If your marriage is in crisis, the task of salvaging the relationship may appear daunting. In my experience of working with countless couples on the verge of relationship disaster, I have identified five proven steps to turn things around:
While it may appear obvious, the couples that do not make it are usually those not committed to making their marriage work. When you make the decision to commit, you have decided to put in the hard work that is needed to save your marriage. When you waver and think about what it would be like if you married someone else or how you wish your life would be different, you are usually not able to generate enough momentum to push forward and repair the relationship.
When deciding whether or not to commit, be aware of the consequences divorce can have on your children and your finances.
Also, realize that it takes two to tango and that finding someone better is not necessarily a cure-all, as we will likely have issues in future relationships.
Finally, recognize how the particular challenges of your marriage are growth opportunities for you and your spouse, and that there are ways for you to transform this conflict into connection. (Of course, this does not apply to abusive relationships.)
2) Seal your exits.
Couples in crisis are often focused everywhere but their marriage. It’s so painful, who can blame them? Even if we are physically married, many of us have "checked out."
An essential step to bringing the energy back into the relationship is to seal your exits. This means thinking about the various activities where we focus our inner resources and whether they have become substitutes for the look of excitement and fulfillment in marriage. Besides the obvious (often-fatal) exits of infidelity and substance abuse, here are a few common exits that we may find ourselves doing:
- Taking care of the kids
While many of these activities may be harmless, if one of the reasons you are doing them is to avoid spending time with your spouse, it may just be an exit. Become aware of how you may be exiting the relationship, and begin to close those exits by putting more energy where it needs to be.
3) Detox your marriage.
Eliminate all name-calling, finger-pointing, blaming, and shaming. A toxic relationship cannot thrive. Angry outbursts chip away at the love and trust that a couple has for each other. Instead, take ownership for your feelings and frustration by focusing on why your spouse's actions disturb you. Replace the "you" of "you always do this" with "I” – "how I felt when…"
Finally, learn to ask for what you want. It’s so easy to complain that we often forget what it is we are missing. Rather than focusing on how your spouse ignores you, share how badly you crave his love and attention.
Not only does detoxing your marriage help remove the poison from your relationship, it will make your spouse much more amenable to meeting your needs.
4) Enter the world of the other.
One of the painful realizations that married people discover is that “my spouse is not me.” In order to make room for the other, it is critical to learn how to acknowledge that your spouse may see the world very differently than you.
Get into the habit of asking, "Is now a good time?"
We do that by learning how to communicate more safely. When we talk, we want to connect and make sure our spouse hears us. Get into the habit of asking, "Is now a good time?" instead of dumping a verbal assault. If the goal is to connect, make sure your spouse is mentally and emotionally available to connect.
The second step occurs when we listen. Try to enter the other's world by listening and understanding without responding or interjecting. Although in your world, things may look entirely different, be curious and interested in what your partner is saying. You may be surprised what you discover.
Couples are so often caught up in their own world that it is hard to make sense of the other's experience. In successful relationships, both partners are allowed to express their own feelings safely and can work together to bridge the gap between their worlds.
5) Love infusions.
Working on any relationship is challenging, especially so when you are trying to rescue one in crisis. That's why it is crucial to infuse your relationship with loving behaviors that promote positive energy. These love infusions help lighten things and add fun:
a. Appreciations – The best way to decrease resentment and reinforce positive behavior is by expressing appreciations. When we share what we like about our spouse, we begin to focus on what is right in the relationship, and our partner feels that his efforts are valued. More than a simple thank you, sit down with your spouse, look into her eyes, tell her what you appreciate about her, and why it means so much to you. By spending a few minutes a day on this exercise, you can break through a lot of negativity.
b. Date night – Even if you’ve been married for 40 years, you still need to date your spouse. Make a set time once a week where you go out together and enjoy each other's company. Whether it means going for dinner or a walk in the park, take this time to enjoy face-to-face connection. By making a fixed appointment, you will show each other that the marriage is a priority.
c. Caring behaviors – Love is a verb. We demonstrate care for a spouse when we perform loving behaviors. Every individual is different, so it is important to find out from your spouse what types of behaviors make him/her feel cared for. Ask him/her to write a list of behaviors that s/he particularly appreciates, and try to do one caring behavior each day.
When we act lovingly we not only stimulate our own love for our spouse; we awaken their love for us as well. And with these concrete behavioral changes occurring, we show that the relationship can indeed be different.
If your marriage is falling apart, these five steps provide you with a clear path out of the darkness and a new beginning for your relationship journey. With these five steps, couples have been able to reawaken love and enjoy each other again. Even if your situation seems hopeless, don't give up. A better future is closer than you think.
Excerpted from Rabbi Slatkin's new book, Is My Marriage Over: The Five Step Action Plan to Saving Your Marriage (available for download at www.theRelationshipRabbi.com/is-my-marriage-over)