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3 Ways to Improve Your Marriage on Your Own

April 15, 2012 | by Slovie Jungreis-Wolff

Even if your spouse won’t get help, you can still strengthen your marriage. Here’s how.

Dear Slovie,

David and I have been married for 11 years. We have 3 children, ages 3, 6 and 9. My husband is going through a difficult time in business right now. The economy is terrible and his company has been affected. David is in a very dark place. Yes, he has gone to therapy but I have not seen an improvement. Honestly, though, there has always been something in our lives that has made him either angry or upset. He has often blamed his parents for not making him feel loved enough when he was a child.

I am so tired of hearing his complaints. He exhausts me. My 9 year old daughter told me that she never wants to get married, there is just too much fighting when you’re a mommy. This made me incredibly sad.

I I do still love him, believe it or not. I don’t want to break up my home and become another statistic. But I also do not feel like living with all this negative energy in my life. My husband is not interested in seeking ways to make this better.

Can you help me?

This letter reflects a problem that many marriages face. Most people are aware that one out of two marriages ends in divorce. But from those marriages that remain intact, did you ever wonder how many husbands and wives live miserably?

When a couple hits a rough patch, too often it is only one spouse who wants to talk and seeks improvement. The other acts like an ostrich and digs his head in the sand. Ignoring the tension that is building can bring marriage to the breaking point.

After too many arguments and silent treatments, many couples resign themselves to living together in cold peace. Whether it is for the sake of the children, financial reasons, or just plain not being able to see life any other way, marriage becomes a chronic condition, like a bad backache that never goes away.

It is possible for one partner to bring positive energy into the marriage. A five year study at the University of Denver of 300 long term couples suggests that individuals who sought relationship skills training saw as much improvement as those who got the training as a couple. It is also interesting to note that women learned relationship skills more easily and were better able to teach them to their partners.

So yes, there is hope for one person to make change even if the other is resistant. (Of course we are not speaking about a marriage where there is cheating, abuse or chemical imbalance in need of medical help going on).

Here are three ways you can improve your marriage on your own.

1. Focus on Today

Many times we argue about the past. We begin by talking about something that bothers us now and then we go back in time. We recall incidents that occurred and thought had been laid to rest but now, suddenly, they are revived.

For example:

You’re upset about your husband missing your son’s PTA meeting. Instead of talking about his not making it tonight, you remember all the past PTA’s he missed. And then you remember the Chanukah party he came late to, and your sister’s Thanksgiving dinner five years ago. The argument escalates. Now you are arguing about all the past hurts and you’ve lost focus on the present.

You’re angry that your wife ran up a large credit card bill this month. You begin the discussion by telling her that she can never stick to a budget and her parents spoiled her. You tell her that she has no appreciation of money and she grew up never knowing what it means to value a dollar. By the time you are ready to talk about the bill, you’ve lost her.

This is an unhealthy way of discussing issues and will never lead to resolution.

The first thing you need to do is recognize your role in this negative pattern and try to make a change. Perhaps your spouse makes this same mistake but why should you add poison to the atmosphere? At least on your end there will be a decrease in the negativity-and this can only add to your relationship.

2. Change Yourself & Stop Trying to Change Your Spouse

We spend too much time thinking about how to fix the person we live with and not enough time contemplating how to make ourselves feel stronger. It’s time for a new approach.

While you cannot change your spouse’s actions, you can change your reaction.

We cannot blame our spouse for our unhappiness forever. If we decide to stay in a marriage then we cannot spend our days complaining. Often we call up friends and family and speak badly about our partner. There is no positive outcome from dissing your spouse. We need to stop putting down and start pulling ourselves up.

When your husband comes home moody, don’t fall into the trap of becoming moody yourself. I know this is easier said than done, but you are the only one who can decide how to feel inside your head and heart. Take back control of your emotions. Put on music, go for a run, listen to an enjoyable Torah tape- find something that you can do to keep your mood positive and happy.

When your wife is snappy, don’t respond in kind. You will be caught in a whirlpool of emotions and find your relationship going down the drain. Change the way you respond. Figure out how you can answer calmly without losing your dignity. You will set a new tone and be happy with the results.

This may not make the problem go away but it will help you feel more in control, stronger and as a result, you will feel more confident and happier with who you are.

3. Reframe

Instead of grumbling, zero in on what we can solve.

If your husband is not good at spending time with the children in the evening, maybe Sunday mornings would be better.

You feel that your wife brings up the same issue 100 times. Maybe if you would reassure her that you hear her concerns and voice back her emotions, she would finally feel that you are listening.

You need to remember why you fell in love in the first place. What are the qualities that attracted you to this person? Everyone has something good we can focus on, sometimes because of all our anger and hurts we simply cannot see.

Though it would of course be best if both husband and wife share working on their relationship together, this does not mean that we do not have power to make positive change on our own. We will become happier because we will not look toward others for make us happy. We will find happiness within.

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