I have a friend whose parents recently celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. The family had a huge party to celebrate. However, my friend also told me that her mother will “keep it real” when people ask her how long they’ve been married, replying “47 happy years!” (Get it?) They love each other dearly, but like most couples, they’ve had their ups and downs.
There’s no denying it…sometimes marriage can be really hard. At times, it can feel like we’ve lost our way. Anger and resentment bubble up, blame comes to the surface, and one or both partners may feel like a victim or stockpile negative feelings. We may avoid each other, constantly snap at each other, or find ourselves treating each other like distant “roommates.”
When things get really bad, we may find ourselves trapped in an unproductive cycle of frustration, sadness, and pain. If left unchecked, this can spiral out of control, potentially leading to destructive behaviors like emotional or physical affairs, drug and alcohol abuse, or separation and divorce.
How can we take control of the situation and find our way back to a happy and healthy relationship? If your marriage is damaged and you’re hurting, here is some advice on breaking out of negative cycles and moving towards healing.
Does anything about this scenario sound familiar?
This fictional argument is exactly the type of fight (over nothing too important—it would seem) that can slowly destroy a marriage. It represents a cycle of criticism, defensiveness, contempt, “the silent treatment,” destructive fighting, and ineffective attempts to “make up” that don’t address or solve much in the end.
Here’s a short list of guidelines for constructive conflict that can help you resolve issues like these more productively:
So, let’s try out this conflict again.
This conversation went a lot better when these partners used I-messages, validated each others’ feelings, and avoided defensiveness, negative arguing behavior and jumping to conclusions.
When we get out of these patterns, we can begin to move towards healing.
You and your partner will also want to spend time focusing on the good things about your relationship. Incorporating shared couple rituals, like dedicated nightly check-ins or routine weekend “dates” (even doing something cost-free and simple, like going for a run together) can help the two of you rebuild closeness. Don’t forget about the importance of small acts of love and affection, like leaving each other “love notes,” texting to check in, giving small gifts, or doing favors for each other. Nurture your marital friendship—the reason why you chose to spend your lives together in the first place.
Even when things have begun to improve after a difficult time, we still may nurture pain and resentment from troubles in the marriage. This can be very difficult to let go of…but to move forward, we need to forgive. Even when one person appears to be more “at fault” than the other for issues (for instance, if someone has had problems with overspending or alcohol), it is likely that both members of the couple contributed in their own way to issues within the marriage.
In order to move towards true healing in your marriage, you will need to forgive your spouse, he or she will need to forgive you-- and both of you will need to forgive yourselves.
Healing a struggling marriage takes time and true commitment, and it’s not easy. It can, at times, be quite painful. However, it is certainly worth it. And as we make strides toward successfully healing our marriages, we often become happier, more giving people, more able to help others around us and within our families.
While there is much that you can do to improve your marriage, at times, many couples need assistance getting through the rough patches. To find a marriage counselor near you, visit Therapist Locator.
Looking for ways to connect and get closer with your partner? Need help improving your communication skills and working through conflict? The SMART Couples project is offering ELEVATE, a free, research-backed relationship enhancement class for couples, in Florida counties across the state. All our programs are taught by trained professionals and are welcoming to all. Sign up today!
By Carol Church, lead writer, SMART Couples, Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences, University of Florida
Harris, V. W. (2010). Marriage Tips and Traps: 10 Secrets for Nurturing Your Marital Friendship. Plymouth, MI: Hayden McNeil.
Return to Topic: Help for Couples Trying to Work It Out