Guest blog post by Tina Villis, LCPC
Let’s face it folks; relationships are hard work. You may be at a point where your marriage is suffering, or you’re in a rut. Same routine, different day. You may be asking yourself: “What happened to us, or how did we get here?” Here are quotes that will inspire you to revive – and maybe even save your marriage.
“Always strive to give your spouse the very best of yourself, not what’s left over after you gave your best to everyone else.” — Dave Willis
If you’re in a bad mood, you may not see things as they truly are. You’ll be much more prone to argue. Be the partner you wish to have.
“When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” — Wayne Dyer
Have you been noting the negative and not noticing even the smallest contributions from your partner? If you want good behavior to continue, you have to reward it consistently. Compliment, acknowledge, praise, and say thank you more.
My spouse doesn’t clean the entire kitchen as I would, but he washes the dishes. If I always focus on what he doesn’t do, he will learn to tell himself nothing he does is ever good enough, and guess what? He will stop doing. Period. This is not ideal when trying to improve or save a marriage.
“If you change nothing, nothing will change.” – Anonymous
When you expect (and accept) that nothing will change, you maintain the status quo. You’re probably reading this now because you are not happy with the status quo. You know things need to change. But how you go about change is important. For example, telling your partner you felt hurt or disappointed that they didn’t follow through will resonate more than saying, “You’re such a jerk.”
A key element of change is shifting the narrative. Over-communication, specifically over-clarification, can help change the current unproductive story one or both of you is telling yourself. An even more powerful tool for resolving conflict is listening to what is really being said and working towards mutual understanding. Everyday issues that cause arguments, like disappointment about the dishes not being washed, have a root from where they stem.
Take a moment and reflect on the root cause. What emotion are you feeling? Did you have an expectation that wasn’t met? Are different values placed on different activities? And when you have answers to these questions and a better feel for the root cause, focus on what you can control. Yes, it’s easy to chalk it up to “my spouse is a jerk.” However, that “explanation” doesn’t work towards change – it keeps you and your marriage stuck.
You cannot control your partner. Your partner is not you, so he or she will not prioritize things exactly as you do. Nagging your partner to isn’t sustainable and doesn’t create change. Working towards understanding what is causing you to want to start an argument over everyday issues can provide insight that may help your partner adjust to meet that underlying need.
Related Reading: How to Fix an Unhappy Marriage – Solutions to 8 Telltale Signs
“No one can dance with a partner and not touch each other’s raw spots. We must know what these sensitive, raw spots are and be able to speak about them in a way that pulls our partner closer to us.” ― Sue Johnson
I grew up with parents who yelled – a lot. So when my spouse raised his voice in frustration, I felt like that little kid again, just wishing I could hide. After heated arguments, I would shut down and not talk to my spouse for days, just as my parents did. It’s a terrifying feeling, and I’ve learned to share this vulnerable part of myself with my spouse. When we know each other’s tender spots, we are more sensitive and compassionate toward each other.
According to Brené Brown, researcher and best-selling author of Daring Greatly, vulnerability is sharing on at an emotional level that feels risky because it exposes the true you, without armor. Vulnerability doesn’t come easy, but it’s the key to connection, love, and a sense of belonging. If vulnerability “isn’t your thing”, I highly recommend reading her books if you want to become close to your partner or even save a marriage.
“Don’t argue about other people’s weaknesses. Don’t argue for your own. When you make a mistake, admit it, correct it, and learn from it – immediately.” – Stephen Covey
I don’t know about you, but when my spouse tells me he’s GENUINELY sorry (that is, the apology is heartfelt because he genuinely saw the harm of his action), I respect him more. Not everyone can do this. We both grew up with parents who did not apologize when they hurt us, so we take apologies very seriously. Put your pride aside, and if you raised your voice, slammed the door, or hung up on your spouse, say you’re sorry. It will go a long way. Make every effort not to repeat it.
“A humble person is more concerned about what is right than about being right.” – Stephen Covey
So often, couples come to counseling to receive confirmation that they were right and their partner was wrong on some offense. It might have been swearing at your partner, physical abuse, making a significant decision without consulting your partner, infidelity, or some other offense. Inarguably, these were poor choices.
In these cases couples just arrive bickering, angry, and ready to state their case and for the jury (me) to hand them a verdict.
But why is it essential for you to be right, and why is it necessary for your partner to agree with you? Yes, it can feel validating in the moment to be declared the winner, but that validation is temporary and comes at a cost. Instead of fighting to be right, put that effort into finding common ground, recognize positive interactions, and use confirming messages during conflict.
Related Reading: What to do If you Feel Stuck in an Unhappy Marriage with Children
“The greatest thing you can do for your children is love your spouse.” – Stephen Covey
Your kids are watching every move you make. The statement of Do as I say, not as I do, does not carry much validity if you’re always contradicting yourself. Some of my adult clients can recall being as young as 3 years-old and being in terror as they saw or heard their parents fighting. Your behavior toward your spouse is shows your children how they should be treated (or treat others) and influences the partners they choose in the future.
“The worst distance between two people is misunderstanding.” – Unknown
False assumptions typically drive misunderstandings. Before you disagree with your partner, you may want to understand how they came up with a particular idea or why they are feeling a certain way. You may be surprised by what you discover, and it can save you a lot of grief in the end. Nothing helps diffuse a heated conversation better than feelin heard and validated.
“Listen with the intent to understand, not the intent to reply.” – Stephen Covey
Your response has the power to move you closer to each other or increase the distance between you. If you are more concerned with defending yourself, the conversation suddenly becomes about you and completely misses what your partner was trying to tell you. Stop interrupting and start listening more.
Related Reading: Can You Save an Unhappy Marriage?
“The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule but to schedule your priorities.” – Stephen Covey
We all tend to get wrapped up in work, managing the household, kids, and daily routines. But that leads to the quality of our relationship suffering. It is common for couples to tell me that it has been months, even years since they went away together.
What are the things you used to love doing together? Do you need to find reliable childcare? How about an overnight stay at a hotel every few months? How about a weekly coffee date?
It is not too late to recalibrate and create better habits. Quality time means connecting, valuing, and enjoying time spent together. It is making your partner a priority and it is essential for the little bit of time you have in that moment. What you value is what you will nurture.
“You don’t have to be interesting. You have to be interested.” – John Gottman
What is it that you need right now from me?
What signals are you sending your partner when you don’t take the time to have an actual conversation with them? Or when you turn away from them and into your phone or the television. You dehumanize them.
Martin Buber, a philosopher and Nobel Prize nominee, wrote about the differences between I-it relationships and I-you relationships. I-it relationships dehumanize people by treating them like objects; as if they are present to serve us or complete a task. I-you relationships are marked by empathy and connection.
Humans are social creatures and we need connection. Being uninterested and uninvested in your partner screams that they don’t matter. And in so, your partner may treat you the same.
“We repeat what we don’t repair.” – John Gottman
If you think brushing things under the rug will provide closure or make conflict disappear, your next fight is just around the corner. Avoidance provides short-term relief, but leads to resentment, anger, and loneliness. Avoidance only pollutes the relationship further. To get your relationship back on track and save a marriage, repair attempts are critical.
“Make it your goal to create a marriage that feels like the safest place on earth.” — Greg Smalley
When we feel we are in a secure and satisfying relationship, we can learn to overlook minor infractions. In particular, if you can actively access and remember positive moments in your relationship, you will probably not stay too mad if the dishes weren’t done today.
Working with a couples counselor can be an important asset when trying to save a marriage. If you’re in the Chicagoland area, contact our therapists at (630) 423-5935 to schedule your appointment with Life Care Wellness today at our offices in Glen Ellyn, Sycamore, and Chicago (Jefferson Park neighborhood).