In many ways, love and relationships are quite predictable. Many marriages are just like other marriages, and they all seem to follow a similar script, moving from the early, passionate, idealistic stages through a bumpy middle age and sometimes into the dark territory of divorce.
It can be depressing and disheartening to discover that your marriage is not “special,” that it, too, goes through ups and downs, good times and bad times. But just because your marriage seems to be following a well-trodden path towards dissolution and divorce doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do about it.
That’s because, although much of marriage is predictable, love can always surprise you. People have recovered from terrible situations – addiction, adultery, abuse, abandonment (just to name a few in the As) – and bounced back to have healthy, happy marriages. Plenty of people have even gotten divorced and later realised they still loved each other and they’ve gotten re-married — to the same person!
So even a seemingly hopeless marriage is not completely doomed. But it won’t just bounce back on its own, without your efforts. And even with your best efforts it may be quite a tough experience.
Take some time to decide whether you want to save your marriage. A good way to do this is to write about it – even a few minutes of scribbling down your thoughts and feelings every day will help you find clarity. Also, talking things over with a trusted friend can really help you zero in on what is important to you. If you decide your marriage is worth saving and worth improving, then you are ready to take the next step.
Find a safe, quiet time to talk to your spouse and tell them clearly that, although your marriage is troubled, you want to stay together and save it. Don’t worry about their reaction. Just make sure you tell them clearly and calmly that you want to stay together and improve your relationship. Don’t get into a discussion or argument about what needs to happen or what you want them to do. Just tell them your intentions.
Before you get to work trying to save your seemingly hopeless marriage, it’s important to understand what you have power over and what you don’t. Ultimately, you have power only over yourself, over your attitudes and your actions. You really have limited power over your spouse. In fact, to tell the truth, you have no power over your spouse at all. You cannot control what they think, decide and do.
That can be a tough idea to swallow, but it is important. To reconnect with your spouse, to rekindle the love between you, and to save your marriage, you must first completely let go of trying to control them.
However, you may be surprised to learn that you have more power to influence your marriage than you think. Just by focusing on yourself you can make big changes in your relationship, even if your spouse does nothing at all.
What’s the first thing you can change? Your attitude. Deciding to be positive and deciding to be happy is within your power, and can make a big difference. Try making a quick list every morning of all the things you are grateful for about your marriage, no matter how trivial or silly they seem. Just write them down on a scrap of paper and then throw it away. Do this again every day for a week or so and you will find that your mind is more focused on the positive aspects of your relationship rather than the negatives.
Even changing what you pay attention to – positive things rather than negative – will change your outlook and your mood. That change in your mood will affect your overall personality and can even affect your physical health in a positive way. Whether your spouse notices this change is not particularly important, although the change in you will contribute positively to your marriage.
Being more focused on positive parts of your marriage will make you less likely to sink into despair or depression, and less likely to argue and fight with your spouse. You will be less likely to lose your temper. Already, you will have improved your situation.
Often, it’s helpful to seek outside help from a professional therapist or counsellor. You can ask your spouse to participate, but even if they refuse, you can get help for yourself. A professional therapist can take an outside, objective look at your relationship and help you see it differently. They can also help you identify and focus on steps to take to make it a better, happier, stronger marriage.
Paradoxically, another way to improve the situation in your marriage is to focus on your own life outside of your marriage. Taking good care of yourself, eating right, exercising, and socialising with friends will all help you show up better prepared to work on your marriage. So take some time to take care of yourself.
Join a gym if you don’t already belong to one, and go take some classes there. Group exercise classes are better than solitary exercise because they give you a chance to interact with other people. But even if you just go alone to the gym and work out by yourself, or swim laps on your own, that’s good for you, too. If the gym is not your sort of thing, look for other ways to get exercise. Take a walk every day through your neighbourhood, or on your lunch break from work, or in some scenic place. Ride a bicycle, either for exercise or just to get from A to B. Try something new like tai chi that you’ve never done before.
Exercise doesn’t just change your muscles. It changes the chemistry of your body and brain, producing endorphins that actually act like antidepressant drugs. They perk you up and put you in a happier mood, all without a doctor’s prescription.
Take a class and learn something new, or read some interesting books to keep your mind active and stimulated. This is also good for your happiness and health, and it will help you maintain a more positive attitude in your marriage.
Maintain an active social life where you go out and see friends, do things together, and enjoy some adventures with them.
Doing all these sorts of things will change you. The changes in you will probably change your spouse, even though it may take time, and that will improve your marriage. But even if your spouse doesn’t change, you will have changed. You will have a better, more positive attitude towards your marriage and towards life in general. You will have more energy and be in a better position to work with your spouse to save your marriage. It won’t be easy, but you will have given yourself a good chance.