If you are reading this then chances are your marriage is not all you hoped it would be, maybe it’s in danger of ending. However, for various reasons, working on a solution with your spouse is not possible. So, instead of becoming frustrated, why don’t you try to save your marriage on your own? Crazy idea? Let me try to change your mind.
In this article I will share hard, science-based premises*, explanations, and their application as well as true stories of successes; all this to convincingly assure you that the idea of saving your marriage, alone, is absolutely viable.
*Gender effects upon individual minds are typically ignored as are sciences of body/mind/soul relationships in order to avoid controversy. These are Western limitations, which I ignored in order to better understand the art and science of marriage.
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 in order 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 do that on your own.
Before I explain why working on your marriage on your own is as or more effective than working on it as a couple, let’s first talk a little about the marriage problems themselves.
There are 4 specific levels of marriage Problems
1. Snags and “simple” things
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 if there is a truly emotional occurrence like death or major illness that throws a monkey wrench into everyone’s life, then that would also fall into this category.
This kind of problem is not the same as fighting all the time. As soon as something is repetitive, or it may even have become chronic, then it falls into the next category.
But things happen all the time that catch people off guard, even though they have a good marriage and are really connected and happy.
Maybe a co-worker or boss takes an interest in you or your spouse. These things can be quite serious, but 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 solutions are usually “simple”, though I cannot say dealing with them is always that easy.
If you are experiencing something out of the ordinary and having trouble trying to figure out what you can do maybe we can help you. Chances are you won’t even have to bring it up with your spouse and will be able to do what needs to be done on your own while getting on with your marriage.
Or maybe it’s just a matter of perception and the issue will sort itself out. 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 very tough situations.
2. Non-emergencies and/or non-major problems
This category is sometimes confused with the “major problems” and “emergency” category, but the difference is these problems and emergencies need not be ‘marriage-threatening’.
It means an individual spouse has been fortunate to recognize that things are not right and wants to do something, 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 a non-major 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 education can help you entirely eliminate many of these issues from your otherwise healthy marriage. Again, 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. If you see the bathroom needs cleaning you don’t feel hurt if your spouse thinks it’s fine as it is. So, keep things in a larger perspective.
Sometimes people get mad or confused because of misplaced personal feelings and frustrations, not because their spouse is indifferent. So, think about fighting for example as you would about a little splinter in your foot. It will make you hobble, but it’s not a major problem; not yet! Of course, if you leave the splinter there, it will eventually become a major problem, but it doesn’t mean you will need to amputate the foot just because of that splinter.
Other non-major problems people tend to mis-categoize can still be resolved with the right kind of education. One common problem often blown out of proportion is a decline in intimacy, or sex (they are not the same). Another example is when a new person comes into the family, meaning a child, 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 a need for a marriage refurbishing program. We like to save that for marriages that are in really deep trouble.
If you are feeling uncertain about something in your marriage then please ask one of our counselors. It’s free to ask. I set up the link so that when you click on it the link opens up in a new window so you don’t lose your place.
3. Emergencies and complex problems
Marriages roughly fall into only one of the two black or white categories. They either create more happiness for you every day and the love between you is growing, OR, this is not happening, which means the marriage is, slowly or quickly, heading toward divorce.
Now, just because a marriage is heading south doesn’t mean divorce is inevitable, but being married is certainly not fun or gratifying anymore. Of course, some people are gratified just by having a family, or kids, but that is NOT the same thing.
Marriage, by design, is intended to produce happiness through unconditional love. People argue with me all the time about my choice of words here, but “by design” is exactly what I mean. It is designed to produce happiness through unconditional love.
Marriage is designed to create happiness and to open the doors wide for ever-expanding love.
It’s an equation; if you, as an individual, are not experiencing happiness and ever-expanding love it means your end of the marriage is dysfunctional; period.
It should be self-evident that, if you are not experiencing those specific blessings of a happy marriage, you have a complex problem that will take more than a bit of advice to shift things back to what you signed up for when you said ‘I do’.
I believe that overreacting is as harmful as leaving something alone, so don’t worry about me making something nominal into a big deal. If your marriage is experiencing infidelity or a total breakdown, then it’s no longer good enough to “do everything you can think of”. That will not work because you already are doing everything you can think of.
Nor will using a great marriage book to guide you work when dealing with the major problems. Big things like infidelity or talk of divorce, or no intimacy, have to be dealt with in a serious and deliberate way. You didn’t get here overnight. The many wrong turns you took mean you are lost. Even though only one of you needs to get real about finding his or her way back, it does mean it has to be a serious effort.
Major problems include emergencies. An “emergency” is just that. Maybe you discovered your husband has been texting another woman, or your wife is becoming addicted to alcohol, or they just asked for a divorce, or you did “just for effect” or out of anger, and your partner unexpectedly said yes.
For purposes of categorizing your marriage with the intention of deciding what you should do next emergencies and complex/major problems are pretty much the same. Again, just one of you working on the marriage is NO problem, and I will explain fully, later. But urgency is called for just the same.
To be perfectly clear of course, it is better when both of you choose to work on your marriage at the same time, but just not “together”. Each of you working on your end independently, and if possible simultaneously, is better, but not imperative.
4. Very rare extreme situations…
With this, I mean intolerable things, such as discovering pedophilia. Or your husband has been discovered to have another wife and family, or he or she has been part of an evil cult like the KKK or Muslim Brotherhood. It has now become a matter of morality and ethics and your own moral code as well as real legal implications or bodily danger will tell you your marriage is not salvageable.
Any of the aforementioned first 3 levels are entirely salvageable, and when you do what you need to do you will be victorious, not because you have to do it alone, but because it is actually much better if you do.
Any of the aforementioned first 3 levels are entirely salvageable, and when you do what you need 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.
Truth: marriage is something two people do individually, together. Make sense?
This is not complicated, it just has been obscured by romantic ideas. But, 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 if you are submissive. The fact is 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.
So, my point is, and it has been proven time and again, that when one of the individuals in a marriage makes the effort, it will change the entire marriage for both.
Think of two horses pulling a wagon, only one has to pull for the wagon to move forward.
Building a bridge from one side to the other. 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 do it anyway and when the bridge is there, it’s there, 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. But it’s not just a good analogy. There is a common sense explanation for why it works.
A good communicator (bridge builder) automatically compensates for the other “not-so-good” communicator. This is a premise that can be explained by the drive-to-survive subtly influencing the stronger one.
Because of the influences caused by the biologically innate drive-to-survive, a person will always adapt to a venue in a way that he or she will gain the best personal outcome. For this reason alone, although there are others, one person will take the lead and the other will respond with either alignment or resistance. Unless the dominant person is a bully (whose mean actions can still be mitigated by the less dominant one with a few easy techniques), the natural roles of each will bring even the toughest issues to a positive resolution. However, it is important that at least one of them knows how to manage the conversation.
Now, it is true that when both want to work on their marriage simultaneously the results will come quicker and be better. But both truly putting in the effort at the same time is extremely rare. Usually one 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 effort, the results are nearly always marriage changing.
I discovered the truth of this when I began my marriage healing career.
Originally, I was a divorce mediator, not the kind provided by divorce courts to help judges determine child sharing outcomes. I was retained by couples who, with the help of a professional outside of the system, 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 away from their disputes even when on slippery slopes. So when the couple that would turn out to be the first couple whose marriage I was to save wanted to save their marriage even after their traditional marriage counselor had declared it was over, I saw an opportunity to help them rebuild, using proven communication techniques.
At that time I believed marriage was ALL about communication. I was wrong, but we will get to that later. The point is, as you too will discover, that when a person understands the process, they can then save their marriage, “alone”, and with a great deal of certainty of success.
My first clients came to me as couples because it is what all the traditional marriage counselors offered. So, my differentiator was that I focused on communication and that I also made use of a menu of beneficial versus detrimental behaviors.
I broke down behaviors into only three types, thoughts/feelings, speech, and deeds. In sessions, I would ask if a certain behavior was beneficial or detrimental for their marriage. I tried to make it simple.
Not too hard to answer, right? But guess what?
There was a dynamic I couldn’t pry the couples loose from, even when I spelled it out to them. They were, every single one, 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.
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 pointed out. People are largely instinctive when the pressure is on, and its really on when they have taken sides.
My first inclination was to turn the sessions into classes, which was and remains a great idea. But the BEST solution was when I stopped seeing couples together as a couple, except occasionally, for the first visit.
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.’
There was another element worth mentioning, and that is pace. It’s not a matter of intention as much as it is a fact that some people move more quickly through a given process than others. So it’s also natural for the speedier one to be resentful of the slower one’s progress, and vice versa, which isn’t fair. Again, the competitive element here is really bad because there should be zero competition in marriage; zero!
I honestly believe the solo approach is better, faster, and more effective.
Over the decades I have heard all the “yea-buts” imaginable to this conclusion, and none of them ever proved to be based on anything other than fear.
Ignoring fearful thoughts can be a challenge, especially when your marriage is, or seems to be in immediate danger. But you need to do your best to gain enough objectivity because fear and second-guessing yourself will derail your positive efforts, not just slow them down.
Don’t be afraid of what is logical just because it is not what is sold as “normal”.
I don’t much care for half measures. The “normal” I seek for marriage is nothing short of epic. Epic happiness!
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 premises are unrealistic and not driven by the goal of wanting to acheive an exceptional marriage.
Seriously, think about what I have shared with you so far. Doesn’t it make sense? I have seen it all firsthand so if I tell you it is true you can bank on it.
Of course, there are no absolutes, but human nature is a pretty darn reliable factor so you can imagine how the dynamics of a couple working on their marriage together is only going to make it so much harder.
To meet the needs of those who are serious about saving their marriage, we offer an online course for tough marriage cases split on the basis of gender. There is a course for women and a separate one for men. When our counselors suspect that the husband or wife signed up their spouse too, they will be told to sign up for an individual course. We want to set you up for success, not a failure.
How do you know what you need to do?
Marriages are complex. I know we are not taught that, but they are. Let’s be honest. How hard should it be for just two people who share the same vision of wanting to be happy, to be ecstatic? Yet look at the divorce rate.
The truth is, marriage is complicated. Just because nearly everyone gets married, does not mean it is easy (i.e. without proper training – with training it is easy). When problems arise you cannot just bash your way through them. You need a plan and you need accurate knowledge. Moreover, if your marriage is a level 3, you need someone to help you, and I know just the person!
But seriously, I am all for do-it-yourself IF it’s practical. And, for levels 1 and 2 it can be totally appropriate and will allow you to enjoy “living” your marriage again. So, try to be as honest with yourself as you can be.
It is important to 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 spoke at ‘2nd Saturday divorce support groups’, trying to convince women it was not necessarily over for them, I had one beautiful (huge hearted) lady take on her collapsing marriage solo. It was two years later when her husband 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? Yes, why not! And who cares? Your marriage is the biggest deal in your life. Why care about what is “fair”.
The common knowledge that “It takes two” to heal a marriage is wrong. And the idea that it’s some version of misogyny to think that a woman who takes the initiative to heal her marriage by herself is not only incorrect, but the opposite is more accurate.
Even though the number of men who go it alone is smaller it does not mean that they also can’t also do this alone. But men tend to wait until their wife has been gone for months before they realize they might have been “mean” or taken their wife for granted.
Because it’s you who gets the ball rolling in the right direction doesn’t mean you are the only one working on your marriage. What is really happening is you are taking the lead, which is a very cool thing to do. Your spouse will reciprocate, they can’t help but do that when they see that you are a changed person and they will probably imitate some of what they are noticing in you.
One more supporting argument. If you and your spouse are moving furniture and he/she has a sprained wrist you will be more than happy to carry more than your “share”. In this case, your spouse is simply less capable of recognizing the real need for refurbishing your marriage.
You won’t be taken advantage of because you take the lead. Some think “he (or she) won’t change” so why should I put in the effort. However, 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!
With the right guidance, you can heal your marriage and family.
We all like to think in terms of soulmates and togetherness, and that’s the right way to think about our spouse, but there is just no getting around the fact that we are individuals first. Even the closest couples are individuals. They don’t share a body or a mind. Two souls don’t ever become “one”. It’s not like merging clay or something.
You retain your individuality. That’s why in our marriage teachings I focus on you and your happiness as the first order of business. If you are not grounded, not calm and happy, your life and marriage will not be joy-filled. So let’s start with a premise I that I believe says it all.
You Got Married To Be Happy
By acknowledging this obvious truth you will have a goal to move towards, and you need to have a goal as well as a plan if you are going to make progress.
Imagine going on a hike in the wilderness without a goal and a plan? You would get lost and eaten by the bears. So it is in the marriage healing world. You need to set a goal and move towards it.
Am I making it sound too “big”? Well, it might be if your marriage is in serious trouble. If you are suffering from level 1 or 2 problems, non-major issues, you can do this as a do-it-yourself project. All you will need is a book like either of mine, Lessons For A Happy Marriage, or Breaking The Cycle. There you will find everything you need in terms of information that is practical and usable. I strongly advise my books because there are no gimmicks, just a practical way to understand marriage inside and out, as a beautiful and fulfilling way to bring you both individual and combined happiness derived from unconditional love.
Honestly, the marital knowledge commonly relied on by laymen and professionals alike is, I’m sorry to say, just plain bogus.
I’m a stickler for that which is practical and usable, not highbrow conjecture. So, I am adamant that you should rely on accurate ideas of how we are designed to live love, rather than be political or emotionally based automatons with a wisp of romance thrown in as a sweetener. Whether you use my materials or someone else’s, just be sure it is based on that which is proven.
Just because Joe Shmo had a failing marriage and had a cool idea does not mean it will work for you, too. You need help that is universally applicable.
Among other things, you must learn about the killers of marriage and potential traps that nearly every couple slides into unless they are shown how to avoid them. Truthfully, this is the kind of knowledge that should be taught in grammar school; unfortunately, it’s not.
By the way, the three killers are:
- Over-familiarity, which is taking each other for granted because you know each other so well.
- Poor communication skills. I’m talking about “marital” communication, not public speaking.
- Business deal mentality. You didn’t get married to have a “deal”. You got married to have a marriage.
If You Have Level 3 Problems
Level 3 problems are either very complex or emergencies. Complex problems mean you are facing something beyond mere arguing and fighting.
A good example of level 3 is infidelity. What makes it complex is that it did not just “happen”. There are numerous compounding problems that happened long before they blossomed into cheating. Effectively, your marriage has become an empty “shell”. Cheating is a symptom, not the real problem.
Your marriage is barely keeping afloat when it’s a level 3 even if you will not admit it. You need to get systematic help. You probably need our course, the Complete Marriage System. You should at least look at it. Here is a video I created to show you how my system works.
Not everyone needs the program we offer.
If you are not sure what your next step should be and to avoid signing up for traditional marriage therapy that, by the way, has a less than 6% rate of success and can also end up being very costly, then please write to our counselors, it is free. You will receive honest advice from people who are not vested in you financially.
Lastly, if you would like to offer a comment I would be honored to respond. For me this is personal. I started The Marriage Foundation as a service and only want to see your happiness and your family prosper.
Love and blessings to you, your spouse and your family.