How to Help Your Struggling Marriage
Marriage: A Messy Patchwork Picture
Ahh, the dating days. You saw him. He saw you. Your heart leapt. Next comes marriage and a baby carriage. And you lived happily ever after. Or, was it not that way?
Maybe you met your spouse in class and things blossomed from there. Maybe you had a traditional Hindu arranged marriage. Perhaps you had to marry your spouse because you were expecting a baby and your family pressured you.
Maybe your biggest issue is not being able to talk about problems. Perhaps your biggest issue is that you know your spouse gambles or cheats. Maybe your biggest issue is that he twitches his foot in his sleep and you want to smack him.
Maybe you started out distant and have grown closer through the years. Maybe you started out on fire and lost that spark and are no longer able to connect as in the past. Maybe you have always felt hum-drum with your spouse and you are looking to escape the monotony.
There are so many types of marriages and each one is entirely unique. How could a marriage not be unique, as marriage in itself is the exclusive bond of two individuals. There are literally no two alike. But they still all have some things in common, namely ways to improve distance, communication, and overall quality of the relationship.
Marriage is like an enormous patchwork quilt. The family and society as a whole are built on it, but no one tells us just how hard it is! While no two are alike, there are certainly things you can do to make yours better as you work through the daily struggles that accompany matrimony.
6 Actions You Can Take
There are some things you can do in your relationship to help make things go smoother. Some of these things may seem contrary to logic, but they are tried and true and others (and myself) swear by them.
1. Put Away Pride and Serve
Whether you are a man or woman, recognize pride in yourself and be willing to serve your spouse where it matters. She wanted to wash the dishes but did not have time; coincidentally, you have a bit of time on your hands. Wash them for her. He is running late and is forgetful, as usual. Take the time to pick out his clothes and throw a snack in his briefcase. This things probably do not come naturally to you. In fact, you may hold contempt for your spouse when the thought of serving him or her comes into your mind. This is a wrong thought that you need to identify as such. Not being willing to serve your spouse is rooted in selfishness and pride. You would rather do what you want to help yourself, and teach the other a lesson, or let them suffer. Pride will keep you from humbling yourself to help your spouse. But, serving each other will help you appreciate each other more, and will only lead to good things in your marriage. What do you think selfishness, pride, and contempt will lead to? Anything good? Do you think your spouse will someday wake up and say, "Wow, I'm really glad you stuck it to me by not picking up my dry cleaning like I asked, since you were running by there anyway. I definitely learned my lesson and will be perfect from now on!" Don't count on it. In fact, the only lesson your spouse will learn is that you are a stick-in-the-mud that doesn't care about him, which can lead to contempt on his part, and getting off the marriage highway to the first exit that leads to divorce. Humbling yourself may sound a bit like this: I married this person for better or for worse, and I am going to help them when they need me whether I am happy about it or not. If both spouses operate this way, a successful marriage partnership arises.
2. Forgive and Never Bring Up The Past
I wish I had a dollar for every time a person has told me they have resentment toward their spouse for something they did, said, didn't do, or didn't say. On one hand, I understand. The fact of the matter is, we are imperfect beings and we let each other down inevitably. I have also been hurt, annoyed, and angry at my spouse at times over the past ten years. Some of those things can be very hard to forgive. However, no matter what your spouse has done, forgiving will set you free from the resentment and contempt you hold for them. Not forgiving will never help your marriage. It will only stew and make things way worse. Beyond forgiving, it is important that once a matter is discussed and dealt with, it is buried away and not brought back up. Throwing one's past decisions in their face will never fix your relationship or even your argument. "I know you said you're sorry, but I keep thinking of that time you left the hair straightener on all night! Our house could have burned down! That was such a stupid thing to do!" Guess what, it was an error and you are not immune to committing them. Your spouse apologized and it was dealt with. Why do you still bring it up? Trust your spouse enough to do things right from now on, and let things go. In other words, forgive them, and then act like they never happened, even if they pop in your mind.
3. Adjust Your Expectations
Of course, if it is something they do that habitually hurts you, you may have to learn what you can expect from them and adjust yourself accordingly. Of course, my previous statement refers to non-destructive behavior, such as you are very concerned with how your house looks on the outside but you cannot get your spouse to mow the lawn and upkeep the property which hurts your feelings every week that you experience this continual disappointment. Many grudges have to do with expectations. "At night she says she is too tired to talk or connect with me," may really mean, "I expect my wife to be my best friend, conversation maker, and lover after the kids are put to bed." Most times, reality does not match our expectations. A conversation and finding another time to connect can fix this situation once and for all, and then you (the begrudged spouse) should check point number two above. For my husband and myself, we solved this specific problem by flirting throughout the day in text messages instead of just working all day, coming home exhausted, and then going to bed. Also, anything important is discussed in an e-mail. We both take time to read what each other thinks and respond accordingly during breaks at work. It is a nice connection and we go home in the afternoon after a good day's work feeling like we are caught up with each other, but also with a little spark from the gifs and silliness we have flirted to each other all day long. Expectations need to be forgotten. If you go into marriage with crazy expectations, you will undoubtedly be let down. Instead, go in with no expectations and let your spouse's behavior set the bar for what you can expect from them.
Disclaimer: If your spouse's behavior is destructive or abusive, do not dismiss it and seek counseling and a safe place for you and your family.
4. Don't Air Your Dirty Laundry
I have been in way too many small group classes on the topic of marriage where one spouse (usually the wife--sorry ladies!) completely throws their husband under the bus, be it about his leadership skills, a specific thing he did that made her angry, or even his nasty toenails. Meanwhile the man is just sitting there oddly smiling wishing she would shut up but not allowed to become angry due to social norms. I don't know about you, but I would be very angry if my husband said one of these things in front of a group of people. It is never okay to talk bad about your spouse. Even if you feel like it is justified to say it, his dirty laundry is your dirty laundry. "Mike made me pack up the whole yard sale by myself while he went golfing with his friends!" Guess what, you just made your husband look like a jerk to everyone in the room which is disrespectful. Learn some class and deal with private matters, privately. How do you think that publicly berating your spouse will ever lead to anything good? I am here to tell you that it never will. If you are the spouse of a good-willed person who does not realize they are doing this, show them this article and tell them that you feel a little hurt when reprimanded in public. If your spouse makes a habit of doing this and never apologizes, it could be an abusive situation for which you need to seek professional help.
5. Respect One Another
It really is as simple as being kind. Sometimes I feel a burning anger and annoyance rise up in me, and admittedly there are times it wins and I say something slicing and rude to my spouse. Many times this surfaces as me thinking I am angry, but actually I am scared or stressed. Since I have learned this about myself, I am able to better restrain my anger (fear) and act out of kindness and calmness instead of rage. But not every spouse struggles with anger as their biggest respect issue. Any feeling you have that makes you want to belittle or talk down to your spouse needs to be dealt with. Treating your spouse, male or female, with disrespect will not help you in the long run. In fact, researcher John Gottman found that eye rolling at one's spouse is a predictor of divorce. It takes a lot of work to overcome those urges to mumble, "idiot!" under your breath or roll your eyes behind their back or make an angry face of rage if they do something you don't like, whether they can see you or not. But, for the good of your marriage, restrain yourself and any lashing out. Through time, this new, mellower attitude will become more natural and immediate, and you will grow in respect with your spouse. Ladies, I will also add that even though we are taught to roll our eyes at the notion, something genetic in men makes them thrive on respect. Giving them a little can go a long way to fixing issues in your marriage.
6. Be intimate
Don't neglect your spouse in the bedroom. I could stop it there but I will go further: flirt with your spouse, touch your spouse in a non-sexual way throughout the day, and have deep, soul-tying conversations with him or her. My husband and I have our best conversations in the living room in the dark after everyone is asleep. Sometimes darkness, quietness, and aloneness can bring the depths of one's soul out to be understood, nurtured, and cherished. And, sometimes, these conversations lead to more. A woman feeling understood is a woman feeling loved. A man not neglected in his bed is a man feeling respected. That's why both conversation and sex go hand-in-hand.
Outside Resources for Marriage Help
Much of what I wrote above comes from years of experience being married myself, as well as talking to other married couples. But woven throughout is knowledge I gained from two of the most important marriage books in my opinion. I read a lot of marriage books and these are two I keep coming back to, a quick review of each, and where to purchase them. I recommend them both wholeheartedly to help any and all marriage issues and continue on the road to recovery and oneness with your spouse.
1. Love and Respect by Dr. Emerson Eggerichs
I read this book the first time when I had only been married a few years. I had heard great things about it, but took the leap when I noticed we were entering a dry spell. I had no idea that my lack of respect for my spouse was producing this "crazy cycle", as Eggerichs calls it. According to Eggerichs, and without giving away too much of what this ingenious book details, every couple has a crazy cycle that is spurred on by certain behaviors. The crazy cycle according to the author is a downward spiral of prideful disrespect fueled by a lack of love and cherishing, where each spouse never gets their needs met and only makes things worse by how they respond to not getting what they need (namely, love and respect). Eggerichs then details specifically how to stop the crazy cycle and start an energizing cycle of love and respect so that all spouses get their needs met and are able to stop the downward spiral and begin an upward climb to success in marriage. His tips are things I do every day, but you really must read it to get all of his in-depth analysis and help. It greatly improved the quality of my relationship and I know it can improve yours, too. It is as low as $12 hardcover and $9 for kindle. That is a small investment to saving your marriage. The book is available on Amazon through this link.
2. Love Must Be Tough by Dr. James Dobson
This book, although I don't agree with all of it, is an amazing analysis on what can be done when a spouse is cheating, disengaged, threatening to leave, involved in destructive behavior, abusive, or anything else that can ruin one's life. Although I do not go through the extreme situations detailed therein, it was very helpful for me when counseling other marriages on serious issues, as well as using the techniques of tough love in smaller situations, like standing my ground with coworkers or being hearty and strong in the face of a difficult and intimidating client. Dobson explains that in order to save one's marriage, groveling, whining, begging, and seeming "weak" will never work. He suggests a calm, cool, collected, and confident approach, where the victimized spouse clearly communicates the truth while never giving the other spouse the power they seek in the imbalanced relationship. Even though my marriage is not in crisis, this book has been a godsend for helping those who are. If you are dealing with some of the behavior cycles I have mentioned in this brief summary, this book will help you escape those and hopefully save your marriage (although, with healthier boundaries and real commitments to change.) through this link for as little as $8 on Kindle and $9 in print. This book is available on Amazon
A Parting Word
While no marriage is perfect, there are steps you can take to make yours better and outside resources that are available to help. By committing to take these small steps, you can help your struggling marriage regain the spark it once had, or have it for the first time ever. It takes commitment and hard work from both spouses to have a healthy and happy marriage. My hope for you is that you would try and look into the resources offered, because a broken marriage always seems like it's not a big deal, until it leads to divorce and people are hurt in the process.
Comment below about your story. I'd be glad to help. You can also shoot me an anonymous question below and I will get back to you as soon as possible.
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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2019 Audrey Lancho