Yes, it is possible.
Considering how important relationships are, it’s amazing, really, how often people expect them to simply take care of themselves. Even more so when a relationship has gone the next step to marriage. It seems too many couples forget to focus on the constancy of effort required to make a marriage thrive. They do the upfront work of love to get to marriage. But eventually, they find themselves wondering how to fix an unhealthy marriage.
Recommended Reading: 3 Definite Signs You Should Get A Divorce
Once a marriage has eroded to the point of being unhealthy, the idea of falling back in love may seem unattainable. Figuring out how to fix an unhealthy marriage — assuming it’s fixable — is one thing. Getting back into the groove of “that loving feeling” may just be too much to ask.
Or is it?
Consider that 42-45% of first marriages end in divorce, and that percentage increases with each subsequent marriage.
What is it about walking down the aisle that makes those early-love dreams so vulnerable to destruction? Do people not know how to pick the right partners? Do they not know how to be the right partners? Do they take each other and their marriages for granted?
Perhaps they think the work of love will be easy once they have fallen in love because falling is so effortless.
If you’re wondering how to fix an unhealthy marriage, here are some of the most important keys to repairing it.
And the built-in surprise? You won’t just restore the health of your marriage. You’ll also get that loving feeling back.
- Choose to love, regardless of how you feel.
When you and your spouse were dating, you were probably more aware of how you felt than how you chose. Limerence is so riddled with infatuation hormones that you feel loving and therefore naturally want to act in loving ways.
But little by little the fairy dust wears off, and choice becomes the determinant of marital success. True love is anchored in loving choices, not necessarily loving feelings. And more often than not, feelings will follow action.
- Remember what made you fall in love.
If you are able to look back and smile to remember falling in love with your spouse, your marriage has great hope.
Take a detailed trip down memory lane. Ignore what has happened in your lives since that time and focus on what forged your initial attraction and sustained your connection.
- Stop the negativity.
You can’t get to a better place when your road map is full of anger, sarcasm, criticism, complaining, and other forms of negativity.
Choose to stop and turn around. Even if you don’t know how to fix an unhealthy marriage, at least stop doing what guarantees its failure.
- Start dating again.
Your spouse, that is.
Too often “life” sneaks in and sucks the energy out of what holds a couple together. “If I start working evenings, we can save toward a bigger house in a few years.” “The kids need…my parents need…my boss expects….” And before you know it, that date night that was once the highlight of your week is a birthday dinner at best.
Now that you have made the choice to love and have reflected on what made you fall in love, it’s time to date. Start over. Recreate your romance. Give those qualities you fell in love with the time and place to express themselves again.
- Change how you listen.
There was a time when you actually cared about what your partner said. You listened to learn. You weren’t afraid of your partner’s opinions or reactions and weren’t bored by his/her stories.
Give your spouse the benefit of the doubt. Trust that s/he still has thoughts and ideas worth hearing. Show interest in the minutiae of one another’s day. Seek to learn the nuances of the person you married.
And remember that, if you have evolved over the years, your spouse has, too.
Listen with the intention to learn so that you can chart a new course together.
- Change how you speak.
Unfortunately, many people don’t consider their personal accountability for how they speak. They “let ‘er rip” and don’t care that the person listening feels the sting of every accusatory, criticizing “you.” “You make me feel,” “you always,” “you never.”
Know the difference between thoughts and feelings. And speak accordingly. Own what comes out of your mind and off your tongue. “I feel sad when….” “I think you don’t care about my career. Is that true?”
By staying centered within yourself, you will spare your spouse the perception of being attacked. You will prevent the need for defensiveness and will foster clear and focused communication that actually gets somewhere.
- Focus on changing yourself.
“You can’t change anyone else. You can change only yourself.” Sounds simple…until you stop and acknowledge that almost all arguments are about trying to change the other person.
Your goal should be to become the best version of yourself, regardless of what your spouse does.
- Prioritize your spouse’s happiness over your own.
No, you don’t need to become a martyr or ignore your own happiness.
But if all you do is shift your thinking to “How can I make my beloved happy today?” you will change the course of your marriage.
You may have lost your sense of direction in your marriage. You may wonder how to fix an unhealthy marriage — or if you even can.
The realm of what is possible is grounded in the power of choice. (Click here for additional ways to choose love and help heal your marriage.) The choice to love will determine all the behaviors that follow.
And those new behaviors will lead you back to that loving feeling.
I’m Dr. Karen Finn, a life and divorce coach who helps people, just like you, who are wondering how to fix an unhealthy marriage. You can download your FREE copy of “Contemplating Divorce? Here’s What You Need To Know”. And if you’re interested in working with me personally, you can book an introductory 30-minute private coaching session with me.
Looking for more ideas for what to do about your unhappy marriage? You’ll find what you’re looking for in Unhappy Marriage.
Knowing yourself will help you better understand what others are trying to tell you.
When you think of being “self-aware,” you may have flashbacks to self-help books and guided meditations. But would you even consider how self-awareness can affect communication with the people in your life? Would it dawn on you that your ability — and willingness — to know yourself can improve your ability to know others?
If you’re stuck in the perception that communication is all about what you say, you’ll miss out on how self-awareness can affect communication.
It rarely occurs to most people that listening is the most important part of communication. If you’re all ears and no talk, what kind of communication is really going on?
A lot, actually — especially if the listening starts with yourself.
And this is what self-awareness is all about. It’s not a chapter in New Age spiritualism or a state of mind achieved only under hypnosis (although hypnosis can help).
Awareness is the ability to be conscious of the experiences and stimuli that ultimately determine how you take in and process information. What you think, believe, and sense is a reflection of what is already dwelling and stirring within you.
Self-awareness, in a nutshell, is looking at your internal filters and making sense of them. Your life experiences, beliefs, values, assumptions, biases, fears, and expectations all influence how you listen. And how you listen is the key to how self-awareness can affect communication.
There are three parts to this internal experience: your thoughts, your emotions, and your bodily sensations.
Thinking, as you would imagine, is connected to the mind, while sensing is connected to the body. Intersecting the two is feeling — the emotional component that can be affected by your thoughts, but isn’t always logical.
Self-awareness is your ability to recognize and separate these different experiences so you can address each for what it is.
Think about the last heated argument you had with someone — the kind of argument that left you feeling out of control, flushed, confused, exhausted. Can you remember what you thought, felt, sensed? Or did it all run together and intensify an already intense situation?
Did you find yourself saying things without thinking first? Tossing around accusations and assumptions as if they were facts? Perhaps not being able to distinguish what was coming from within yourself from what was coming from the other person?
Most importantly, did you find it difficult to listen — deeply listen — to the other person? If you were asked to repeat what the other person said and to express understanding of it, would your mirroring be accurate? Or would it reflect your personal experiences, biases, feelings, disappointments?
Self-awareness is the antidote to this internal flooding. Especially in situations of conflict, it isolates and identifies your internal filters. It helps you to know what is actually happening inside of you. Am I projecting my own thoughts onto this person? Am I feeling a specific emotion like anger or sadness? Is my body giving me signals like numbness or flushing?
Knowing how self-awareness can affect communication can improve every relationship in your life. It’s a powerful tool that can facilitate problem-solving and resolution of deep-seated issues.
Go back to that heated argument and try to remember things that were said and reactions to them.
Phrases like “I feel like you” and “you never/always/don’t” are land mines when it comes to effective communication. They muddle the internal experiences of thoughts, feelings, and sensations, leaving the speaker confused, the listener defensive, and the situation more intense.
Imagine now how that argument would have sounded if you were able to separate the components of your interior experience.
What if you had been able to recognize your sadness as a feeling and your assumption of lack of love as a thought? And what if, instead of saying, “I feel like you don’t care about or love me,” you spoke with clarity out of your self-awareness? “I feel very sad, and what I am making up in my mind is that you don’t love me anymore. Is that true?”
By recognizing the components of your own inner life, you’re far more likely to take ownership of it.
“I feel like you” is really a side-door introduction of a thought — an assumption, an accusation. But feelings are feelings — they aren’t always logical and they don’t need to be justified or defended. They simply ‘are.’
Thoughts, however, are the seat of our judgments, assumptions, and biases. They are closely connected to our beliefs, which form a frame of reference for how we see the world.
If you want to understand how self-awareness can affect communication, you need to understand the distinctions and interrelations between these interior players.
And, just as importantly, you need to accept responsibility for that inner experience that only you have. It’s up to you to identify it for what it is and then express it clearly, authentically, honestly, and compassionately.
The deep yearning within any relationship is to feel heard — deeply, soulfully heard — and understood. At its purest level, all communication is an outreach for this satisfaction.
But we are not mind-readers, no matter how close we may be in our relationships. So it’s incumbent upon each of us to listen — deeply listen — to what accumulates and stirs within ourselves.
Then and only then can we hope to communicate accurately what we long to have safely, lovingly reflected back to us.
And in that reflection lies the hope of resolution, healing, and moving forward.
I’m Dr. Karen Finn and I’m a life coach. Schedule a 30-minute private consultation for support in becoming more self-aware and how self-awareness can affect communication in all of your relationships.