How to Save Your Marriage (Don’t Skip Tip #15)

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Feel like your marriage is going down the drain, and you’re the only one who wants to fix it?

You can—here’s how to save your marriage:

  • Create a healthy communication pattern by changing how you relate to your spouse
  • Learn to identify your triggers and respond calmly, not react
  • Treat your spouse with kindness, respect and empathy
  • Work on the “we” in your marriage
  • Focus on the positive aspects of your relationship and avoid arguing
  • Turn the lens inward and work on yourself
  • Repair your relationship spending time together and having fun

If you believe your marriage is failing, your best defense is to access the psychological tools that will help turn your marriage around.

Start right now with a step-by-step program that’s been tried and tested by countless couples like Dr. Lee Baucom’s Save The Marriage.

It’s designed to work even if you’re the only one trying, making it one of the most powerful things you can do to save your marriage.

Click the link above now, or keep reading to learn how to save your marriage.

Can I Save My Failing Marriage?

couple talking on a couch with a quote about changing how you relate to spouse to save my marriage

Yes, it’s possible to save a marriage if both partners change how they relate to one another.

Disrupt unhealthy relational habits by changing how you talk to, think about and treat your spouse.

Once you do, you’ll change the chemistry of your relationship. Then, you’ll be able to get the reactions you desire.

Shifting your relationship dynamics is so powerful that it only takes one person to set off the necessary chain of reactions that will allow you to salvage your marriage.

So if you’re wondering, “Can I save my marriage by myself?” The answer is, fortunately, yes.

The key is to adopt behaviors that shift your partner’s perception and expectations.

Then, you work on rebuilding your connection.

There are many techniques to do this that foster trust, positive feelings and emotional intimacy, which we’re diving into below.

How to Save Your Marriage

1. Don’t wait, start now

As the saying goes, there’s no time like the present.

Whether divorce is on the table or not, each day of dysfunction compounds the resentment growing between you.

Perhaps your spouse is waiting for you to make a move before they give themselves permission to do whatever they can to save your marriage.

Why not give them the gift of taking the first step?

2. Treat your spouse with respect

husband and wife hugging with a quote about making your partner feel valued in marriage

Everything you do that engages with your partner should have love and respect as the foundation.

While this is an easy concept, it takes awareness within the moment.

When things are tense, remind yourself to avoid harsh language and keep your tone gentle. 

Be forgiving when your spouse is having a bad moment.

Give them your undivided attention when they’re telling you something.

Unsurprisingly, loss of respect is a death knell for most relationships. It leads to apathy and contempt, which are hard to come back from.

Giving your spouse a space where they’re respected and valued makes your relationship a safe haven for them. Especially in the hard moments.

And that makes it feel worth saving.

3. Stop reacting, start responding

If you often find yourself regretting something you said, it’s a good sign you’re stuck in reactionary mode with your spouse.

Reacting is when you snap at your partner for piling dirty dishes in the sink instead of loading the dishwasher.

Responding, on the other hand, is controlled, thoughtful and methodical.

And it’s key to changing your spouse’s perception of how you operate as a couple.

If your spouse is rude to you, but you’re able to pause and calmly consider whether they’ve just had a tough day, you can respond with compassion and empathy.

Such a response has the power to break down a negative feedback cycle as it disrupts your partner’s expectation of an escalation and gives them an opportunity to respond to you differently.

Have trouble getting calm in the moment?

You can do it by stimulating your body’s parasympathetic nervous system with slow breathing.

Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth to send signals to your brain to produce a quick relaxing effect.

With practice, you can train yourself to feel calm and collected faster each time.

4. Be kind

Do you wish to hear a kind word from your spouse? Offer one to them.

Kindness begets kindness. It dismantles defenses and makes your spouse feel safe, seen and cared for.

So be sure to offer words of encouragement and support.

Ask how their day was.

Use empathy when they’re talking about how crappy their day was—listen rather than launching into the details of your own day.

Pick up your spouse’s dry cleaning on your way home from work.

Let kindness redefine your spouse’s image of you.

5. Ask yourself: Do I really want to save my marriage?

You may be surprised at this suggestion, but here’s why you should ask the question.

If you’ve even considered divorce, ignoring your feelings will decrease your motivation to save your marriage.

They’ll chip away at your belief in your own commitment to saving your marriage, until you confront them.

When you face your true desires, you’ll realize that either you have legitimate reasons for wanting a divorce, or that deep down, you still love and want to stay married to your partner.

Either result is okay—but being honest with yourself is the only way you’ll gain the confidence to do what you have to do.

6. Focus on the “We”

man helping woman hiking with a quote about saving your marriage

A marriage is not merely comprised of two individuals. It’s a separate entity—the “we” vs. “you and me.”

It’s an important distinction. Primarily because the “we” mentality has the relationship as its focus.

In “you vs. me,” we fixate on what we think would make us happy. And often, our partners become the obstacles.

Obviously, marriage is not a prison. And we do not have to suppress our needs.

But the fact remains, if we’re always putting ourselves first, where does that leave the relationship?

What if instead of asking, “How can I be happy in this relationship,” we asked, “What can I give to this relationship to make it thrive?”

Because the truth is, successful couples view themselves as a team.

And as a team, you are working together to nurture the living, breathing entity that is your marriage.

And believe it or not, a simple shift in perspective like this can get you from divorce track back to each other.

Dr. Lee Baucom breaks down how to cultivate the “we” into simple steps in his Save The Marriage Program.

7. Compromise where you can

Compromise is the soul of a healthy partnership. 

Every problem has a solution. But an equitable solution usually requires some sacrifice on both your parts.

Which is why it’s so difficult.

But agreeing to and working toward a mutual solution can unite you in a common goal and bring you closer together.

8. Learn your spouse’s love language

Are you and your spouse speaking different love languages?

Maybe your spouse feels loved when you have a cup of coffee waiting for them in the morning because their love language is acts of service.

Consider how your partner shows you love and affection.

You can also ask them what makes them feel loved.

You may be surprised at what you’ve missed over the years.

Read These Other Resources on Saving Your Marriage, Too:

9. Reduce sources of friction

Arguments make for poor growth conditions for the seedling of a loving relationship.

So, reduce friction wherever possible.

If you fight about money, try implementing a solid budgeting routine complete with a spreadsheet—or even a budgeting app—to create transparency.

The smoother you can make things between you and your spouse, the easier it will be to repair your marriage.

10. Seek help right away to save a marriage

Too often, we take the burden of repairing our marriages squarely on our own shoulders.

We try to do it all alone first, thinking we can always see a family therapist as a last resort.

But the question is: Why wait?

If your marriage is suffering, there are usually no tangible benefits to putting off access to resources that can help.

Sometimes we feel like having to reach out to those resources means we’ve personally failed.

Or we feel there’s no hope because we’ve seen friends go to marriage counseling and get divorced anyway. 

When in reality, you have no way of knowing what you will learn and how it will apply to your specific relationship.

Whether you begin a credible, at-home program like Dr. Lee Baucom’s Save The Marriage or seek help from a marriage counseling provider, the important thing is that you’re learning the right skills to repair your marriage.

Whatever you choose to do, be it a program or support group, look at it as an opportunity to exercise new skills that will grow and change your marriage.

11. Check in weekly with each other

One of the most healing and constructive things you can do for your marriage is to institute weekly check-ins.

It’s where you and your spouse sit down together, ask direct questions about your relationship and discuss it openly.

Here are some meaningful questions to ask:

  • What did I do this week that made you feel cherished or honored?
  • What can I do to make life easier for you?
  • Is the way we divide up household responsibilities working for you?
  • Is there any behavior of mine you’d like me to change?
  • How can I make you feel appreciated?
  • Is our sex life satisfying to you?
  • What do you need more of in our relationship?

The purpose of this exercise is primarily to CONNECT.

Dedicating time and attention to asking and answering these questions gives both partners a platform to talk about their issues, needs and desires, and get them fulfilled.

And doing so weekly (or biweekly, if that works better) helps to avoid feelings of neglect and resentment as these topics are brought to light regularly.

12. Identify your triggers

couple arguing with a quote about controlling your triggers in marriage

From criticism to fear of abandonment, our triggers are those tender psychological wounds that we forget are there, until our partner touches them.

We get defensive, we get angry, we say hurtful things, seemingly out of impulse.

Learning to control your triggers will help you manage and curb those little everyday hits to your connection.

Say your spouse asks you to stop leaving your dirty clothes on the floor, and you feel instantly annoyed or attacked.

Observe your reactions.

Recognize that anger typically shields other, more vulnerable feelings, like guilt or anxiety.

Essentially, what you’re doing is practicing mindfulness, which will help you detach from your triggers so they no longer control you.

13. Never leave conflict unresolved

Arguments happen. The trick is to know how to repair afterward.

After tempers have cooled, find a time to address it with your partner and talk about what happened.

You can say something like, “Arguing with you last night really bothered me. I want to make sure I’m really hearing you, so would you share your take on it with me?”

Then listen to your partner without interrupting or interjecting your version.

When it’s your turn to share your perspective, avoid seeming like you’re blaming your partner for your reactions.

Say, for example, “I felt upset when this happened,” rather than “You made me angry.”

Take responsibility for your part in the conflict, then ask how you could do things differently in a similar situation in the future.

If you get good at resolving conflict, you can have a disagreement and not stress about it destroying your relationship.

14. Show gratitude

An easy way you can nurture your spouse’s positive feelings toward you is by showing appreciation.

Research has shown that expressing gratitude emotionally bonds a couple together through the release of oxytocin, the neurochemical associated with love and relationship building.

Harnessing it can be as simple as thanking your spouse for making dinner.

Praising their amazing parenting skills, or leaving them a note with a special compliment.

For bigger gestures, you can do things like send flowers to their office or surprise them by making their favorite dessert.

But you don’t have to go nuts—saving up your appreciation for these bigger displays should not come at the cost of noticing the details.

15. Turn toward your spouse

As it turns out, psychologists say the number one predictor of whether couples stay together is how well they respond to each other’s bids for attention.

This is called “turning toward” your spouse.

When you turn toward them, you engage with them.

Ignoring them would be turning away from them, which is effectively shutting your partner down.

So if your spouse is next to you on the couch and laughs out loud at something they’re reading, ask them about what’s funny.

If they ask you to look at something, try to make time for it then and there, or at least acknowledge that it’s important to you.

Recognize their bids for your attention even if they’re silent—like finding out what’s going on when they seem down or frustrated.

Each time you turn toward your spouse, you are knitting your emotional connection back together.

16. Show affection

Learning to relate to each other in new and healthy ways includes showing affection.

If you don’t usually hold your partner’s hand, try it. 

Hug them for at least 20 seconds to reduce their stress and create a surge of oxytocin.

Look into their eyes and hold their gaze when you kiss them.

And never go to bed without doing some cuddling first.

Especially if sexual intimacy has left your relationship, these little affectionate moments are what you need to foster pleasurable interactions.

However, don’t treat them like you’re expecting sex—show there’s nothing attached to your displays of affection but your love and appreciation so that they feel secure, happy and unpressured.

17. Have fun together

Remember the early days when you just goofed off together and got butterflies being around each other?

If you want to heal your relationship now, find your way back to that same sense of fun and adventure.

Be playful together.

Don’t put off “date night” for something that can be attended to another time.

Give your spouse an opportunity to see you in a different, more exciting light.

This is easier to do with a little change of scenery.

Surprise them with a weekend getaway—just make sure they’re not only ever seeing you within the context of a troubled marriage at home.

18. Don’t talk about divorce

If you’re entertaining divorce with your spouse in case all doesn’t go well, stop.

You may feel you’re being neutral or progressive by acknowledging divorce as an option.

But the truth is, if you’re splitting your focus between your relationship and a possible divorce, you’re not allowing yourself to be fully in your marriage.

Not to mention the fact that you’re reminding your spouse there’s an “easy” way out.

The more you feed the idea of divorce, the more viable of an option it will become.

Put your energy into repairing your marriage instead.

19. Work on your mental health

We can’t love our spouses the way they need to be loved if we don’t give some love to ourselves first.

Not to mention, you will be less capable of taking on your marital problems if your mental health is suffering.

So don’t let your own mental health needs go by the wayside. Get back in touch with yourself and rebuild your self-confidence.

Your partner doesn’t need a martyr—they need you to be present and capable of being attentive, loving and supportive.

Fill your own cup first, so that you can help fill your spouse’s, too.

20. Be emotionally available

If you want to build emotional intimacy with your spouse, make sure you’re being emotionally available to them.

This is not just about being supportive of your partner.

It’s also about opening up and practicing vulnerability, so that you make it safe for them to do the same.

Additionally, it’s a good idea to carve out relaxing one-on-one time together, even if it’s a 15 minute walk around the block.

By strengthening your emotional connection, you ensure that you can more quickly repair after conflict and weather the challenges of your relationship, no matter how difficult.

21. Build trust

If trust is lacking in your relationship, it will not survive.

A strong marriage requires honesty and transparency.

We sometimes get used to hiding things because we think it’s unnecessary to bring them up, or that our spouses are happier not knowing.

But the truth has a way of coming out, eventually. And when it does, you want to be on the right side of it.

Transparency is especially vital if you’re repairing your marriage after infidelity or some kind of betrayal.

If you had an affair, you may need to go above and beyond, like coming right home after work and perhaps temporarily giving your spouse the pin to unlock your cellphone.

22. Support, don’t criticize

Part of building trust is being neutral and nonjudgmental.

While it’s not lying, criticism has a way of eroding your spouse’s trust. They will feel like they can’t open up to you for fear of your reaction.

Even if you believe your partner would benefit from doing things your way, consider what offering your patience and support would do for your relationship instead.

Your partner will feel validated and want you around to share their highs and lows.

They’ll lean on you when they’re going through something tough.

You will become their rock.

23. Get back to happier times

Once, you and your spouse felt perfect for each other. Like soulmates.

Remind yourselves of why.

Go and visit the first place you had a date.

Think about things you did in the past that created sparks between you, and recreate them.

Maybe you fell for each other sharing cotton candy at amusement parks, or you bonded over your mutual love of bowling.

Do those things again to stir up sentimental memories while simultaneously making new memories you can rebuild your relationship with.

Final Thoughts

If you want to save your marriage, you must have the patience and resolve to do some challenging self-work.

You have to completely change the way you relate to your spouse, so that they can do the same.

Once you’ve found a more positive way to interact and communicate, you can begin getting back to romantic and happy times.

You can do it—remember, the change starts with you.

FAQ

How do you know when your marriage is over?

Signs your marriage is over include:

  • Treating each other with contempt and lack of respect
  • Having no desire to work on your marriage
  • Being constantly suspicious and unable to trust your spouse
  • Feeling like you don’t like your partner or enjoy their company 
  • Daydreaming about being single
  • Planning your future without your partner in it
  • Being okay with the idea of your spouse seeing other people

How do I fix myself to save my marriage?

One thing you can do is seek therapy or self-help resources to resolve any personal or mental health issues stopping you from being present for your partner.

Another crucial step is to learn how to stop reacting and start responding to your spouse with love and compassion.

This takes practice and patience to learn self-control.

You will also need to learn how to be vulnerable with your partner.

Learn to put down your defenses. You don’t need walls or psychological weapons in a marriage—you need connection.

How do you know if your marriage is worth saving?

Only you can determine if your marriage is worth saving.

If you still love your spouse and you can’t imagine life without them, then most likely, you’ll want to save your marriage.

However, your measure of what is worth saving will not necessarily be the same as someone else’s.

This is why, ultimately, it’s a very personal decision.

At what point is a marriage not worth saving?

Usually, a marriage comes to its breaking point when one person refuses to cooperate to make changes.

For example, if one spouse is having an affair and refuses to stop seeing their lover.

Another issue can be when one partner has decided to emotionally detach from the marriage and has no desire to reconnect.

If you or your partner have issues with alcohol or substance abuse, this can also complicate reconciling in a rocky marriage.

And of course, if there is abuse, that is never acceptable. If you are experiencing abuse, you can call

the National Domestic Violence Hotline for confidential help: 1-800-799-7233.

What are the signs of falling out of love?

You may be falling out of love if you:

  • No longer feel excitement with your partner
  • Feel more critical toward their quirks than you used to
  • Have feelings for someone else
  • Stop dreaming about the future together
  • No longer have any sexual attraction to your partner
  • Have a nagging feeling that you need to get out of your relationship

What to say to save a marriage

There is no silver bullet to save your marriage with a single phrase.

But here are some supportive phrases to use so that your partner knows you’re committed to positive change:

  • “I’m willing to do the hard work to repair our relationship.”
  • “What do you need from me to make our marriage better?”
  • “I respect you immensely.”
  • “I trust you.”
  • “I respect your judgments and perspectives within this relationship.”
  • “I’m sorry my actions hurt you. How can I do better next time?”
  • “What future do you want, and how can I help us get there?”

Can an unhappy marriage be saved?

Yes, an unhappy marriage can be saved.

Relationship dissatisfaction is a useful tool in letting us know something needs to change.

But it’s good to recognize that unhappiness is not a primary cause of the end of a marriage.

If you want to save your marriage, you have to focus on developing skills like good conflict resolution, empathy and reorienting your marriage around the “we.”

Relationship satisfaction comes as a result of your efforts to make these changes.

When to stop trying to fix a marriage?

  • If you’ve communicated your needs and they are absolutely not being met
  • If you feel you can’t talk to your partner or share personal things with them
  • You’re not getting trust and respect no matter what you do or what behavioral changes you make
  • You don’t feel committed in your heart
  • You feel you’ve tried everything and you sincerely want to stop

Rebuilding your marriage is no easy task.

Help and advice are a click away with resources like Dr. Lee Baucom’s award-winning program Save The Marriage.

Marlene Davis is an experienced blogger with a focus on interpersonal relationships. Her dream is to help improve people's lives and relationships through sharing of practical knowledge and evidence-based practices.