Most marriages begin with two people falling in love, and they continue in like manner. “A successful marriage,” said Mignon McLaughlin, “requires falling in love many times, always with the same person.” While the movies make falling in love look like a matter of serendipity, a successful marriage is too important to leave up to chance. It takes work to keep it going, especially when troubles arise.
Experiencing difficulty in marriage is no need for panic; a struggling marriage is not a doomed marriage. Nor are you and your spouse incompatible after one or many fights. Just like a car with its check-engine light turned on, your marriage just needs some attention and care to keep it performing at its best. Before you even begin to consider the long and expensive road to divorce, here are six practices that can restore your relationship to peak condition.
Taking the time to write things down is a good way to not only get your feelings across to your spouse, but to understand them yourself. Even if you don’t share them with your spouse, writing these thoughts down is a good way to take stock of your situation and start making plans to fix it.
- Stop asking the wrong questions.
When a marriage grows strained, it’s common to ask, “Did I marry the right person?” According to relationship expert Mort Fertel, though, that’s feeding into the wrong mindset. “The key to succeeding in marriage is not finding the right person; it’s learning to love the person you found. Love is not a mystery. Just as there are physical laws of the universe—like gravity, which governs flight—there are also relationship laws that, depending on your behavior, dictate the outcome of your marriage. You don’t have to be ‘lucky in love.’ It’s not luck; it’s choice.”
You might start to think that if only your spouse were to change a specific behavior or practice you would be happy. But don’t fall into that trap. “Attempts to make your partner change invite defensiveness,” says marriage specialist Susan Heitler. “That strategy will get you nowhere.” Instead, she suggests turning your focus inward. “Figure out what you want and then what you yourself might do differently to get it, becoming ‘self-centered’ in the best possible sense. When spouses look at what they themselves might do differently to get what they want, there’s progress.”
- Give love and praise specifically.
When the relationship is new and exciting, it’s easy to list off the things you admire in your significant other. For example, you might love their particular brand of humor or how well they work with children. “The longer people are together, the less they mention these kinds of details,” says author Harriet Lerner, PhD. “Think about how specific your criticisms are: ‘Why do you put so much water in the pasta pot?’ or ‘Why have you come home with five bananas when I told you three are going to be rotten?’ Be exactly that specific with your praise too.”
Sometimes the simplest answer to growing apart is to get close again. If you and your spouse are having issues, you’ve likely lost physical contact with one another. “Just touch in silence,” says Hilda Hutcherson, MD, professor at Columbia University. She suggests starting small, like sitting close to one another while watching TV, and gradually working up to handholding, giving massages, and then cuddling in bed. “Touch increases the hormone oxytocin and makes couples feel closer. It takes away that urge to attack. It helps you remember what attracted you to your partner in the first place.”
Counseling is valuable for opening listening and communication. However, the experts agree that counseling is not a solve-all solution. It is much more important to learn how to be active. “Marriages change not because of what people say or how well they listen,” Fertel says. “Marriages change because of what people do.”
Lerner adds, “Each of us knows three things we can do to make our partner happier: clean the old fast food wrappers out of the car, seduce him before the kids wake up and iron his T-shirts or whatever happens to easily and absolutely delight him. Name them—and do them, right now.”
Trying everything to make a marriage work gives you the peace of mind to know that you tried. However, sometimes even with all the work, a divorce is inevitable. If you have decided to pursue a divorce after working on your marriage, the professionals at Hart Legal are ready to help you through the process. Please give Hart Legal a call to set up your consultation.