It takes two people to make a marriage work.
But it only takes one to save a marriage that’s breaking down.
In this article we look at 10 things you can do today to save your marriage.
These are the same tips, and techniques used by me – Kim Bowen and my husband more than 20 years ago to save our marriage after I told my husband John that I wanted out.
The short answer is…
Yes. It can.
We’ve seen marriages pulled back from the brink of divorce time and time again.
In fact, at one time I told my husband that I was done and wanted out of our marriage.
He implemented many of the tips you’ll find below, and now, thirty years later, we’re still happily married and more deeply in love than ever.
But just because a marriage CAN be saved doesn’t mean it SHOULD be saved.
This is a legitimate question.
As a marriage counseling service we take a marriage first approach but sometimes a marriage should not continue.
If you are the victim of abuse (physical, emotional or both), or if you’re the victim of rape (yes, you can be married and raped by your spouse) then it may be best to end the marriage.
If you’re in crisis, we urge you to call us for immediate help.
Yes! Yes! And YES again.
The long-term success of a marriage does indeed require both people to be engaged in, and committed to its success.
But when a marriage is in jeopardy – on the brink of divorce – it only takes the actions of ONE committed person to pull the marriage back from the brink.
Just see how Kelly and Grey were able to rescue their marriage by watching the video below.
If you are to rescue your marriage single-handedly, you must focus on what you control.
And right now (as always), you can only control your OWN thoughts, words, and deeds.
Just to be clear…
You have NO control over what your spouse thinks, says or does so do not spend any time or energy trying to affect what you cannot directly control.
Change starts with you.
When firefighters arrive on scene to a rescue operation, they don’t just start running around without first assessing the situation.
As the designated “firefighter” on scene of your burning marriage, you need to accurately assess the situation.
Get a notebook out and write down what you deem to be the main issue(s) with your relationship. How did you get here?
Reducing a marriage to rubble requires two sledge hammers.
Even in extreme cases of infidelity, or abuse, you have a responsibility to the situation.
It’s important that you take an unbiased look at your behavior within the relationship and identify how you’ve contributed to the situation.
It needn’t be anything you’ve done. It could be a lack of action that’s contributed to your current situation.
What does your spouse do or not do that drives you crazy?
Dig into why you think it makes you angry.
Are your reactions reasonable?
For example, if your spouse leaves their clothes on the bathroom floor, even after repeated requests not to, gauge how angry that makes you on a scale of 1-10 with 10 being furious.
If you score a 7 or higher, ask yourself if some clothes on the floor warrants that high a score.
And ask yourself why it is so important to you why you not have clothes on the floor.
Did your mother yell at you as a child to keep your room (and floor) spotless and free of clutter?
If so, is it possible that you feel like “it’s only fair” that your husband do it too? And when he doesn’t you feel angry because you had to be a “good girl” and keep your room clean?
Then ask yourself why you think your husband leaves clothes on the floor. Does he do it to purposely drive you nuts? If so, why do you think he wants to torture you that way?
If you could wave a magic wand and have the perfect marriage, what would it look like?
In your notebook, write down how your ideal marriage looks from every perspective.
Want to see something cool?
Check out this video…
What do dominos have to do with saving your marriage?
Well … a lot, actually.
In their book, The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth About Extraordinary Results, Gary Keller and Jay Papasan show how the simple, powerful concept of focusing on what matters most in a particular area can yield incredible results.
For each issue you identified as a contributing factor to your failing marriage, ask yourself this question:
What is the one thing I can do to improve [insert issue here] such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?
For example, if one of the issues in your marriage is that you’re not having sex because you’re both too tired at the end of the day, ask yourself…
What is the ONE thing we could do to have more sex such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?
Maybe all it takes is turning the TV off by 10pm.
Turning off the TV can be your trigger to tidy up the kitchen, have a quick shower and get ready for a little fun.
Or maybe it’s scheduling some sexy time in your calendar. (Come up with a codeword so that anyone looking at your calendar has no idea what you’re talking about. E.g. “Flow Yoga” or “Jumping Jacks”)
What type of person do you think has the best chance of pulling your marriage out of the fire?
Is it a bitter, cynical, angry and resentful person who spits venom with every word uttered?
Or is it a kind, compassionate, understanding, empathetic person who speaks with care, understanding, and kindnesskindess?
It’s the latter just to be clear.
“Such as are your habitual thoughts, such also will be the character of your mind; for the soul is dyed by the thoughts.” – Marcus Aurelius
A team of psychology researchers at Queen’s University in Canada discovered that the average person has more than 6,000 thoughts per day.
For most of us, those 6,000 thoughts revolve around the same things.
Most of those 6,000 thoughts are actually habitual thoughts that requires very little work on our part to formulate.
It’s been estimated that 40-55% of your daily activities are done on autopilot.
In that way, being angry and bitter towards our spouse can become a habit.
Habits need three things to form: a contextual cue, action, reward.
What are the triggers that feed the habit. What are you getting out of being so angry towards your spouse?
Write down all the things that have triggered a less than positive response from you.
List out the rewards you get from your reaction.
Let me give you an example of what this looks like…
One of our clients complained about how his wife would leave her pajamas on the floor in the bathroom – right in front of the sink – where he needed to stand to brush his teeth.
This drove him bananas.
He resorted to throwing the pajamas across the bedroom … or into the living room where his wife was relaxing on the couch.
His reward was a heaping feeling of self-righteousness.
Now it turns out his wife was not leaving her pajamas on the floor in an effort to drive her husband out of his mind.
It was simply a habit for her.
So our client had two choices:
With some guidance from us, he chose #2.
Now when he sees the pajamas on the floor (trigger), he thinks about how much he loves his wife and how supportive she’s been over the years. He still picks up the pajamas but now instead of becoming angry, he does it out of love – wanting to do something nice for her in return for all of the support she’s shown him in the past.
His reward is the warmth he gets from doing something for someone he loves.
Now, go through each of the triggers and reconstruct new actions and rewards that will support your efforts to repair your marriage.
Here’s a video by the author of The Power of Habits, Charles Duhigg talking about how to construct better habits…
Doing hard internal work like the work we are recommending here requires space.
Space for you to think.
Space for you to relax, destress and just be.
The unfortunate truth is your spouse would probably welcome the idea of seeing you less right now, so take this opportunity to carve out some alone time.
Go to a coffee shop. Get a mani/pedi. Go to the driving range (or gun range).
Whatever helps you relax, and to think deep thoughts – do it.
Remember to take your notebook and a pen so you can…
Write down a list of what it was that made you fall in love with this person you now want to leave or wants to leave you.
Are the reasons still relevant?
For example, you may have fallen in love with your spouse’s good looks – his blue eyes and flowing blonde hair, but now he’s balding.
I know, this sounds silly but stay with me.
The way you’ve been communicating in the past has gotten you to where you are right now.
If you’re reading this, then you’re not in a good place, so maybe – just maybe – your communication skills could use some improvement?
Very few people have the natural ability to communicate with their spouse in a way that supports a healthy relationship.
It’s a skill that’s learned, developed and mastered through practice – not one that’s often taught in school either.
Now is a good time to start studying how to communicate with your spouse.
Ideally, you enlist the help of a trained professional, like one of our counselors.
They can speed up the process considerably compared to reading a book and trying to implement the information yourself.
Whatever you choose, start now and put it into practice immediately.
You’ll still make mistakes and say “the wrong thing”. It’s part of the process.
Focus on progress and not perfection.
A broken marriage is saturated with strong emotion.
For two people to navigate the stormy waters on their own is very difficult.
That’s why our final tip for you is to enlist the help of a trained, professional (and impartial) counselor.
Our counselors can help you do the hard work and be the impartial voice you both need if you’re going to rescue your marriage.
There’s no fee, or obligation to speak with us so click here to book a call with our counselor coordinator.
They’ll ask you some questions and help match you with the best possible counselor.
If you prefer, we do online sessions as well as in-person.