Most people tend to look at marriage as hard work (which it is sometimes!) or have fallen into a pattern of doing the same things and boredom has taken over. Too often in marriage resentment takes hold or we continually end up in arguments trying to be right. Here are a few things you can do today to improve your marriage, without requiring anything of your spouse!
2019 edit: Since this post was originally published, I’ve read and fallen in LOVE with this book. It is the absolute BEST way to quickly improve your relationship without hassling your partner to change anything at all. I’ve read excerpts of it to my husband and he loves it as much as I do – especially because it encourages you not to have the “we need to talk” talk with your spouse.
Before I get started, let me point you to some additional reading. These 4 books changed my marriage and my life. Dramatic, yes. Over-exaggeration? Not at all.:
First of all, if you’re looking to improve a failing marriage, please consider these two truths. Marriage counseling is available to everyone – whether you find a counselor at a church or find free counseling options in your area, or possibly by finding a counselor through your insurance plan.
Now that we have three kids, going to counseling PLUS paying for a babysitter to watch the kids while we go is simply out of the question.
We’ve done online counseling through Talkspace and absolutely loved it.
It’s convenient, we can text, video message, voice message…it’s perfect for two busy parents. You can try it here and get $50 off your first month.
Counseling is nothing short of amazing and I truly believe every single couple should have a marriage counselor on speed dial.
Don’t rely solely on self-help articles to fix your marriage.
Go to a counselor and see for yourself how incredibly life changing marriage counseling can be.
Scotty and I went to a counselor just before we got married and we still go because we love all the benefits we’ve seen in our marriage since we started!
Have a spouse that refuses to go to counseling? That’s okay. Go by yourself! Which brings me to point number 2…
You can’t change your spouse.
You can only change yourself.
Now please try to not get disheartened when I say this because there is POWER in changing yourself.
One big thing I learned is that by changing my actions and, more importantly, my reactions, I can facilitate the awesome changes that I see in my spouse.
If you can accept that you are only responsible for changing your own actions, then you’re already well on your way to a happier marriage!
This sounds very manipulating at first, but please hear me out.
Let’s use an example I see often in the relationships around me (spoiler alert – this used to be a problem in my own marriage)…
You are feeling distant from your spouse and you react by wanting to talk about it.
Constantly demanding more affection from your spouse and the result is always the same – they always react with complaining, distancing even more, starting a fight, etc… and you go to sleep that night feeling even more distant than before.
You feel hopeless to change anything in your marriage and feel completely rejected after putting yourself and your emotions out there to the one person who promised to care about you and your feelings forever – but now they just seem annoyed every time you open your mouth.
You can’t change them.
You can change yourself.
What if you change your tactics with your spouse so you can start getting more of what you want?
You’re changing your own actions with the ultimate goal of changing your spouse’s response to you.
So in our example, maybe you start to feel that same familiar pain of distance in your relationship.
When you’re tempted to pursue your spouse for affection hoping it will take that pain away, you instead try to distract yourself with a favorite hobby.
Maybe you decide not to pursue your spouse for an entire month.
During that month, you go for a run, read a favorite book, call a friend, etc. anytime you’re tempted to chase your spouse for attention.
After a few weeks, your spouse feels less pressure from you and is now able to feel the desire for closeness with you…all because you gave them the space to feel like they wanted it instead of that closeness being demanded from them.
Do you see how in this example, YOU changed YOU but in the process, you also changed THEM?
This is the power of changing yourself and your own behaviors when you finally accept that you can’t change your spouse.
Ask before starting an emotional conversation
I definitely don’t think you should ever be in a relationship where you can’t discuss your issues.
After all, a marriage without communication isn’t only sure to be miserable, it’s almost certain that it will fail.
That being said, don’t make the same mistakes that I used to.
I would come home from work and immediately start talking about whatever issue was weighing on my mind with our relationship.
I was confused why Scotty would react defensively or just completely shut down.
Through a couple of sessions with our marriage counselor, I learned that there is a MUCH better way to handle emotionally charged issues.
Simply ask your spouse if now is an okay time to talk about something that has been bothering you. If not, ask them when a better time might be and suggest an alternative.
This is often referred to as avoiding harsh start up.
For example, say “there’s something that’s been bothering me and I’d really like to talk to you about it. Do you think it would be okay to talk about it for a few minutes after dinner?”
This not only gives your spouse a quick heads up that a potentially uncomfortable conversation is coming, it also helps to head off the knee-jerk reaction that most men have to being confronted with negative feelings.
I can’t tell you how much this one simple change has completely changed our marriage for the better. We went from fighting almost every day to maybe having an argument every 4 months…and even then it’s always about something stupid.
If you’re reading this thinking you’re going to sound like a robot and no real people actually talk like this – I hear you!
That’s exactly what I thought when our counselor first suggested this.
“Why is it always on me to coddle his inability to have a real conversation in our marriage?”
This all goes back to changing how you act to get more of what you want.
When she phrased it to me like this and I was able to see what was in it for me (because damn it, I deserved to be a little selfish after giving and giving for so long!) I decided to give it a try.
Now, I can honestly tell you I don’t care if I sound like a stupid robot.
If it gives me the conversation I want with my husband and avoids him feeling criticized and all of the harsh reactions that come with it – I’ll ask you every single time if “now is a good time to talk” because I’m getting what I need out of the marriage.
Spoiler alert – so is he.
Learn the Right Times to Communicate About Issues
Similar to the point above, you can turn a potentially negative conversation to a positive one simply by changing when you try to bring up the topic.
Times of transition are not the time to talk about emotionally-charged issues!
This includes first thing in the morning, when leaving for work, when coming home from work, and at bedtime.
My husband is going to laugh when he sees this because for some reason, bedtime is my prime time for having some issue crop up in my mind that I just have to discuss with him. Just like I’m trying to learn to be better about this, you should too!
These times of transition are naturally more stressful for everyone.
A better time to talk is when everyone is settled in at home and has been for some time.
As always, ask if now is an okay time to have this discussion, even when you think you’ve picked the perfect time.
I actually have started to ask Scotty to let me know when a good time is to talk about something that’s been bothering me.
He’s great about bracing himself for the conversation or letting me know when a better time for him will be.
This change has made a huge impact on not just our marriage, but on my husband’s confidence.
I can see such a change in how he handles stressful topics like our finances or trying to make plans for an upcoming trip. He knows that he’s going to be successful at helping me find a solution without losing his cool, and that little boost of confidence resonates through our marriage in a million other ways.
2019 update – I’m sitting here updating this post and can honestly say a few years after initially writing it that these changes have not just changed my marriage. They have completely revitalized and morphed it into something I never could have even dreamed. My husband and I are the absolute best of friends and hardly have any fights about anything at all these days. These seemingly simple changes coupled with a real respect for each other have changed everything. I can honestly say I wish everyone had a marriage as strong as the one we’ve BUILT together (no, none of it came naturally – we worked our asses off for it). Follow through on these things and don’t give up!
Another thing that I have had to learn the hard way is how to be positive about my relationship.
My history with relationships told me that this one too was bound to end miserably.
I can keep that thought process going and make sure my marriage ends in flames, OR I can be positive about the amazing possibility that our love is going to continue to strengthen and grow.
Believe that your marriage can be all that you envision it to be. Believe in your spouse and believe in yourself.
I can honestly say that 3 moves, 2 states, and 1.5 kids later, this marriage that I’m lucky enough to be a part of is stronger than ever.
Get Over Yourself!
I was SO guilty of feeling so self-righteous in our arguments.
“Why should I go out of my way to be nice to him when he’s been such a jerk all day?!” Thanks to our counselor, I now know that the answer is simple…
Because it gets you what you want!
It might sound a little manipulative or self-depreciating, but think about it for a second.
Yes, maybe your husband has been being distant, or argumentative, or just downright impossible, but by continuing to handle him in the same way, what do you think you’re going to get?
If you always do what you always did, you’ll always get what you always got.
Change it up. Be nice. Learn to speak his love language. Compliment him.
In the words of Dr. Phil – “Catch him doing something right.”
Thank him for taking out the trash or for cleaning up after dinner.
Even if you have to look as small as thanking him for always kissing you before he leaves the house.
Giving a small compliment or noticing something that he does that you typically take for granted (think “Thank you for always making us laugh. We’re so lucky to have you…”) you completely change the dynamic.
Don’t be so caught up in the resentment you have that you miss this golden opportunity.
You’ll immediately feel better because you’ll be melting away any guilt you have about your attitude toward your husband.
Plus, your husband will likely start to react in the same way. I’m not promising that he’ll reciprocate with compliments over night, but I am promising you that you’ll feel a whole lot better when you start putting one foot in front of the other on the path toward a happier, more content, marriage.
When you’re just not feeling up to this whole adulting thing…be honest with your spouse.
I tell Scotty when I’m just depressed for some reason or when my anxiety is getting the best of me because life just seems to be taking over.
I’m lucky enough to have a husband that wraps me up and talks me through it. If your marriage isn’t quite there yet, keep going!
Just saying out loud that you’re not in a great mindset today because the weather is crappy, the bills are piling up, the kids are a mess – can give your spouse the heads up that they need to understand that you don’t have a whole lot to give today.
Too often we get caught up thinking we have to be everything to everyone, and that’s just setting ourselves up for failure.
In my own life, I’m trying to figure out how to organize our house, juggle our friendships both in and out of state, survive pregnancy and moving, and still be a loving wife and mother to this beautiful little family we’ve built.
For me, it meant pulling back on going to quite so many get togethers with other mommies and asking for my husband’s help getting our house together.
Just by being honest with myself and Scotty about what aspects of life are just a little too much for me right now while I contend with a 1 year old and being pregnant again, I’ve been amazed at how much easier my stress has been to handle.
Don’t be naïve about what you can handle and what you can’t.
Recognize the signs when your chest is tightening and you’re realizing you just don’t have time to keep up.
Take a little mini break from some of your responsibilities where you can, and ask for help with the ones that absolutely must get done. Just a week or so of less obligations can improve your own mental health and your marriage.
Finally, just take a deep breath and try to be grateful for what you have while you have it.
Tomorrow isn’t promised to anyone, so try to keep that in mind when going through things with your spouse.
If your marriage is in serious trouble, don’t waste another day without seeking help.
If it’s just minor things that are teaming up to make a huge negative impact in your marriage, start making the little changes that it will take to make a big difference.
I hate that Scotty leaves out condiments every single time he eats. Every.single.time. I hate that he gets arrogant when we fight sometimes.
BUT I love that it took me five minutes to think of two things that I hate about my husband.
I love that he is so supportive of my blog, my commitments, and my anxiety when things go wrong.
I love that I have him to go through this life with.
Take a minute to think of a few things that you absolutely love about your spouse.
Maybe they make killer chili or are an awesome parent to the kids that you share.
Maybe you love that they are a great provider for your family or you love their taste in music.
Think of a few things you love about them and share it with them every day.
This is all about cultivating a different dynamic in your relationship.
Changes feel awkward at first!
If you haven’t complimented your husband in a while and it feels weird or fake to start now, get over it!
Start today so that tomorrow you can have a slightly better relationship.
Your marriage will thank you the day after that and the day after that until finally, you have built yourself and your marriage into something you are so proud of.
Something like marriage is worth working hard for – and that starts with being uncomfortable! Make the little changes today so you can reap the benefits tomorrow.
Don’t Put Your Spouse on the Defensive
Oh my, if you could only see into my marriage to see what an issue this used to be!
Even before we got married, Scotty would get defensive immediately when I said something was bothering me.
When I said I was upset about something, he heard that he couldn’t do anything right. When I said I was depressed, he heard that he was failing me as a partner.
Now, I try to be careful to not upset his insecurities.
If you take nothing else from this post, absolutely start doing this today.
I get the warm and fuzzies when I talk to Scotty about issues that are bothering me because I know I’m doing such a good job at loving him in the process.
I can’t quite explain it, but something about our interactions now gives me such a warm feeling that makes me feel proud of myself as a wife.
I guess the best way to explain how I implement this is to give an example.
If I know I’m about to tell him that I feel like we’ve been distant lately, I try to anticipate where his head is going to go. I know my husband and immediately he’s going to hear that he’s screwing up somehow.
Instead, I start off our conversation with “Because we’ve been so busy/stressed lately, I haven’t been feeling quite as close as I want to. It’s nothing that you’ve done or haven’t done, it’s just how our lives are right now. Do you think you can be a little more loving for the next few days until I feel better?”
Seriously – that’s how it sounds. Now before, it would have sounded something like “I don’t feel like you love me anymore. Why aren’t we close? Do you still want to be with me??”
Yep. It turns out communication doesn’t come naturally to me. A constant talker and rambler. Who knew?
When our marriage counselor first taught me how to approach Scotty like this, my first thought was “forget it.”
I thought if I have to talk to him like that, I’m ignoring my needs and I have to tip toe around what I really want to say.
I can’t tell you how far from the truth that is. Since I started communicating with him like this, our arguments have fallen by probably 400% (okay, I made that up, but seriously. We almost never fight) and when we do have an argument, it’s over in no time and we’re right back to being loving and joking with each other.
Our marriage has grown by leaps and bounds because of this one tip alone. Please, if you are anything like I used to be – trying to pull reassurance from accusations like I listed above, try this tip and watch your marriage evolve. It will. I promise.
- Remember, pick a good time to talk that isn’t during a transition time in your day and ASK your spouse if now is a good time to talk.
- Be positive about your marriage and look at the things that are going right instead of focusing on what’s going wrong.
- Be honest with your spouse when you just have no more to give and ask if they can help you alleviate some of your burdens.
- Use “I” statements instead of “you” statements and try to be as positive as possible with your interactions.
- Finally, BE GRATEFUL for your spouse and all that they do for you and TELL THEM! Compliment, appreciate, notice all that they do and tell them, text them, e-mail them. Just make sure that they know how loved and appreciated they are. You will benefit ten-fold from building up their confidence in your marriage. I promise you. I did!
Have you had luck with any of these tips in your marriage? What tips do you have for making small changes that have a big impact? Join me on Instagram and start the conversation – we all need a little support / tips / encouragement now and then!