Many people going through a crisis or a dry spell in their marriage assume that couples counseling or at least a joint effort is the only thing that will save their marriage. The problem is that much of the time, only one spouse sees the need to work on the marriage or is ready to do something about it. The good news is that there are a lot of things you can do on your own to save your marriage and many of them are surprisingly simple.
Harriet Lerner, PhD, is the author of a book called “Marriage Rules” that gives readers 100 tips and steps to save your marriage, even if you’re the only one working on it at the moment. Oprah.com has a great post that shares ten of those steps and they’re so good that we want to cover them all, so we’ll be sharing them over the next two posts.
Here are the first five surprisingly simple ways to save your marriage:
1. Describe it in three sentences (or less).
This one is especially for us wives. We like to discuss, but many men are overwhelmed or intimidated by long conversations “about us.” Lerner suggests keeping those types of conversations down to three sentences.
She suggests saying,
You said you would do the dishes and you didn’t” and leaving it at that, rather than tacking on, “You don’t do what you say you’re going to do. I can’t trust you. I can’t even trust what you’re going to do next. And by the way, I saw that you also left the dog out in the yard.”
2. Disorient him with praise.
At the moment when your husband expects criticism, surprise him with praise instead.
For example, if he has a tendency to be overbearing with his younger brother, and the two of you have fought about this, repeatedly, wait until you hear them on the phone together. After he hangs up, say something like: ‘I so admire the way you used humor to lighten things up with your brother. You can be so funny with him.’ It’s disarming. It’s unexpected, and it encourages new behavior—from both of you.”
3. End the phony I-statements.
We’ve all heard the advice to start sentences with “I” instead of “You”, describing your feelings rather than your spouse’s actions. But that advice doesn’t work if the statement is phony.
Not all statements that begin with the word “I” are I-statements. Tacking on an ‘I think’ does not necessarily mean you are talking about yourself. Avoid comments like ‘I think you’re controlling,’ or ‘I think you’re treating me like your domineering mother.’ That is, unless you want to start a big fight.”
4. Invite what you dread.
If you cringe when your partner repeatedly brings up a certain topic, Lerner suggests bringing it up yourself. This may sound counter intuitive, but Lerner says,
You may worry that you will open the emotional dams and have to talk about what you least want to hear about—for forever. But in fact, your partner will dwell on the issue less if you really invite him to tell you everything in one fell swoop. You don’t have to come up with solutions or cheer him up. You just have to listen.”
5. Never say the word “foreplay.”
Yes, many couples do need more foreplay in their lives, but men don’t necessarily want to hear the word. It isn’t very inspiring and it also suggests that intercourse is the only “real” aspect of making love. Try talking about it without using the word “foreplay” or try the old “telling by doing” tactic instead.
Next time, we’ll share the rest of Lerner’s ten simple and very do-able steps to save your marriage.