Before filing for divorce, you need to know something. What you’ve tried in the past really doesn’t qualify as “working on your marriage.” In fact, it probably doesn’t even come close to the real work required to earn your way out of a serious relationship. Complaining, finger-pointing, stonewalling, martyrdom, and withdrawing are not valid behaviors for fixing a shaky marriage.
Try these five strategies instead:
1. Work on yourself.
It’s been said over and over again, the most important relationship you can improve is the one you have with yourself. By fixing your own issues, you’ll change the way you react to other people (your spouse included) and that means they will have to change the way they respond to you. Figure out your own flaws and determine what you want to change. Maybe you’re relying on your spouse for too much of your identity. Then go out and figure out who you want to be!
2. Let go of destructive reactions.
Any time there’s a problem between two people, the tendency is to fall back into our own bad habits of relating. Practice expressing your concerns about the situation calmly. Avoid pointing fingers and giving ultimatums. Gain control of your own emotions and work out a couple of win-win situations for both of you.
For example, you may have a conversation about your spouse’s tendency towards being a die-hard workaholic.
Wife: Honey, I’d like to talk with you about a potential problem. When you work long hours, the kids and I miss you. We appreciate all of your hard work in bringing home the bacon so that we have nice things. But we’re at the point where we would rather have you around instead. I have an idea. What would you think about dedicating one night a week to a family outing? This way we’d know that you would have time for our family every Wednesday evening.
Do not suffer in silence. Quietly resenting your spouse for not knowing there is a problem will guarantee marital unhappiness and puts you right in the middle of Camp Martyrdom.
3. Trust that your spouse has a good heart.
You may think your spouse is purposely doing things to drive you crazy. Research shows that once the human brain makes a conclusion, it will actively seek out evidence to prove that conclusion. Instead of labeling your spouse a careless beast who plotted to forget your birthday, look at him as a person with stresses, to-do lists, and problems of his own constantly clamoring for attention. I’m willing to bet that in 99 percent of the cases, the person you married isn’t the true embodiment of evil, but just a normal person who is sometimes forgetful, insensitive, and flawed (just like you).
4. Look for the exceptions.
This is another one where our brains wants to fill in the gaps with negative behaviors. Instead of criticizing your spouse for leaving his socks on the floor (serious, the laundry basket is right there), focus on the things that he does for you already.
Husband #2 made me tea every morning as part of our AM ritual. Sure, the man couldn’t close a cabinet door, but my tea was hot and ready at my side while I watched the morning news.
5. Establish clear boundaries.
Boundaries spell out to others how they are to treat you. This is the one I’m still working on. Figure out the behavior you just won’t tolerate and then express your response with consequences.
Try all of these for a year and at the end of that time, you’ll know in your heart that you did the absolute best that you could to change your relationship with your spouse.