Dr. Deb’s Mental Health Vitamin: Fixing a broken marriage
By Dr. Deb Wade
GCU Vice President, Counseling and Psychological Services
“I think I married the wrong person.”
Sadly, from my chair I have heard this phrase more than a few times. How does one get to the point of believing his/her marriage is so broken that it may be irreparable and that perhaps it was not meant to be in the first place?
It’s the conclusion one reaches when he/she feels that everything has been tried to repair the broken marriage – but without success. It’s often muttered through heightened emotion, from despair to sadness to angst to anger. It is a place of hopelessness.
Where does one turn next? If there is a shred of hope left, and/or if there is inner conflict regarding the pending demise of the marriage, a good start is to “look in the mirror.”
Rather than surmising that one has apparently just married the wrong person, a good up-close examination of the woman or man in the mirror perhaps can shed some needed light on the situation.
Of course, it is ALWAYS hard to look at self, but we also know that it is impossible to change someone else. (We learned that within the first hour post-honeymoon, most likely!)
But if the next step is to search for a divorce lawyer, why not first do some soul-searching with the one you see in the mirror and ask …
- Have I done all that I can to BE the right person?
- Am I expecting the damage repair to be done from my spouse alone?
- Have I thrust a large part of the blame on him/her?
- Have I engaged in a “stand-off”?
- Have I kept a ledger of the wrongs inflicted by my spouse?
- Have my words been condemning, denigrating or disparaging?
- Have I resorted to the “cold shoulder,” silence or posturing?
- Does my body language scream so loudly that my words are not being heard?
Yes, it’s hard to examine self. But if we can BECOME the right person in our marriage, if we can clean the filter of the way we view our spouse, if our “ledger” is about the positive, wonderful things about our spouse, then perhaps our marriage will get revived and no longer be on life support!
A checklist is in order:
- Show appreciation every day! Part of “cleaning the filter” is to go from gathering negative facts to searching for positive ones. (If you are prone to “keeping score,” this is an exercise in self-discipline – record the positives every day!) It may start out as something small: “I noticed how you keep the yard looking so nice, and I appreciate that.” Or, “I love how you play with the kids before bedtime.” Or, “I recognize your efforts to keep our cars running smoothly.” BUT, it may become something big: “I appreciate you getting breakfast ready for the family.” Or, “I love how you show affection to me every day.” Remember, whatever is noticed and remarked on will become reinforced – which means that behavior will begin to grow! (By the way, on the flip side – when all we can pick out is the negative, IT WILL GROW, TOO!)
- Present your “best self” to your spouse! Whether it’s the way you dress, to the way you respond, to the way you listen, to the way you show interest, give your spouse the BEST you! Ask the one in the mirror, “Is my workplace getting the best of me, or is my spouse?” You may be surprised at the answer!
- Make sure your language is affirming, kind and uplifting! If the “names” you call your spouse are negative or degrading, do a heart check. Instead, resurrect the “pet names” you used to call one another: “honey … sugar … sweetheart … cutie.” (When I call my husband on the phone, he answers with, “Hello, love of my life” – it makes me feel all warm and tingly and very special.) YOU can surprise your spouse with the same type of sugary words … then it can become a habit!
- Surprise your spouse with something you know s/he’ll love! Make reservations at a great restaurant, bring home a trinket that s/he’ll get a kick out of, put a candle on your dinner table (even if you’re having fast food) or ask “Alexa” to play a tune and get your spouse to dance around the room with you, spontaneously. All of these things, and more, will make a stale marriage come alive. It doesn’t have to cost a thing … except your imagination!
Without sounding “Pollyannaish,” let’s go on record saying … you never know what will soften your mate’s heart, will infuse your relationship with a bit of serendipity, will unlock the old giggles and belly laughter unless you just DO IT! What have you got to lose? What have you got to gain?