How to Save a Marriage

Marriage is so many wonderful things, but one thing it is not is easy. There are days when your married life seems perfect, and then there are the ones that push you to your breaking point and make you feel like throwing in the towel. You might come to a crossroads where you need to decide if your marriage is worth fighting for. When you think you may be on the brink of divorce, there still might be a glimmer of hope that you can save your marriage. You want to stay together. And by putting in the effort to learn how to make a marriage work, you can do it.

The best thing you can do is start working on your marriage as soon as you feel that first flicker of unhappiness. The sooner people start working on their marriage when they realize they’re in an unhappy marriage, the easier it can be to get past your problems. Okay, but let's be real: You’ve been stewing in these feelings for quite some time, and it’s easier said than done. 

People assume that staying in true love just magically happens, despite life getting in the way, especially when you have children. The relationship often stops being a priority, but most marriages can still be saved. Though every couple’s situation and circumstances are different, there are both big and small steps you can take with your partner, like online therapy, now to increase love, trust, and intimacy in the hopes of keeping you together and mending the failing marriage.

Map it out.

Individually and as a couple, write down how you started as a couple, what attracted you to your partner, where you are now, how you got here, and where you want to go. While you won’t be able to have the marriage you had in the beginning, you can work on having a new marriage. Though, in order to make it happen, you first need to know what it would look like to get there.

Some of the main ingredients in a loving and healthy marriage are shared values, dreams, and life goals. Chances are, while some elements have remained the same since the day you got married, it’s natural for your wants and desires to evolve over time. If you haven’t checked in with each other about your long term goals, it might be time. Sit down and talk about your vision of a future together and how you’ll support each other—it's an important and ongoing topic long after you've walked down the aisle or even had children.

Make it about YOU

Unfortunately, romantic comedies have ruined our expectations for marriage. Unlike the movies would have you believe, your partner does not have to “complete” you to have a happy and fulfilled marriage. Ideally, you should already be somewhat complete so that you don’t burden your partner or the relationship with the responsibility of making you happy. Take the time to do the work on yourself, whether on your own or with a therapist. It’s important to understand what you rely on your partner for, and why. Was it because that’s what was modeled in your parent’s relationship? Are you buying what popular media tells you? By asking yourself these questions, you might be able to suss out what work you need to do to be a happier version of yourself, not just a happier partner.

It's human nature, in any conflict, to blame the other person for failures and breakdowns. But, instead of focusing on how you wish your partner would change, the only change you can bring about is in you. Having a support system of family and friends – not your spouse – is crucial during this trying time. They're the ones you call if and when the emotions of a potentially broken marriage overwhelm you. Focus on self-improvement strategies for you and, hopefully, your partner will notice the positive changes.

In order to have a healthy marriage, we have the responsibility to live dynamic lives outside the relationship, including socializing, friendships, and activities that ensure we are living our best life. When you are happy with yourself, it’s easier to be happy in the relationship. 

Set rules and boundaries

Mutual respect and trust is necessary for a happy marriage, but too often they find themselves lost amongst the muck and mire of daily life. Couples fall into bad patterns of interacting with each other and don’t question it. To minimize snapping and destructive comments, draw up some rules of the relationship when it comes to communication. When you love and respect your partner, there are things you shouldn’t do or say. For instance, when you fight in the future, promise not to swear at each other or resort to name-calling. Definitely don’t threaten divorce. Perhaps you can resolve to always end a disagreement by giving each other an affirmation, as to remind each other of the love and respect you have for one another, despite feeling negative about a situation. The more constructive communication you can have, the better your chances of working through underlying issues–leading to a better marriage.

Starting dating each other again

Most couples don’t associate marriage with play, but it’s integral to a happy marriage. Remember how you used to play? Have fun? Be spontaneous? Even though it’s difficult to find the time, try to go out once or twice a week for a date where you don’t discuss problems (or kids, if you have them). Find your way back to the basics. What did you do before you were married that you’re not doing now? What did you do when you first fell in love? If the answer is to play mini golf, go bowling, play pool, or meet at a trendy bar for trendy drinks, well then, you’ve got your next date planned already. Just take a play out of your own dusty date book.

Show your love

Yes, sexual intimacy is a huge part of staying connected, but small, non-sexual physical gestures go a long way in keeping the fire burning on low. Hold hands when you’re walking down the street. Give each other a 20-second hug. Kiss each other hello. Dance cheek-to-cheek. Look into each other’s eyes for 30 seconds before you go to bed. These simple exercises help deliver a rush of pleasure and bonding hormones (like oxytocin) to bring back the intimacy that you may be lacking. On their own, they won’t solve major relationship issues, but over time with a little consistency, it can be very effective 

If that feels uncomfortable at first, start with small verbal or written expressions of gratitude and appreciation of the other person: Gush over their new haircut, text them that you can’t wait to see them later—all the things that people tend to say to each other during the honeymoon phase. Sometimes you have to fake it till you make it, but starting a flame really does build a fire.

Recognize what works about the relationship

Chances are, your relationship isn’t all bad all the time―but it can be hard to single out the good things when there's so much discord. All marriages have low points, but what brings people out of the low points is their ability to be open to the positives. One way to do this is by changing your inner dialogue when you’re unhappy with your partner. For example, instead of thinking I’m so irritated that they're never home for dinner, try saying, I’m grateful they have the weekends free to spend time with the family. Reframing your mindset to be more positive, allows for more acceptance and may help rebuild the friendship and trust that feels gone.

When you first met, did you love exploring new places together? Did you make each other laugh? When a marriage is failing, it’s important for both partners to try to recognize and remember the things that once attracted you to each other. If couples can remember why they fell in love in the first place, then there is “a glimmer of hope.” Use those feelings and memories as the foundation to rebuild what’s broken.

Accept the past and be open minded for the future

Perhaps there was an affair. Or, maybe you discovered something about your partner that should not have been a secret. Whatever it is, if you’ve both decided to move forward together, it’s important to embrace what happened and commit to a new beginning. In some cases, this means grieving the loss of what you once idealized in your relationship and realizing that it has changed into something different. 

And, you don’t want a patch-up job. Instead, recreate something fresh, with more transparency than before. The relationship might look totally different from the marriage you had before. Or, some things may stay the same. Every married couple has their own set of conflicts that will never be resolved. These negative emotions and conflicts come up again and again in a relationship, but instead of trying to win the argument each time these unsolvable issues arise, couples should come to an understanding regarding the deeper meaning of each other’s position. That understanding creates intimacy and connection.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help

If that seems impossible to see a way out, or you’ve given it a solid try on your own with no success, consider marriage counseling. A professional in couples therapy can help you start building that trust and goodwill again, so that these conversations can happen more organically at home.

You can follow all the advice, and read all the books about fixing a troubled marriage, but sometimes the most effective option is to see a licensed professional who can work with you and your spouse to address specific issues. A marriage therapist can act as coach, mediator and a teacher. A good marriage therapist should stay as neutral as possible while supporting and challenging both parties, she explains. To find a therapist you both are comfortable with, ask friends for recommendations. Or, start your search here at Advekit.

No matter how you try to save your marriage, you’ll know the right path and action plan for your relationship. If you ever need help along the way, we’re here to help you get matched with an affordable marriage counselor. Check out our blog posts about how to find a marriage counselor and how much is marriage counseling for more information. 

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