Seth and Kayla, both in their late forties and married for fifteen years, are considering divorce. “I’m done with this marriage,” complains Kayla. “I feel unloved and rejected by Seth, we don’t have an emotional connection and rarely have sex anymore.”
Seth puts it like this: “Kayla loves the kids more than me and she’s always on the attack. She keeps threatening to leave, and that might be the best option.”
Many couples like Seth and Kayla are ready to throw in the towel and want quick solutions to save their marriage. Truth be told, this is a common problem, but the solutions are never easy.
A Radical Shift In Mindset
The good news is that if you are willing to put effort into rescuing your marriage, there are things you can do that can give you a fresh start. Breaking the cycle of an unhappy relationship dynamic requires a radical shift in mindset.
Taking responsibility for your part in the conflict or dispute is a great starting point. One person’s ability to do this can change the entire dynamic of the relationship.
Studies show that the most common reason why couples develop serious difficulties is that one or both partners withdraw due to feelings of hurt, anger, and resentment. In a recent study of 14,000 participants, Dr. Paul Schrodt found that women were usually (but not always) the ones who demanded or pursued and men tended to withdraw or distance.
Stop The Blame Game
Many couples play the blame game, leading to a pursuer-distancer dance that causes one partner to chase the other around. After a while, they are no longer addressing the issue at hand and enter into a vicious cycle of resentment, frustration, and anger.
Relationship expert Dr. Harriet Lerner explains that the recipe for failure in a marriage is waiting for the other person to change. Rather than giving up on their marriage, couples need to lean toward each other. She writes, “It’s the dissatisfied partner who usually is motivated to change. If you don’t take some new action on your own behalf, no one else will do it for you.”
While it’s natural to want to give up when your partner becomes distant, reacting expands the divide between you. Instead, Dr. Lerner recommends that you take responsibility for warming things up and increase positive reinforcement. You can say things like, “You’re so thoughtful to clean the kitchen” which highlights your partner’s positive qualities and things you admire about them.
Practicing what Dr. John Gottman calls emotional attunement can help you stay connected in spite of your differences. This means “turning toward” one another, listening, and showing empathy rather than “turning away.” Dr. Gottman recommends a 5:1 ratio of interactions – meaning for every negative interaction, you need five positive ones.
Dr. Gottman discovered in over 40 years of research with thousands of couples that the number one solution to marital problems is to get good at repair. He calls it the “secret weapon” of emotionally intelligent couples.
Below are 10 things to try before giving up on your marriage based on the work of Dr. John Gottman.
1. Complain Without Blame
Have you developed a habit of criticizing your partner? Talking about specific issues will reap better results than attacking your partner. For instance, a complaint is: “I was worried when you didn’t call me. We agreed that we’d check in when one of us was running late.” Versus a criticism: “You never follow through, you’re so selfish.”
2. Repair Conflicts Skillfully
Don’t put aside resentments that can destroy your relationship. Dr. Gottman’s research informs us that 69% of conflicts in a marriage never get resolved, so the focus needs to be managing them successfully. Bouncing back from disagreements rather than avoiding conflict is key because couples who strive to avoid it are at risk of developing stagnant relationships.
3. Stay Focused On The Issues At Hand
Ask yourself: What am I trying to accomplish? Avoid name-calling and don’t attack your partner personally. Remember anger is usually a symptom of underlying hurt, fear, and frustration. So ask questions that go deeper to understand the positive need your partner is seeking. Avoid defensiveness and showing contempt for your partner (rolling your eyes, ridicule, name-calling, sarcasm, etc.).