Getting into a marriage is usually the easy part. While advertisements and movies make a big deal out of proposals and getting engaged, those are the periods where you get to know the other person well and really fall in love with them. Once all of that is over, you’re facing a commitment with another person that is supposed to last for the rest of your lives.
The big question is, what do you do if something goes wrong? How do you recover when the foundation of your marriage has been shattered? (Read: 8 Signs Your Wife Might be Having an Affair)
There are thousands of self-help books on what you should do when your marriage is in trouble, but with these ten steps you might be able to get a few ideas without spending any money.
There is no replacement for what a couple’s therapist can do for a relationship, but you’ll find throughout these steps that the best cures for an ailing marriage are simple honesty and the desire to work things out.
- Acknowledge the Problem. This seems like an obvious step, but you would be surprised at how many couples actively avoid it. Has there been a loss of passion and intimacy? Do you find yourself getting angry with your spouse for seemingly no reason, and arguing with them more than you are affectionate? It might be time for you both to sit down and start being honest. Be open about the fact that there is a problem, because it goes a long way toward finding and fixing it.
- Commit to Change. Once you are both aware of the problem and ready to face reality, it’s time to commit to change. Just making the simple pledge to be a better partner, or to make up for mistakes in the past, will mean something when it’s said with honesty. It’s not enough to just apologize and try to soothe away any pain that you have caused. You are not dealing with the underlying problem, but rather trying to cover it up. Apologies won’t fix your marriage – change will.
- Let Go of Fear. Many of the couples who face problems in their marriage are actually facing fear. It’s either the fear of one partner leaving another, a fear of being cheated on, a mutual fear of raising a child together, or a fear of being “stuck” forever with one person. If you want the marriage to work, you have to let go of those fears, because they will drag your marriage down. Again, honesty and full commitment are the best policies.
- Embrace Yourselves. If your marriage truly began out of love then it’s time to look at where that love came from, in both sides of the relationship. Your spouse fell in love with you because of who you are. You should think a bit more deeply about what that means. Was it your loveable flaws, your undeniable charm, or was it the emotional journey you’ve been through that brought the two of you together? Or is it a complex combination of all of that? Look at what there is to love about you first so that you can understand your partner and what he or she sees in you.
- Understand Wants and Needs. Wants and needs are two different things. You may want adventure, but you may need security. You may want a higher financial status, but what you really need is respect from friends and family. Examine your desires and figure out which ones are really needs and which are wants. Wants can have a deeper core issue that may cause friction in your marriage. They can deeply affect your relationship with your spouse, because a marriage is a partnership that includes shared goals, hopes, and dreams.
- Find Forgiveness. If the problems in your marriage are caused by a mistake, it might be time to look for forgiveness. Apologizing actually does more for the person apologizing than it does for the person they are apologizing to. An apology may help you to feel as though your partner has forgiven you, but have you forgiven yourself? Not all mistakes are made happily or readily, and when they hurt a marriage, you can both be the victim. Look for ways to find forgiveness, both from your partner and from yourself, after a serious mistake has been made.
- Look for Bridges, Not Cliffs. One error that a lot of couples make during the mending process is to look for warning signs of impending and irreversible damage to the relationship. They mistakenly make mountains out of molehills. A misstated word, or someone forgetting something important, could all be interpreted as malicious slights and lack of caring. Make the effort to look past simple problems that your mind could easily twist into disasters waiting to happen, because if you can’t look past them that is exactly what they turn into.
- No Ultimatums Allowed. Another mistake couples make is the ultimatum; you absolutely cannot put a time frame on when a marriage is going to be “okay.” In fact, the process of healing and rebuilding may go on for years, or even decades. The important thing is that you and your spouse make the effort to stay together and resolve to make the marriage work. If you truly love the person you’re with and want to spend your life with them, then you have to maintain the working parts of the marriage just as you would with a machine.
- Reconnect. Do you remember what it was like to be in love for the first time? Now that you’ve looked at why your partner loves you, and what you’ve been trying to build together, it might be time to rebuild connections that can get lost because of time, new jobs, children, and more. Look for new ways to connect with your spouse.
- A Second First Date. A clever game that some couples play is to go to a bar and attempt to reconnect as if they were strangers. What moves would you use to get your spouse to go out on a second first date with you? Think about ways to intrigue, charm, or excite the person you’re with. If you can do it once, you can do it again (Read: 10 Movies Perfect for a First Date).
Take any of these ten steps that you like and apply them to your marital problems. There is no real order in which they are useful, but you will find that some will naturally lead into another.
Remember that while not every marriage is meant to be, it is important to know that your marriage can work if you want it to. Understand more about what you and your partner are looking for, both from life and from each other, and then move forward from there.