I've seen the pain and confusion that can infiltrate a marriage during my time as a therapist and also working with online therapy services. It's a common yet deeply personal struggle. In 2021 alone, the CDC reported 689,308 divorces in the United States.
But all isn't lost. In my practice, I've witnessed the transformation that can occur with the right insights and tools. So, I'll share 10 of my most useful tips to breathe life and connection back into your marriage.
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1. Seek Professional Help
Seeking professional help isn't an admission of defeat but rather a proactive step towards understanding and resolution. It helps you and your partner communicate better, solve problems, and deal with things that stress you out.
There are quite a few misconceptions surrounding therapy that can act as barriers to seeking help. Sometimes, couples don't realize their communication needs improvement. Our job is to pinpoint these patterns, unravel any underlying issues, and introduce effective conflict-resolution strategies.
2. Learn to Communicate Effectively
In my work, I talk with plenty of couples who struggle with communication, and I always recommend active listening. That means paying attention to your partner and showing you understand. For example, saying something like, "I get that you felt ignored when I was busy, and you needed more from me." It's a small change, but it makes a world of difference.
Another handy tool is using "I" statements. So, instead of, "You're always late!" try something like, "I get worried when you're not home on time. Can you let me know when you'll be late?" It feels less like an attack and more like an invitation to understand each other's perspective.
And hey, we all get heated sometimes. Still, I advise the couples I work with to avoid those "always" or "never" statements in these situations because they only make things worse. Start the conversation on a positive note, focus on how you're feeling, and ask for what you need.
3. Understand Each Other's Needs
It's easy to think, "Well, they should know what I want after all this time," but the truth is nobody's a mind reader. It takes sitting down and having a real talk—laying out what you need to feel loved and valued and allowing your partner to do the same.
Love languages play a big part in this. We all have different ways we feel loved. For some, it's words of affirmation. For others, it's acts of service. Learning and understanding these can clear up a lot of misunderstandings and make both partners feel more valued.
4. Practice Empathy
Empathy is essential to feeling connected to your partner. Without it, it's easy for both parties to feel distant and disconnected. I've sat with couples who were miles apart emotionally, not because they didn't care, but because that bridge of understanding was missing.
Empathy helps to avoid the buildup of resentment and mistrust. When partners feel heard, it defuses the hurt and disappointment that can otherwise turn into negative actions and emotions. It's about stepping into each other's shoes, really getting where the other person is coming from, and responding with understanding.
5. Try to Have More Meaningful Conversations
Through my journey counseling couples, I've come across effective techniques that foster meaningful conversations. These discussions pave the way for deeper connections, ultimately strengthening the marriage.
Here are some practical examples:
- Meaningful questions: Engage in thought-provoking questions that touch on your dreams, fears, and desires. For instance, ask, "What's one dream you haven't shared with me yet?" or "What fears keep you up at night?"
- Open-ended questions: Try asking, "How did that experience shape your beliefs?" instead of just "What happened?". It invites your partner to dive deep into their thoughts and emotions.
- Nonjudgmental listening: For example, if your partner says, "I feel overwhelmed with work," resist the urge to jump in with solutions or judgments. Instead, respond with something like, "I see how stressed you are. Tell me more about what you're experiencing."
» Is your partner gaslighting you? Try these tactics to put an end to manipulation.
6. Rekindle Intimacy and Connection
A common theme that emerges when I work with couples is the need to reignite that spark and deepen the connection.
One effective approach I often recommend is dedicating time to each other—and I mean real, quality time. This could be as simple as setting aside a regular date night. I remember one couple who started trying a new restaurant every month, and it turned into a little adventure for them.
Sex is also a huge part of the connection in a marriage. Having open chats about what you both need is key. Have a conversation where you explore and express your desires without judgment. You may just find that it brings a whole new level of closeness to your relationship.
7. Focus On Personal Growth and Self-Care
Don't forget to make time for yourself while caring for your partner. Neglecting self-care can lead to issues that strain the marriage, like feeling drained or under-appreciated. Be intentional about adding activities like exercise to your life and spending time with friends.
Remember that self-care includes improving your mental health, too. Individual therapy helps you address personal issues, which can lead to breakthroughs in your relationship. I also recommend discussing the importance of self-care with your partner to support each other in maintaining a mentally and physically healthy lifestyle.
8. Forgive and Heal
Studies show that forgiveness is often a cornerstone for rebuilding a fractured relationship. While it often requires time, couples therapy can help you or your partner understand what it takes to make amends.
I've found that transparency, mutual understanding, and setting boundaries are vital here. It's not about erasing the past but creating a future where respect and love are at the center.
9. Set Goals and Make Commitments
Clear goals and commitments help ensure you and your partner are on the same page about where you're headed—and precisely what you need to do to get there together. Try breaking down your goals into smaller, measurable tasks or behaviors that you can accomplish quickly.
Here's a real-life example: I once worked with a couple that felt like they were drifting apart. They wanted to "feel closer and be happier together," but that's a broad target.
So, we broke it down. What does "feeling closer" look like? How can it be measured? We landed on something tangible—dedicating at least two evenings a week to uninterrupted quality time together.
Techniques for Tracking Your Progress
- Monthly goal review: Set regular monthly meetings to assess your progress and discuss whether you're both satisfied.
- Reward system: Use incentives like movies, dining out, or at-home spa nights when you meet your objectives.
- Periodic check-ins: Check in weekly to discuss what went well, what didn't, and where you can improve to ensure you're progressing well.
10. Create a Shared Vision for the Future
Set aside time with your partner to create a shared vision for your relationship. Describe the kind of relationship you want as if you're in it now. For example, "We love to travel" instead of "We should travel more" or "We're financially responsible" rather than "We should be better at saving money."
Share your visions and create a master list. Then, you can start prioritizing. Rank the items by importance and select the top five qualities or things that matter most to both of you. This makes the journey ahead clear, focused, and mutual.
Building a Strong Marriage
Saving a marriage isn't about having all the answers but being willing to explore, learn, and, sometimes, stumble along the way. That said, practicing active listening, steering clear of blame, and prioritizing effective communication are excellent places to start.
And remember, it's okay to seek help. If you're unsure, a therapist can offer tools, insights, and support to guide you and your partner toward a stronger, more connected marriage.