What can you do to rescue your marriage when it’s on the brink of divorce? While this is a complex question that doesn’t lend itself to a quick answer, there are aspects of successful and lasting relationships that can help you get back on track.
If you and your partner are willing to put effort into saving your marriage, there are things you can do – positive strategies – that can give you a fresh start and strengthen your marriage.
Is your relationship with your partner distant, unhappy, or lacking in passion? Rest assured, it’s common for couples who have been married or committed to each other for a while and have busy lives, to drift apart emotionally and sexually. The good news is that if you’ve lost the intense spark you once had, you can rediscover your emotional and sexual connection.
A typical example is Ben and Macy, both in their early forties and married for seventeen years. “I’ve been miserable for some time,” complains Macy. “I don’t feel close to Ben anymore, we’ve drifted apart and rarely spend time together or have sex.” Ben responds: “Macy just doesn’t appreciate me and I often feel criticized by her. Maybe splitting up is the best option.” Unfortunately, the common theme in their remarks is focusing on their partner’s flaws rather than ways they can repair the relationship.
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 throw in the towel when your partner becomes distant, reacting in kind furthers the divide between you. Instead, Dr. Learner recommends that you take responsibility for warming things up and increase positive reinforcement. This can be done by saying things like “You’re so thoughtful to clean the kitchen” which highlights their positive qualities and things you admire about them.
Practicing what Dr. John Gottman calls emotional attunement while relaxing together can help you stay connected in spite of your differences. This means “turning toward” one another and showing empathy rather than “turning away.” Dr. Gottman recommends a five-to -one ratio of interactions – meaning for every negative interaction, you need five positive ones.
Another crucial aspect of keeping love alive in your marriage is rekindling passion. According to marriage and divorce expert, Cathy Meyer, a lack of passion in a marriage is a sign that your marriage is in serious trouble. She writes, “Whether it is him or you that has lost interest, a lack of regular intimacy in a marriage is a bad sign. Sex is the glue that binds, it is the way us adults play and enjoy each other. It is either time to spice things up in the bedroom or take a serious look at why one or the other has lost interest in the sexual aspect of the relationship.”
Fortunately, recent research reveals that sustaining romantic love over many years has a positive function in the brain, allowing couples to keep passion alive in their marriage. In fact, a 2011 study published in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience demonstrates that romantic long-term love activates the dopamine-rich ventral tegmental (VTA) area of the brain in a remarkably similar way as it does individuals newly in love. The results revealed similar brain activity in both groups, with high activity in the reward and motivation centers of the brain. Sustaining romantic love over many years can mimic new love if couples stay motivated to make each other happy and nurture passion in your relationship.
In fact, a lack of sexual passion is the most common problem that brings couples to therapists, according to Marianne Brandon author of Unlocking the Sexy in Surrender. Fortunately, couples can keep love and passion alive by practicing the following suggestions.
5 things to try before giving up on your marriage based on the work of Dr. John Gottman and other experts:
- Complain, don’t criticize your partner. 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 were late. We agreed that you’d call me.” Versus a criticism: “You never think about me, you’re so selfish.”
- Resolve conflicts skillfully. Don’t put aside resentments that can destroy your relationship. Experiencing conflict is inevitable and couples who strive to avoid it are at risk of developing stagnant relationships. Avoid defensiveness and showing contempt for your partner (rolling your eyes, ridicule, name-calling, sarcasm, etc.).
- Boost up physical affection. According to author Dr. Kory Floyd, physical contact releases feel good hormones. Holding hands, hugging, and touching can release oxytocin (the bonding hormone) that reduces pain and causes a calming sensation. Studies show that it’s released during sexual orgasm and affectionate touch as well. Physical affection also reduces stress hormones – lowering daily levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
- Nurture fondness and admiration: Remind yourself of your partner’s positive qualities – even as you grapple with their flaws – and express your positive feelings out loud several times each day. Search for common ground rather than insisting on getting your way when you have a disagreement. Listen to their point of view and avoid the stonewalling – which is shutting yourself off from communication.
- Spend time with your partner on a daily basis. Try a variety of activities that bring you both pleasure. Have fun courting your partner and practice flirting with him or her. Don’t forget to cuddle on the couch and surprise your partner with a kiss. Even if you’re not a touchy-feely person, increasing physical affection can help you to sustain a deep, meaningful bond.
It’s understandable that you might feel hurt, frustrated, resentful, or rejected if you perceive that your partner has checked out of your relationship. Instead, the next time you have a disagreement with him or her, stop second-guessing their reactions and examine your own responses.
When one or both partners shuts down or becomes critical, issues often get swept under the rug and are never resolved – leaving the partner who feels hurt even more resentful. So when you feel that your relationship is on the rocks, adopt a resilient mindset and work on ways you can repair your hurt feelings and get back on track.
In closing, be sure to pay close attention the next time you are feeling hurt, angry, or abandoned by your partner and examine the part you play. Taking responsibility for warming things up in your marriage can ignite change if your partner is receptive. Just because your relationship is going through a dry spell, it doesn’t have to mean you are headed for divorce court.
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