How to Fix an Unhappy Marriage

In a report from the National Survey of Families and Households, of more than 5,000 couples interviewed, 1,000 said they were “unhappily married.” Five years later, the same people were interviewed again. Nearly 80 percent of the couples who decided to stick it out and stay together considered themselves “happily married” and “much happier.” Of the couples who got divorced, less than 20 percent reported being happy.

The moral of the story? If you’re thinking of getting divorced because you’re simply unhappy, DON’T do it. Studies show you’ll be much happier in the end if you can work through the issues. After thirty-five years of marriage, my wife and I have discovered that we feel secure in all aspects of our relationship because of the establishment of a simple plan for solving disagreements. Here are the steps to help fix an unhappy marriage.

1. Discuss situations calmly.

We go back and forth trying to understand each other’s positions. Either she or I will see a logical solution or compromise that we can settle on. In this way, we have truly become one – a successful “blending of two individuals together.” Occasionally, we hit the wall of anger and start defending our positions with enthusiasm. That can lead to an escalation of anger, so we usually take a time out and wait until we both calm down to take the next step.

2. Head to a restaurant.

Yes, that’s right. We can’t get out of control with other people there. We use drive-through listening. We hold an object—a fork, spoon, or candle—when we are sharing our feelings or needs about the situation. The one not holding the object simply paraphrases what is being said to gain as much understanding as possible. We take turns passing the object back and forth until we both feel completely understood and validated. Then we start sharing any ideas we can think of that would solve the situation in a win-win way. It almost always works. But sometimes we can’t do it on our own, so we move to the next step.

3. Get back up.

We ask a trusted friend or two to sit with us as we use drive-through listening again. We always go away from the meeting with friends with a solution we can both live with. There have been times when Norma and I have been upset with each other during the group meeting, but it has always ended in peace. If it didn’t we’d keep trying different actions until we found the method that worked best for us.

We keep trying, we never give up—which is, of course, another instance of a positive charge, a way to say, “You’re so central in my life I’ll do anything to get through problems and clear the way to deeper intimacy.”

Tell us! How do you and your husband handle disagreements?

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