What do you do when your marriage is in trouble? If you’re like most people, you look for help. Yet the last person most people would ever go to for marriage advice is a divorce lawyer.
That’s not surprising. Divorce lawyers are generally in the business of ending marriages, not saving them.
But desperate people do desperate things. At least, that’s the only reason I can think of why so many people come to me asking for advice about how to save their marriage.
The truth is, for someone who spends the better part of her working life trying to uncouple people, I am surprisingly happily married myself. True, I’ve only been with my husband for 10 years and married for 8. In the scope of a lifetime that’s a spit in the bucket.
But it’s taught me a few things, and so did being in a series of relationships over the years (OK, decades!) before I finally found my husband.
Some of my relationships lasted years. Others barely made it through a cup of coffee. Along the way, I’ve learned a thing or two.
I don’t pretend to be a marriage counselor. I can’t guarantee that following my marriage advice will magically transform your marriage from hell on earth into eternal bliss.
All I can tell you is that if your marriage is in trouble, and you don’t know what else to do, then doing what I suggest here is worth a shot. Plus, it works.
Besides, who has seen more troubled marriages than a divorce lawyer? Here are 10 marriage tips to keep you in your office and out of mine:
1. Decide what you really want.
Do you really and truly want to save your marriage? Or are you only trying to save your marriage because:
- that’s what you’re "supposed" to do.
- that’s what everyone else is telling you to do.
- you’ve made a commitment and don’t want to go back on your word (even though your gut is screaming, "Get out!").
Be honest! If all (or most) of the reasons you want to save your marriage come from outside of you, while, on the inside, you really want a divorce, you are going to be fighting against yourself.
2. Look for solutions, not scapegoats.
Blaming your spouse for all of your problems is not going to make them want to shower you with love. It’s also not going to solve your problems.
Of course, blame has its upside. When I can convince myself that my spouse is the cause of whatever problem I have, I don’t have to admit that I may have had a hand in creating my own misery.
It’s far easier for me to get mad at my spouse for making us late for dinner because he couldn’t find his keys than it is for me to admit that if I hadn’t waited to get dressed until 10 minutes before we had to leave, we wouldn’t have been late either.
3. Stop keeping score.
Marriage is not a 50/50 proposition. If you’re keeping score, you’re going to lose. Actually, you’ve probably already lost. It really is that simple.
Marriages have a natural ebb and flow. Sometimes you will do more. Sometimes, your spouse will do more. That doesn’t mean that you should carry the whole weight of the relationship yourself.
It does mean that you shouldn’t keep a running tally in your head of everything your spouse "owes you" if you’re doing more than your share.
4. Decide whether you would rather be right or happy.
If you need to "win" every argument, you will soon find yourself arguing alone. If you think that your way of doing things is the best (or only!) way of doing them, you will quickly end up doing everything yourself.
When my husband wanted to know why it was so critical that the pots and pans get stacked with military precision in the cabinet, I answered without hesitation that the handles from the lids would scratch the metal in the pots.
Immediately, he smiled at me, "You made that up, didn’t you?" Yeah. I did.
5. Avoid the four horsemen of the apocalypse.
Four types of marital interactions are so harmful that renowned marriage therapists Drs. John and Julie Gottman have named them the "Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse." They are: criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling.
If you find yourself doing any of these four things, stop now!
That means, stop criticizing everything your spouse does. Ditch the eye rolling. Listen to your spouse’s complaints, instead of arguing about why you are right all the time. Finally, stop giving your spouse the silent treatment!
All of these things can do tremendous damage to your marriage.
6. Watch your mouth.
After you’ve been married for a while, it’s easy to fall into a less-than-loving pattern of speech with your spouse.
Maybe you crack jokes at your spouse’s expense. Maybe you let sarcasm seep into your conversations. Or maybe you just become hyper-critical of everything your spouse says or does.
As much as we have the tendency to excuse the less than complimentary ways we talk to or about our spouse, the words we use matter. Wars have been waged and won, or lost, through the power of words.
7. Pay attention to your thoughts.
The "person" who influences you the most is the voice inside of your head. (Yes. That means you!) What stories are you telling yourself when your spouse does something you don’t like?
When you come home from work and the house is a disaster does the voice inside of your head say, "Wow! I wonder what’s going on?" Or, does it say, "Again?!!! Why do I always have to do everything?!"
If you are constantly telling yourself that your spouse is a slob, a mess, selfish, arrogant, mean, or anything else that you absolutely despise, your marriage is not likely to improve very much.
8. Let your husband be a hero.
I fully understand how politically incorrect this statement is. As modern women, we are taught that we shouldn’t need a man to provide for us, take care of us, or save us. But, if you want a happy marriage, you have to let your husband be a man!
Men need to feel important. They need to be appreciated. They need to be right. If you want your husband to do things for you, you need to LET him do things for you (even if he doesn’t do them "your" way!).
You need to pay attention to what he does and thank him for it. You need to let him take credit for things and feel like he is right sometimes, even when you know in your heart that what he said was your idea.
9. Even if you don't think you need help, get help.
If you had a brain tumor, would you try to do brain surgery on yourself! I doubt it. Why is it then, when your marriage has a serious problem, you think that you can fix it yourself without getting help?
Marriage counseling, marriage coaching, couples retreats, and couples programs are all designed to give you tools to help you work out your marriage issues and make your marriage better.
So many people struggle alone with marital problems because they think they should be able to figure them out on their own. But, when you’re up to your eyeballs in muck, it helps to have someone who has a big stick, and knows what to do to pull you out!
10. Learn before you burn your bridges.
It’s easy to think that divorce is the perfect solution when your marriage is making you miserable. But divorce is huge. It will change everything from your finances to your children and everything in between.
So, before you burn your bridges, make sure that you understand exactly what you will be facing if you decide to divorce.
Examine your finances. Can you afford to divorce? How will you support yourself after your divorce? Educate yourself. Do you understand how divorce really works? Do you know what your options are?
Sometimes, just seeing what will be involved if you get a divorce is enough to make you and your spouse give your marriage another try.
Can You Save Your Marriage?
Will following these tips save your marriage? Like any good divorce lawyer, I’ll tell you that the answer is definitely: It all depends.
It depends on you. It depends on your spouse. It depends on whether you and your spouse both want to save your marriage. It also depends on how damaged your marriage was before you started working on it.
Taking marriage advice from a divorce lawyer? Maybe the idea isn't as crazy as it sounds!
Karen Covy is a divorce advisor, attorney, coach, and mediator. Are you trying to figure out whether you should stay married or get a divorce? Get your FREE E-Book: "Should You Stay or Should You Go: How to Decide When You Can’t Decide."
This article originally appeared on YourTango.