilting of that symbol can be both emotionally and physically saddening.
Know that people rarely change. People often say they’ll change, but they rarely do. After they’re comfortable, they usually revert back to the people they were before. It’s not impossible for someone to change wholesale, but it’s unlikely.3. Open communication with your spouse. Get information from them about how they think the relationship can be improved. When bringing up this difficult conversation with your spouse, remember a few things:
Don’t be accusatory. Accusing them of something will only burn bridges. Instead of “I thought you were going to take care of that, which is why I’m angry it didn’t happen,” you can say “We all know that no one’s perfect. I just thought you were going to take care of that, so I was surprised when it didn’t happen.” Count to three before you answer. A lot of the time, our impulse is to fight back instead of hear what the person is actually saying. Count to three before you answer, thinking about what your spouse has said. Calm and composure on your end will produce similar results on their end.4. Seek out a marriage counselor (optional). A marriage counselor, while expensive, offers highly nuanced insight into the clockwork of your marriage. A counselor might be able to identify what went wrong from an informed, but emotionally distant, place. Because the counselor has no skin in the game, so to speak, s/he is less likely to lie, to cut corners, or forget inconvenient facts. A marriage counselor might very well save your marriage.
5. Test the waters for change. Is your spouse absolutely unwilling to bend? If so, it might be hard to create the change you want to see in your relationship. If you’re unsure, test the waters to see if your spouse seems willing to make the necessary changes to save the relationship. Again, it’s hard to help somebody who doesn’t want to be helped. You can test the waters by:
- Asking your spouse if they’re willing to see a marriage counselor
- Asking your spouse if they love you as much, if not more, than they did on your wedding day.
- Asking your spouse if they’re willing to sacrifice — along with you — in order to make the relationship work.
Putting the Pieces Back Together1. Create a safe space for this communication. A lot of the time, a marriage begins to fall apart because both parties forget to communicate, feel unsafe or embarrassed communicating, or think they’re communicating when they’re actually not. In order to encourage the right sort of communication, think about:
Setting aside a time of the day for you and your spouse to come together and just talk. No sex, no children, no TV, no work. Just talk. If you want to talk about your issues, talk about that. If you want to talk about your day, talk about that. Setting aside time to talk will grease the wheels and encourage deeper communication.
Let your spouse vent. Sometimes, your spouse just wants to get something off their chest: they don’t want an analysis, they don’t want direction, they just want a pair of ears and a shoulder to lean on.2. Don’t use threats as a bargaining chip. Often, threats are bandied about a failing marriage like horseshoes on the 4th of July. Threats don’t mean you’re a bad person, they just mean that you’ve learned a bad habit, one you should unlearn. The problem with threats is that they encourage people to do the right things for the wrong reasons: your spouse shouldn’t want to save the marriage because you’re threatening to leave them — your spouse should want to save the marriage because they absolutely, deeply love you.3. Learn how to argue effectively, with humility. Arguments in marriage are bound to happen. The couples that survive and build on their love are able to overcome personal hangups, put themselves in their partner’s shoes, and learn from their mistakes. If you want to save your marriage, both you and your spouse are going to have to learn how to argue the right way.
Don’t dig up the past. It’s really tempting to bring up what happened 14 years ago as a piece of evidence about why your spouse is undeserving or wrong. This misses the point: the point isn’t to “win” the argument, it’s to get your spouse to hear your point and possibly change their behavior. If you constantly dredge up old dirt on your spouse, they’ll feel attacked instead of involved in a discussion. That’s when the argument starts to go astray.
Don’t use ad-hominem attacks. An ad-hominem attack is when you attack a person (their physical, emotional, psychological traits) instead of their ideas. Sometimes, a trait needs to be criticized and dealt with. But too often, it feels like a serious low-blow and causes more mudslinging than than coming together.4. Say what you do and do what you say (and expect the same from your spouse). A relationship is all about trust. Trust is gained when expectations are met, and when actions are followed through on. If you say you’re going to do something, do it. A failure to follow through on your words causes your spouse to believe that your words aren’t what you say they are. This leads to a breakdown in trust.5. Learn how to celebrate the successes and commiserate the failures. Every life is filled with ups and downs, just as every person is filled with strengths and weaknesses. In a failing marriage, we too often use our partner’s failures as a chance to secretly gloat and pass over our partner’s success like we take them for granted. What more does a husband or wife want than to have their loved one be with them in times of despair and share happiness with them in times of joy?
If the idea of celebrating your spouse’s successes and ruing your spouse’s failures sounds horribly weird, take a step back and think about what you want to get out of your marriage. Most happily married couples admit feeling joy for their spouse when they’re happy and feeling sadness for them when they’re not. 6. Leave time for some time apart. Falling back into love all over again is great, but sometimes that personal independence that we all yearn for gets lost along the way. Often, what we need is an hour or two of alone-time to engage ourselves in something that we absolutely love, whether it’s gardening, fixing cars, or reading books. If one person in the marriage feels smothered, they’re going to take that displease out on their spouse, and it’s unlikely to lead to happiness. During your time of reconciliation, set aside time to do things you both love, to recharge, and most important, to reflect.7. Admit to your spouse that neither one of you is responsible for this lull in your marriage. It’s tempting to blame everything wrong that’s happened on your spouse without admitting that you were somehow also complicit. There’s also space for admitting that you both shoulder blame and responsibility. The process of saying that to your spouse can mean a lot, helping you to reform your bond.
For example, it’s unfair to say that your spouse never made dinner with the family a priority if you didn’t try to work with them to fix that. You can say something like: “You didn’t make dinner as much of a priority as I would have liked, but I was guilty of holding that against you and not trying to work with your busy schedule to accommodate you when you were free.
Practical Things that You Can Do Right AwayRededicate your commitment by making it tangible. A marriage is also about commitment, a commitment that puts other people ahead of oneself. If you feel like rededicating your commitment to your marriage, consider making it physical or tangible to that your spouse can see that commitment. Gift your spouse a:
Flower or plant (something growing)
Work of art (made by you)2. Switch up the environment. Couples whose marriages are in danger often take trips, both faraway and close, because the monotony of life back home has them taking each other for granted. When the obligations of work, kids, and family go away, couples rediscover why they fell in love in the first place.
Note: a vacation can be a pretty poor litmus test of whether the relationship is going to succeed. A vacation is all play and no work. Going back to the familiar routine of work, family upkeep, and chores can cause the fairy tale ending to end very quickly.3. Try to go on a date. A loving marriage is one in which both partners still enjoy the thought of being with one another all alone. Some couples try to engineer a date night every week, others every couple of weeks. At the very least, try to plan a date night with just you and your spouse once a month. This should help reignite your passion for one another, as well as eliminating some of the more tedious responsibilities of everyday life.