You can still fix your marriage without seeing a therapist.
By Heather Steiger
Last updated on Oct 20, 2023
Photo: Monkey Business Images, STILLFX, Borealis Creative | Canva
Marriage is hard, that’s no secret. Our country has the divorce rates to prove it, with 40-50 percent of marriages being doomed from the start.
So what can you do to keep your marriage from becoming another statistic? Marriage counseling is certainly one option, and statistics show that it can work, with up to 75 percent of couples being better off from where they started. But it’s not always an option for everyone.
So I’ve created a counseling-free method (outlined below). For this method to work, you must be in a marriage with mutual trust and respect, you must want to make the marriage work, and you both must be in a place where you’re willing to admit your shortcomings and problem-solve as partners.
Here are 8 simple steps to make your marriage stronger without counseling:
1. What does your relationship feel like?
Does your relationship teeter-totter, or is it constantly sinking? Be honest. If it’s sinking, stop reading this and go find marriage counselors in your area. If it’s teeter-tottering, continue to step 2.
2. Suggest this counseling-free method to your partner
After reading this article in full, print it and sit down with your partner. Tell him or her the relationship has felt strained lately. Suggest working on things at home in a very structured way. This includes having your own therapy sessions, just the two of you, once a week in the comfort of your own home. If your partner is in, then read on.
3. Name, and schedule, your meetings
Decide on a name for your meetings and a time and a day of the week that works best (for example, Commitment Meeting: 10-10:20). I suggest a 20-minute time frame. If it goes over and you’re making headway, then keep going.
4. Do a little homework
Sometime before your first meeting, you each need to write on an index card the one thing you would like to change most in the marriage. Start your sentence with “I need … “.
Let me give you some background on why I’m telling you to pick just one thing. When working with a struggling child, teachers don’t hyper-focus on ten different things, even though there are ten different problems. Instead, they focus on one.
It’s much easier to change one behavior at a time than to overwhelm a child with all the things they’re doing wrong or can’t do. Here’s a public service announcement: Adults are no different. Realistically, an adult can change one behavior if that’s all they’re focusing on.
Typically when two people are fighting they’re angry and defensive. They bring up past incidences and other issues in the marriage. This makes the conversation spiral out of control and leads to no progress. So instead of doing this, you’re going to proactively work on the marriage. You’re going to meet with your partner when you’re not angry, and you’re only going to talk about the one thing that you need right now in order to make the relationship happier.
Maybe you need more PDA. Maybe you need your partner to talk to you with more terms of endearment. Maybe you need your partner to stop drinking every night. Maybe you need more help around the house. Whatever it is, you and your partner will write it down on an index card or post-it note. Then keep it secret and save it until your first meeting.
5. Hold your first meeting
Each of you will need to bring a notebook, a pen, your index card, patience, hope, and love. When you sit down, take the lead by reading your index card and explaining why you need what you’re asking for. Then let your partner have a turn.
Each of you will write the date in your notebook and what need both of you expressed. Resist the temptation of talking about anything else other than what’s on your index cards.
6. Turn your partner’s need into a goal
Write down what you plan to do that week to make your partner’s need (your goal) happen. If your partner says he needs more attention, write down when and how you will give him that. If your partner says she needs more affection, write down the specific types of affection you will give her and how often you will do it.
You have ONE week to fulfill your partner’s need the best way you can. Talk to each other about your goal and action plan.
7. Next week, discuss how it made you feel
If your partner fails, then that continues as their goal for the next week. If your partner is successful, you can decide to either keep the goal for another week for additional reinforcement or you can move on to your second goal. Don’t expect to move along at the same goal rates. Some “needs” are much bigger than others because some habits are harder to break than others.
8. After four meetings, have a serious conversation
Is this method working? If it is, keep establishing goals for one another and keep meeting. If it isn’t, then you should seriously look into professional help if you’re both invested in keeping the marriage alive.
Staying married requires love but also the ability to put your partner’s needs above your own. Whether you choose professional help or work on it together at home, you will have to open yourself up to changing something.
Remember the golden rule. Nothing will change if you don’t make a change.
If you’re unwilling to make the adjustments your partner needs, that’s your decision. But you must prepare yourself for things not working out the way you hoped and promised they would when you got married.
Love is an unpredictable thing. Sometimes the ebbs and flows of marriage can stay in rhythm, while other times the tide has pulled away with little chance of returning to shore. Honest, respectful communication is the number one magnet, giving any chance of pulling it back.
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Heather Steiger is an elementary school teacher and freelance writer. She has been published in Guideposts, Yahoo Parenting, Fox News Magazine, CNN, Something Special Magazine, Psych Central, The Mighty, Scary Mommy, and Popsugar.