How To Save Your Marriage (When You Feel Completely And Utterly Hopeless)

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How To Save Your Marriage (When You Feel Completely And Utterly Hopeless)

Feeling hopeless about your marriage? If so, you are not alone. Almost all marriages go through periods that can leave you feeling like you’re on one of those scary roller-coaster rides that make you want to throw up. 

It’s completely normal to hit a patch in your relationship where one of you doesn’t feel in love anymore, or to get to a place where you worry that nothing will ever work to make you both feel happy again. Don’t despair! Even if just one of you wants to learn how to save your marriage, you can revive hope and rekindle love. 

There are many research studies within Family Systems Theory, which have scientifically proven that if one person in a family system changes their behavior, the whole system is forced to adjust. In other words, if only one spouse within a couple changes their actions, the entire relationship can improve.

RELATED: What To Do If You Think Your Wife Wants A Divorce

If you don’t feel much hope and want to marriage advice on salvaging your relationship, you can be happily married again. Borrow my hope for now.  Then, take the following 3 steps and watch your marriage start to turn around immediately.

Step 1: Remember you're going to be OK, no matter what.

No doubt that if you’ve been worried that your marriage is ending, you’re probably feeling depressed, powerless, and like you have no control. But here’s the thing: you can’t take effective, actionable steps from a place of weakness or imbalance.  

In order to mobilize hope, love, and long-term security in your marriage, the first thing you have to do is get back to knowing that it’s alright to take good care of yourself. And then tap back into your sense of strength and control. How? By practicing these three habits that help you stand in your personal power:

  • Balance: Stand strong. Don’t lean too far forward or too far back (from your partner). Hold your head up high, don’t shrink, take long, deep breaths, and stay centered. Practice mindfulness. Remember this is a momentary experience and you have a long future ahead of you. Don’t forget that even though your marriage is like a tree blowing in the wind, it has deep roots.
  • Confidence: Make this your mantra: "I am enough!" and say it out loud to yourself several times a day. Nurture your confidence through doing things that make you feel calm and creative. Confidence is what empowers you to take charge and move forward. Oh, and don’t forget: confidence makes you more attractive to your partner.
  • Fairness: Take responsibility for your part in the current state of your marriage. This will not weaken you. In fact, by not blaming your spouse for all your relationship troubles and taking ownership of your part, you quickly detoxify your relationship and strengthen yourself. You will actually set your relationship up for success by being humble and fair.

Step 2: Develop deep empathy for your spouse.

In order to save your marriage and become a happy couple, it’s really important for you to remember that your spouse is not you and, in fact, you are two very different people. Yes, you’ve got to walk in your partner’s shoes.

Couples feel in love when they are happy together. Then, what’s the quickest way for me to create happiness with your partner? Glad you asked. The short answer is: know thy spouse.

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It sounds so simple, yet it isn’t a skill that comes very naturally. In fact, it takes many couples years (and sometimes marriage therapy) to develop this level of empathy. Here are three ways to build your empathy muscle fast:

  • Become an expert on your spouse: Figure out what he reflexively does when he’s under stress. Does he want to move closer to you, or does he first need some time to himself? Get good at reading body language and facial expressions. If you’re having trouble, ask if you're reading it right? Also, keep in mind the answer to questions like "What’s the one thing that makes my spouse feel the most vulnerable?" or "What are 3 things I can do to make my partner feel loved?"
  • Listen like a pro: In short, make "hearing and understanding" your spouse the goal when he is trying to make his case. In order to pull that off, you’ll have to remember that "hearing" her is not the same as "agreeing" with her, and "understanding" him does not mean "giving in" to him. Be sure to let your partner know that you really understand what she is saying by paraphrasing what you’ve just heard. Then always ask, "Did I get that right? Is there anything else?"
  • Be compassionate: Show sensitivity and care towards your spouse. Send them off with a hug, kiss, and compliment when you part ways in the morning. Give her a warm welcome home hug at the end of the day, and ask how her day went. Infuse the time you spend together with appreciation and affection. Say thank you for a specific thing, smile, touch, wink, make eye contact, use an endearing term, play "your song" and dance in the kitchen, do the dishes even if it’s not your turn, praise him when he least expects it, and laugh together. 

Step 3: Recommit to putting your relationship first.

My guess is that your marriage is in this vulnerable place because you lost sight of the essential agreements that would keep it safe and happy. Above all, in order for your marriage to be saved, you both have to commit to always put your relationship first.  

You have to wrap your mind around this shift. "I don’t come first, you don’t come first, our kids don’t come first, work doesn't come first. WE come first. From now on, the guiding question is: What’s best for US?"

Here are four agreements that will help you put (and keep) your relationship first:

  1. Radical transparency: You need to tell each other everything, even if you think it will upset your partner. To foster transparency, you must give one another the gift of safety: no judgment or rejection. Otherwise, it won’t feel safe to be completely open, and secrets will feel like a better alternative.
  2. No threats: If you threaten to move out, divorce, or pack your partner’s bags, you will never achieve the sense of safety necessary for deep intimacy. Threatening the relationship in any way leads to distrust. And trust is a necessary element for long-term security and happiness.
  3. Always have your partner’s back: Agree to protect one another (emotionally and physically) whether you’re in public, with friends or family, or alone. Make it your job and your pleasure to take care of each other.
  4. Lead with love: Don’t wait for your spouse to go first. Take the lead on initiating the changes you want to see in your relationship. And don’t use belittling, blaming, sarcasm, anger, or withholding to make a point. Do something every day to foster a loving, positive intimacy cycle (either in or out of bed) in your relationship. Keep in mind that the more you act in the ways that make your partner feel loved, the more love you’ll get back.  

Making a marriage work isn’t easy. And the fear that it’s falling apart can send some couples into a tailspin. It doesn’t have to be this way. Practice these skills and things will get better.

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Lynda Spann, Ph.D., LMFT, is a relationship therapist and coach. For more information, visit her website.

This article was originally published at Lynda Spann, PhD. Reprinted with permission from the author.