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How to fix a broken marriage: 7 no bullsh*t steps

Your marriage is broken and you don’t know what to do.

You’ve probably asked your friends or family (or even your therapist) how to fix your marriage, to which you get the ubiquitous answer, “Communicate and be honest with each other”.

But things are not as simple as that in your head. You have all these thoughts in your head, all these feelings in your chest, all these emotions in your heart.

It’s a terrible feeling when you recognize that things aren’t working in your marriage.

This is especially the case if your life is so intertwined because of kids and shared resources.

There is good news, however.

Marriages at the brink of collapse and divorce still have that turning point that could reinvigorate the relationship.

But fixing a broken marriage is a lot more complicated than repairing a relationship.

As a married couple, there are expectations and responsibilities you wouldn’t expect of a casual partner, and the stakes are higher in a marriage, especially if you have kids or are sharing your resources.

As hard as it may sound, it definitely is within the realm of possibility.

Like with any relationship, a broken marriage doesn’t have to stay broken, as long as the two people involved in it do their job to repair the relationship.

Fixing Your Marriage: Why Give It Another Shot

  • You haven’t been married long. The average length of a marriage before it ends in a divorce is 8 years. If you’ve only been married for a couple of years and already want to call it quits, consider giving yourselves one or two more years before calling it off.
  • You might not be the best partner in this scenario. If you can recognize that you could do better in your marriage, it has a stronger chance of surviving through conflict.
  • Your spouse is ready to meet you halfway. This goes the same for your spouse. If they are still willing to work through the marriage with you, then the marriage is definitely not doomed to fail.
  • You can’t imagine being married to anyone else. No relationship is perfect. Sometimes it takes a couple of tries before understanding what the relationship needs to become stronger and happier.
  • You have the option to leave the marriage but don’t want to. Divorce should be your absolute last resort, if you can find it in yourself to try harder and make things work, then your marriage is definitely worth saving.

Defeating Divorce: 5 Steps To Fixing A Broken Marriage

So you want to fix a broken marriage. The reality of the situation is that your marriage is broken for a reason, and in some cases, fixing it is an impossible task.

But no matter how bad your relationship may seem right now, marriage is always worth saving: for yourself, for your partner, for your family, and for everything you’ve built together.

Here are some of the key steps in fixing a broken marriage (remember to adjust accordingly depending on your specific situation):

1) Remember why you are doing this.

How you might feel: You’re at the end of the marriage. A long road of fighting and arguments and pointless emotional explosions is now behind you or surrounding you, and the only thing you want to do is get out.

A part of you wants the marriage but you can’t really understand why, because you and your partner can’t even stand being in the same room anymore.

How you need to feel: Fixing a broken marriage means wanting to fix a broken marriage, and you are never going to truly want it if you aren’t in love with the idea of molding the relationship back into the best version of itself.

Remember why you fell in love with your partner in the first place, but don’t stop there.

Love is no longer enough to keep this going because a marriage is more than just love; it’s a life, it’s family, it’s a financial and emotional lifelong commitment.

Can your partner truly be the person you want him or her to be, whether for the first time or once again?

2) List down everything you feel is wrong with the relationship.

How you might feel: After months (or years) of endless fighting and periods of just absolute apathy towards the relationship, you might either feel like you’re in the middle of a whirlwind of roundabout arguments mixed with feelings of both guilt and anger, or that you’re at the end of the long, exhausting journey and you’re just absolutely done with the marriage.

There are no individual issues; everything has turned into a giant, heavy mass that just weighs you and the marriage down.

How you need to feel: As difficult as it may be, you need to be able to dissect the marriage and all its problems.

Too many people try to fix their broken marriages without truly and individually addressing every part of it that upsets them; they just try to step forward with a forced positive mindset and hope that everything works out.

But leaving the past behind doesn’t erase it; it just turns it into a weight that you and your spouse have to deal with for the rest of your lives.

List everything down — individually and separately — and make sure you completely understand every part of the marriage that needs work.

So what are the kinds of things you can list down? Here are some samples of common struggles in failing marriages:

  • Lack of communication
  • Lack of affection, care, and intimacy
  • Infidelity, emotional and/or physical
  • An unrelated crisis

3) Fix what you can fix — yourself.

How you might feel: You are sick and tired of your spouse, and you just wish they could see all the things they’re doing wrong or the things they’ve done wrong and fix those parts of them.

You may have some of your own issues, but you know that your partner’s flaws are the bigger issue when it comes to your broken marriage.

How you need to feel: You will never be able to fix your spouse’s problems for them, whatever they may be, but you can fix another set of issues: your own.

Even if your flaws aren’t as big as your spouse’s, that doesn’t mean you don’t have anything you need to work on.

Simply taking accountability for your own issues and flaws is enough to encourage your partner to take accountability for their own, because it shows them that you care enough about the marriage to make the changes they asked you to make, even after all the fighting and the pain.

There needs to be a sense of partnership again, and you can begin cultivating this by working towards a shared goal: making yourselves better for each other.

4) Skip the emotions and the tantrums.

How you might feel: It feels impossible to have any kind of rational or calm discourse with your partner.

Half of you just wants to punch them in the face; the other half wants to leave the room and never talk to them again.

Even with the help of an intermediary like a marriage counselor, you can’t get through a single conversation with your partner without it escalating into a shouting match.

How you need to feel: We get it — you’re in pain. No one is saying that your partner didn’t hurt or disappoint you, and that you shouldn’t be feeling the things that you feel.

But you’ve made a conscious decision to fix your broken marriage, and doing that will be impossible if you never stop acting the way you’re currently acting.

Leave the emotional tantrums behind. You need to make a real effort to hold yourself back from the knee-jerk anger and emotional explosions.

Your partner will see your efforts to change, and they in turn will stop being defensive or difficult to deal with. Get to the point, the root of the problems, and start fixing them.

5) Relearn your cooperation and communication.

How you might feel: A continuation of the previous point, you will still feel like you don’t want anything to do with your spouse for a long time, even if both of you have already agreed that you would try to fix the marriage.

There is simply too much pain to just ignore what has happened and move on, and they will manifest in the most random and unexpected times.

How you need to feel: Your partner needs to understand how you feel, and you need to understand how they feel.

Not just your wants and needs, but also your existing pains and sorrows.

They need to be sympathetic to you rather than defensive whenever an unexpected bout of anger rises to the surface, and vice versa.

Remember: this is a partnership, and no partnership is successful without proper cooperation and communication.

In your mind, your partner has become your enemy; you need to realign your idea of your partner and turn them back into the person you want to continue building your life with.

6) Rediscover Sexual Intimacy

How you might feel: You might feel that you don’t want to get sexual with your spouse, even if they’re making advances.

You might believe that you need to communicate and fix your emotional connection issues beforehand.

How you need to feel: One of the most common pieces of advice for marriages experiencing turbulence is to rekindle physical intimacy.

While it doesn’t really dig deep into the psychological and emotional conflicts in your marriage, you don’t need to see a marriage counselor to know that being intimate with each other can help improve bonding and reduce tension.

Maintaining a physical relationship promotes intimacy between two people.

Even simple touches like holding hands, pats on the shoulder, and hugging can stimulate oxytocin production, which is the hormone associated with socialization and bonding.

The more you touch your spouse, the more your brain associates him or her with feel-good brain chemicals.

7) Praise The Small Things Out Loud

How you might feel: Because your marriage is becoming stale, you’re getting lost in your routines and forgetting to appreciate what originally made you happy in the marriage.

How you need to feel: Taking each other for granted is one of the common reasons why marriages fail. This small violation breeds unhappiness and discontent, which often spirals into more serious problems in a partnership.

This can be easily avoided by simply thanking your partner for all the little things.

For most couples, the married life is less about life with your partner and more about sharing resources and taking care of the kids.

The implicit obligation of providing and caring for the family can make your partner’s everyday efforts seem obvious and not deserving of praise.

And that’s precisely why thanking each other for something as simple as holding the door open or making coffee is important in keeping a relationship alive.

It’s easy to get lost in every day and forget that staying committed to a long-term relationship is a choice; your partner knowingly wakes up next to you everyday and chooses to do it every single day of the year.

Marriage alone isn’t driving them to stay with you – they do because they want to, and that alone is worth thanking for.

You don’t have to wait for your spouse to make a grand gesture before you thank them. Let them know they are unconditionally loved in all things, big or small.

Signs Your Marriage Is Irreparable: Knowing When Enough is Enough

This might not be your first time trying to fix your marriage; maybe you’ve spent months or even years in a state of limbo where neither you nor your partner have decided whether it’s time to truly end a relationship that is causing nothing but pain and uncertainty to everyone involved.

While it takes courage to go back to your partner and try to fix something that you know you once loved, it also takes immense courage to know that enough is finally enough.

Time isn’t going to wait for you, and you can use precious years of your life struggling in a relationship that is going nowhere.

Here are four sure signs that your marriage has expired:

1. Everything is a negotiation.

Neither you nor your partner can get back to a point where you are willing to give more than you want to give on any of your battlefields. There’s just too much pain and resentment to give them those wins, and they feel the same way.

2. There’s no such thing as a calm discussion anymore.

You can’t discuss anymore without feeling annoyed, angry, upset, or cynical. You can’t even stand the sound of them walking in the room. How can you fix anything when you can’t even begin to communicate?cv

3. You don’t live in the same world anymore.

A successful partnership requires transparency. That doesn’t mean you and your partner should know every secret thought in each other’s minds and be aware of every little thing you both do throughout the day, but there should be the feeling that you aren’t just living for yourself; that your actions affect two people, not just one, and the other person should be your partner.

If the hands stop working together, nothing will get done.

4. It just doesn’t seem like it’s worth the effort.

Ask yourself: why are you even doing this? Because you love your partner? Because you want to save your home? Because you want your children to have a healthy, unproblematic childhood? Or just because you feel like it’s what you’re supposed to do?

If you ever find yourself feeling like you can’t even be bothered anymore, then the relationship is done. Your heart needs to be in it, fully and without compromise.

A broken marriage can be incredibly taxing on your mind and soul, and before you begin trying to fix it, you should be absolutely certain that you even want to fix it to begin with.

If your heart isn’t completely in it, you won’t be able to create the kind of effort and affection necessary to win back your partner and convince them to do the same.

Why Do Marriages Fail?

We like to think that affairs, addiction, and abusive behavior are the very reasons why marriages fail.

But in most situations, these problems often come after the marriage has reached a point of no return.

That’s not to say that cheating or abusive behavior isn’t problematic; these behaviors are inadmissible and have no space in a healthy and happy marriage.

But in understanding why marriages fail, it’s important to know the main drivers that promote this kind of behavior in a marriage.

Think of it this way: if your partner has a wandering eye, there’s a chance the relationship was over way before you caught him cheating.

The reason why your marriage failed wasn’t that he cheated; it’s because of events, insecurities, or whatever else that may have set the gears in motion.

Marriages don’t fail because of circumstances and events, they fail because the people involved in them are unable to become the spouses their partners need.

Understanding where common marital problems stem from by tracing them to psychological and personality problems, rather than fixating on the problem after it has already happened, is a more effective way of preventing a marriage from breaking down.

Four Common Reasons Why Marriages End

1) Failure To Reach A Compromise

Even the most compatible couples have some differences. Differences in preferred communication and personality traits can make for a rocky marriage, but that doesn’t mean that a smooth relationship is impossible.

Couples that are unable to see beyond themselves and meet their spouses halfway inevitably alienate their partner.

Without a shared, stable foundation, any marriage is bound to collapse if either party is able to take one for the team.

2) Misaligned Goals and Personal Beliefs

Some differences are reconcilable while others are simply set in stone.

Couples finding themselves disagreeing on seemingly trivial things often don’t realize that the disagreement stems from very personal belief systems.

If your partner believes in independence in marriage while you value complete codependence, this kind of incompatibility will manifest in certain aspects of your marriage precisely because you or your partner is acting out of your strongest personal beliefs.

One party might think arguments about going on regular dinners and mindfully spending time together are necessary for a marriage, while the other might feel like they are impositions.

Some misalignments are simply irreconcilable, or at least, take a lot of empathy and mindfulness to work through.

3) Sexual Incompatibility

Intimacy is an important component in any relationship but especially in marriage.

Without sexual satisfaction, even the most perfect couples on paper will find ways to stray far from the relationship.

Physical touch and intimacy bonds two people in a way other interactions can’t.

Disagreeing on bedroom details can make one or the other person feel like they’re burdened to perform things they don’t enjoy or that they’re locked in an arrangement they won’t find sexually satisfying.

4) Lacking Secure Sense of Self

Abusive tendencies, addiction, and even adultery are deeply personal problems that often stem from insecurity.

Individuals who enter a relationship without a strong personal foundation often behave poorly in a relationship because of their inability to either respect their partner’s boundaries or draw one themselves.

Too many people enter marriages and relationships thinking the other person is an antidote for their own faults and weaknesses.

But having another person in your life is not going to repair internal damages and heal old wounds.

Ultimately, marriages dissolve because one or both people in it have always had a murky idea of who they were, and depended on the marriage to supply that.

Without a clear direction, one person inevitably takes the bonds of marriage for granted.

Other reasons why marriages fail include:

  • Failing to speak up about your feelings and eventually feeling neglected
  • Poor relationships with in-laws
  • Not working on growing together as partners
  • Failing to stay connected and intimate throughout the relationship
  • Lack of mutual interests and a weak platonic foundation

The Four Stages Of Marital Breakdown

While it’s difficult to pin down the exact moment your marriage has crossed over from problematic to broken, marital breakdowns tend to follow the same pattern, regardless of its specifics.

Relationship psychologist John Gottman identified the four distinct stages of marital breakdown as the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”, with each stage representing a new behavior that, if left unchecked, could lead to marriage dissolution.

According to psychologists, these behaviors are predictors of divorce and addressing these issues specifically could improve communication and even save a marriage at the brink of divorce.

Stage 1: Complaints

What it looks like:

  • Shaming your partner for a mistake and going overboard when trying to “teach them a lesson”
  • Throwing them under the bus and using superlatives to describe your relationship (You never…, you always…)
  • Resorting to personal attacks instead of focusing on discussing the problems at hand

Married couples who want a fighting chance against divorce have to learn how to communicate properly.

While conflicts, disagreement, and miscommunication is common in any healthy relationship, resorting to complaints instead of constructive criticism is one of the early markers of a broken marriage.

When partners are overly critical of each other, they are no longer communicative and collaborative. Complaints that border on personal attacks sow discord between partners, and set up a precedent for a disrespectful and potentially abusive marriage.

Oftentimes, spouses feel that repeating criticism or complaints can lead to better results, which only damages the relationship even further.

In reality, the problem isn’t that your spouse isn’t listening or doesn’t understand what you’re saying.

Upholding a base level of respect even when in disagreement is essential in preventing your marriage from breaking down.

Stage 2: Contempt

What it looks like:

  • You avoid discussing certain things because you know your talk will erupt into a fight
  • You become avoidant of your partner because you associate them with negative emotions
  • You walk on eggshells around your partner trying to “save the day”

Spouses that have a propensity for destructive criticism inevitably move on to the second stage of marriage breakdown, contempt.

As couples become more brazen and harsh with their criticisms, mutual respect and intimacy break down until you can’t even sit in the same room without feeling a tinge of annoyance for one another.

In this stage, contempt for one’s partner encroaches on other aspects of your married life.

Even outside an argument, you start seeing your partner as inferior to you, and this translates to your body language and general interactions.

Eye-rolling, scoffing, answering sarcastically become a normal part of your daily interactions.

Little favors and simple requests start to feel imposing, and the idea of spending time with each other starts to feel dreadful.

Spouses who are contemptuous of each other begin to feel less empathetic towards their other half.

At this stage, communication is even more difficult, and partners start to set up automatic defense mechanisms in order to deal with the repetitive cycle of complaint and contempt.

Stage 3: Defensiveness

What it looks like:

  • Turning to automatic responses when confronted
  • Suddenly exploding due to being overwhelmed by conflict
  • Feeling like there is no longer any way to resolve differences between you and your partner

Marriages that are in a permanent state of contempt will eventually be too overwhelmed to progress positively.

Partners eventually become hardened by the toxicity in the marriage that they become desensitized to the marriage, including its good aspects.

In the defensive stage, spouses tend to tune each other out.

Miscommunication becomes even more rampant because neither individuals are open to talking to one another, often believing that their partner has nothing new to say or simply no longer understands them.

Feeling the constant need to guard yourself from your partner creates tension in the relationship. Before long, the marriage reaches the fourth and final stage of dissolution: disengagement.

Stage 4: Disengagement

What it looks like:

  • Actively avoiding your partner to elude spending time with them
  • Agreeing and apologizing absentmindedly just to stop the conflict
  • Staying later at work, taking up more chores and errands just to appear busy and limit unnecessary contact with your spouse

When spouses finally feel too tired by the extremeness of the contempt stage and the repetitiveness of the defense stage, the marriage inevitably falls into disengagement.

Instead of high emotions, chronic issues in the marriage that once required attention become so commonplace that they are ignored.

Both parties feel that addressing concerns will no longer lead to a resolution, at which point these problems continue to fester and rot.

Disengagement is the main driver for divorce precisely because partners are no longer willing to communicate with each other.

In this stage, partners are desensitized and disengaged from each other’s emotions and are too mentally drained to even feel anger.

Without feeling the need to react and interact with your spouse, the marriage inevitably grinds to a halt, leading to divorce.

Lachlan Brown

Written by Lachlan Brown

I’m Lachlan Brown, the founder, and editor of Hack Spirit. I love writing practical articles that help others live a mindful and better life. I have a graduate degree in Psychology and I’ve spent the last 6 years reading and studying all I can about human psychology and practical ways to hack our mindsets. If you want to get in touch with me, hit me up on Twitter or Facebook.

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