Quick fixes: The internet is full of them. Are you wondering how to save your marriage from divorce? If yes, there’s plenty of advice out there, and a lot of it is worthwhile, but even the good stuff focuses mostly on easy steps you can take to bring about quick results.
However, the issues that brought you and your spouse close to divorce – issues that probably took years to develop – can’t be fixed in a week or two. While quick fixes might provide a good starting point, it’s going to take more than that to restore love, trust, and intimacy in your relationship.
Are you looking for a healthy marriage that lasts? Read on.
Talk less. Listen more.
Good communication is vital to the survival of any relationship. The problem is that we often equate communication with expressing ourselves, when in reality half of good communication is listening. That’s why step one has to be talk less, and listen more.
Listen to what your spouse has to say about what he or she is thinking or feeling. Also, think back to things your spouse has said in the past. What were they communicating that you didn’t receive at the time?
You and your spouse are always communicating something to one another, either through words or nonverbal actions. Has your spouse been communicating discontent, frustration, or perceived rejection? Has he or she given you reason to believe that they are unhappy because of some behavior of yours?
We often fail to pick up on subtle communication signals from our partners. Sometimes it’s because we simply, sincerely don’t recognize them. Other times we have decided to ignore them intentionally. Either way, our disregard of our spouse’s unhappiness can quickly create issues that can lead to divorce.
Now is the time to re-examine the needs and desires your partner has been communicating to you and begin taking them seriously.
It’s also time to make sure that you have been clearly communicating your needs and desires. Sometimes we expect our spouses to just know how we’re feeling because it’s obvious to us, but it’s not always so obvious to them.
It’s important that you’re both clearly communicating what you want and need in your relationship, because the next step is intended to end all guesswork.
Stop judging your partner’s motives.
The phrase “don’t judge me” has become a popular one over the last few years. As a society we have agreed that to judge someone means to form a negative opinion about their words or actions. And to some degree, that’s true, but only in the simplest form.
In order to form an opinion about your actions, I have to assume I know your intentions. When I assume I know why you did or said what you did, it’s easier for me to feel strongly about it one way or another.
For example, if some guy cuts me off in traffic, I assume he did it because he’s a world-class jerk. Now I’m mad, not because I was momentarily inconvenienced, but because some inconsiderate asshat thinks the rules don’t apply to him.
Suddenly an incident that was over in two seconds has the power to bother me for the rest of my drive – and possibly longer, depending on how strong my anger is against inconsiderate asshats.
Now imagine the same scenario in your marriage. Your husband works late for several nights in a row, or your wife has rebuffed your sexual advances a few times this week. What’s your response?
You, me, all of us are going to respond the same way: We’ll judge their motives. We decide why they’ve done it, and inevitably that why will revolve around us in some way.
He doesn’t come home on time because he doesn’t want to spend time with his family.
She refuses sex because I’m not enough for her.
Such judgements are not a conscious choice. Our brains are wired to try to understand the things that happen to us (Side note: They’re also unfortunately wired to assume that everything is happening to us, when it’s far more likely that it’s just happening around us). We make judgements about what our spouses and other people do because it’s easier and far more satisfying than admitting “I don’t know.”
“I don’t know why he’s coming home late.”
“I don’t know why she seems to have lost interest in sex.”
But do you see how much better “I don’t know” is for a marriage? “I don’t know” is uncomfortable, but it will inevitably lead you to find out the truth because you really do need to understand. “I don’t know” leads to communication.
“Babe, I’ve noticed that you’ve been working late a lot this week. Is something going on at work?”
“Sweetheart, I noticed that you haven’t wanted to make love lately. Is there something going on that you want to talk about?”
Judgement, on the other hand, leads to anger and perceived rejection. And since we tend to make judgements about other people based on our own insecurities, our anger and feelings of rejection are often way out of proportion to the actual event.
What happens then? We begin responding to our spouses as though they really do feel the way we’ve decided they feel, and chances are they don’t. Now, they don’t understand the true reason for our anger, and they form judgements of their own – and then respond out of those judgements, and the cycle continues.
So, what can you do to end the cycle of judgement in your marriage?
First, get honest with yourself about what you know and can’t know. When you immediately imagine all sorts of nefarious motives for your spouse’s actions, stop and ask yourself, “Is it really possible for me to know what’s going on their head?” Training yourself to recognize when you’ve made a judgement is a vital step.
It’s also a difficult one, so don’t be surprised if it takes a while. You’re literally changing your brain to think in a whole new way, and that’s not a quick process.
Second, acknowledge your own whys. Ask yourself, “Why did I make that particular judgement? What insecurity did his/her actions tap into?” You’ll be surprised to find how much you grow emotionally just by acknowledging your insecurities rather than avoiding and denying them.
Finally, open lines of communication with your spouse. Seek answers to your questions about why they did or said what they did.
Don’t badger or nag, though. Remember that your spouse is even newer to healthy communication and honest introspection than you are. It might take them a while to catch on, and that’s okay. It’s possible that your spouse isn’t even fully aware of their “why,” so be patient with them while they figure it out.
Now for the final step in saving your marriage from divorce.
Confront your own emotional health.
When trying to figure out how to save your marriage from divorce, it would be natural to look for things to change in your actions because that seems most likely to lead to immediate results. Stop doing this, start doing that – boom. Measurable success.
And you know what? That’s not wrong.
But saving your marriage from divorce is a long-term project. You can change your actions for a week or a month, but what about a year from now? What about when the immediate danger is passed, and you begin to grow complacent again?
How easy it is to slip back into the same old patterns of behavior. How easy it is to ruin months or even years of progress toward a healthy marriage by taking up those patterns again?
For example, do you use anger or sex to manipulate your spouse? Do you belittle their needs or blame them for your actions?
If you want to save your marriage, you’ll stop doing those things, period. But if you don’t address the subconscious needs that drive your behavior, your change will only be short term. You will eventually begin doing them again, because “quitting” is like mowing the weeds down.
They always grow back, unless you pull them up at the root.
I’ll be honest, this is not an easy step. Confronting our emotional issues requires determination, commitment, and vulnerability. That last one is something most of us spend our lives actively avoiding.
However, at some point we have to ask ourselves, Is my marriage worth it?
Are my children worth it?
Am I worth it?
Is your emotional comfort worth losing your marriage? Or is your marriage worth your vulnerability?
So, when you decide to do the hard work of growing emotionally in order to save your marriage, how do you go about it?
First, remember step one: listen to your spouse. Listen to their needs and desires.
Second, be honest with yourself about why you aren’t meeting those needs. What are you doing or not doing that is causing unrest for your spouse? Why are you doing/not doing it?
The answer to this might be as easy as laziness or selfishness (←guilty!). You could simply recognize your tendency toward either of these flaws, offer a heartfelt apology, and acknowledge that your spouse’s happiness is worth your effort.
Or this question might take you all the way back to some childhood trauma that you’re still trying to protect yourself from. If that’s the case, the third step is to seek help. Find a counselor, talk to a pastor, or even find a trusted friend or mentor who has had a similar experience.
Finally, communicate with your spouse. Tell them what you’re walking through. Don’t make the mistake of hiding your personal growth from them. Depending on the nature of your marital issues, this can be the most difficult step of all. If you’ve spent years doing (or not doing) the things your spouse needs, they might respond with anger that it’s taken you so long to change.
Don’t let that deter you, however. Being open and vulnerable with your spouse is an important step toward restoring intimacy in your relationship.
If you give yourself the time to really master these steps, you’ll be well on your way to lifetime of happy marriage. Good luck! Have questions or thoughts to share? Let us know in the comments!