When your marriage is in a free fall of disconnectedness, anger, or resentment, it can feel like you are standing on the sidelines watching a train wreck, helpless to stop it. It’s terrifying. Even worse, if your spouse has already asked for a divorce, you may be feeling like the end is inevitable.
Let me give you the good news first.
Fixing things doesn’t require that you both jump in and dissect your issues. When you change any part of a system (in your case, your relationship), the whole system reacts and thus changes.
Every marriage goes through difficult times; sometimes you may question whether it is even worth sticking it out. But marriages can stay together as long as both of you don’t give up at the same time.
The bad news is that clearly what you are doing isn’t working. That means to fix things, you have to make some changes, but probably not the ones that you thought. Truth be told, until the divorce papers have been signed, you still have hope.
Here are some important tips that will inspire your spouse to wake up and recommit to your marriage.
1. When your spouse is upset with you, don’t promise to make a change too soon.
Out of desperation, most people promise to make changes that they haven’t fully thought through. This knee-jerk reaction is not sustainable and only leads to disappointment. Over time, disappointment like this does more damage to the relationship—something you can’t afford right now.
A better response when your partner is upset is this: “I’m going to try to figure out why I do that because I really want to change that behavior for you. I will work on it and let you know when I figure it out.” Then actually explore that behavior so you can discover what is causing it. From there, you can talk to your spouse about the issues so that real change has a shot at working.
2. Distance yourself.
This is a hard one because it seems counterintuitive. Your spouse is already showing signs of pulling away, and that causes every cell in your being to want to chase after them. I’m telling you not to.
Here’s why: When you chase after something, the natural animal response is for it to run. When you move in the opposite direction, the other’s natural response is to move towards you. Distancing yourself is not a passive aggressive act, but an authentic and purposeful mental separation that gives your spouse some space they may need. It also has the added benefit of sparking curiosity and renewed interest in you.
We are naturally attracted to that which we feel eludes us. By distancing yourself, you are giving your spouse a chance to see you in a different light.
When your spouse is upset with you, don’t promise to make a change too soon.
3. Keep in mind that most couples’ issues are co-created.
Take the time to do some honest reflection so you can figure out what part you are playing in the marriage. Every behavior—or lack of behavior—has a reason behind it. Maybe you don’t trust your spouse or you feel a sense of freedom when you do things your way. These issues need to be understood and possibly resolved for lasting change to occur.
When you have figured out your part, share it with your spouse with an apology and no excuses. This will go a long way towards establishing or rebuilding trust.
4. Be short and concise when addressing an issue.
Don’t bring up the past and don’t add additional issues. Imagine that you have an audience while you communicate with your spouse. This will help you to stay on point and relatively calm. You’ll find that a better version of your spouse responds to you as well.
The challenge with adding on additional complaints is that it distracts from your main point. You will get further along with your partner if you help them be successful. That means, one thing at a time.
5. Finally, don’t forget to praise the small steps.
This means that any step, no matter how small towards positive change, should be acknowledged and appreciated. For example, you wish your spouse would help with the laundry. So, he washes and dries the clothes, but leaves them on the table for you to put away. As frustrating as this is, it’s an important step in the right direction.
Offer a positive comment back like: “Thank you so much for getting started on the laundry for me. That means so much to me.” Skip pointing out what wasn’t done and instead, praise what was done. Eventually, your spouse’s behavior will move towards what is being praised without even realizing that you helped to shape that behavior.
Marriage isn’t easy. At times, we all feel like we’re in it alone. The good news is that although working on your marriage alone can be a daunting task, it’s totally possible to make great headway with the right attitude. Also, the hard fact of life is that the only person you can control is yourself. Embrace the challenge and soon enough you’ll see your marriage change for the better.
Photo courtesy of Hernan Sanchez.
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