I am often asked if I can tell if a couple will ultimately make up or break up. The answer is yes, although the fact they are seeking help shows there is hope.
Want to save your marriage? Then do not wait another moment to implement these strategies.
1. Stop playing the blame game
When Amy and Phil (all names changed) began therapy, they were enmeshed in the game that had no winners: “You’re wrong; no, you are.” For the entire 10 years of their marriage, the couple regularly flung this phrase at one another: “It’s your fault.”
I gave them some marriage religion — as in, their relationship had no prayer of surviving unless each began taking ownership of individual faults. “It’s never one person 100 percent wrong and the other 100 percent correct. Everything is a balance. And you need to treat your spouse with the forgiving spirit you wish would be extended toward you.”
Amy, 36, said: “I guess it just became automatic to say Phil was the one ruining our marriage. That way I didn’t need to look at myself — something much harder to do than casting blame.”
2. Learn the art of the compliment
John Gottman found that in good marriages, positive interactions outnumber criticisms by a five to one ratio. Positive interactions AKA compliments.
Said Dana, 27, and married six years, “Friends and family tell me Tim says nice things about me to them all the time but to my face, all I get from my husband is sarcasm and it hurts.” Tim responded, “Babe, you know how I feel. We never gave compliments in my family. I don’t know how.” She muttered under her breath: “You’d better learn!”
We need to feel our partner is on our side — loving us, respecting us, being kind and admiring. That is the glue necessary for a healthy dynamic.
So work on giving a daily compliment rather than the proverbial apple. Compliments needn’t be over the top. They should be sincere and personal. Simple is fine: The color of the scarf matches your eyes.” Compliments that involve more thought and awareness include, “I really appreciate how you notice when I don’t feel well and bring me tea in bed” or “Honey, when you fix things around the house, it makes me feel taken care of” or “You did such a great job on your work project I’m sure your boss will love it!” Another great one is: “I’m so lucky you said yes all those years ago and married me!”
3. Ask yourself, “What is it like to be married to me?”
Perhaps the most important component of a healthy marriage is empathy. If the two of you can’t walk a mile in one another’s shoes, it will be hard, if not impossible, to compromise when an issue divides you.
Sara, 40, and wed eight years said, “Burt gets so mad whenever I tell him he has no sense of style. Why doesn’t he get I’m just trying to improve his fashion sense?” What Sara didn’t ‘get’ until Burt expressed his feelings in therapy was that while growing up, children made fun of his hand-me-downs. Thus clothing was an area of great self-consciousness. Now Sara is more sensitive and instead of criticizing, offered to buy the two of them a session with a personal shopper as a Christmas present. Burt happily accepted.
I frequently give couples this homework assignment to help them develop empathy: Sit separately and write about what it must be like for your spouse to be married to you. When they share their homework in session there is frequently shock and awe. “Wow, I never realized how annoying it is that I constantly berate him to shut off the light when he leaves the room.”
Empathy — the secret ingredient to ensure a lasting marriage.