A lot of people feel trapped in a dissatisfying or troubled marriage. They feel powerless to ‘fix’ it because their spouse refuses to join them in counselling or a marriage enrichment course. Yet in truth, there are lots of things a husband or wife can do on their own that can have a dramatic impact. Here are five simple strategies to start turning your marriage around.
The old adage ‘count your blessings’ is powerful wisdom. When you consciously express your gratitude to your spouse, it not only lifts his/her sense of being valued, it changes your perspective. Even if you’ve been arguing all day, you can always find at least one thing to appreciate. And focusing what is good in your spouse helps turn your attention away from his/her shortcomings towards their giftedness.
It’s easy to speak sharply, reply abruptly, criticise unkindly, nag unnecessarily. We all do it and we all know when we do. It’s also easy to say “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that.” Make it a habit to apologise immediately and you’ll avoid accumulating unresolved brittle baggage.
Tell me about it
The simple act of listening without an agenda is one of the most affirming and loving gestures you can give your spouse. Too often people listen defensively, ready to refute or argue, get their turn or get back to their own interests. They go through the motions of listening when really, they are thinking about their next words or how to wrap the conversation up. Make a gift to your spouse of your 100% attention.
It happens to every couple… a misunderstanding or difference of opinion gains energy and an argument takes over. Research shows that once we get emotionally aroused in an argument, our ability to regulate our words, thoughts and emotions diminishes. Learnt all the communication and conflict resolution skills? Forget it! When you’re emotionally flooded, your body and brain is in defence mode and all those skills get left behind.
So call a ‘time out’ and give yourselves some space to cool off. It takes around half an hour for your body to physiologically recover, so use the time to self-soothe: breathe deeply, take a walk, say a prayer, go for a drive, get a cup of tea… whatever helps you calm down.
Pray for your spouse
Research has found that a simple daily prayer for your spouse dramatically improves the optimism and marital satisfaction in the pray-er. Other measurable factors included: greater willingness to forgive, less alcohol consumption, lower incidence of domestic violence.
Those who prayed daily did better than those who did nothing, or those who spent a minute in positive reflection. A simple prayer like the following does the trick: Lord God, I thank you for the gift of my husband/wife. Forgive me for the times I have failed to love him/her as I should. Help me to love him/her well and be a better spouse. Amen.