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Detox Your Marriage

Detox Your Marriage

Three steps to eliminate the negative and rediscover the joy in your marriage.


Picture a marriage with no negativity, shame, or blame. Believe it or not, it's possible.

Here are three steps you can take to detoxing your marriage.

1. Stop verbal abuse

It goes without saying that any form of abuse in unacceptable in a relationship. (We will not be addressing psychological or physical abuse in this article). Verbal abuse can be a silent killer of relationships because many people do not realize that they are being abusive. It is not always easy to measure since there is no visible proof. But lashing out to voice grievances chips away at the trust in a relationship, to the point that couples often disengage because their marriage is no longer safe. You may temporarily feel better getting your feelings out in an explosive way, but it's at a great cost to your marriage.

While you may be aware of the more obvious cases of verbal abuse such as yelling and name-calling, there are more subtle forms which do equally as much damage such as blaming or shaming. Sarcastic remarks, putdowns, nagging and griping sap the warmth and love from a marriage, causing disconnection and cycles of negativity. For a relationship to thrive, these toxic comments must be eliminated.

2. Act for the sake of the relationship

When you are about to make a comment, take a moment and think about the effect it will have on your relationship. Will it enhance your connection or not? If the answer is no, exercise restraint.

This reminds me of the famous Talmudic story (Shabbos 31a) of a convert who asked Hillel to teach him the entire Torah on one foot. Hillel responded, “That which is hateful to your friend, do not do. All the rest is commentary. Go and study it.” Commenting on this passage Rabbi Dov Ber, the Maggid of Mezeritch translated “your friend” to mean your “connection” (in Hebrew the two words share the same root). In any relationship, whether it is with God or with your friend, the goal is connection. Therefore every thought, word, or action needs to be evaluated as to whether or not it will foster a deep connection or detract from it. Let us ask ourselves, will this thought, word, or action be helpful for our relationship with our spouse? Will it nurture the relationship or will it damage it? Even if you are feeling angry or hurt, it is important to possess the wisdom of one who can foresee the long-term outcome of his/her choices.

Related Article: Love Is a Verb

3. Ask for what you need

If you are feeling upset or frustrated in your relationship, a more productive way of expressing those feelings is to articulate the request or unmet need that lies beneath them. What do you need from your spouse?

It is easy to get so wrapped up in the conflict that you forget what you are fighting for. Take a few moments to become aware of what you are doing and discover what it is that you really want.

Nagging, blaming, criticizing, only drives the other person away.

The bottom line is that you are angry because there is something from your spouse that you are not getting. Nagging, blaming, shaming, criticizing, goes nowhere except to drive the other person away. Asking directly for what you want is a much more productive way to get what you need.

There is an important rule to asking for what you want. Be careful not to add a threat to your request. For instance, if you ask your spouse to spend more time with you and you add that you will go elsewhere if the request is not met, you are unlikely to get the results you truly want as you are setting up an unsafe environment. The main thing is to be able to ask for what you want in the context of safety.

One way to do that is to take responsibility for your feelings and speak about them in a mature way. One manner in which this can be accomplished is by sampling making “I” statements. Instead of criticizing, blaming, or shaming when we are feeling hurt, try: “I feel sad or belittled when you talk to me like that.” When you put the focus on yourself you are decreasing the potential for reactivity from your spouse. While one can dispute the facts, one cannot argue about a feeling. By making an “I” statement, you have removed the threat, and in turn, created safety.

If you have been hurt, it may appear to be an insurmountable task to detox your marriage. How can you not harp on past wrongdoings? Yet to move forward you must eliminate blame, shame, and criticism to the best of your ability. These are toxic behaviors that poison your marriage. By implementing positive changes into your relationship you can detox your marriage and rediscover the joy and blessing marriage has to offer.

Some of the ideas in this article are from Imago Therapy, by Dr Harville Hendrix and his wife Dr Helen Lakelly Hunt. Excerpted from Rabbi Slatkin’s new book Is My Marriage Over: The Five Step Action Plan to Saving Your Marriage, available for download at

August 27, 2011

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Visitor Comments: 10

(9) Anonymous, August 3, 2016 11:46 AM

When to speak and when to keep quiet

Alas, my mother z"l often spoke disrespectfully to my father z"l. After being married for a long time, I am realizing I need to create a new paradigm. In my case, there are times when I need to WAIT before opening my mouth. Also, the words please, thank you and you're welcome are some of the most beautiful words in the English language, IMO. For lack of a better term, I am going back to "the basics."

(8) Anonymous, March 12, 2014 1:08 PM

When a third person causes clash between the couple

Myself and my husband are always happy until his sister or mother enters in. They always try to belittle me and want him to do things according to their wish. They interfere in every matter infact recently they were planning to get my children to my SIL's place without informing me. My husband never speaks against them and gets hurt when I talk about them to him. I can not go directly to them and ask to stop all this non sense. I know my husband loves me and I too love him a lot. But when these ladies come into picture everything gets changed, I lose my patience and talk non sense in front of my husband to let my anger and frustration out. He keeps quiet and we dont speak to each other for next few days. I want to get rid of these drama queens in my life and want to have my happy life and happy family. How to make it possible, please help. Thanks a lot

(7) Anonymous, January 8, 2013 10:26 AM

asking is indeed the solution

Since the hiusband cannot read minds asking is the only solution. I ask him but sometimes he just forgets and when I remember him he is the one who gets angry. What should I then do in this situation?

(6) Bobby5000, September 3, 2011 6:22 PM

Orthodox Judaism meets New Age Psychology

Traditional Judaism conceives man and woman as two halves of a whole. Consider understand, and learn from gender differences, and the strengths of each. . 1. Men Games and Solutions, Boys' games and activities are goal oriented. You win or build something and accomplish something tangible. When discussing things with men, they are comfortable in the role, of finding solutions or achieving a specific goal. 2. Women and Verbalization Girl's activiites are more diffuse and undefined. One may play with dolls or pretend to be someone such as a mother. Women are comfortable talking and relating to people, and discussing their feelings. A man should hesitate before jumping in with solutions. Since women solve problems through verbalization, saying there is nothing to worry about accomplishes nothing except angering the women. A husband should instead acknolwedges the validity of his wife's concerns. 3. Criticism Women frequently engage in self-criticism and may speak bluntly of close family members; mothers and daughters may have candid frequent discussions unlike the typical father and son. However, that does not mean she should translate that in routine discussions with her husband. She can say I can't believe I did this and was so stupid, but not I can't believe you did that and are so stupid. It is particular annoying to the average husband to see his wife treat casual acquiantance carefully with effusive compliments while he only receives blunt criticism.

(5) Anonymous, September 1, 2011 10:59 AM

Excellent advice

Thank you for publishing this article. Since I read it yesterday I have: kept my mouth shut (a few times!) instead of saying some cutting remarks and even more wonderful (I even told my husband that I'm surprised that I managed this) instead of sulking, expressed my feelings regarding some patronizing, controlling words he directed toward me. May we all be blessed to choose words to build mutually respectful & loving marriages.

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