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I’m coming up on 38 years of marriage. Years ago that wasn’t odd. In our culture today it’s a long time and people marvel. They wonder how we have such a strong marriage. I started wondering too.
Our marriage isn’t perfect. We’ve had some rough times. But for the most part, it hasn’t felt difficult — why is that?
Especially when many people struggle so much — why is that?
What’s the secret sauce that makes a marriage strong?
Is mine just easier? I used to think so because our pairing has a supernatural story to it. But now I think differently.
We’re still people and people have issues. There must be something we do or don’t do that lends itself to why our marriage is strong.
I looked at my marriage and then asked a group of people to find answers.
The primary thing that makes a marriage strong is so obvious we miss it.
It takes two. Two people who make the same decision. Two people who form a partnership. Two people who make life mutual.
One person cannot carry a marriage no matter how much they try or hard they pray. It isn’t 50/50 — it’s 100/100.
A strong marriage takes two.
Before our wedding day we faced and accepted the mindset of forever. Forever is a big word to commit to. It’s scary. How is anyone supposed to know what will happen next week let alone forever? What about this and what about that questions rush through your mind.
But dedication to this commitment forges a strength to endure no matter what life throws at you.
There’s a reason the old traditional vows said for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and health, until death do us part. It’s normal to hesitate before saying them — it takes commitment that doesn’t give up when life get hard.
A strong marriage takes true commitment.
My marriage began with God in the center. Many of those in the group I asked put God in the center also. If you think about the origin of marriage this only makes sense.
The one who designed marriage, God, established it as a covenant between Him and the couple. So if He’s in the covenant, He’s involved. And if He designed it, it’s wise to have Him in the center.
Marriage in our culture has been reduced to a piece of paper or a business contract. Covenant is an archaic word to many but it’s much more powerful than a contract.
A strong marriage takes the help of God
Many marriages begin with what people call love when in truth they have feelings. We can feel love but love in truth is a choice. Building a strong marriage takes many choices and choosing love is the first choice to be made.
Things happen and feelings follow but having a commitment to love will supersede emotions. Choosing to commit to love will be visible in the choices that follow.
Love does no harm. Love serves. Love honors. Love is not self-serving. Love lifts up. Love covers a multitude of sins. Love speaks up and corrects with gentleness and grace.
A strong marriage takes choosing love.
Life is complicated and so are relationships. It takes many things to build a good strong marriage — and keep it strong. It’s a process so don’t be too hard on yourself.
Building anything of value takes time.
With the help from the group I asked, here is a list of building blocks to add to the things above for a strong marriage.
Communication — active listening
Intimacy — emotional and physical (sex)
Willingness to grow together
Play — laughter — sense of humor
Love them more than being right
Good will toward each other
Compassion — understanding
Cooperation — Happy willingness to help each other
Support — encourage one another in hopes and dreams
Humility — Being able to apologize even if you’re not wrong
And the list goes on…
A strong marriage takes many things but most of all it takes two people building together.
Each year, more than 2 million couples marry in the U.S. While most couples say they are madly in love, some really wonder if they have what it takes to make their marriage last over time.
Whether you’re married now or planning to, you’ll want to know about a Life Innovations survey of 21,501 married couples from every state. It identified not only the top 10 strengths of happy marriages, but also the top 10 problems in marriage.
The top 10 strengths are as follows:
They are satisfied with the affection they show and receive.
There is a good balance of time alone and together.
Family and friends rarely interfere.
Partners agree on how to spend money.
Partners agree on spiritual beliefs.
Additionally, the research found that the strongest couples have strong communication skills, a clear sense of closeness as a couple, flexibility, personal compatibility and good conflict resolution skills.
Strong marriages have a balance between separateness and togetherness. These couples prioritize togetherness, ask each other for help, enjoy doing things together and spend most of their free time together.
Also, some of the common factors in the relationship roles in strong marriages include both parties:
Are equally willing to make necessary adjustments in their roles,
Reporting satisfaction with the division of housework,
Working hard to have an equal relationship, and
Making most decisions jointly.
The happiest couples said they were happy with the way they communicate, it was easy to express their feelings and found their partner to be a good listener. They especially noted that their partner doesn’t use put-downs.
Obviously, conflict management/resolution skills are crucial. In strong marriages, both partners say that their partner understands their positions. They feel free to share their feelings and ideas; they take disagreements seriously and they work cooperatively to resolve conflicts.
According to the survey, the top 10 problems in marriage are:
Problems sharing leadership.
One partner is too stubborn.
Stress created by child-rearing differences.
One partner is too negative or critical.
Feeling responsible for issues.
One partner wishes the other had more time.
Avoiding conflict with partner.
One partner wishes the other was more willing to share their feelings.
Difficulty completing tasks.
Differences never get resolved.
For example, some common stumbling blocks are when one person feels most responsible for the problem, avoiding conflict and having serious disputes over minor issues. Sadly, relationships with unresolved differences can get into trouble. As a result, stumbling blocks become walls instead of stepping stones to build up the marriage.
Finally, no matter how in love you feel, bringing two personalities and their families together and learning how to dance can be challenging. So don’t just prepare for your wedding – take time to prepare for your marriage. Learn how to build on your strengths, creatively address differences and work together for the best interests of your marriage. It will probably be the best wedding present you can give to each other.
For more information on becoming a newlywed, get our E-Book, 10 Things Every Newlywed Needs to Know
For many married couples, falling in love and saying “I do” was the easy part. Living happily ever after is the part that takes a whole lot of work.
My family history doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to the vow “until death do us part.” My parents divorced when I was 18, and on my mom’s side alone, not one single marriage has lasted (keep in mind, she’s one of eight siblings). One might think this would make me a cynic when it comes to marriage — but for some unexplainable reason, that’s not the case. Maybe I’m an idealist, but I think you can fall in love with your best friend, grow old together, and even live happily ever after.
I sought out some honest advice from real people who might have insight as to what makes a marriage stand the distance. I reached out to all the married couples and divorcées I knew and asked them the burning question, “What’s the secret to making a marriage successful?” Read their words of wisdom below:
Share everything with each other. Most importantly, everything you are feeling. There is no way to be on common ground if you don’t communicate how you’re feeling.
Whatever bad stuff happens, remember this, too, will pass.
Affection breeds more affection. Touch each other, kiss each other good morning, and have plenty of sex (even when you’re old!). It’s too easy to get out of the habit, which makes you feel distant. Intimacy and physical affection really help keep you connected.
Children can be stressful, but they, too, will grow up.
Let the little things go and think big picture. Since you’re in it for the long haul, are you really going to care who did or didn’t run the dishwasher when you look back in 10 years? Remind yourself that your relationship is much, much bigger than anyone minor incident.
Fill the fridge with his favorites — it’s easy to do, so just do it.
Take time for yourself to do what you love, what makes you happy and gives you energy — being successful as a couple will only work if each of you is strong and fulfilled as an individual.
Avoid giving the silent treatment. Talk about things that bother you as soon as possible; don’t let your emotions build up, because you’ll likely explode.
Let go of hurts more easily, and try not to dwell on things that annoy you.
Don’t be afraid to compromise. It sounds like a bad word and like you are giving up on your “ideals,” but in reality, it’s about the push and pull of a relationship. Try rating how much you want something on a scale from one to 10 and have your partner do the same. So if eating out is a five for you and staying in is a nine for him, then you should stay in that night.
Don’t take each other for granted. You have to work at it all the time.
Be spontaneous. Change things up every once in a while, whether that means a last-minute vacation or a card for no special occasion. Grand gifts and the smallest gestures can go a long way when you’re with someone for a very long time.
Be nice! This can be harder than it seems sometimes, but remember that you (hopefully) love the person more than anyone else on the planet and you chose to marry them, so treat them with kindness.
Be patient. You both might grow together at different times and in different ways, so you need to give and take to make it last forever.
Celebrate when good things happen, and be expressive about it.
Find new things, new hobbies to do together like road biking, a cooking class, or starting a garden. It’s just another reason to spend time together building your bond, and it keeps the excitement going.
Marry someone you like killing time with.
Tell them what you need. As much as you want them to, they can’t read minds. Tell them that you feel disconnected and that you want a day alone together or date night.
Speaking of date nights, go on them and have fun! It’s important to set time alone regardless of how busy either of you get — especially when you have kids. Even if you’re overworked, overtired, or low on funds, it doesn’t take much time or money to reconnect. It can be as simple as going for a walk or cooking dinner together.
Make a budget together. It’s a great way to talk about your plans and dreams for the future and how to make them happen.
Surprise each other like you used to do when dating with special notes, small gifts, baking them a favorite recipe or planning a weekend away. It lets the other person know you’re still in love with them, and it makes you feel the love, too.
On the other end, when your spouse does do something special for you, show appreciation. They may know that you think all those positive things, but it’s nice to hear them out loud.
Build your partner up and support them to be all they can or want to be.
Take time to put yourself in your spouse’s shoes before judging. You want to avoid unnecessary criticism or negativity as much as you can.
Make each other laugh. Try not to take everything so seriously.
Communication is key. When your marriage hits certain speed bumps, remind yourself that when you come out on the other side, your relationship should be better and more evolved. Make sure the tough times lead to improvement, and if you keep making the same mistakes, reevaluate why.
Have couple friends but also your own friends who you hang out with on a regular basis, without your spouse.
Be more generous with time and money.
Be happy yourself. If you’re in a slump, there’s a tendency to take it out on your spouse or want them to fix it. You have to fix yourself.
Don’t get defensive. Try to come at things from a place of love and kindness, and don’t assume you’re being attacked.
Trust and be trustworthy.
Try to always remember why you fell in love with your partner. Whether it was their sense of humor or ambition — always remind yourself.
Say “I love you,” and tell your partner they look attractive.
Appreciate what you have and realize that marriages at times can be fragile and need to be taken care of.
Enjoy the NOW. Add a house, kids, etc. to the plate, and things just keep getting more complicated. Whatever phase you’re in, embrace it and enjoy it.
If you got this far and are still looking for help with your marriage check out another one of our articles onsaving your marriage.
We asked 50 YourTango Experts to share their best marriage advice — and they did not disappoint!
Ranging from how to have better communication to how married couples should spend some time alone, these may well be the 50 best marriage tips ever compiled. (Seriously, this should be required reading for every happily or unhappily married husband and wife, and for all future married couples.)
1. If your goal is to have a satisfying marriage with longevity, make sure you are accountable for the part you play in the relationship — good or bad.
“When you are in denial about your part in the relationship, then you are no better than a child flinging sand at another child in a sandbox. When you take responsibility for your part in the marriage, only then will you be able to connect with your partner in a mature, intimate way.” — Carin Goldstein, LMFT
2. Research consistently shows that touching more creates a stronger bond by releasing oxytocin.
“Hold hands, rub shoulders, hug, kiss, give high-fives or even fist-bumps or bottom pats. When you give a quick hug or kiss, try to lengthen it to at least 5 or 10 seconds for more effective results!” — Lori Lowe, MA
3. Agree to disagree.
“No two people agree on everything, and that’s okay, but it’s important to be okay with each other’s differences.” — Lee Bowers, LP, PhD
4. Sometimes it’s not about the amount of money you spend on a gift; it’s about the thought that goes into something.
“Take the time to write a thoughtful note every so often saying what you love and appreciate about him/her. Drop it in his/her briefcase or purse so he/she will find it unexpectedly and it will brighten up his/her day.” — Suzanne K. Oshima, dating coach
5. For men, it’s important to understand that women want to be listened to.
“Men don’t need to solve or fix everything; listening itself is an exceptional gift. For women, it’s important to understand that men need time for themselves. By giving him space to pull away and not taking it personally, you allow him to reconnect with his desire for you and his commitment to the relationship.” — MarsVenus Coaching
6. The biggest waste of effort in a marriage is trying to change your spouse since the problems you have with your spouse are generally problems you have in yourself.
“When you try to change your spouse you come across as a nag and wind up sending the message that ‘who you are is not enough.’ Nobody likes getting that message, and it leads to distance and polarization. Let your spouse be who he or she is and focus on changing yourself.” — Dr. Rick Kirschner, relationship coach
7. See problems — boredom in the bedroom, lack of conversations, resentment — as symptoms and treat those symptoms just as you would treat a chronic illness that seemingly has no cure.
“Throw at it every possible remedy you’ve got, no matter how alternative or weird it seems. Chances are one or more of them will actually work and your marriage will get stronger and stronger.” — Alisa Bowman, relationship coach
8. Next time you argue with your partner, drop the shaming, blaming, needing to be right, and really listen without interrupting.
“Communicate how you feel using ‘I’ statements. It’s not your partner’s job to read your mind, guess what you’re thinking, or put words into your mouth. These are huge obstacles to open, honest communication and will guarantee resentment, anger, and frustration in the relationship.” — Sharon Rivkin, MA, MFT
9. Take responsibility in your arguments.
“In order to strengthen your marriage, learn to recognize that most arguments have shared responsibility, that both people have valid points and valid reasons for their feelings.” — Kathy Morelli, LPC
10. Fair is not a four letter word.
“You may have forgotten about fairness, but now’s the time to bring it back into your relationship.
Are you both being fair when it comes to divvying up chores, communicating your needs, expressing dissatisfaction, dealing with finances, parenting, and supporting one another? If not, how can you improve and bring fairness back to the relationship?” — Lisa Steadman, dating and relationship coach
11. Nothing is more important in a marriage than the relationship between husband and wife.
“When other things become more important, such as careers, children, and personal pursuits, trouble sets in. Make the relationship your top priority. When you do, the marriage flourishes.” — Cathy Meyer, CPC, MCC
12. Are you creating more pleasurable interactions in your marriage or are you making it painful or unpleasant for your spouse?
“If your spouse treats you with kindness, gentleness, patience and self-control, it’s easy for you to respond kindly. If you are treated badly, with anger, or impatience, it’s difficult to be nice in return. Focus on how you can be a blessing to your spouse and, in turn, you will be blessed and so will your marriage.” — Mack Har
13. Never begin a sentence with the word “you.”
“Instead start with the word ‘I’ and then share your feelings instead of your thoughts. This is not as easy as it sounds because we all disguise a lot of thoughts as feelings, as in ‘I feel like you are avoiding me.’
Genuine feelings are sad, angry, happy, lonely, and frustrated, and sharing your core feelings creates better communication, and more connection and compassion.” — Veronica Monet, ACS, CAM
14. Change your focus.
“Shift your perspective to one of learning to appreciate your partner.” — Michelle Poll, CPC, MA
15. Let go of criticism and blame.
“Focus on what there is to appreciate about your mate, then honestly and spontaneously express your specific appreciation to them. It’s also good to do this for yourself.” — Judith Joyce, life coach
16. Never lose the fine art of dating.
“Setting aside a romantic evening on a regular basis can rekindle the magic of a long-term relationship. It doesn’t have to be fancy, just special time for the two of you to remember how and why you first fell in love.” — John Sovec, LMFT
17. Have regular times, even if it’s just for 15 minutes, to check in on your relationship and what you appreciate about each other.
“No talk about kids or schedules allowed.” — Mary Kay Aide, MS
18. Love your marriage by first taking care of yourself.
“So many of my patients say the reason their marriage fell apart is that they became depressed and disinterested in their partner. If you keep working on you, your marriage will stay fresh and vital.
Start today by adding a new wedding vow to your list: Promise to take care of yourself so you will continue to age with grace and confidence by your partner’s side.” — Mary Jo Rapini, LPC
19. Recognize that your husband or wife is mirroring back to you who you are.
“So take whatever you’re upset with him/her about and use it to help yourself look squarely at what you need to do in order to grow and evolve. The relationship will thrive!” — Ilene Dillon, LCSW, LMFT
20. Take time to have some fun together every day.
“With today’s hectic schedules, it’s easy to find your marriage at the bottom of the priority list. Take a walk and hold hands (nature calms), couple-cook (food fight!), exercise together (tennis or dancing maybe?) or just collect a ‘daily joke’ to share.
It doesn’t have to be expensive, but if you make the commitment and effort to laugh together as often as possible, it can sweeten your connection and cement your relationship for life.” — Melodie Tucker, CPC
21. Before you get mad or assign blame, take a breath and ask your partner for his or her perspective.
“For instance, it’s your spouse’s job to walk the dog in the morning, but you discover dog poop on the kitchen floor and cleaning it up makes you late for work. Instead of immediately placing blame, saying something like, ‘I’m puzzled about what happened with Spot this morning,’ is a gentle way to start a conversation.” — Jean Fitzpatrick, LP
22. Make a list of three of the happiest moments in your marriage.
“Spend a few minutes each day briefly reliving those moments in your mind. The results will amaze you.” — Lucia, dating coach
23. You can change your relationship for the better by increasing the use of the following statements:
“Try these: ‘I love you’, ‘I’m here for you’, “I understand’, ‘I’m sorry’, ‘Thank you’, ‘I really appreciate all that you do’, ‘It’s so nice to see you’, ‘That was quite an accomplishment!'” — Gina Spielman
24. Appreciate your partner at least five times each day.
“Appreciate them from your heart about who they are at their essence. Leave gratitude in love notes, hide them so they will find them, or look deeply into their eyes and tell them. Be creative!” — Linda Marie, RN, BSN
25. In order to keep the spark alive and avoid “roommate syndrome.”
“Couples need to understand the notion of spending ‘time’ together versus creating sacred time together. Spending time at social events, time with family and doing ‘chores’ together does not count as sacred time.
Instead, carve out special time to not only be intimate, but also ensure that you continue to share new experiences together such as hiking, exploring someplace new, or arranging a stay-cation in your own city.” — Marni Battista, CPC
“A compliment is a sign of acknowledgment and appreciation. Make an effort to affirm your spouse’s value in life, and in love.” — Nicole Johnson, dating and relationship coach
27. Create a clear vision of your shared future together.
“Sit down, listen to each other and write out how you want your future as a couple to look. It’s much easier to create your best relationship together if both people’s needs are voiced, heard and supported by their partner.” — Eve Agee, PhD
28. Censor every impulse to blame or criticize your partner.
“Do everything you can to support your partner’s well-being, and respect your partner as you would your best friend.” — John Gerson, Ph.D
29. Date your mate.
“Date night is sacred and special and should be on the same day of the week every week. One week the wife should suggest the date idea and the husband should come up with the date night plan for the opposite week. This encourages both the husband and wife to be invested in date night.” — Julie Spira, dating and relationship coach
30. Add a spiritual component to your bedroom routine.
“Learn and practice Tantra and tantric sex techniques.” — Judith Condon
31. Communication and time together are the keys to strengthening your marriage.
“Impossible to imagine one without the other!” — Lori Edelson, LMSW, LMFT
32. One of the most important factors in a good marriage is respect.
“Respect each other, avoid verbal abuse, and keep insults to yourself. Bad words are just like squeezing toothpaste out of its tube — once it is out you can never get it back in again.” — Georgia Panayi, MBA
33. Set aside 10 minutes a day to talk to your partner.
“Ask what her favorite movie is and why, ask him to recall a happy memory from childhood, ask her what she’d like to be remembered for, ask him to name the three worst songs of all time. Do it at dinner, before bed, or anytime — as long as you do it for 10 minutes every day.
This simple change infuses relationships with new life.” — Dr. Terri Orbuch, Ph.D
34. You can have control or you can have connection with your partner, but you can’t have both.
“Pursue connection!” — Lee Horton, Ph.D
35. Every week, if possible, go out on a date just like you did before you were married.
“Select an activity where the two of you can interact, talk, and just be together enjoying each other’s company (not a movie!). End your date in the bedroom. Works like a charm!” — Ann Robbins, CRC
36. Couples often lose each other because of their busy lives: work, children, computers, and separate activities.
“A healthy marriage is one that has a mix of individual, family, and couple time. The amount of each may be different for each couple, but the mix is necessary to keep a functional marriage.” — Michele Seligman LCSW, BCD
37. Our brains are the only organ in the human body which do not self regulate, but need to be in connection with another brain for healing.
“Sit face-to-face and gaze into your lover’s eyes in order to allow the limbic system to relax. This will bring you closer and create the deepest sort of intimacy.” — Mary Kay Cocharo, LMFT
38. When you first see each other at the end of your respective days, before you do anything else, hold each other without speaking for at least 60 seconds.
“By doing so you remind each other’s old/reptilian brains that you are a source of pleasure and comfort. It’s simple, it’s easy to do, and it will make a world of difference.” — Laura Marshall, LCSW
39. Preface important communication with a simple yet effective introduction.
“Try saying something like, ‘Honey, I’m confused about your response to my plans for a weekend hunting trip with the guys. When would be a good time to talk further?’ Prefacing your remarks encourages a better, more accommodating reaction from your partner.” — Greg R. Thiel, MA
40. On those ever-important date nights, remember to be a husband or wife first and a critic second.
“Every time you open your mouth to complain about something — whether it’s the food, the service, the movie, the weather, whatever — some part of your partner feels they are failing because you aren’t having a great time. Men are happiest when they can please their woman (and vice versa)!
Save the full critique for your friends and, in the meantime, let your partner see the best in you.” — Delaine Moore, dating and relationship coach
41. Lean in.
“When it gets hard in a relationship, our tendency is to protect ourselves, to retreat, to ‘lean out.’ Leaning out when your partner reaches out creates distance and dissonance.
If instead you ‘lean in’ to the uncomfortable feelings, to the unknown and your own vulnerability, and meet your partner, you can actually strengthen your relationship through the struggles you face together.” — Christine Arylo, life coach
42. Accept your partner exactly as they are today.
“Don’t try to change them.” — Ellen Hartson
43. When your partner tells you something about you that is bothering them, reflect back what they are saying.
“When we ‘mirror’, this helps us not feel as defensive and allows us the opportunity to better understand what he is trying to communicate.” — Anne Crowley, Ph.D
44. The best way to strengthen a marriage is to support and assist each other in being the best you can be.
“A strong marriage is one in which both people understand that the other person needs to have outside interests and activities which help them to feel happy and fulfilled. A strong marriage is one where both people understand that it is more important to be happy than it is to be right.” — Dr. Joe Amoia
45. Have you lost that loving feeling?
“Step 1: Write down 10 qualities you loved about your partner when you first met and read it to each other.
Step 2: Brainstorm a list of 10 fun things you did together when you first met; do one date per week and enjoy bringing back that loving feeling!” — Tasha Dimling, dating coach, MBA
46. You’re entitled to the occasional bad mood.
“But you’re not entitled to make your partner the whipping girl or boy.” — Sherry Amatenstein, LCSW
47. A strong marriage is a partnership in trust.
“Trust your partner in everything, including purchases and financial decisions, and to bring up things with you that need a joint decision. If you can’t do that, the two of you have a problem.” — Donald Pelles, Ph.D., CHt
48. Always remember that life is long.
“In the heat of the moment, what feels super-important will likely fade in importance as time goes by. Before you react by yelling, tossing insults or unkind words, remember that ‘this, too, shall pass’.
Don’t let one unfortunate incident, difficult argument or challenging moment destroy your lifetime of happiness.” — Melanie Gorman, MA
49. A woman needs her partner to spend time giving her his full attention and looking directly into her eyes.
“When she receives this, she can easily get in touch with her feelings of love for her husband and becomes much more receptive to his needs. This is how intimacy can be fulfilling for both people — magical even!” — Linda Wiggins of RelationSync
50. Use character-related words that honor your spouse for such qualities as patience, helpfulness, courage, or kindness.
“Create regular opportunities for fun, laughter, and positive experiences. Figure out what communicates love to each other and do that. Be observant and thoughtful with little things and even do chores that the other dislikes.
Consciously doing what opens and softens your spouse’s heart will benefit you both in the long-run and keep your marriage happier.” — Susanne Alexander
Disclosure: Bear in mind that some of the links in this post are affiliate links and if you go through them to make a purchase I will earn a commission. Keep in mind that I link these companies and their products because of their quality and not because of the commission I receive from your purchases. The decision is yours, and whether or not you decide to buy something is completely up to you.
Each year in America alone, nearly 1 million marriages end in divorce.This is an incredible number! That would be as if all the citizens of Houston, Texas were divorced (each divorce leaves 2 people).
The question is how many of those marriages could be saved. Unfortunately, that is an invisible number. If your marriage stays together, it is hard to find in the statistics. As Marian Wright Edelman wrote, statistics are stories with the tears washed off.
Can your marriage be saved? If I could answer that, I would be a wealthy man. I can tell you that if your marriage is in trouble and you do nothing, the outcome is guaranteed. If you do something, there is a much better chance that your marriage will be saved.
And I can tell you, in four simple steps what you can do to save your marriage. You can start right now. But you must understand that I said “simple.” That is not the same as “easy.” These steps are not easy. They do, however, give you a path that you must follow if you want to change the destiny of a marriage in trouble.
Here are the 4 steps:
1) Quit the blame game. Stop blaming your spouse and stop blaming yourself. This is the first step because marriages get frozen into a pattern of blame that immobilizes any prospect of progress. Instead, the momentum gets dragged down and down.
Blame is our way of avoiding seeing ourselves clearly. It is much easier to point the finger somewhere and say “It’s their fault.” But in marriage, you can just as easily turn that pointing finger on yourself and place the blame there, saying “it’s all my fault.”
Unfortunately, blame feels good in the short-term, but in the long-term, it prevents any shift or change. So, even if you can make a long list of why you or your spouse should be blamed, forget it. Even if that list is factual, it will not help you put your marriage back together. Blame is the fuel of divorces.
2) Take responsibility. Decide you can do something. Change always begins with one person who wants to see a change. Understand that taking responsibility is not the same as taking the blame (see above).
Instead, blame is saying “regardless of who is at fault, there are some things I can do differently, and I am going to do them.” What buttons do you allow your spouse to push? What buttons do you push with your spouse? Decide not to allow those buttons to be pushed and stop pushing the buttons.
What amazes me in my counseling is that everyone knows what they should be doing or not doing. But it is difficult to move in that direction. Don’t be caught in that. Decide that you will take action.
The difference between blame and responsibility is this: if I am in a burning building, I can stand around trying to figure out who started the blaze, why it has spread so quickly, and who I am going to sue when it is over (blame), or I can get myself and anyone else I can out of that building (taking responsibility). When a marriage is in trouble, the house is on fire. How will you take action to save the marriage?
3) Get resources from experts. If others have been helped, you can be, too. Experts with a great deal more perspective and experience can be a real help in these situations. Do your research and divide the useless from the useful, then take advantage of the useful.
Don’t assume that your situation is so different from every other situation. I can tell you that after 20-some years of providing therapy, not too much new comes through my doors. Don’t get me wrong; the story changes, but the dynamics are the same.
Remember what Albert Einstein said, “The significant problems we have cannot be solved at the same level of thinking with which we created them.” In other words, what got you into trouble will not get you out of trouble. That requires a whole new level of thinking. And that is what you get from an outside expert, someone with a fresh perspective.
4) Take action. More damage is done by doing nothing by taking a misstep. It is too easy to get paralyzed by the situation. Therapists often talk about “analysis paralysis.” This occurs when people get so caught up in their churning thoughts and attempts to “figure things out” that they never take action.
It is not enough to simply understand what is causing the problem. You must then act! On a daily basis, I find people coming to my office with the belief that if they can just understand their problem, it will resolve itself. That simply does not happen. Resolution of the situation takes action.
Will your marriage be saved? If you follow my suggestions, you have infinitely more opportunity for saving your marriage than if you do nothing. Marriage is one of those places where it takes two to make it work, but only one to really mess things up. You can only do your part, but many times, that is enough. Resolve not to ask the question but to begin to act.
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