When long-married, frustrated couples come to see marriage and family therapist Aaron Anderson, they want advice and they want it fast.
“They’ve usually been having difficulties for years and have tried to struggle through it on their own,” Anderson, the director of The Marriage and Family Clinic in Denver, Colorado told HuffPost. “They’ve been suffering through a bad marriage and have had enough so they bite the bullet and come see me.”
While couples therapists like Anderson don’t have all the answers, their guidance tends to bring some clarity. Below, they share their best standard issue advice for troubled couples who want to work on their marriage.
1. Ask yourself: Is there 10 percent of this marriage that’s worth saving?
“If couples I see are focused on even a small core of positivity, it’s a foundation for rebuilding their relationship. Most couples are ambivalent about divorce, but they’ve gotten into a toxic pattern where they focus mostly on each other’s weaknesses. If they can think about the parts of their marriage and spouse that are good, it gives them a springboard to work on repairing the connection.” — Samantha Rodman, a psychologist in Takoma Park, Maryland
2. Keep in mind that this could just be a rough patch.
“A marriage crisis is likely to shift wildly between wanting to leave and wanting to work it out over a period of one or two years. I tell clients we need time for the crisis dust to settle so we can ascertain what their honest and true desires are.” — Becky Whetstone, a marriage and family therapist based in Little Rock, Arkansas.
3. Reach out and touch your spouse again, even if it feels a little awkward.
“When your relationship is on the brink of ending, the last thing you want to do is snuggle up to each other or whisper sweet nothings into each other’s ear. But do it anyway. Yes, when your relationship is in trouble, showing affection feels forced and robotic. But if it felt natural, you’d be doing it already. Your relationship thrives on affection and love and you want to get to a point where it starts feeling more natural. Send your partner that sappy text or send flowers to her work. They’ll know it’s forced but they’ll usually appreciate the gesture.” — Aaron Anderson
4. Know that conflict often gives way to growth.
“Problems don’t necessarily mean that the marriage must end. Conflict means that new growth is trying to occur. Nearly every relationship goes from romantic bliss to a power struggle. During this temporary stage, our human tendency is to be defensive and protective. From that posture, we begin to build a case for why everything is our partner’s fault. This sets our partner up for a negative reaction, usually either withdrawing or attacking. That can snowball and ultimately result in one or both people feeling hopeless that they can reclaim the love that once prevailed. But with the right communication skills, you can.” — Jeannie Ingram, a relationship therapist based in Nashville, Tennessee
5. Get used to saying “me” instead of “we.”
“Everybody knows marriage takes two. And when there are problems, it usually means you’re contributing to some of them, too. Instead of saying things like ‘we argue a lot’ or ‘we don’t have good sex anymore,’ look at what you’re doing to contribute to that. For example, you can say things like ‘we argue a lot and I contribute to that by letting small things get under my skin.’ Or ‘we don’t have good sex but I need to be more open to it when my partner makes an advance’. Fixing the things you can about yourself can make your relationship better.” — Aaron Anderson
6. Ask each other why you still want to work on the marriage.
“The strongest predictor of relationship success by far is the desire to make the relationship work, regardless of challenges. If both partners really want the relationship to work, they might be able to make it happen. I tell couples that taking some time to consider the benefits of staying to everyone involved (the two of you, your kids) is a good place to start.” — Antonio Borrello, a Detroit-based psychologist.
7. Realize that relationships aren’t going to get any easier with a new partner.
“Focus on growth and healing. Yes, you could start over with someone new, and then what? Another round with the same dynamics. Instead, be open to therapy, then if divorce is the answer, do so consciously, without blame.” — Jeannie Ingram
8. If you have kids, consider what leaving or staying will mean for them.
“Don’t divorce if your heart is torn. Instead, wait until clarity comes. If you have children, not having regrets means being able to tell them that you did everything you could to save the relationship.” — Becky Whetstone
9. Concentrate on what you can change in your marriage.
“Only focus on what you can control. By the time couples come to see me, each one has a laundry list of things that they wish their partner would stop doing. Things like ‘stop watching so much TV’ or ‘stop cleaning so much and come to bed with me.’ Yes, it’d be nice if your partner would stop doing these things but it’s up to them to stop it, and letting it irritate you is only causing yourself unnecessary grief. Instead, focus only on the things you can control and leave it up to your partner to fix the things that they control. You’ll soon find yourself being more relaxed, having better moods, and as a result, your relationship usually starts getting better, too.” — Aaron Anderson
— This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.