7 Last-Ditch Ways To Save Your Marriage (When You Feel Hopeless)

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how to save your marriage

If you think your marriage is unsalvageable, think again.

I'm a specialist in marriage rescue and I'm here to help you learn how to save your marriage. You can tell that your marriage probably needs rescuing if you've been feeling angry about what’s been happening and/or hopeless about changing the situation for the better.

The good news is that anger and hopelessness can offer you clues about how to save your marriage. These bad feelings can help you to clarify what you want.

Let’s focus on how to use these negative emotions to guide you to a better marriage. Most of my clients are couples who come to treatment feeling chronically angry at their spouse and hopeless about their relationship’s challenges. Many are contemplating divorce. 

RELATED: 3 Steps To Save Your Relationship When You've Drifted Too Far Apart

By the end of treatment, they have created great marriages. How? Here's the seven-step pathway I recommend:

1. Make a list of all the issues you argue or feel hopeless about.

Anger does not mean it’s time to fight. Hopelessness does not mean you should just give up on saving your marriage and get divorced. Anger and hopelessness do indicate that there’s a problem, a bump on your marriage path. So begin by asking yourself, “What do I feel angry or hopeless about?”

Write out a list of all the issues that you have been arguing about or giving up on. Include on your list the issues that concern your spouse as well as the ones that irritate and frustrate you

2. Refocus onto yourself.

Notice that when you feel angry, your focus will tend to be on your spouse, on what she or he does or doesn’t do that frustrates you. This second step requires a shift a focus, from focusing outward on him or her to focusing inward on your own concerns and desires. 

Circle back to your list, asking yourself, “With regard to this issue, what do I want?” or “What is my concern?” Double check. Are you writing what you want your spouse to do differently? If you have been writing “I want him/her to...” you have yet to shift your focus. List only, “I want to...” (e.g, “I want her to stop being so messy and to clean up after herself” focuses on the spouse. “I want to find a way to make the spaces I spend time in, like the kitchen and our living room, to be more neat and orderly.”)

Attempts to make your partner change invite defensiveness. That strategy will get you nowhere. Instead, use your energy to figure out what you want and then what you yourself might do differently to get it, becoming "self-centered" in the best possible sense. When spouses look at what they themselves might do differently to get what they want, there’s progress.

In the following TEDx talk, starting at 4:00 minutes, I explain visualizing techniques you can use to help you with implementing these first two steps for saving your marriage. Visualizing enables you, by closing your eyes, to see more deeply into your subconscious thoughts and understandings.  

The video illustrates first how to use visualizing to identify the situations that have been creating your feelings of anger and/or or hopelessness (i.e., depression).  Visualizing then can help you to clarify how, without changing the other person, you might find better ways of getting what you want.

3. Cut the crap.

The negative muck you give each other is totally unhelpful. Negative comments to each other only taint a positive relationship. So, no more criticism, complaints, blame, accusations, anger, sarcasm, digs or snide remarks. No more raised voices or anger escalations either. Stay in the calm zone.

RELATED: 21 Small (But Crucial) Pieces Of Marriage Advice I've Learned After 10 Years Of Marriage

Exit an argument early and often if either of you start to get heated. Calm down so that when you re-engage, you only talk calmly and cooperatively.  

Marriage researcher John Gottman has found that marriages generally survive if the ratio of good to bad interactions is five to one. But do you want to survive, or do you want to thrive? If thriving is your goal, aim for a ratio of a million to one. That means, do NOT sling mud.

4. Express concerns constructively and make decisions cooperatively.

A simple way to stay constructive in sensitive conversations is to pick from the following trio of potential sentence starters 

  • "I feel..."
  • "My concern is..."
  • "I would like to..."

Understanding each other’s concerns is essential for the two of you to begin doing what I call that the win-win waltz. The goal of the win-win waltz is to reach solutions that please you both. No more aiming to get your way. Aim instead for both of you to feel comfortable with your plan of action.

To do the win-win waltz, notice you have differences, which probably will become evident because you are beginning to argue or to feel hopeless. Express your underlying concerns. Ask about and list to your partner's concerns. Then create a plan of action responsive to the concerns of both of you.

5. Eliminate the three "As" that ruin marriages.

Affairs, addictions, and excessive anger are relationship deal-breakers. They are out-of-bounds in a healthy marriage. 

If you are indulging in one of these self-defeating and relationship-destroying habits, get the habit out of your life pronto. If your spouse is the one with the problem, trying to learn how to save the marriage may be a mistake. Either build a new kind of marriage where these do not occur, or end the marriage.

6. Radically increase the positive energies you give your partner.

Smile more; hug more; have more sex; be more appreciative; spend more time dwelling on the things you like about each other; help each other out more; praise each other more; laugh more; agree more; do more fun things together.

The best things in life really are free. The more positives you give, the more you'll get.

7. Learn the skills for a successful marriage.

Would you expect to drive a car without first taking driver's ed? Find books and marriage education courses to learn the communication and conflict resolution skills for marriage partnership.

With this 7-point plan, you'll find that your anger and hopelessness have led to making your marriage a loving success.

RELATED: How An Affair Saved My Marriage

Susan Heitler, Ph.D., invites you to check out her marriage communication skills website PowerOfTwoMarriage.com. See also her free website PrescriptionsWithoutPills.com for more on how to enable negative emotions like anger and hopelessness to lead to making your relationships happier and more loving.