1) See the Marriage You Have
Before you have any chance of saving your marriage, you have to see your marriage. Not the marriage you think you have or the marriage you want to have or even the marriage you used to have, but the marriage that sits in front of you today. See the pitfalls and see the potential.
Assuming that at least one person want to make the relationship work (after all, you are reading “How to Save a Marriage,”), a marriage that is in trouble can fall into one of four categories based upon the intent and effort of the other spouse.
Before you attempt to administer CPR to your marriage, make sure you understand which category you’re working with and what your role is in the situation. After all, trying to breathe life into something that is already expired only steals your breath away.
2) Establish Boundaries
Take some time to solidify your thoughts about the marriage you want. What are your non-negotiables? Have they changed over the duration of the marriage? How long are you willing to live in limbo while the marriage is being worked on? Does that change if you’re the only one expending effort?
There are no right or wrong answers here, but you have to be honest with yourself. And then with your partner. Be careful with your wording. Ultimatums rarely work (i.e. “If you don’t start doing X by next Tuesday, I’m done.”). Instead, frame it as a proposal (i.e. “I’ve realized I really need a marriage that has X. I’m willing to give us three months to see if we can make that happen. Is this something you can agree to?”).
You have the right to feel safe within your marriage. You have the right to be treated with respect. What you allow is what will continue. Of course, that also means that you have to be willing to walk away.
3) Put On Your Gloves
Put on your gloves; it’s gonna get dirty. No, not the boxing gloves. The work gloves. Staying with the status quo is easy. Change is difficult. And change when it deals with emotions and ego and fear and family? Yeah.
Part of saving a marriage is being willing to do the dirty work. It’s facing the truth about your own hang-ups and fears. And it’s being willing to face your partner’s independent thoughts and intentions. There’s no room for deflection or defensiveness. You will get muddy. Just accept it. Because the only way to change something is to meet it head-on.
4) Apply Your Own Oxygen Mask
At the end of the day, your choices and actions are the only ones that you can control. So make sure they’re adaptive ones.
Dig into your own triggers and unresolved issues. Get help if you need it. If life has become stagnant, re-engage in your passions and interests. Put yourself on your to-do list and take responsibility for ensuring that your needs are met.
It is not your spouse’s job to make you happy. Or safe. Or fulfilled. That’s on you. A marriage is only healthy if both of the individuals are healthy.
5) Replace Blame With Appreciation
Who would you rather spend time with – somebody who consistently accuses you of wrongdoing or somebody who recognizes your efforts and attributes? It’s easy to point out someone’s shortcomings in the hope that they will change. But that only backfires. Instead, nurture the good in your partner. Let them know that you see and appreciate their assets.
Now, your partner may have been behaving badly. Perhaps very badly. Avoiding blame does not mean that you excuse their choices (see boundaries). It just means that you don’t rub their noses in it. Because if your only goal is to make them feel badly, why are you wanting to save the marriage?
6) Be Intentional
Think of saving a marriage like applying for a business loan. Before issuing a check, the bank would want to know your overall business goals, the steps you’re going to take to reach them, the tools and support you will need and your plans for various setbacks.
A marriage will not improve if you don’t put effort into it. In fact, part of the reason you may be in this position is that you (and/or your partner) may not have been intentional in your actions and your marriage slowly came to a stop without the added push.
This is your life. Steer, don’t drift.
7) Introduce Novelty
One of the most common utterances from people who have had affairs is that it “makes them feel alive.” And that’s no accident. We all adapt to our surroundings and no longer notice what is always there. And that even holds true for spouses.
Now, luckily, you don’t need to seek out a different bed to spice things up. Break out of your routine. Engage in a new activity and allow yourself to see your spouse in a different light. Don’t worry about what you “should” do. Let go and embrace the curiosity and wonder of a child.
8) Re-Imagine Your Marriage
The marriage you have isn’t working. Maybe it’s time to change how it looks. In order to survive, a marriage has to be adaptable.
Life always changes. Kids come and go. Careers shift. Demands come and go. And the marriage that worked at one life stage may not work in another. If you want to save your marriage, you may need to reinvent your marriage.
Have a conversation (or more!) about what role you want marriage to play in your life. What needs do you want it to meet? Where are you inflexible and where are you willing to change?
9) Refrain From Grasping
It’s natural to grip tightly when you’re afraid that something is slipping away from you. The problem with grasping is twofold: First, it serves to smother your partner, encouraging him or her to escape in order to breathe. Secondly, grasping is based in fear and that fear will blind you to reality.
Work to self-soothe. Manage your anxieties. Surround yourself with support. Build your confidence.
You will be okay no matter what happens with your marriage. And trusting that you can be okay alone is critical to being okay in a relationship.
10) Make the Marriage Your Priority
Sometimes, we get so fixated on our spouse that we lose focus on the bigger picture. If you want to save the marriage, make the marriage your priority. Even in those moments when you’re mad at your spouse, stay committed to the relationship.
Make sure your words and actions align with your goal. Set your ego to the side; it will be bruised. But it can take it. Face your fears. I know it’s scary. The first step always is. But then the second step is easier.
Ultimately, you alone cannot save your marriage. The mathematics of marriage state that 1+1=2, yet 2-1=0. In other words, it takes two to make a marriage work and only one to destroy it.
If your partner does not want to make the marriage work, you cannot support it alone. But that doesn’t mean you’re powerless. Work on making you better. Whether that better you is married or not.