1. You will never come to a healthy resolution when you’re angry. Our therapist explained that our “fight or flight” response is triggered when we’re angry or hurt, so our brains have a harder time making good decisions about what to say or how to say it.
He recommended saying, “I need a break. I’ll be back in 20 minutes,” and just leaving the room or taking a drive or walk to calm down. When you come back together at the promised time, you’ll both be better able to handle a tough conversation.
2. Do something active when discussing tough subjects. Walking and hiking are great activities when you need to talk about emotional stuff. Why? There’s something about moving together toward a goal that keeps us from getting emotionally stuck and encourages forward progress.
When times were hardest in our marriage, Ivan and I would find a long and challenging hike to do. We both credit those hikes for bringing us back together.
3. Nobody in your marriage is working harder than the other. I was an at-home parent raising two very active toddler sons when things went lopsided between Ivan and me. My husband was out of the house for up to 16-hours a day earning a living for our family. We both felt profoundly unappreciated.
One of our major fights was over who worked harder and who deserved more down time, but our therapist put a quick end to that.
“Don’t even discuss it. It’s not even a question. You’re both working hard. This conversation will get you nowhere.”
4. Do a project together, and stick it out until the end. Build a garden, clean a closet, paint the walls … anything that will create an end result you’ll both be proud of. There’s something incredibly bonding about solving problems together, especially when the outcome is something that’ll make you happy.
5. Figure out how shame is corrupting your bond. Shame is a motivator for a lot of toxic stuff in marriages. Most of us carry around some shame from our childhoods or from having done something in the marriage we regret.
One thing Ivan and I learned is that shame often leads to anger, and misplaced anger can ruin a marriage.
Talk together about where your individual shame originates and how to heal past it. This is a good thing to do with a therapist’s help, but it’s a conversation that has massive potential to heal (and bond) both partners.
6. Talk about what makes you want sex. Be honest about what gets each of you in the mood. Is it time alone, away from the kids? Is it looking at sexy pictures or reading sexy stories? Is it working on a project together? Find ways you can do the things that make sex more likely to happen, and then do those things with no expectations.
Sex isn’t a prize or a reward for “doing everything right,” and nobody is entitled to it. Nurture the things that make you both feel sexy, and sex will be more likely to happen.
7. Put one another first. This seems so obvious, but it was a big one we had to learn. Your partner is your family and should be your number-one priority. That means that your marriage needs to come before your friendships, work, and even your own shallow wants.
That doesn’t mean you drop all things that are meaningful to you or lose your identity. My husband and I are super active and have lots of friends, but we were both putting a lot of things before our own couplehood. That eventually ate away at the bond that made us strong.
8. You have to be tough on yourself to save your marriage. Sometimes you have to treat yourself the way a good, strict parent would. Our therapist gently urged me to get honest with myself about my priorities, how I talked down to my husband when I was frustrated, and my own trust issues.
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