By Dr. Susan Heitler for YourTango.com.
I’m a specialist in marriage rescue. Most of my clients are couples who come to treatment feeling hopeless about their relationships, but by the end of treatment, they have created great marriages. How? Here’s the eight-step pathway I recommend they take:
1. Make a list of all the issues you argue about. Treatment will be complete when you have found mutually agreeable solutions to these issues, and have learned the skills to resolve new issues as they arise with similarly win-win solutions.
2. Focus on yourself. Attempts to make your partner change invite defensiveness. Instead, use your energy to figureout what you could do differently to stay loving and good-humored when your partner does something you hate. Become “self-centered” in the best possible sense.
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3. Cut the crap. The negative muck you give each other is totally unhelpful. It only taints a positive relationship. So, no more criticism, complaints, blame, accusations, anger, sarcasm, digs or snide remarks.
No more anger escalations either. Stay in the calm zone. Exit early and often if either of you start to get heated. Calm down and re-engage cooperatively.
Research psychologist John Gottman has found that marriages generally survive if the ratio of good to bad interactions is five to one. But do you want to survive, or do you want to thrive? If thriving is your goal, aim for a ratio of a million to one. That means, don’t sling mud at all.
4. Express concerns constructively. A simple way to do that in sensitive conversations is to stick with the following trio of options for sentence starters: “I feel [followed by a one-word adjective]“; “My concern is …”; or “I would like to …”
5. Make decisions cooperatively. I call that the “win-win waltz.” The goal of the win-win waltz is to reach solutions that please you both. No more aiming to “get your way.” Instead, when you have differences, express your underlying concerns, listen to your partner’s concerns and create solutions that respond to both.
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6. Eliminate the three As that ruin marriages. Affairs, addictions, and excessive anger are relationship dealbreakers. They are out-of-bounds in a healthy marriage.
If you are indulging in one of these self-defeating and relationship-destroying habits, get help and get it out of your life pronto. If your spouse is the one with the problem, trying to save the marriage may be a mistake. Either build a new kind of marriage where these do not occur, or end the marriage.
7. Radically increase the positive energies you give your partner. Smile more; hug more; have more sex; be more appreciative; spend more time dwelling on the things you like about each other; help each other out more; praise each other more; laugh more; agree more; do more fun things together. The best things in life really are free. And the more positives you give, the more you’ll get.
8. Learn the skills for a successful marriage. Would you expect to drive a car without first taking driver’s ed? Find books and marriage education courses to learn the communication and conflict resolution skills for marriage partnership. Then, in addition to saving your marriage, you’ll make it a loving success.
This article originally appeared on YourTango.com: How To Save Your Marriage When You Feel Hopeless