No matter how far down your marriage has fallen, it’s almost always possible to save it. Only in severe cases of abuse, adultery, abandonment and so on is it likely to be beyond repair. And even those three serious “crash landings” aren’t always fatal – you might be surprised how many people recover and stay happily married after adultery, for example. It isn’t easy or automatic, but it does happen.
The main factor influencing whether it is too late to save your marriage is you – your attitude and determination. If you are willing to work hard, you can do a lot to repair any damage that has occurred.
But wait, I can hear you telling me something – it takes two people to make a marriage, and if both of them aren’t actively working on it, there’s no chance, right? In other words, if your spouse isn’t on board, there’s nothing you can do. At least that’s how it seems.
That’s not entirely true, though. You may be surprised to learn that you can do a lot all on your own to mend your marriage. Even if your spouse isn’t doing anything at all, you can still make quite a bit of progress. And you can start right away.
Yes, it does take two people to make a marriage work. But both of them have considerable influence on the relationship, even on their own.
The first thing for you to do is decide whether you really want to mend your marriage. Unless you have the desire to stay together and fix things, there’s not much you can do. So take a little time to figure out if that is really what you want.
A quick and easy way to judge how you feel about your marriage is to make a list of pros and cons on a piece of paper. This isn’t a major audit, so don’t spend too much time worrying about how to do it. Don’t buy a ledger – just get a sheet of scrap paper and draw a line down the middle. Put PRO on one side and CON on the other, or POSITIVE and NEGATIVE, or any terms you choose. Then take five or ten minutes to list the good and bad things about your relationship. Write anything that comes into your mind, no matter how silly it seems. No one is ever going to read this paper but you, so don’t worry about your handwriting or what you put down. This is only for you.
You can do this exercise again and again over several days or weeks if you want. Over time, you will get a sense of the major things, both good and bad, that affect your marriage. Don’t start your list with the negative things – try always to start with the positive column. Often it’s easy to get hung up on negative things and to never make it to the plus column. Don’t fall into that trap.
Another way to do it is just to list the positive things about your marriage on a piece of paper every day. This is called a “gratitude list,” and it helps you to remind yourself of the many good things in your marriage and in your life that you may be taking for granted.
A few days of exercises like these should help you be clear about how you feel about your marriage. If there’s something there worth saving, then it’s time to get to work fixing things.
It’s important for you to accept that you don’t have power to make your spouse change or behave in any particular way. You don’t have that kind of power over any other human being, and sometimes you don’t even have that kind of power over yourself.
So start saving your marriage by letting go of your spouse. Admit to yourself that you truly cannot change them or control them. Turn your focus inward to yourself. What can you change about yourself that will positively affect your marriage?
The most important thing you can control is your own attitude. Stop focusing on the negative problems in your marriage and look always for the positives. Continue to write some kind of gratitude list every morning, even if you just spend five minutes scribbling down ideas on paper. List things that you are grateful for about your marriage and spouse, such as that they love you just the way you are, that they make you laugh, that they work and provide financial support for the family. Do they take care of you when you’re sick? Do they listen to your problems and help you try to fix them? Do they do chores around the house? Do they cook? Clean the rain gutters? List all these things.
Another side of your appraisal of the state of your marriage also involves looking at yourself – in what ways do you detract from the marriage? Be honest about this part of the process. It’s not easy to recognize the negative aspects of your own personality, but with a little work you can figure out things you might want to change about yourself.
Do you contribute less financially to the family? Might be time to look for a new job, ask for a raise, or take a part-time gig to help make ends meet. Do you neglect your chores? Perhaps you could focus more time and energy on helping around the house. If you forget to take out the garbage or clean the bathroom, set up reminders for yourself and try to do better.
If you have an anger or jealousy problem that damages your marriage, get some help from an anger management class or community group.
You don’t need to be perfect. You just need to work on improving yourself in ways that improve your marriage. And you don’t need to discuss any of this with your spouse at all – don’t point out to them that you are working harder on your chores, or trying to have a more positive attitude. Just keep the focus on yourself and you will be surprised how much it can boost your marriage. Your spouse may say nothing about it at all, but consciously or subconsciously they will notice.
Communication is an important ingredient, too. Be honest with your spouse about wanting to mend your marriage. Don’t be overly dramatic or maudlin, don’t berate, threaten or plead. But just be clear about it – let them know you are committed to fixing what you can in order to create a more positive relationship. But again, keep the focus on yourself. Do not talk about their problems, which are out of your control.
If you’ve suffered some serious tragedies, like abuse (emotional or physical) or adultery, you will need to talk about these, and some professional help might be a good idea. Find a qualified marriage or family therapist or counselor and meet with them. If your spouse won’t go, then see them by yourself. Talk about your problems and your feelings. If you’ve committed the abuse or the adultery, get help, too. You will need someone to talk to, whether it is a trustworthy friend or a community support group.
By keeping the focus on yourself, you will find that you have more power than you realize to improve and perhaps save your marriage. Here’s a really great e-book, “Mend the Marriage” to guide couples going through difficulty.