If your marriage is not all you hoped it would be, or is in danger of ending, it can be very frustrating when your spouse isn’t interested in helping you find a solution. So instead of becoming frustrated, why don’t you try saving your marriage on your own? Crazy idea? Let me try and change your mind.
In this article, I will dispel the myth that “marriage takes two” to be happy, and reassure you that the idea of saving your marriage alone is absolutely viable.
If your marriage is in any kind of trouble, the ‘solo approach’ is an idea you should embrace. Don’t listen to skeptics who lack the tools and imagination needed to be of any real help. They don’t matter, anyway. It is YOUR marriage, and YOUR marriage is worth saving.
The purpose of this article is to encourage you to fight for your marriage, and to do that on your own.
Before I explain why working on your marriage on your own is as effective as, or often even more effective than working on it as a couple, let’s first talk about the marriage problems themselves.
Four Levels of Marriage Problems
1. Normal snags and minor issues
These are the kind of things that come up in an otherwise healthy and happy marriage. They are problems that don’t necessarily originate in a dysfunctional marriage, but that come from the kinds of oddities all of us may encounter.
It could be an in-law, friend, or relative butting into your marriage. Or a truly emotional occurrence like a death or a major illness throws a monkey wrench into everyone’s life. Maybe a co-worker or boss takes a romantic interest in you or your spouse.
This kind of problem is not the same as fighting with your partner all the time. As soon as something is repetitive or chronic, it falls into the next category.
Things happen all the time that catch people off guard, even though they have a good marriage and are really connected and happy.
Although these situations can be quite serious, they are not a result of a dysfunction within your marriage; that’s what sets this category apart. Do you see the difference?
They can’t be ignored, of course, but the solutions are usually “simple”, though I cannot say dealing with them is always easy.
However, when a marriage is dynamically strong and has a solid foundation, it cannot only endure anything, but it will roll right through what otherwise might be a very tough situation.
2. Intermediate problems
Issues in this category are often confused with the “major problems and emergencies” category, but the difference is these problems and emergencies are not ‘marriage-threatening’.
It means an individual spouse has been fortunate to recognize that things are not right and wants to do something about it, usually before the other is even aware a problem exists. However, these issues won’t bring you close to the demise of your marriage, and it is obviously good to catch problems early before they can pile up and perhaps cause real damage.
Fighting all the time is a good example of an intermediate problem because, as serious as it is, the cause of the unhappiness is usually not due to major dysfunctions within the marriage itself. That does not mean you can just ignore it, because occurrences of fighting and even bickering won’t just magically disappear but will wear you down over time.
A little marital education can help you entirely eliminate many of these issues from your otherwise healthy marriage. It is fine to work on this on your own. Don’t get hung up on ideas of ‘rejection’ or ‘apathy’ and so forth just because your spouse doesn’t see the problems you see.
Sometimes people get mad or confused because of misplaced personal feelings and frustrations, not because their spouse is indifferent. For instance, think about fighting as you would about a little splinter in your foot. It will make you hobble, but it’s not a major problem, yet. If you leave the splinter there, it will eventually become a major problem. However, this doesn’t mean you need to amputate the foot just because of the splinter.
Another example is when a new child comes into the family and the wife starts to focus her love on the baby and more or less forgets she married her husband to love him unconditionally.
Either spouse can heal these problems with some knowledge-based understanding and a decent plan; there is no reason for therapy, which usually makes things worse anyway. Nor is there any need for a marriage-saving program. We reserve that suggestion for marriages that are in really deep trouble.
3. Emergencies and major problems
Major problems include infidelity, a lack of intimacy, an alcoholic spouse, your partner asking for a divorce, or you ask “just for effect” or out of anger and they unexpectedly said yes.
These issues call for urgency. Of course, it is better if you both choose to work on your marriage at the same time, but just one of you working on the marriage is no problem, and I will explain fully, soon.
Marriages roughly fall into only one of two categories: They either create more happiness for you every day and the love between you is growing, OR, that isn’t happening, and the marriage is, slowly or quickly, heading toward divorce.
In this category, being married is no longer fun or gratifying. Of course, some people are gratified just by having a family or kids, but that is NOT the same thing as a fulfilling marriage.
Now, just because a marriage is heading south doesn’t mean divorce is inevitable. You can stop the downhill slide.
Marriage is intended to produce happiness through unconditional love.
It’s an equation: if you, as an individual, are not experiencing happiness and ever-expanding love, it means your part of the marriage is dysfunctional; period.
That doesn’t mean you are a bad or incompetent person. It means there are things you individually must adjust so you can enjoy your marriage again.
You have a complex problem that will take more than a bit of advice to shift things back to where they were and beyond.
And not even great marriage books are enough to guide you through major problems. Big issues have to be dealt with in a serious and deliberate way. You didn’t get here overnight.
4. Very rare extreme situations…
There are certain, rare situations you may encounter where we do not advise trying to save the marriage. However, these are extreme and intolerable things, such as discovering pedophilia.
Other scenarios include cases of physical abuse where you or your children are in danger, your husband has another family, or your spouse has been part of an evil cult, the KKK, or Muslim Brotherhood.
These situations have now become a matter of morality, ethics and the safety of yourself and any children. Your own moral code, as well as considering implications of law or bodily danger, will tell you that your marriage is not salvageable.
Can You Really Save Your Marriage By Yourself?
Any of the aforementioned first 3 levels are entirely salvageable. When you take the right steps, you will be victorious. Not because you have to do it alone, but because it is actually much better if you do.
Marriage is not the Tango, where it takes two. Here’s the truth:
Marriage is something two people do individually, together.
Does this make sense?
You are and always will be, an individual. Yes, there are times when you feel so connected that you are just floating in happiness, and it should always be that way when you are married.
But the truth is you can never give up your individuality, not even by being submissive. You are a human being, and every human being has free will, which is one of the things that sets us apart from animals. Your free will is “individual” free will. There is really no other kind.
Think of two horses pulling a wagon; only one has to pull for the wagon to move forward. When one of the individuals in a marriage makes the effort, it will change the entire marriage for both.
Imagine you want to build a bridge across a river, but the guy on the other side is not all that interested, for whatever reason. Well, you can build it yourself. When it’s there, you can both benefit from it, and it only took one person to do it.
I have offered this metaphor countless times to frustrated individuals who think rebuilding a marriage is a two-person endeavor, and they got it. A good communicator (the bridge builder) automatically compensates for the “not-so-good” communicator.
Now, it is true that when both work on their marriage simultaneously, the results will come faster. But both truly putting in the same level of effort at the same time, or even at the same pace is extremely rare. Usually, one person is the driving force while the other is reluctant or frustratingly faking it. Yet, in nearly every case where one person alone puts in the right type of effort, the results are nearly always marriage changing.
I discovered the truth of this when I began my marriage-healing career.
How I Discovered The Truth
Originally, I was a divorce mediator and helped couples who sought to find common ground so they could avoid a court battle. My goal was to help them get “happily divorced”.
I taught couples how to communicate even when their marriage was on a slippery slope. At that time I believed marriage was ALL about communication. I was wrong, but we will get to that later.
One day a couple came to see me after their traditional marriage counselor had declared the marriage was over. I could see they didn’t want to get divorced, they just didn’t know what else to do. I saw an opportunity to help them rebuild, using proven communication techniques and they became my first saved marriage. From then on, I only helped couples rebuild.
My clients initially visited me as couples because that’s what all traditional marriage counselors offered. So, my differentiator was that I focused on communication and beneficial versus detrimental behaviors.
Since we were dealing with the foundation of marriage, I kept it very simple. I categorized behaviors into only three types: thoughts/feelings, speech, and actions. During sessions, I would ask if a certain behavior was beneficial or detrimental for their marriage.
Not too hard to answer, right? But guess what?
There was a dynamic I couldn’t pry the couples loose from, even when I pointed it out to them. During sessions, every single person became competitive and defensive. It was the human nature factor.
We are all competitive and even sometimes combative. Put two people in a room together and they will fight for their version of winning, unless they learn how to be truly married, of course. There should be zero competition in marriage!
The blaming ranged from overt and caustic to subtle and clever. But it was always there. It did not take me long to realize the dynamic that ruled the room was not going to go away, even when called out. People are largely instinctive when the pressure is on, and it’s really on when they have taken sides.
I also noticed that in nearly every case, no matter what they said, there was usually only one of them who was really serious about working on the marriage. The other was going along with everything, sometimes for the right reasons, but still just ‘going along’.
My first inclination was to turn the sessions into classes, which was and still is a great idea. But the BEST solution was when I stopped seeing couples together as a couple and only met with them individually.
I found that the solo approach is better, faster, and far more effective.
Couples counseling has become the “norm” but that doesn’t mean it works. In fact, the success rate for couples counseling is ridiculously low. I first heard this on NPR before I became a mediator, in fact. The success rate for couples counseling was less than 6%. It has not improved because their foundational premises are unrealistic and not driven by the goal of wanting to achieve an exceptional marriage.
The common knowledge that “It takes two” to heal a marriage is wrong. The hundreds of clients I’ve personally worked with in the past and the thousands we help every day at The Marriage Foundation continue to prove this.
If you and your spouse are moving furniture and they have a sprained wrist, wouldn’t you be more than happy to carry more than your “fair share?” In the case of your marriage, your spouse is simply less capable of recognizing the real need for recovering your marriage.
Some think “he or she won’t change, so why should I put in the effort?” Some people suggest that this is some form of misogyny to expect a woman to “do all the work.” The opposite ideas are more accurate. A woman has far more power to heal her marriage than men do*. You won’t be taken advantage of because you take the lead. And if you want to create a fresh start and transform your marriage into a hive of happiness that is exactly what it will require: effort!
So disregard the misguided ideas of others and focus on healing this crucial area of your life so you can be happy again.
* Even though the number of men who go it alone is smaller, it does not mean that they can’t also do this alone. But men tend to wait until their wife has been gone for months, emotionally or physically, before they realize they might have been “mean” or taken their wife for granted.
How To Start Moving In The Right Direction
1. Keep Your Expectations Real
That does not mean you should be too tentative or discouraged. But some people think if they start working on their marriage they are effectively “priming the pump” and that their spouse will soon follow. It does not work that way.
When I regularly spoke at the Second Saturday Divorce Support Group, trying to convince women it was not necessarily over for them, I had one wonderful, huge-hearted lady take on her collapsing marriage by herself. It was two years later when her husband finally called me. He was humbled by his wife’s progress and wanted to learn how he could stop being an a-hole to his wife.
Imagine, two years later! So, don’t fool yourself into thinking you are only getting the ball rolling. No, you are going to be the one to heal your marriage, alone… Is that fair? Why not? Who cares? Your marriage is the biggest deal in your life. Once it’s in a healthy place you’ll be able to enjoy it again. Why care about what is “fair”?
2. Start Learning About Marriage
And unlearning what you have been conditioned to believe by society. That’s what got you into this mess.
Hopefully, you are now willing to consider that healing a marriage does not require two people.
Your next steps are to learn everything you can about how to communicate in marriage, beneficial and destructive behaviors, and unconditional love.
For instance, you’ve probably “heard” from society that major killers of marriage are things like infidelity or separation. But that’s not accurate. We’ve had many clients recover from both.
The real killers of marriage are:
- Poor communication
- Business deal mentality
I’ll briefly describe these, but my purpose isn’t to give you a full education here. I want to make it clear that even if you’ve been married for 30 years, but are unhappy, then that is a clear sign you have more to learn about marriage.
Over-familiarity means taking each other for granted because you know each other so well. Do you treat each other like you did when you first started dating? Remember, you always had good hygiene when you saw each other, and always spoke with respect, politeness, playfulness. If you have stopped, ask yourself why?
Poor communication. You may be a masterful public speaker or business manager, but if you aren’t using your communication to express love to your spouse in nearly everything you say, you’ve missed the point of marriage. “Can you pass the salt?” could be “Honey, could you please pass the salt?” Your level of sweetness should match you, but the point is everything you say and do should communicate love to your spouse. And it probably only takes a little tweak or one extra word. Even feeling the love in your heart and letting that express through the tone of your voice as you speak to them is enough (and probably better than anything you could say).
Business deal mentality. You didn’t get married to have a “deal”. You got married to have a marriage. Any ideas of fairness are destructive to your marriage. You did the dishes 6 nights this week and he can’t even do them once? You’ve been running around with the kids while she watches TV at home? OK. Was your vow, “I promise to love you as long as you love me back, and put in the same amount of effort as I do?” If you maintain the expectation of fairness, you will never be happy in your marriage.
Though we covered just a few of the negative aspects of a marital education, these are some key things you’ve got to get out of the way so you can create a space for the positive elements to flourish.
3. Dramatically Shift Your Mindset And Approach To Marriage
The information presented above is just the tip of the iceberg.
Ultimately you need to completely transform your ideas about marriage and how you should operate within it. Once you have fundamentally shifted your thoughts, your marriage will automatically shift in response.
I highly encourage you to look below this post and sign up for my free Top 10 Do’s and Don’ts for marriage. I and my counselors worked together to take all the lessons we’ve learned from thousands of clients and simplify them into an easy cheat sheet.
If you – just you as an individual – stop doing the Don’ts, and start doing the Do’s, you’ll be far on your way to healing your marriage. You could also pick up one of my books for deeper guidance.
For those of you who are serious about saving your marriage quickly, especially if you are in the Major Problems category, we offer an online video course where I walk you through the marriage saving process I taught to my personal clients many years ago.
However, this course is vastly improved from what my early clients used to save their marriages because we’ve been refining the process for over 15 years and working with many thousands of clients. If you’d like to take a look, watch me talk about my system (YouTube 45 min), and then sign up for the free trial of my Complete Marriage System.
Let’s be real; marriages are complex. Getting married and having to figure it out from the inside is tough. You aren’t the only ones suffering; just look at the divorce rate.
With a little marital education though, you’ll be able to navigate out of the storms you are currently in and avoid them in the future. That’s another reason I’m so big on education. I don’t want to just fix today’s problems. I want to show you how to fix them yourself so you never encounter them again!
If you aren’t sure what your next step should be, then please write to our counselors. It is free and without obligation. You’re also welcome to leave a comment below and I will respond.
Love and blessings to you, your spouse, and your family.