A functional and fulfilling marriage requires a commitment from both spouses. There are a lot of common scenarios that could potentially lead to marital issues, separation, and in some cases, divorce; however, even if you and your partner have drifted apart, there are ways to work through conflict and differences. If the effort to reconcile comes from both sides of the relationship, a positive outcome is possible.
Can My Marriage Be Saved?
Every couple’s circumstances are unique, ranging from a lack of communication to infidelity. That said, there is hope for reconciliation if you can employ the advice of experts, including empathy, self-care, and couples therapy.
What Can Cause a Marriage to Fall Apart?
According to Dr. John Gottman, it’s a good idea to stay away from the “four horsemen of the apocalypse,” or in other words, indicators that he says may predict the end of a relationship.1 In relationships, the four horsemen are: criticism, defensiveness, contempt, and stonewalling.
Other issues that may cause a marriage to fall apart include:
- No communication
- Lack of intimacy
- Stress related to finances
- Religious differences
- Constant fights
20 Tips to Save Your Marriage
To start putting in the work to save your marriage, try the following tips: use kindness when discussing a conflict, be gentle, practice self-awareness, know when it’s time to take a break, look for positives, listen with empathy, give each other space, practice self-care, stay away from the four horsemen, and seek help from a couples therapist.
Here are 20 tips to save your marriage:
1. Don’t Wait
It’s important to start right away if you feel that there are issues in your marriage. You don’t want to wait until there is so much bothering you about the relationship that managing everything becomes too much. Procrastinating addressing things as they come up leads to a lot of pent up emotions, which can be overwhelming for everyone involved.
2. Identify Issues & Goals
When you identify an issue, it’s important to be able to talk about it and come up with goals for how to mitigate the concern. Sometimes an issue for one person isn’t an issue for the other, but it’s important to consider your partner’s issues as issues for the relationship as a whole. Come together as partners, lay out the potholes, and identify goals to create a roadmap of how to get around these potholes.
3. Commit to Changing
To save a relationship, you have to really be committed to the cause and the reason why the changes are necessary. Those reasons must become values you hold to or the changes will be short lived. Relationships require commitment each day, and as couples grow, the needs of the relationship can also change. If you’re working on a specific problem in your relationship, making a daily promise to improve in the ways you’ve laid out with your partner can make a big difference over time.
4. Take the Initiative
If you are feeling like you want to address something, don’t wait for your partner to bring it up. You are just as accountable for the success of the relationship as your partner, so ensuring you are speaking up and taking the step yourself is important, because this also can help your partner feel safe to bring things up that they would like to address as well.
5. Use Kindness When Discussing a Conflict of Interest
When you love someone and are committed to making your relationship work, use kindness when approaching or discussing conflict, and learn to fight fair when you have differences in opinion. The majority of the time, the issue has more to do with how it was brought up, the context, and the meaning behind it.
For example, here are two ways to approach the subject of dirty dishes:
- “Why can’t you empty the damn sink?! Is it because you think you have a maid here? You are so lazy. I am tired of you.”
- “Can you please wash the dishes? I appreciate all the hard work you do around the house. Thank you for being so helpful.”
The way we say things can easily trigger old wounds in our partners — wounds that we may not even be aware of. In a simple statement like the example above, the other person can easily feel attacked, criticized, belittled, and unloved.
6. Be Gentle With Your Spouse
It is interesting to see how gentle we can be with other people vs. our partner. If a friend or a person that you admire walks into your new car and spills a Gatorade all over your seat, although it makes you upset, you will likely be gentle and say something like, “It’s OK, don’t worry about it; I’ll clean it up.”
Why is it so much easier to be gentle with other people and not with our spouses? Ask yourself that question and analyze what feelings come up.
7. Work On Communicating Better
Communication is a foundation for the success of any relationship. Words hold a lot of power, and saying something mean or unkind can do damage that may take months to recover from. Communication in a relationship is best when you are both calm to receive information rather than react. Understanding what your goal is with your communication can make all the difference to make sure what you have to say lands safely.
8. Be Aware of Your Own Feelings
It can feel like your spouse is an expert at pointing out everything you do wrong, but only you can be the expert on how you are feeling. Self-awareness takes work but it allows you to make more mindful choices.
The only way to fully access your control over your feelings is to take time and analyze your thoughts, feelings, and actions. Observe your emotions, try to label them, and embrace them. There are no wrong feelings, only wrong choices.
9. Know When to Take a Break
Once you become aware of your feelings, learn how to take a break during an argument. Kindly ask your spouse for 10 minutes to calm down before you continue the conversation. Just make sure you actually come back after 10 minutes.
Don’t use that time to think of ways to “win” the argument; instead, take deep breaths, practice a relaxation technique, and clear your mind. Remember that relationships are more important than being right.
10. Stop Making Assumptions
Clarity is key to moving forward, especially when you are trying to repair a damaged relationship. Assuming is nothing more than glorified worrying. When we assume, we take away our partner’s power and words, which can lead to a lack of trust. The assumptions we have often come from insecurities or because we are fearful of having a tough conversation. It’s important to understand that assumptions can leave people feeling misunderstood. Rather than assuming, take the time to ask the questions even if you think they are silly to ask.
11. Look For the Positives
Look for your partner’s positive actions and characteristics on a daily basis. According to Dr. Gottman, actively searching for a positive sentiment makes a huge difference in how you respond to negativity. Our brain finds what it’s looking for, so if you are constantly looking for faults, you will find them. If you consciously choose to look for positive attributes and actions, you will find them as well.
12. Listen With Empathy
If you can listen to what your spouse is truly saying, you will be able to empathize with them. Once they feel that you understand their perspective, the argument usually turns into a dialogue. Validating your spouse’s feelings doesn’t mean that you agree with them, it means that you are able to step into their shoes.
13. Stay Away From Criticism
Criticizing your spouse will never have a positive result. The truth is, no one likes to feel attacked, and good intentions easily lead to bad outcomes. After being in therapy for a while, many couples say how wonderful it is to feel heard and validated by their spouse. Use your words wisely; always use “I” statements when addressing an issue, and state your needs and feelings.
14. Give Each Other Space
I cannot stress enough the importance of giving your spouse space to cool down during an argument. This is slightly different from knowing when to take a break; instead, it focuses on respecting your partner’s wishes for space and time apart. Allow them to pick the time and day to come back and finish your conversation or dialogue, and honor that choice.
15. Spend Time Together
Quality time together is critical. That is where our bond can grow deep and rich. Time together doesn’t have to be the same routine things or the same type of date nights. Planning quality time can include surprises for one another or doing something your partner thought you would never do. It’s important to be open and grow in adventure together.
16. Show Physical Affection
Physical affection is just as important as emotional intimacy in a marriage. To thrive, we need both. Showing affection like a hand hold or a warm embrace can go a long way in helping your partner feel connected.
17. Practice Self-care
Self-care is vital to the harmony of your relationship. You get married to share your life with someone — your happiness, love, aspirations, and dreams, but how can you share those things if you don’t have them? Your happiness is your responsibility; it’s not something that someone else can give you.
Analyze what brings you peace and do more of that. Put together a go-to list of things you can do to recharge. For example, your list might include things like getting your hair done, taking long showers, gardening, reading a book, etc. If we take care of ourselves, we will be more emotionally available for our spouse.
18. Revisit Your Vows
If you are married, revisiting your vows when things are tough is a great way to remember that you anticipated there would be times where it would be hard, but you made promises and commitments to one another. It can help to solidify a sense of unity when it feels like you and your partner are on different teams.
19. Show Your Appreciation
Appreciation goes a long way. A simple thank you, a little gift, or a gesture can show your partner that you appreciate them. Understanding each other’s love language is also important because you may think you know how your partner likes to be appreciated, but you could be wrong. Talking about what they need to feel appreciated is important so you have a better idea of what you can do to help them meet that need.
20. Seek Couples Therapy
It can be difficult to disclose your most intimate needs to a stranger, but don’t be afraid to look for help, because it could be the key to saving your marriage. A couples therapist can help you discover what works for your unique union, providing the proper guidance toward a satisfying and successful partnership.
How to Find a Couples Therapist
We live in an era where help is available in-person or online. Nowadays, many therapists are available through secure video sessions or other virtual venues. If you want to search for the right therapist based on speciality, price, experience and more, consider using a free online directory.
Questions to Ask a Couples Therapist
It’s important to ask a couples therapist questions about what they do and their experience so you can make sure you’ll be a good fit for each other. Understanding the lens they use and how you best work to resolve conflict can also be really helpful information to help them help you. Couples therapy is a collaboration that involves you, your partner, and a therapist to address issues and work to find ways to cope better and improve the overall quality of the relationship.
Here are some potential questions to ask a couples therapist or marriage counselor:
- Do you also have counselor training and education? If so, what kind? (Marriage and Family Therapy, Social Work, Counseling)
- What is your approach to couples therapy?
- How long does couples therapy typically last?
- What are the topics that we are going to cover?
- Do you use assessments or evidence- based tools in your therapy?
- Do you have experience with (list concerns you have about your relationship)?
- Will you ever see us separately?
- How do we know if we are doing better?
Final Thoughts On How to Save Your Marriage
There are plenty of things to do to save your marriage. The exit door might seem like the easiest path forward, but if you both decide to work towards reconciliation, it’s never too late to have a satisfying partnership; however, if there is physical or emotional abuse, it may be better to say goodbye than to continue to harm yourself by staying.