Saving a Marriage When a Loved One Wants Divorce - Free Self-Help

By Diana Holbourn

Article Summary


This article gives a lot of suggestions on things that can be tried to pull a marriage back from the brink of divorce. It explains how it's normal for marriages to go through bad patches where there are lots of arguments, though naturally some relationships break down worse than others; and it describes ways of working towards improvements in the relationship. There are stories in it about what people have done wrong in their marriages, and how they changed the way they did things and managed to achieve real improvements in their relationships.

Skip past the following quotes if you'd like to get straight down to reading the article contents and self-help article.

Things People Have Said About Marriage, Losing Love, and Perseverance in the Face of Problems

A successful marriage is an edifice that must be rebuilt every day.
--Andre Maurois

When you break up, your whole identity is shattered. It's like death.
--Dennis Quaid

Love is like the truth, sometimes it prevails, sometimes it hurts.
--Victor M. Garcia Jr.

The course of true love never did run smooth.
--William Shakespeare

Ever has it been that love knows not its own depth until the hour of separation.
--Kahlil Gibran

When the world says, "Give up," Hope whispers, "Try it one more time."
--Author Unknown

If one dream should fall and break into a thousand pieces, never be afraid to pick one of those pieces up and begin again.
--Flavia Weedn, (Flavia and the Dream Maker)

The Main Contents

Background Information About This Article

The Self-Help Information in the Article

  1. Beliefs that Get in the Way of Marriages Succeeding
  2. The Stages Marriages Typically Go Through
  3. Beginning to Focus on Solutions Rather than Analysing Problems
  4. Concerns and Doubts People Have About Changing Their Behaviour
  5. The Advantages of Looking for Solutions Rather than Focusing on Problems
  6. Setting Goals to Work Towards Improvement in the Marriage
  7. Asking for Change, Not Complaining About the Lack of It
  8. Stopping Doing Things that Don't Work
  9. Experimenting with Techniques to Bring Positive Changes to the Marriage
  10. Gaining Encouragement About Progress in Improving the Marriage
  11. Continuing to Make Efforts to Keep the Marriage Healthy
  12. How Other People Have Saved Their Marriages Using the Techniques in a Previous Similar Book

Part One
Beliefs that Get in the Way of Marriages Succeeding

To love is to suffer. To avoid suffering, one must not love. But, then one suffers from not loving. Therefore, to love is to suffer, not to love is to suffer, to suffer is to suffer. To be happy is to love, to be happy then, is to suffer, but, suffering makes one unhappy, therefore, to be unhappy one must love, or love to suffer, or suffer from too much happiness. I hope you're getting this down.
--Woody Allen (in Love and Death, 1975)


It's interesting that this self-help book starts by talking about how there are myths about marriage that people may have to unlearn before they can improve their marriages.

One of the first things it says is that many marriages fail because people went into them with false expectations about how the marriage was going to be, like the belief that the relationship would always be good without it needing to be worked on to keep both marriage partners happy.

Well, we would tell people they need to work on marriages to make them succeed.

It says there are several false expectations or damaging beliefs people can have:

The Problems of Conflict Avoidance

It says that one of them is that it's best not to have conflict in a marriage, or that if there is conflict, the marriage must be failing. It says there are arguments in all marriages, even the best ones. In fact, it's interesting that it says the marriages that are among the most likely to fail are those where people avoid conflict. It says it's essential to clear the air from time to time by getting feelings out of the system, because otherwise resentments and grudges just build up, and each little irritation gets added to the store of resentment, until feelings can even become hateful and very angry. But if the people had had an argument when the feelings first arose, they might have come to some understanding where the person who was annoying the other one changed their behaviour a bit, or they might have explained themselves so their behaviour was more understandable.

Actually, I know what the book means, because that's happened to me, not in my marriage, but with a college tutor I had. I was just a little bit annoyed about something he'd done, but when I hinted at it, he told me it wasn't appropriate to discuss such things with him but it was the kind of thing I should raise with my personal tutor. So I kept quiet about it, but any time something similar happened, I just built up more and more irritation about it, until some inspectors came one day, and I complained for quite some time about him to them. And then I complained to my personal tutor for over half an hour about him as well. He can't have liked that! It would never have happened if my tutor had allowed me to just get that little irritation about him that I'd had at first out of my system, listened to my concerns, and had been willing to change the way he did things a bit.

But the book says it's best not to go the other way and always express unpleasant feelings, always telling a marriage partner when you're upset about something, especially when you're newly married, because that can spark off arguments about things that are just petty little things and so the arguments can get out of proportion. So it's best to distinguish between things that really matter and things that don't.

Differences of Interest, Background, and Likes and Dislikes

The book says that some people think a marriage must be headed towards divorce if they discover their marriage partner has different interests to them, and/or comes from a different background, and/or likes different things. But it says this doesn't have to be true. There are ways of coping with differences, and it says that research has found that people with successful marriages are no more similar to each other than those who divorce. It says successful couples will spend time doing the things they do both enjoy together, and will sometimes make efforts to develop new interests that they'll both enjoy and will want to do together.

But they're tolerant of each other's interests when they differ, and if they have different backgrounds and beliefs, it doesn't have to be a hindrance to a good marriage. The book says that what makes marriages successful is learning to deal with differences and cope with conflict effectively.

Continuing to Have Arguments About Major Problems

It's interesting that the book says that if people keep having the same old arguments over issues that never seem to get resolved, it doesn't necessarily mean their marriage is in trouble. In fact, it says that research has found that over half of what married couples argue about are things they're never likely to agree on, and that many couples still argue about the same things they argued about when they were first married 25 years later! But it says the way they argue might have changed a lot, because people often mellow over time, so they don't get so heated about things, so arguments are at least less hostile.

What it Means to be Loving and Loved

The book says that some people think that in a healthy marriage, both partners will have the same ideas about what it means to express real love and how their partner will be behaving if they're being genuinely loving. But it says that actually, ideas about what being loving and loved involves can differ from person to person. It says that what it takes for one partner to feel loved might be very different from what it takes for the other partner to feel loved, since ideas of what true love is can have been formed in very different ways, and by different things, like upbringing, culture, gender, and all kinds of life experiences. It says that since marriage partners are bound to have had different life experiences, their ideas of what true love is are likely to be different.

It says that this will only be a problem if one partner refuses to accept the other partner's preferred way of behaving or being loved. It gives the example of a couple where one might have really enjoyed lively debates that could get quite heated in their family of origin, but their spouse grew up in a family that believed it was important to be quiet and polite. It says one partner might think that if the other partner loved them, they'd have debates with them like their family did. But that might not be the case at all. The other one might think it's much more loving to be quiet and polite.

It says that too many people think that if their partner loved them, they'd want the same things. But that won't necessarily be the case. So it says that what's important in a good marriage is that each partner understands the way their spouse most likes to be loved, and makes efforts to love them in their preferred way, rather than expecting them to want to be loved in theirs.

The author uses an example from her own life, saying that when she's a bit upset, she likes someone to be with her and ask her what's wrong, and she used to assume her husband must be like that as well. But she discovered he prefers to be alone when he's a bit upset. So she learned that the most loving thing to do in his case was to leave him alone, even though it felt unnatural because she preferred people to do the opposite with her.

So she says that arguments where one partner might say something like, "If you really loved me, you'd be willing to visit my family more", and the other one might say, "If you were really loving, you'd want to spend more time alone with me", are mistaken, because they're based on assumptions that might not be naturally true for the other person.

On the other hand, it will be true that to be really loving, each partner will be willing to compromise and put themselves out for the other person. So it's best to just work out how each partner could do more of what the other one considers loving in the future.

Falling Out of Love

The book says that people don't just fall out of love. It says that some people think they have to divorce because they've fallen out of love with their partner, but love isn't something people just fall in and out of; it's a thing people have to keep alive themselves by their actions, not just a feeling people have either got or they haven't. It says that when love starts to die, it means people haven't been doing things to keep it alive. But love can grow again if people start doing more things together that they know have been appreciated expressions of love in the past.

It says the reason many people think they've fallen out of love is because they've stopped making special efforts to be with each other and express love to each other, because they've started to take each other for granted, and because leisure and other activities, work and children have become more of a priority than nurturing their relationship with their spouse, so they don't spend much time together any more, and when they do, they can argue, so they drift apart. So they think they've fallen out of love, when really, they could fall back into it again if they started giving each other more attention. It says the more people behave in a loving way towards their partner, the more in love with them they'll feel.

So it says it's up to couples to nurture their loving relationship daily to make sure it stays strong, by continually making decisions in the interests of the relationship. It says the kind of decisions people will continually have to make when making efforts to keep love alive will be things like:

It says that people won't always be able to maintain loving feelings for their spouse at the same level, or always feel like being kind to them, but feelings and attitudes like that come and go; so a wise person who isn't feeling very loving towards their partner at one time might realise their feelings tend to come and go, and decide that soon, they'll do more to make themselves feel more loving towards their partner and their partner feel more loving towards them.

It says that some people might doubt that that's true, because they've always thought of love as a romantic feeling that they've either got or they haven't; but they can get the love back if it's gone, by following the steps in the book. Well, I'll read it and see.

Actually, someone once told me that she loved her husband but she wasn't "in love" with him, and I just accepted it as the way things were. But perhaps she could have fallen in love with him again if she'd done whatever the book recommends you do.

When It's the Spouse Who Says They've Fallen Out of Love

The book says the same thing can work if it's the person's husband or wife who says they're not in love any more. It says a husband or wife who feels like that might not think there's any hope for the marriage, because when people are miserable, they forget the good times, so they might think it's all bad. The book warns against trying to convince someone like that that there have been good times, since if they're not in the mood to think about them, they'll only insist more strongly that things are bad.

It says telling a partner you love them can make things worse when they're feeling like that, because they'll just be reminded every time you say it that they don't have the same feelings for you so there's something wrong with the marriage.

So it says that however hard it is, it's best to just say nothing if a spouse says they're no longer in love with you, and remind yourself that nothing's permanent, so they could fall back in love again.

It says that if things do start to improve, it's best not to seek reassurance by often asking whether the partner loves you again. It says they might think of that as putting pressure on them, because they know you're hoping they'll feel things they don't feel yet, so it might make them feel bad, and feeling bad when they're with you will make them less enthusiastic about the marriage.

The Survival of a Marriage After an Affair

It says that affairs can be very upsetting because they're a violation of trust and the intimacy that was supposed to be exclusive to the marriage. It says it's difficult for a marriage to recover after an affair, but it can be done. It says some people don't understand how they'll ever be able to forgive and take the marriage forward. But it says that although it's understandable that people feel that way, it can be done, difficult though it is. It says that marriages can even be made stronger afterwards, because sometimes, the partner who had the affair might have done it because of problems in the marriage which, if aired, can be worked through and resolved, leaving a more satisfying marriage.

Second Marriages Won't Necessarily be Happier

It says that though some people learn from mistakes they made in first marriages and so have better second ones, this isn't true for most people, and in fact, more second marriages break up than first ones. It says most people just repeat the bad habits they got into in their first marriages in their second ones, even if their partners are different types of people; and issues with step-children make things more difficult.

But it says another reason second marriages can fail is that people might be getting into them because they don't feel they can be happy on their own, and they think the marriage in itself will make them happy, so it puts too much strain on it, because they actually have to be happy in themselves to make the marriage happy.

So it suggests people ask themselves whether what they're doing from day to day makes them happy, and to change that as far as possible to make themselves happier if it doesn't, rather than just blaming their partner. That way, they might not feel the need to get divorced the first time.

The author says she knew someone who was fairly certain she wanted a divorce, because she thought her self-esteem had suffered in the marriage. Though she'd wanted a job after her children had left home, she'd never tried to get one. The author encouraged her to get one, and she found one. She enjoyed it and it made her feel much better about herself and excited about her new achievements, and when she told her husband about them, he was pleased, and they started getting on a lot better together, and she didn't want a divorce any more.

Part Two
The Stages Marriages Typically Go Through

American couples have gone to such lengths to avoid the interference of in-laws that they have to pay marriage counselors to interfere between them.
--Florence King

When David [Arquette] and I got engaged we started therapy together. I'd heard that the first year of marriage is the hardest, so we decided to work through all that stuff early.
--Courtney Cox

The author says that couples typically go through several stages in their marriages, at least the couples who've come to her for counselling.

Stage One: The Honeymoon Phase

The book says that when people first fall in love, they typically feel passionate about each other, and as if everything about the other person is right for them and that the other person must be the perfect partner. They seem to have so much in common. It says the excitement of the new relationship causes the body to release chemicals that increase energy and feelings of well-being and sensuality. Partners can feel miserable when they're apart, and blissfully happy together. So they think that if they marry, things will be like that forever. Planning the marriage might dampen feelings a bit because of the stress, but the feelings tend to re-emerge during the honeymoon.

Stage Two: When Realism and Disillusionment Begin to Set In

But it says that after a while, disillusionment sets in, when each partner starts noticing all their spouse's irritating little bad habits and quirks. That can be the worst stage of the marriage, because it's so disappointing to realise the partner isn't perfect after all.

Then disagreements and differences begin to add up. For instance, the marriage partners might have thought they shared the same interests, but that turns out not to be as significant as they thought, because one might like to do them far more often than the other one, or one might be a lot less willing to spend money on them than the other.

The marriage partners begin to argue more and more, until they might not feel love for each other any more sometimes and wonder whether marrying was the right decision.

Things are made a lot more complicated and stressful because it's at that time when people have to make a lot of important decisions, like whether and when to have children, how the housework ought to be divided up, who will handle the finances, how much to see of each other's parents, and where to live. Deciding on these things might be less stressful if the two decided to work together, but because they feel like arguing so much, they're more likely to argue over those things, trying to get the other to do things their way with no interest in compromise. It says this can go on for years.

Stage Three: The Constant Argument Stage

The book says that stage two leads into stage three, which is a constant battle where each marriage partner tries to make the other one change by arguing and trying to convince them they're wrong about everything. They won't back down on anything, because they'd see it as losing face, but they don't think their partner's being reasonable by refusing to back down themselves. They just think their partner must be being spiteful, stubborn and controlling, while their partner's feeling the same way about them. Neither will make any attempt whatsoever to understand their partner's point of view, even if they were sure they would before they married. So they waste an opportunity they could have had to work together to invent creative solutions to problems. Anger and hurt increase, and it's at this point that many people start thinking about divorce, because they get really fed up with the situation.

So it says some people divorce, because they feel sure nothing will improve the situation and they've fallen out of love or married the wrong person, while other people stay married but live unhappy separate lives.

But it says that other people do resolve to work towards improvement, and for them, things can get a lot better from there on.

Stage Four: Working Towards Improvement in the Marriage

In stage four, people realise that their partner will never be just the way they want them, and start trying to find and think of ways to live in more harmony with them. They start searching out information on how to improve marriage, talking to friends and family, or seeking counselling or marriage enrichment courses. They acknowledge that their own behaviour leaves something to be desired, so they start being more understanding and forgiving of their partner's faults. So they stop fighting so much, and when arguments do happen, they're not so charged with ill-feeling as they were before. People choose not to say the things they know will annoy the other one, or when they do, they're better at making up, because they realise that life is short and there's no point wasting it continuing to fight over things that aren't worth it. They're more willing to apologise for things. So the couple can work like a team again.

Stage Five: When Things Get Good Again

It says that people who are fortunate enough to have held onto their marriages long enough to get to stage five begin to like them again, and then start to see the qualities in their marriage partner that attracted them to them in the first place again. They're proud of what they've achieved together in the marriage despite everything, and can appreciate their partner's dedication to it. They're more accepting of their partner's differences. They start to have the same feelings they had in the beginning, and feel closer again. Children might be growing up and becoming more independent, so they can devote more time to each other again and enjoy the feelings and closeness more.

Reassurance During the Stages

The book says that couples might be more likely to bear with things if they know their marriage is likely to improve. But when they're going through a bad stage, it can feel as if they'll be in that stage forever.

It says the stages don't necessarily happen totally in order, since people can be moving to a better stage, but then a problem comes up and they can slip back a stage for a while. But at least if they know things have got better in the past, they'll be encouraged to try again.

Part Three
Beginning to Focus on Solutions Rather than Analysing Problems

Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come.
--Anne Lamott

The great majority of men are bundles of beginnings.
--Ralph Waldo Emerson

It's interesting that this book says people don't have to go into great detail about their problems with each other to make their marriages work. On my course, we're taught to ask lots of questions about their problems to try to help them work out how they got to where they are. But the author says that won't necessarily help people solve their problems any better. Even if they know all about what happened to make the marriage as bad as it is, they won't necessarily know what to do about it. So talking and talking through differences won't necessarily do any good. What can work a lot better is just changing unpleasant behaviour.

The book says that sometimes, people assume that if their marriage partner isn't willing to go to therapy with them or even read a self-help book, it must mean they aren't interested in working on the marriage, so a divorce might be the only option. But this isn't necessarily the case. It might just mean they're not interested in doing those particular things. But there might be lots of other things they are willing to do. So there might be lots of other ways a person can go about saving the marriage.

In fact, it says the other person doesn't have to commit to changing at all at first. The person who wants the marriage improved can set off a chain of positive changes in their marriage partner by changing themselves at first. It says anyone who doesn't believe that can be done can think of how easy it is to change their partner's behaviour in other ways. For instance, it might be easy to think of something to say that would make them angry on the spot. So behaving differently in positive ways can influence the way the partner behaves as well.

A Couple of Examples of the Way Influencing a Marriage Partner to Change By Changing Yourself Can Work

The author gives an example, saying she got a letter from a woman who'd been nagging her husband for ten years to do just a bit of housework, but he would always leave it all to her. They were always arguing, and she was about ready for a divorce. But then she changed her behaviour towards him a bit. She stopped nagging, complimented him more, treated him with more patience, made efforts to be nicer and not bitchy, and ignored some little things he did that annoyed her. And one day, she came home when he had a day off work, and she unexpectedly found the house was all cleaned. She was absolutely amazed. She said she was so happy with the changes in her husband that she never wanted to stop behaving in the way she thought must have encouraged him to make the changes.

The author says that the woman might have complained to her friends before, feeling sure the marriage was hopeless and that she'd tried everything to persuade her husband to change without success. But she hadn't tried being kinder and more loving, and when she did, that did work.

The author gives another example, saying she knows of a man who spent years working long hours, ignoring his wife's requests that he spend more time with her. So she started going out more socially. At first, he was glad she wasn't nagging him to be with her more any more. But then he began to worry that she was losing interest in the marriage, because she seemed more and more withdrawn around him, but liked to go out with her women friends more and more in the evenings. She started coming home later and later.

He became anxious about what she was doing, and started waiting up for her and asking her a whole host of questions about where she'd been when she came home each time. This annoyed her. The more he questioned her, the less she wanted to answer. He began to worry she was having an affair. So he looked through her private correspondence and the phone records for evidence. But she found out he'd done it, and became very angry with him and started telling him even less about what she was doing.

He told her about his feeling of insecurity an begged her to stop going out so much with others. He asked her to go for counselling with him. But she refused to go for counselling, and became very distant from him, not wanting to talk to him at all anymore, even about little mundane things.

The author says the man felt fairly sure their marriage must be about to end. But he decided to have a try at improving it by changing his own behaviour. He reflected that he didn't like himself anymore because his new behaviour wasn't attractive to him either. He decided that even if his marriage ended, he'd have to work to build up his self-confidence and independent spirit again. He decided to stop asking his wife all the questions that were irritating her, and even try to get to sleep before she got in at night. He decided that the only thing he'd say about her evening was to say he hoped she'd had a good time. He thought that even if it didn't make her feel better about him, he'd at least feel better about the way he was.

He did feel a lot better once he started doing that, because he felt more in control of himself. So his self-confidence came back. He was so exhausted with stress that he did manage to sleep instead of waiting up for his wife, and one night she even woke him up to ask if he was allright. He didn't ask her any questions, and she was surprised about that. But it must have made her feel more favourable towards him, because a week later, she cancelled an evening out with her friends and went out with him instead. They enjoyed themselves.

This happened more and more often. She spent less time with her friends and more time at home with him. They began to talk more, and soon they were getting on much better. Neither of them brought up the subject of why they'd changed; they just enjoyed their new friendship.

Part Four
Concerns and Doubts People Have About Changing Their Behaviour

Where there is love, there is pain.
--Spanish proverb

When you blame others, you give up your power to change.
--Dr. Robert Anthony

The more you invest in a marriage, the more valuable it becomes.
--Amy Grant

Why People Keep Expecting Their Marriage Partner to Change Instead of Changing Themselves

The author says it's common for a marriage partner to keep nagging the other one to change or go to counselling with them instead of thinking about how they can change themselves in the hope it'll spark off changes in the other one, because people get so convinced that they're right and the other one's wrong that they're convinced it's the other one who needs to do all the changing. And conventional wisdom says they can solve things if they do enough talking and explaining of their feelings and thoughts on the problems. So they explain in more and more detail to their partner what they feel their partner's doing wrong, even though what it's actually doing is making their partner feel more miserable and less happy with the marriage. The partner is just likely to get defensive, and it can lead to an escalating cycle of conflict where each blames the other for the marital problems.

Not Understanding How Changes In One Person Can Spark Off Changes In Another

The author says another reason people want their partner to change rather than making the first changes in themselves is that they can find it difficult to believe that changes in themselves could spark off changes in their partner, since they don't understand how their behaviour affects their partner. They know all about how their partner's behaviour affects them. For instance, if their partner says something that makes them feel hurt or angry, they'll know why they're responding to it in the way they are. But they won't understand what made their partner say the thing in the first place, so they might just think they must be a nasty or moody person. They won't necessarily know when they've said something their partner has found hurtful or that's made them angry. So a partner might say something hurtful that there just doesn't seem to be any reason for. This can be especially true when a person has no idea that something they said could have hurt their partner or made them angry.

The author gives the example of a man who might finish work on Friday and be looking forward to spending time with his wife, and then he might be hurt by a suggestion she makes that she thinks is a kind one that he goes out with his friends. So he might respond in a hurtful way and be moody with her later in the evening. And she'll have no idea why he's behaving like that. So she'll think he must be just an irritating person. Because she's angry with his unpleasant behaviour, she'll show her irritation with him, and that'll make him even more convinced that she's just a moody person who started the whole thing off. So they'll both blame each other, and the unpleasantness will escalate all weekend.

The author says that something that happened between her husband and her once was like that, when they were both sitting in front of the television one day, and he asked her a question she was a bit surprised by, and she turned away towards the television while considering her answer. He thought she was just ignoring him, so he started reading a magazine, and ignored her when she turned back to him. So she started watching television. After a few minutes, he got up to go out. And she asked him why he was leaving when they were having a conversation. He said he couldn't talk to her because she was watching television. She said she was only watching it because he was reading, and he said he was only reading because she was watching television. The conversation carried on like that, until she realised she needed to do something different to stop the argument.

She says doing something different can help to get people out of old cycles of bad behaviour patterns and start them behaving in new ways. She says that one marriage partner's unpleasant behaviour will feed off the other one's, so cycles of unpleasantness can continue and continue, with each partner feeling they're just responding to the other one's nasty behaviour, and each one feeling sure the other one started it.

She says the important thing is not who started it, but that one of them is willing to break the cycle by doing something different from usual instead.

She says one marriage partner might not think it's fair that they have to be the one to change first, but if they can get over that feeling, their changes will start to cause changes in their husband or wife, hopefully soon. Then they might wonder why they waited so long before starting to change, because they might be so pleased when they start to notice changes in the other one.

Concerns About Doing Something Wrong

The author says that some people worry that if they change, they might do something wrong that'll make things even worse, or that it won't work. But she says the worst thing they can do is to stay the way they are, so trying to make positive changes is unlikely to make things all that much worse, and the book has some advice about altering behaviour if changes aren't working as well as hoped for.

Worries that Changes Won't be Noticed by the Marriage Partner

The author says that people who are separated from their spouse or hardly speaking might wonder if their husband or wife will notice if they change. But they probably will. After all, a vindictive or unpleasant action would surely be noticed. So positive ones should be as well. She says that just because a marriage partner might not comment on things, it doesn't mean they aren't noticing them. So though they might not comment on positive changes at first or might not seem to appreciate them, the impact of the changes will build up over time.

She says when couples are separated, and even when there's hardly any contact between them at all, there are still things a partner can do. She advises that in each phone call, email or face-to-face meeting there is, the partner who wants to change should show themselves in the best possible light. For instance, anyone who knows their husband or wife would prefer them to be more cheerful should try to sound cheerful in what they say and the way they say it, in even brief phone calls they might think don't really matter.

Concerns About Whether it's Moral to Manipulate People Into Changing

The author says some people worry about that, but actually, everyone manipulates each other all the time. Just saying hello to someone is really an attempt to manipulate them into giving you attention. The things people do naturally all the time, like urging their partner to do more work around the house, are really attempts to manipulate them. So it won't be any worse planning what to do first; and when positive changes happen, happiness will increase all round.

Worries that Nothing's Made a Difference So Far, so Why Should Anything Else

The author says that although people might think they've tried everything, they probably haven't. And they might think it would be impossible that their partner could change their personality, but though a major change would be unlikely, several small ones over time could make a big difference. The author says she knows of many marriages that were saved and became a lot happier even when they'd been on the brink of divorce before.

Part Five
The Advantages of Looking for Solutions Rather than Focusing on Problems

How Relationships Can Grow More Loving

The author gives some examples of how much better it can work when people focus their efforts on finding solutions rather than on delving into problems.

She says she saw a couple in therapy who had argued for years about their finances, trying to work out why they had such difficulty over money. The wife thought it was because the husband liked to spend too much of it on things to entertain himself, like his father had, which she thought was a waste of money that they could be saving for the future; and the husband thought it was because the wife behaved like a parent, trying to prevent him enjoying himself with money. The trouble was, they'd never tried to work out what to do about it; they just argued about whose point of view was right and whose was wrong.

Instead of trying to understand why the arguments had gone on so long, the author says she just moved straight to helping them decide what to do about the situation. She told them they were both right to some extent, because it was important both to enjoy life, and to save money so they could feel secure about the future; so they had something valuable to teach each other.

They each thought about little differences that would make them happier if the other made them. The wife said it would be nice if the husband looked at the bills with her so he could appreciate why she was concerned about saving money, and the husband said it would be nice if his wife could sometimes encourage him to spend some money so he didn't always feel he had to ask permission to.

During the next fortnight, the husband did pay the bills, and was taken aback to realise how much they had to pay. The wife said they weren't even paying as much as usual. He seemed to be starting to understand why she was so concerned. And she did encourage him to spend money on something she thought he'd like, but he even said he'd be happy not to, because it would be expensive.

The author says that once they'd decided to stop trying to analyse the reasons they were arguing and try to work out good ways of stopping, solutions became easy for them to find. They planned a budget for themselves to stick to.

The author says people might think their problems are much worse than that, and that they wouldn't even know where to begin to solve them. But she says it doesn't matter where people start, because small changes in one area of life can lead to changes in other areas, just as changes in one person can lead to changes in another. She says that that happened in the lives of the couple she mentioned she saw in therapy about finances. She says when they started understanding each other's attitudes more, they became more loving towards each other in general. They started spending more time together and going out more together. They started being more thoughtful towards each other. The wife no longer complained when the husband spent hours in front of the television watching sport, but brought him snacks, and even sometimes sat down and watched the programmes with him. He appreciated her thoughtfulness and started doing more thoughtful things for her in return, like scraping the ice off her car on winter mornings and warming her car up before she had to get in it, which made her really appreciative, since she hated having to stand around in the cold getting the ice off it herself. They started doing more and more thoughtful little things for each other.

With the increase in thoughtfulness and compassion between them, when arguments did occur, they found they were more forgiving towards each other. The children responded well to the change in atmosphere as well, becoming less anxious, less argumentative and more playful with each other.

The author says she's seen that kind of thing happen in many families, and she's sure it will happen once people start the process of change. She says she asks people who come to her for therapy what the very first small sign will be that things are moving in the right direction, and she feels sure that once couples have achieved that, things will start to snowball from there.

Even Small Changes Can Lead Gradually to Big Differences

The author says that every small change in a marriage partner should be something to appreciate, because though the changes will be small, they'll build up over time to big differences. Noticing and feeling positive about small improvements in the marriage will help partners stay patient. And they'll need patience to wait as long as it might take for big differences to happen. She says people should congratulate themselves even on very small changes and think of them as signs of encouragement. For instance, if a couple are separated, the one working on the marriage should think of it as a sign of encouragement and improvement even when their partner does something like asking a favour, talking to them in a more friendly tone of voice, staying around a little bit longer when they visit, or asking after their welfare. Any of these things might be signs that the partner's attitude is changing for the better.

Part Six
Setting Goals to Work Towards Improvement in the Marriage

The race is not always to the swift, but to those who keep on running.
--Author Unknown

Fall seven times, stand up eight.
--Japanese Proverb

It's not that I'm so smart, it's just that I stay with problems longer.
--Albert Einstein

The author says that often, when a marriage seems to be headed towards divorce, one marriage partner wants the divorce, while the other partner is desperate to save the marriage. She gives a lot of advice about how people who want to save their marriages can go about trying.

First, the book says it can be best if people who want to save their marriage work out several things that they want from it, and then think about how to turn those wishes into a set of goals they can work towards achieving, or that they'd like their husband or wife to do, that they write down. They can think about what it would be nice if their husband or wife did differently. The goals should be things in the future that will make their marriages happy. So they should contemplate what will have to happen to make their marriages happier in the future, not brood on the past.

It says that some people think writing them down will be a bore and a chore, but writing them down helps, because it can help clarify thoughts in the mind; and looking at the goals every now and then will remind people what they still have to work towards; and it also might make them pleased to think they've got near to already achieving some of them.

It says there are several things people need to take into account to make setting their goals easier so they'll be better at working towards what they want:

Thinking About What's Hoped For in the marriage, Not What's Missing

The author says that every time she asks a couple in therapy what they hope will change about their marriage, they always start talking about what they don't like instead of that, like each other's faults. But that means they're focused on the problems rather than what they can do about them. And problems can seem insurmountable. For instance, if a goal were to be for a marriage partner not to have a bad temper any more, the person who thought up the goal might think, "How on earth is that ever going to be achieved?!" But a better way of setting goals is to think of them being achieved in little steps, and to try to rephrase them in positive terms, so you have signs to look for instead that will tell you things are changing.

So instead of a goal being something like, "I don't want my husband to have a bad temper", or whatever it is you'd like to change, people should ask themselves the question, "When my spouse is changing so things are improving in this area, what will be the signs that will show me things are improving?" That will give people things to start looking for straight away, and any little sign of improvement can be encouraging.

So, for instance, someone who doesn't like their husband's bad temper could ask themselves a question like, "When he's better at controlling his temper, what will he be doing that will show me that things have improved?" They might think that one of the signs will be that when they tell him one of the children has done something wrong, he'll ask questions to find out more about it instead of starting to shout, for example.

When they've thought through some specific things that will be happening when things improve, they can write them down as goals.

The author gives other examples of how it can work:

She says that someone who doesn't want to be separated from their marriage partner any more could change that into a goal that said something like, "I'd like him/her to be home in a couple of months."

Or if they don't like their partner avoiding them, they could turn it into a goal that said, "I'd like him to stay in the same room with me after dinner."

Or if they wish their partner wasn't always going on about the bad things about the marriage, they could turn it into a goal that said, "It would be nice if they could admit once in a while that there have been good times between us."

Or if they don't like their partner always belittling them, they could turn that into a goal that said, "I'd like him to compliment me sometimes and let me know he appreciates the things I do for him."

The author says it means focusing on the future rather than the past, and that might make people a bit more optimistic because they won't be dwelling on their problems. The goals will be like requests for change rather than complaints. The question, "When my spouse stops doing that, what will he be doing instead?" should help people change the complaints they have about the bad things in the marriage into the changes they'd like to see.

Making Goals Specific Rather than Vague

The author says that goals have to be about specific actions that will be signs that things are improving, not things where it'll be difficult to know at what point they begin to happen or when the goal has been reached. So goals shouldn't be vague things like, "I want him to be more understanding", or "I'd like her to be more cheerful", or "I'd love it if he showed greater sensitivity". Instead, they should be about actions that will show that those things are happening.

The author gives an example:

She says a couple came to her for therapy who had drifted apart over the years and didn't talk much to each other anymore apart from about the children. They wondered if they'd fallen out of love with each other. When the author asked how their marriage would improve, they didn't know where to start at first, but then they said it would be nice if they could feel like a couple again and feel more connected to each other. They thought that sounded like a goal, but they needed to hone it further to get some ideas about how and when they'd know they were achieving it. So the author asked them:

"What will you be doing differently that will make you begin to feel like a couple again?"

The author says they had to think about that one for a while, but then they managed to come up with a list of things:

The husband said they'd start dating again, since it was years since they'd done that; and they'd be physically intimate more often, perhaps making love once or twice a week. And they'd develop a common interest, a hobby they could enjoy together, like golfing or playing bridge with other couples.

The wife said she'd feel they were more like a couple when they were talking about something other than the children, for instance if her husband were to tell her about his day and ask about hers, and talk more about his feelings. She said it would be nice if they could start talking about the future again, since they'd been so busy raising children that they'd stopped dreaming about what they could do with it. She also said it would be nice if he could do romantic things for her sometimes like invite her on a surprise date, buy her flowers or leave endearing little notes for her.

The author gives another example, saying a man came to see her because his wife had lost interest in the marriage and they had decided to separate for a few months while she decided if she thought it was worth carrying on with it or whether she wanted to divorce. She refused to come for counselling, so he came on his own. When the author asked about his goals, he said he'd like her to decide the marriage was worth saving. Since that would have left uncertainty as to what would be happening that would show that she'd decided the marriage was worth saving, the author asked him what his wife would be doing differently that would show him she was feeling more positive about saving the marriage, and he came up with a whole list of things that he could use as goals. Some of them were:

So he ended up with quite a lot of goals that would let him know things were improving.

Keeping Goals Small Enough for Improvements to be Noticed Regularly

The author says that although it's very understandable that people should want big changes to happen immediately, change is usually a gradual process. So keeping goals small will mean they're more easily reached, so encouragement can be drawn more regularly when they are. She says impatience for improvement can stand in the way of it happening, because it can sour attitudes further. But if marriage partners accept that change will probably be gradual and set small goals that will hopefully be reached easily, at least they will hopefully have plenty of encouragement that things are moving in the right direction.

The author gives an example of a woman whose husband had had an affair with his secretary but did seem remorseful about it. The woman was extremely upset, and said in therapy that her goal would be to have complete faith and trust in him again. The author says she could sympathise, but that goal would be difficult to reach in a short time, so she asked what the first few signs would be that would give the woman more confidence that that could happen. She said her husband would apologise for it, since though he seemed sorry, he hadn't done that. She said he'd also replace his secretary with another one so he wasn't in temptation's way anymore; and he'd phone her whenever he was going to be late home from work.

The author says that making goals too big can discourage people, because they might not be reached for ages. So it's best to set little goals at any one time that might even be reached within the next week or two. When more and more goals keep being reached, it can get more and more encouraging, so it can breed more positive attitudes all round.

The author gives an example of someone who felt miserable because what she wanted to happen in the marriage wasn't happening, but who started feeling much more positive and cheerful when she was asked to look for little signs that things were improving. She had got back with her husband after a six-month separation, and they were getting on much better, but she felt insecure and kept asking him for reassurances that he wanted to be with her, but that just annoyed him and he withdrew from her more. The therapist asked her what would have to happen to make her feel more secure, and she said they'd have to start having a good sex life again and he'd be affectionate like he used to be, because it was difficult to feel secure when he didn't show any feelings of love towards her like he used to, because he might have just come home to be with the children rather than her.

The therapist thought the goal might be a bit ambitious for the time being, and that he might be showing small signs of love that his wife wasn't noticing because she was expecting too much too soon. So she suggested that he might be slowly coming around to starting to be affectionate again, and asked the woman what the smallest signs would be that he was doing things that made her feel more secure.

She said she'd feel better if he even held her hand once in a while or touched her shoulder gently as he walked past sometimes. She said she'd even be happier if he just said he was happy to be home occasionally. She said she wouldn't expect him to say he loved her, but that it would be nice if he would say he was glad they'd got back together as a family.

When she went home, the therapist asked her to look for small signs that the marriage was improving. When she came back, she was much more cheerful and optimistic. She said that though her sex life hadn't resumed yet, she was much more confident that things were moving in the right direction. She said her husband had talked about planning a holiday for the coming year, and it was the first time in a year that he had included her in one of his plans for the future. And she said he'd been phoning her from work just to chat, and had even stopped off on the way home a few days before to buy her favourite dessert. Although they had some way to go before she would be sure their marriage was safe, she felt much more hopeful, and felt sure their love life would improve soon.

The author says a good way to set goals at first is to think about what the very first signs might be that things are changing for the better, and set each sign as a goal.

Part Seven
Asking for Change, Not Complaining About the Lack of It

The author says she learned early in her marriage about how much better the results can be when you ask for change rather than complaining about what's wrong, when one day she wanted to ask her husband if he'd go out at weekends more with her. She says he worked hard during the week, so he just liked to relax at home at weekends, whereas she wanted to be more active. So one day, she sat him down and said she was fed up that they didn't go out much and that all he wanted to do at weekends was to hang around the house. He'd go out to dinner occasionally, but not much more than that, and she thought it wasn't very exciting. When she told him that, he started defending himself and it turned into an argument, until After a while, she said in a loud voice that she didn't understand what all the fuss was about, since all she wanted them to do was to go into the city every four to six weeks and do something out of the ordinary. He said, "That's fine. Why didn't you just say so?"

She was surprised that he was so willing to do what she wanted, and wondered why he'd made such a fuss at first; but then she realised that she'd annoyed him by condemning him for his perfectly justifiable behaviour in wanting to relax at weekends, while she was criticizing his behaviour because she was trying to justify asking for what she wanted, when she didn't need to justify it. She just needed to ask for a small change.

She says that after that, she would always try to just ask for what she wanted, rather than stating all the reasons why she was unhappy at not getting it.

She recommends that people consider whether they could have been making similar mistakes, and advises that they resolve to do things differently in the future. She says that people often think they are requesting a change by asking their partners for it, when all they're really doing is complaining and annoying them. So people might think they've asked for what they want many times without result; but they might get results if they start asking a different way.

She says another reason people might not be getting what they want is because their requests are too vague. For instance, they might tell their husband or wife that they'd like less tension in the house, or better communication, or more closeness. But their partner might have no idea how to go about making things like that happen, or exactly what the one making the request means by it.

The author says that she and her husband resolved their differences about how to spend weekends when she asked him for specific things, like if they could go out to a new restaurant or a show once a month, and if he'd go out for a walk or to watch a film with her once a week. She says that sorted out the problem. She says it wouldn't have worked so well if she'd asked for things that left him puzzled as to what she really wanted, like that she wanted him to be more adventurous or involved in the relationship. But telling him exactly what she wanted helped a lot.

She says another reason people don't get what they want is that they sometimes ask for too much at once. For instance, if a couple have just got together again after having been separated, it might be a bit much for one to ask the other to declare their love for them, if the other one's still not sure they want to be in the marriage. That's why goals have to be broken down into small signs of progress.

The author says there are other important things people need to bear in mind when asking for what they want:

The Importance of Getting the Timing Right

The author says that although choosing a good time to tell a spouse what you want won't guarantee they'll agree to it, telling them at a bad time will guarantee you don't get what you want. She says that for example, she knows just when her husband is likely to ignore a request from her: when he's busy doing something; when he's just about to go out the door; when he's at work; when the children are around; or when he's very tired and wants to sleep.

She says it might seem as if he's not open to requests a lot of the time, and it's true, but there are lots of other times when he's more willing to consider them, like in the mornings at weekends before the children wake up; when her and her husband go out to dinner; or when they're talking after he's finished work.

The author says that everyone probably has a good idea of when their spouse will be more and less open to requests. But it will help if they sit down with a pen and paper and work out a list of times when it definitely wouldn't be a good idea to approach their husband or wife with a request, and a list of times when their spouse is more likely to pay attention, be more patient in considering requests and more likely to want to show goodwill towards them. She says people can help themselves work out when would be a good time if they think back to a time when their partner did agree to a request they asked for and think through what was happening that made them more willing to pay attention to it and consider it.

She says that after people have done that, they should write down when they think it would be a good time in the coming few days to tell their husband or wife what they want to improve about the marriage.

If Spouses Won't or Don't Want to Know

The author says that sometimes, when a marriage partner asks for what they want in a positive way, it can cause a very encouraging improvement in the marriage. And in that case, partners ought to be very clear about how much they appreciate it whenever their husband or wife makes noticeable changes, even though they may have a long way to go before the marriage is really stable again.

But she says that sometimes, a husband or wife won't respond in the way their spouse had hoped they would, or the spouse will feel sure they just won't want to know. She says there might be several reasons for this:

She says that sometimes there might be so much tension between partners that one won't want to do anything the other one says. Or one might not know whether they even want to stay in the marriage, so they won't see the point of improving it. Or so much talking might have been done by the partners about the marriage that one of them has just stopped listening.

She says that if one partner isn't interested in paying attention to the requests, the other one shouldn't push them. They shouldn't ask for anything, but simply start behaving in a way that will hopefully begin to convince the other one they'll be missing out on something worthwhile if they leave the marriage. Once they become keener on the marriage, then they might be more open to the requests.

Part Eight
Stopping Doing Things that Don't Work

The aim of an argument or discussion should not be victory, but progress.
--Joseph Joubert, (Pensťes, 1842)

The author says that often, people do something to try to fix a problem in their marriage that doesn't work, but instead of trying something different, they just try harder and harder to do the same thing, as if they feel sure it will work if they do it well enough, and it makes things a lot worse. For example, a woman might tell her husband she's concerned that he isn't very communicative. He might accept what she says, but then just go about his business as if she hadn't said it. The next morning, he might be reading the newspaper at breakfast instead of talking to her, and she might think that since he clearly didn't get the point before, she'll have to make it with more emphasis. So she does, but he takes her comments as nagging. So he wants to talk to her even less. So she lectures him with more feeling on his uncommunicativeness. So he gets annoyed, and walks out of the room altogether. She follows him, but the more she explains why she's upset with him to him, the less he wants to know. But the less he wants to talk, the more she tells him she's unhappy about it, and she eventually gets upset.

The author says a couple came to her for therapy where the wife objected to the strict discipline her husband used with their teenage sons, whereas he thought she was too lenient with them. She would always intervene to try to soften things for them. Her husband would become very annoyed by this, because he felt as if his decisions were being undermined by her. His annoyance made him shout at the children more harshly. That led to her intervening more to try to soften things for them, which used to annoy him and make things worse. It continued for years, with neither of them realising that the reason the other was behaving the way they were was because they didn't like the other's behaviour.

The author says that she often sees people in therapy who don't realise that what they've kept trying to do to solve the problem is the very thing that's making it worse. For instance, people come to see her saying their partners are depressed, and they've given them talks for years trying to encourage them and cheer them up, but they've just got worse. But they've never stopped to wonder whether they should stop and do something different instead. Trying to cheer a depressed spouse up might seem the most logical thing to do. But that doesn't necessarily mean it'll work.

The author says that everyone habitually tries more of the same behaviour to solve their problems even when it hasn't worked before. She says one time it's common for people to do that is when they argue. Arguments can go exactly the same way every time without anything changing.

She says the most common topics for people to argue about in exactly the same way for years include money, children or step-children, how to spend free time, sex, housework, each other's families, and communication.

She says that sometimes, particular times or occasions can trigger off behaviour that's intended to solve problems but really it's the same old behaviour that's always made them worse. She says they can include the busiest times of day when tensions arise in the house to get several things done at once; the time of the month when bills are usually paid; when families are due to visit; times when the weather's miserable, holidays when everyone sees more of each other, etc.

The author says that sometimes, people realise things go exactly the same way and think how stubborn their husband or wife is. But if their husband or wife is only responding like that because of something they themselves are doing, it must mean they're not changing their behaviour either.

The author recommends that people think about one or more arguments or problems that come up regularly, and write an outline of how they usually handle them, such as what they normally say and do, and then write down an outline of what their partner usually says and does. After that, they can plan to do something differently next time to see if it changes things.

She asks people to think about the times when their partners behave in the same old way, and consider what they usually do themselves in response, and then think about whether doing something different might change things.

She gives examples later of things people can do differently.

She says that people who have difficulty answering those things should ask themselves what, - whether they agree with it or not, - their husband or wife would say irritates them a lot about the way they themselves behave regarding the problem. She says people should try to just be honest, rather than getting defensive and denying they have anything to do with the problem.

She says that after people have done that, they should have a good idea of the things they do that are worth abandoning. She says that even if they're things that just come naturally, or that seem to be the best ways of doing things, if they're contributing to the problem, they're not worth doing any more. If dropping them could lead to a more loving relationship, it's worth doing. Change isn't just a matter of doing what seems best, but of doing what works to bring more love into the relationship.

She says it'll be good if every time a little problem comes up, partners concerned about their marriages can take a deep breath while they stand back from it for a little while and ask themselves what they want to achieve by their response to it. If the effect they want to have on their partner is to make them feel more loving towards them, or they want to have a peaceful evening with them, they might be far less unpleasant than normal. So if they know that what they feel like doing will make things worse, they should think of something different to do instead.

She says there was a couple she knows where the wife had been feeling unhappy for a while, and one day she told her husband she wanted a trial separation to see if she missed him. He was scared that she might want to divorce him and pleaded with her to stay. He encouraged her to talk about her feelings, but she didn't say anything good. He got out old photos of good times and love letters, but she claimed she'd been acting at those times. He started buying her flowers and gifts and putting loving little notes where she'd find them, but it made her more annoyed with him. He started ringing her several times a day at work to show her how much he cared, but she just became more angry, and eventually refused to take his calls. He sent her letters and emails, but it just annoyed her more. She ended up sick of the sight of him and left forever.

The author says that though it might have seemed that the man was doing the right thing, it pushed his wife away. So even when people don't think their behaviour is doing any harm, if it's irritating their spouse for some reason, they should still do something different.

Part Nine
Experimenting with Techniques to Bring Positive Changes to the Marriage

When you come to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on.
--Franklin D. Roosevelt

Don't be discouraged. It's often the last key in the bunch that opens the lock.
--Author Unknown

Problems are not stop signs, they are guidelines.
--Robert Schuller

The author says there are several techniques described in the book that might work to improve marriages. Some work better with some people than others, but the worst thing someone can do is not to do anything, so the author suggests people experiment with them.

Keeping Notes of What Works in a Journal

She recommends people buy a notebook they can call a solution journal, where they make notes of everything that seems to work so they can remember to do each thing again.

She suggests that whenever they've done something they feel sure worked, they make a note of the date, and what the problem was that started things. Then they write down what they did differently from usual that helped things go better, and what their partner did in response that proved to them that what they did worked.

She suggests that a few days later, they make notes of any positive changes that took place in the days after the problem arose and got dealt with differently as well, to encourage themselves that things really are working and they'll be worth trying again.

She says for people who think writing things down will be a headache, they can just try to make mental notes and do their best to remember what worked instead.

Calming Anger Before Reacting to Provocation

The author says that some things might not be worth making the effort to change even if they're irritating, because there are things that just can't be changed. So she advises that people think about whether a situation is changeable before they bring it up.

And she says choosing what to do in the heat of the moment might be a bad thing, because of the danger that people will act and respond in anger and it'll make things worse. So she suggests that sometimes, people should take a deep breath or count to ten before responding, by which time, any initial angry impulse they had will hopefully have died down. She suggests that alternatively, they could go out for a walk to burn off energy or have a cool shower if they're tempted to comment angrily on something their husband or wife has done but know it won't do any good in the long run. Or they could go for a drive, tell themselves they'll deal with the matter later on, or do whatever works for them to calm down. People can often think more clearly when they're calm.

She says it can help people if they ask themselves one question before they say anything:

"What am I aiming to get out of what I'm about to say?"

If a person truly just wants the other person to know how angry they are, then they might not see any problem with just telling them; but if what they really want is to improve relations, the question might help them think more about how to say what they want to say, or whether it's even worth saying, before they express their feelings.

Being Much More Complimentary Than Critical

The author says it can be very easy to criticize people for not doing what we want, but the most effective way of getting them to be more kind and loving is to praise them for doing things we like. She says that so often, people notice things they like about what other people do, and don't say anything about it. For instance, someone can come home early from work, and instead of telling them how pleased they are, their husband or wife complains about how much time the two of them spend apart. Or someone can notice how nice their spouse looks in their new clothes but let the thought go by without saying anything.

The author says that research shows very clearly that the best way to get a person to do more of what you want is to compliment them, or reward them in some other way like hugging them, when you catch them doing something you want. In fact, the research has found that a well-timed compliment or other kind of reward like a hug can have much better consequences than a heartfelt conversation about what's wrong with the marriage. She says compliments are far better at getting people to do more of what you want than criticism, even tactful criticism, or forms of punishment like not speaking to your husband or wife for a while or giving them cold glances. She says there's certainly a time for criticism, but that the best way of influencing others is to praise them for what they are doing right, which will give them an incentive to do more of it.

She says there was a woman who let her husband know one day how upset she was that he never seemed interested in how she was doing or asked about her day. When she did, she was dismayed that he just became impatient and annoyed with her.

The next morning when they were about to go to work, she was planning to confront him again about what she thought of as his insensitivity to her feelings, when he did ask her about her coming day. She was tempted to ignore the question and tell him what she'd been going to say about his insensitivity. But she really wanted to improve relations between them. So she took a deep breath, and then she told him what she had planned for the day.

After a few moments, she told him how much she appreciated him asking.

They kissed briefly as she left to go in to work, something they hadn't done in quite a while.

Because she'd discovered how important it was to praise her husband for what he was doing right, whenever he did ask questions about her in the following weeks, she often told him how much she appreciated it, saying it meant a lot to her. When he realised how important it was to her, he was encouraged to do more of it, and carried on.

The author says there was another woman who was annoyed that her husband didn't do much to help with the baby. After several conversations where she criticized him for not doing much, he begrudgingly offered to help a bit more. He did, but instead of praising his efforts, she felt she had to criticize him for anything he was doing in a different way to the way she would do it. After a few weeks of that, he said that if she could do things so much better, he'd leave them to her, and he stopped caring for the baby.

She was miserable and went for counselling. The counsellor asked her if she thought her husband was putting the baby in danger by the way he cared for her, and she said no. The counsellor suggested that if that was the case, she apologise to him for her critical behaviour, and then start praising him for things he was doing that pleased her. She admitted she hadn't said anything positive to him when he started caring for the baby more, because she'd been so focused on whether he was doing things in the way she considered right.

She went away thinking about how important it was to compliment him, and in the next few weeks, she made efforts to keep quiet when she noticed him doing something she considered was different from how she'd do things. And whenever she noticed him caring for the baby, she did something to encourage him, like complimenting him, or smiling, or doing something she knew would please him in return.

She was very pleased with what happened. The more she encouraged him, the better he became at caring for the baby; and the better he became, the more he did for the baby. In fact, he began to get on so well with the baby that it got to the point where he couldn't wait to get home from work to be with her. This pleased his wife a lot, and the relationship between the couple also improved a lot.

The author says there are things that can be learned from those stories. One is that people can either focus on what they haven't got in life and make themselves and those around them miserable, or they can focus on what's going right, and be happy and make those around them happy and pleased with them.

She says the other lesson is that people are much more likely to want to please their spouses when they see them as friends, and the nicer their spouses are to them, the more they will. So positive feedback is still important when they're not doing everything in a way you consider perfect.

Taking Inspiration From the Times When the Problems Weren't Happening

The author says that although in the midst of bad times, it's difficult to remember the good times, there will have been some; and in fact often, people have a few weeks when things are going well between counselling sessions with her, but they just talk about the couple of little arguments they've had, saying they fight all the time. She says it's natural for people to assume that therapists will want to know about the bad things, but it seems to be human nature to focus on the negative things rather than the positive ones. She likes to ask clients what was different about the times when things were going well, in the hope that they'll get inspiration to recreate parts of them. She says it can be very helpful to analyse the times when things were going well to see what was different, because there may well be aspects of it that can be recreated, and the answer to many marriage problems is doing more of the things that work.

She gives an example, saying someone who came to her for counselling was upset because her husband was considering divorce. The wife co-owned a business with him, but they were always arguing about their different management styles. The wife thought it was very important to get things done, while the husband was more laid-back about things. They were concerned that their children saw them fighting, but didn't know what to do to stop.

The author asked her what was different about the times when things were better. The woman couldn't think at first, but then she said she remembered a time two years earlier when they'd divided the tasks up so they had responsibility for different things, so if her husband did things more slowly than her, it was his responsibility, not hers, so she didn't mind. She said she was also more patient with him then, not snapping at him as much.

The author asked her how he behaved differently towards her when she was more patient, and she said he was nicer, and they spent more time together. She said they'd become so busy recently that they just had time to work and take care of the children. She said they never went out as a couple anymore. Occasionally, he went out with friends, and that made her angry, because she thought that if he had spare time, he should be spending it with her. She said that during peaceful times, she didn't show irritation about the little things. The author asked her how she managed that, and she said they lived on a farm, and she'd go and work with the animals for a while and that calmed her down. She said that recently, she hadn't been doing that. Instead, she showed irritation over every little annoyance.

She said that another thing that was different about the good times was that she talked to her husband much more about how much she loved him, whereas recently, she was always nasty.

By the end of the counselling session, the woman had decided what to do to change the relationship, based on what had worked in the past:

  • She and her husband would divide up their responsibilities at work again;
  • they would spend more time together as a couple;
  • she'd be more patient with him;
  • she'd ignore minor irritations;
  • she'd go and do something to take a break to calm herself down when she felt annoyed;
  • and she'd talk to him more about her loving feelings towards him.

Taking Action

The author says that couples often tell her that they know that they get on best when they spend more time together, but when things aren't going well, they're just not in the mood to do that. But she says that the quickest way to change what they think and how they feel about life is to actually do something differently. She says that after people have changed things by taking an action to change them, their perspective on things changes and so their feelings are different. She says taking an action's much better than just sitting around hoping your attitude will change. So she says that even when people don't feel like it, or it feels difficult, or artificial or unnatural, once they've worked out what has worked for their marriage in the past, they should do it, soon.

She says that sometimes, people don't do what they know will improve their marriage because they feel self-righteous. She says she knew a man whose wife was very jealous, and she always became angry with him when he went out with his friends. The author asked him if there were times when she hadn't been angry, and he thought for a little while and then said that she didn't get angry if he phoned her first to tell her where he was going and when he'd be back. The author said that was good, because now he knew what to do to stop her getting angry with him about it. But he said that although he knew that ringing her would work, he didn't see why he should have to.

The author says she's amazed by how many people could make big changes in their lives by taking very simple actions, and yet it seems they'd prefer to hold on to their own pride in their sense of being right than they would to prevent arguments and bad feeling. So she recommends people do what they know will work, even if they think it seems unfair that they should have to, because it'll make their lives a lot happier.

She recommends that people think back to when times were good in their marriage, such as when they and their husband or wife felt more compatible, when they argued less, and were more loving and intimate, and they should ask themselves what was different about those times and think through how they could recreate parts of them. She suggests a number of questions that could help people do that:

She says if there are things that were different which would be impossible to do in the same way again, she recommends people ask themselves, "What needs of ours did those things meet?" Then they should ask themselves what else they could do that might meet the same needs.

She says that apart from helping people improve their marriages by thinking through what worked in the past so they can do it again, thinking about the good times will make them feel better, and give them more confidence by boosting their faith in their abilities to solve their problems. Focusing on problems will just get them down. But focusing on solutions will give them more optimism, and whatever a person focuses on becomes a bigger influence in their lives.

Behaving as if Good Things are Anticipated

The author says that one thing that causes a lot of problems in marriages is when people predict that something bad is likely to happen, and so they behave as if it will, and their negative behaviour makes it more likely to happen. For instance, if a wife's convinced that her husband will lose his temper when her parents come round, she might behave in a grumpy way with him that'll put him in a bad mood and make him more likely to lose his temper with them because he's in a bad mood already. So the author says it can be good if people can ask themselves how they'd behave if they were sure things were going to go really well, and then behave in that way, as if they're expecting things to go well, or expecting their partner to be loving, or whatever. Then, they should watch what happens.

She says that one of the times she did that herself was after a five-day conference she'd been to, when her husband had been at home looking after their children. She says she was nervous about how he'd behave when he met her at the airport, because he'd been sounding colder and colder towards her on the phone over the week because he didn't like having all the responsibility of looking after the children and being alone. She didn't think he'd be happy to see her, so she thought she'd approach him cautiously and wait to see how he was feeling towards her before she said much, and she wouldn't say anything about how much she'd enjoyed herself.

The person sitting next to her was also a therapist. The author confided in her, and she asked the author how she'd behave if she was expecting her husband to be pleased to see her. She said she'd behave very differently, getting off the plane as if she was excited to see him, throwing her arms around him and kissing him, telling him something about the conference and asking how he'd been.

She asks her readers to think about how he might have behaved differently according to which way she'd greeted him.

She says she decided to behave as if he'd be pleased to see her, even though she wasn't certain he would be. So she did the things she'd thought she'd do if she was expecting a happy reunion, and she was soon sure she'd made the right decision, because he was delighted to see her and they had a great drive home together.

So she recommends that when people find themselves thinking things will probably turn out badly, they stop themselves for a minute and think:

She says then, even though the person thinking about this technique might be doubtful that things will turn out well, they should do all the things they would do if they were convinced things were going to go well, and see what happens.

Doing Something Different

The author says that most of the time, people have routines that they go through without even thinking about it, like doing everything in the same order when they get up in the morning, taking the same route to work and so on. She says that's a good thing to a certain extent, because it conserves energy, since it stops people having to spend time thinking about what to do next. But when it comes to marital problems, it can lead to disaster, since doing things that antagonise a partner in the same way all the time can just ruin the relationship. For instance, people might argue in the same way about the same thing at the same time every day.

So she suggests people get the relationship out of its routines by doing something different. This can start a chain reaction of different behaviour that ends up with everyone enjoying themselves more.

She gives a few examples.

She says there was a woman who thought that every time her husband was quiet, he must be angry or upset with her. So she would always ask him what was wrong. He would say nothing was wrong, but she would say she was sure there must be something wrong. He'd deny it and tell her to stop asking the question, but she would insist there must be something wrong, until he exploded angrily, and their day would be ruined.

One day, she decided to do something different. They were just about to get in the car when she noticed he was quiet. She asked what was wrong, but when he said nothing was, she didn't press the matter further, but turned the radio on and began to sing to the music.

A few minutes later, he asked if she minded if he turned it down because he wanted to discuss his feelings about something that had happened earlier. They discussed things, and it was the first time ever in their marriage that he'd shared his concerns with her voluntarily. So the change in her produced a change in him.

The author gives another example, of a husband and wife who argued about money every Friday night when they came in from work. Because they started off the weekend badly, it was always miserable. It had been for months. But one day, the man decided to do something different in the hope of having a good weekend for a change. So when Friday night came around and his wife started the usual conversation about money, he said, "I'd like to talk to you about this, but I'd prefer to wait till Sunday. Will that be allright with you?" She was surprised by what he said, and said it would be allright.

They went out for dinner on Friday night, and for the first time in months, really enjoyed themselves as a couple. On Saturday, they went shopping together and again enjoyed themselves. By Sunday, they were feeling better about each other than they had for a long time. That might be the reason why when the wife brought up the subject of money on Sunday night, they managed to settle the disagreement instead of having the same old argument.

So what had started out as a simple change in the time they had their argument had brought them closer together.

The author says someone else wrote her a letter about how doing something different had improved his marriage. He said he had often had arguments with his wife, but one day, he suggested to his wife that they should make a rule that in future, every time they argued, they would have to take all their clothes off. He thought that would stop them arguing in public or when it was cold, so it would cut down the number of arguments they had. Since all their children had left home, she agreed.

An argument started and he decided to try it. So while making serious points, getting into the argument, he took all his clothes off one by one and threw them on the floor. She was surprised when he started, but then she started laughing when he didn't stop. She laughed more and more. He laughed as well while continuing to put his side of the argument. They soon found they totally agreed with each other!

In the following days, they kept laughing about the incident, and his wife said she was sure she'd never be able to keep a straight face in an argument again.

The author suggests people think about each thing that isn't going right in the marriage where they're still continuing to do the same thing as they always have, and think about what they could do differently. She gives some examples:

She says it helps to do something completely out of the ordinary.

She recommends that with each behaviour where doing more of the same thing just leads to more conflict so doing something different would be a good idea, people should draw up a list of specific things they could do differently. She gives the example of what someone could do differently if they're suspicious of their spouse's absences from home and so they always interrogate them when they get back. They could, for instance:

Using Humour

She says that if anyone has difficulty deciding what they could do differently to surprise their spouse and break a routine, they could perhaps use humour. She says humour can often relieve tension so couples start getting on better. She says a friend of hers said her husband said something really funny once in the middle of an argument but she absolutely refused to laugh, in case he thought he'd won; but that that can be counterproductive, because humour can make marriages run a lot more smoothly.

The author gives an example from her own marriage, saying she was irritated about something that came through the post one weekend from the golf club she and her husband were both in, which had the men listed as members and the women's names in brackets. She objected. Her husband thought she was making a big deal over a triviality. They were arguing about it, and the argument grew out of proportion to the seriousness of the issue. Her husband walked out the door and went upstairs. She was tempted to follow him and defend her position on the matter, but realised it was only a trivial thing and it could ruin the morning if she did, because he'd just get angrier. So instead, she wrote him a little note and went upstairs with it.

He was lying on the bed and refused to make eye contact with her when she came in because he was expecting her to argue. She handed him a note that said,

"I love you.

He tried not to laugh, but couldn't help himself. He chuckled, and she laughed. He laughed louder, and then they hugged and went downstairs again to carry on enjoying their breakfast.

Being Inventive About Communication

The author says there are many different ways to communicate besides talking face to face. She says an increasing number of couples communicate via email to make peace and find solutions to problems when talking hasn't worked. Some couples communicate best by phone. And writing heartfelt letters can sometimes work. So if talking face-to-face hasn't worked, it doesn't mean there's no hope.

She says there was a woman who'd been begging her husband for months to tell her when he was going to be late home from work or out of town for a while so she could make her own plans. He never did, and they often argued about it. One day, she decided to try something new, and put a calendar with a pen on the kitchen counter with a little note suggesting he write what his plans were for the next week. She was surprised to discover later that he'd marked his schedule for the next three months.

The author says there was another woman who unwittingly hurt her husband's feelings. She tried apologising, but he wasn't ready to forgive her. She left him to sulk for a day or two to see if he got over it, but he didn't. She tried talking some more, but it still didn't work. So one morning, just before he had his shower, she wrote "I love you and I am very sorry" on the shower wall with her lipstick. Then she put some lipstick on herself and kissed the wall several times so there would be lots of kiss shapes on it. Then, she waited to see what happened.

He had his shave, and then he went into the shower. At the time he turned the water on, she heard him laughing. That solved the problem.

The author says there was a man who was concerned about his wife's drinking. His mother had been an alcoholic and he feared his wife was going the same way. He had told her for years that he was worried about her health and concerned about the example she was setting for the children. But whenever he expressed his concerns, she started arguing with him.

One day, just before he went out of town for a while, he wrote her a heartfelt letter expressing his worries and telling her he was scared of losing her and how much he loved her. He left it for her.

He expected her to be very angry with him when he came back, but instead, she met him with tears in her eyes, saying she'd come to realise she had a drinking problem and needed to change, telling him she was willing to speak to an addictions counsellor. She said that what had made the difference was that although the things he'd said in the letter were similar to things he'd said to her before in person, because she read the letter in his absence, she hadn't felt compelled to be defensive or react in any way, so it gave her time to think, and she'd been deeply affected.

Communicating with Actions, Not Words

The author says that sometimes, nothing a wife says will get through to her husband no matter how she says it, because men tend to be more action-orientated and less verbally-orientated than women, so they can feel overloaded with words sometimes so nothing else goes in. But both men and women could benefit if their spouses try communicating in another way. The technique involves stopping trying to express feelings and other concerns verbally, and just taking action instead. So it would mean no letters, no emails, no phone conversations or anything.

The author says she was once interviewed on the radio by a husband and wife team, and the wife asked in a joky way what she'd have to do to persuade her husband to mend their porch steps. But then she came up with her own idea, to stop nagging him and start doing the job herself, at which point he'd grab the tools and take over, because he'd think she was doing it wrong. She said doing that kind of thing always worked.

She did try it with the porch steps, and it worked as well.

The author says another woman had asked and sometimes even begged her husband for years to go out with her at weekends. Her friends all went out and she was unhappy that her life wasn't as entertaining as theirs. One day, she started going out with friends or on her own at weekends regardless of the fact that her husband stayed at home.

After a little while, he became curious and decided he didn't like being at home on his own at weekends, and one day asked if he could join her on a trip to the city's art museum one weekend. They did go there together, and had a great time, and afterwards, they didn't go straight home but went to a new restaurant. They really enjoyed themselves.

After that, the wife carried on going out at weekends, and about half the time, he asked if he could join her. She was really pleased.

Letting Some Things Sort Themselves Out

The author says that sometimes, the more efforts one person makes to run things smoothly, the less efforts the other person will make. For instance, if one person always does the washing up, the other one might not even think about it. Or if one person always remembers family birthdays, the other one won't think they have to. If one person always makes efforts to solve the problems in the marriage, the other person may feel they don't have to bother. So sometimes, it can be best to give the other person the challenge of deciding what to do themselves.

The author says she used to always intervene in a situation she didn't like, even though it backfired every time. She says she didn't like the way her husband disciplined their young teenage daughter, because she thought he was too harsh with her. So she would always intervene to try to soften things for her daughter and reassure her. But this made her husband angrier, and after saying something angry to her, he'd say something even more angry to their daughter.

This had been going on for years, and still she hadn't changed her ways. She did what she did because she wanted her daughter to feel good about herself, and she wanted her daughter and husband to have a more loving relationship. But one day she realised that what she was doing was causing the exact opposite to happen. So she decided to stop intervening.

The first time she did so was one day when she was away from home doing a seminar, and her daughter phoned her up and said her dad had been saying nasty things to her. She told her to go and get him because she wanted to speak to him. But while she waited for him to pick up the phone, she remembered she'd decided to do things differently. So when he came on the phone, expecting her to give him a lecture, she just said she wanted to say goodnight to him. They said goodnight and put the phone down.

The next day, she discovered her husband had come home early from work. He told her he felt really bad about the things he'd said to their daughter the day before, so he'd decided to buy her some flowers, pick her up from school and take her out for dinner.

The author says that wouldn't have happened if she'd done the usual thing and been angry with him. He'd have just become angry with her and more angry with their daughter. But since she hadn't expressed anger towards him, he had the opportunity to reflect on his behaviour, and he realised he didn't like it.

She was so impressed with the change that she rarely intervened in arguments again, and her daughter and husband eventually became very close.

She advises people who are always taking responsibility for solving problems in the marriage that it might have a positive effect on their partner if they stand back for a while and give them the opportunity to notice things are different and take more responsibility themselves.

Behaving in a Dramatically Different Way From Usual

The author says that sometimes, if what people have been doing hasn't been working, doing the exact opposite might, even if it seems unlikely.

She gives the example of a woman who liked peace in her home, but had a husband who got angry easily. The more she tried to calm him down and reassure him, the more angry he would get. But one day, her husband was trying to work on a computer task and started complaining loudly about how unfair it was that he'd been asked to do it by his boss since he hadn't had any training and he didn't know how he was supposed to do it. She walked into the room, banged her fist on the table and shouted something like, "Yes! How can your boss possibly have expected you to know how to do this! You weren't at the training. Of course you're not going to know what to do! Now you're just going to get angrier and our whole evening will be ruined, and it's his fault!"

There was a dead silence for a little while, and then he composed himself and said, "Will you settle down, please? I know I can figure this stuff out if you just give me a little more time. Relax." It was difficult to know who was more surprised.

The author says someone else was upset that his wife seemed to have lost interest in their marriage. She seemed to want to leave, and he was very upset. To try to convince her to stay, he did everything he could think of to please her. He did all the housework, took most of the responsibility for looking after their children, and encouraged her to go out with her friends or to do other enjoyable things without him or the family whenever she wanted. When she was at home, he was very cautious about what he said and how he behaved for fear he'd make her angry. He didn't like being that way, but he was scared that if he made a wrong move, she'd just leave.

His wife behaved as if she just didn't notice him. He was hoping she'd start appreciating the changes he'd made in himself, but she never acknowledged them. In fact, the nicer he was, the crueller she seemed to be to him.

But one evening she told him she was going to the gym and should be back by half nine. He accepted that, even though he'd have preferred it if she stayed at home with the family. But she didn't come home when she said she would, and after an hour or two, he began to get angry. It was well after midnight when she finally came home, and he was so angry by then that he forgot to be cautious and told her just what he thought, telling her she'd been irresponsible and how fed up he was that she'd been really inconsiderate for months. He said he was tired of being nice, and so fed up that if she wanted to leave, she should just go.

he expected her to become angry and threaten to leave, but instead, she was surprised and just sat and listened. Then she asked if they could talk about things more calmly, and apologised for staying out so late. He almost didn't hear her apology because he was so engrossed in telling her what he thought. It was the first nice thing she'd said to him in months. But then, instead of calming down and accepting the apology, he said, "That's right! You should have called", and abruptly went to bed.

In the days following, he remembered that she had often said in the past that what she loved about him was his strength and manliness and ability to be decisive. He realised he'd turned into a different person, and the qualities she'd admired in him before were gone. So he decided to be his old self again, even if he did risk losing her. And she found him much more appealing that way.

The author says that sometimes, doing dramatically different things can seem illogical and even dangerous. For instance, if she'd advised the husband in therapy to take a strong stand with his wife, he'd have been sure it wouldn't work. But she says that people who try it can always change again if it doesn't work. And the worst thing they can do is to do more of what they know doesn't work.

What to Do as a Last Resort

The author recommends people do what she calls the "last-resort technique" if they feel sure their spouse is leaving, if he or she has told them in no uncertain terms that he/she wants a divorce and it wasn't just said in the heat of an argument, if he or she has actually filed for divorce, or if the couple are separated physically, or they're still together but have very little to do with each other, perhaps sleeping in different rooms and hardly communicating.

She says that though the "last-resort technique" won't always work, it works often enough to be well worth trying, and she's had many letters, emails and phone calls from people saying it did work.

She says that usually, when a marriage is on the brink of divorce, one partner wants the divorce while the other one is desperate to stay in the marriage, doing everything they can think of to make their partner stay, pleading, reasoning and begging. They might send heartfelt letters and emails pleading for sympathy, and phone there partner often. They might even make suicide threats. But the author says the desperate spouse will often be driving their partner further away, because all that pleading and begging and reasoning etc. will feel like pressure, and the more the partner who wants to stay in the marriage pursues the other, the more pressure the other one will feel under, so they're likely to insist more strongly that the marriage is over, and then the pursuing partner will step up their behaviour more, and the other partner will get even more fed up and be even more likely to leave.

She says it's human nature to want to hold on to things that are precious that seem to be disappearing, and the spouse who wants to stay in the marriage is bound to be very upset; but it's also human nature to want to escape from situations where you feel under pressure. So the spouse doing the pursuing has to stop at once, even though it might seem illogical. While they're making desperate efforts to keep the other partner in the marriage, they'll be making the partner who wants a divorce focus all their attention on the pressure they feel under and the faults of their partner rather than on any concerns about the failing marriage that they still have. If the partner who wants the divorce or separation is angry, they'll have no room to feel any grief, guilt, remorse, sadness, or anything else about the failing marriage that might make them more sympathetic. They'll be so preoccupied with annoyance that they won't have time to reflect on whether divorce is really what they want, or whether they could have contributed to the marital problems and might be willing to change.

The author says she knows it's very difficult to stop pursuing a partner who's leaving, but there are things people can do that often work much better.

She says the last resort technique basically involves behaving in a way that will seem attractive to a spouse who's lost enthusiasm for the marriage, in order that they will hopefully become enthusiastic about it again. That will often be completely opposite to the way the one who's really upset about the failing marriage will have behaved recently while they were so miserable about the marriage break-up. She says it's natural to feel miserable and mope around at a time like that, but much as it might seem difficult, attracting a partner back may involve completely opposite behaviour, like going out and enjoying yourself so you're cheerful around them and have interesting news.

She says one person who tried the "last resort technique" wrote to her saying how it had turned her partner's attitude around. She said they'd separated four weeks earlier, and that begging and arguing with her husband clearly hadn't worked. He told her to find someone else and moved in with a woman he'd been seeing for a year.

She decided to act as if she was just getting on with her life, and went out dancing three days in a row. She said she had her ego boosted by the compliments she received from men who danced with her and offered her dates.

Dancing was part of the business she shared with her husband, and she had to see her husband as part of their work. When he asked how her weekend had been, she told him. She said she was probably glowing. Something in him seemed to change, and that evening, he phoned up and agreed to come over and talk the following day.

He moved back in soon after that. She said they did more talking after that than they had in the past year. They talked about how the problems arose but didn't blame each other. They talked about how they could improve things in the future. They decided she'd drastically reduce the number of hours she worked at their second shop so they could be together more, so they could rediscover the fun they used to have together. She said they'd resolved never again to let the pressures of life fool them into believing anything was more important than the people they loved.

The author points out that the last resort technique didn't cure the problems in their marriage, and it isn't designed to. It's simply designed to put a halt to behaviour that isn't working. If it changes the partner's attitude, that will be the time for the couple to start trying to resolve their problems, either by themselves or in therapy.

The author says there are a few steps involved in the last-resort technique:

She says first, people should give up any behaviour their spouse might consider to be chasing behaviour, such as:

She says it's also important to stop saying, "I love you", even though it will most likely be difficult. But she says the problem with saying that is that it will remind the spouse that they don't currently feel the same way. It will also be discouraging, since they won't respond with loving feeling.

She says it's perfectly normal and natural for people to get clingy and depressed when they fear they're about to lose someone, perhaps crying a lot and losing interest in things. The trouble is that it isn't attractive to spouses thinking of leaving. In fact, it may put them off the marriage even more, especially if the one in misery is competing with an unrealistic fantasy they might have of a life without problems once they've left the marriage, or an idealised day-dream of enjoying being with another woman. So it's important that spouses who fear their partners are about to leave or whose partners have left start behaving as if they're moving on with life, becoming cheerful and outgoing.

She says that may be difficult to do, but it's possible when people consider that they're behaving differently to the way they normally would now in their depressed state because they're so upset, so it's as if they're not really themselves; but they know they can behave differently, because they did before the problems came. They'll know they can be more confident and strong. If they think through what it was that made their partners fall in love with them in the first place, then they'll have a model of how to behave now. So they won't be putting on an act, but just behaving more like their true selves. They'll have been behaving out of character while they've been so upset. So they need to resurrect who they really are as a person, the person their partner was attracted to in the first place.

So they need to start being more cheerful in their partner's presence, giving the impression they're pleased with themselves and their lives. If they have phone conversations, they should sound content or even lively. They shouldn't wait around hoping their spouses will call, but should go out with friends, find new hobbies, keeping busy and less predictable. They should start doing things differently. If they usually try to engage their partners in conversation when they phone or come round, they could keep much quieter. Those who tend to question their spouse about where they've been and who with should stop, simply wishing their partner a good time. People should basically give the impression they've decided to pick themselves up and move on with or without their partner. That doesn't mean they should be angry or cold, but just that they should stop putting pressure on their partner, appear more attractive, and see if their spouse realises what they'll be missing out on if they leave.

She says another benefit of getting a better life is that it will improve the mental health of anyone doing it, regardless of whether or not their spouse does come back to them. So people should put their minds to thinking of ways they could get more involved with life again and do things to please themselves, like going out to places they used to enjoy going to, taking a class where they'll learn something that interests them, contacting old friends, looking at the beauty of nature, reading good books, visiting family members, or anything they know they'd enjoy. It's important for people's well-being that they take care of themselves.

She says the last-resort technique won't always work, but even if it doesn't bring the spouse who's lost enthusiasm for the marriage back, it will increase the self-esteem of the person putting it into operation.

If Things Begin to Improve

She says that if it does work, it might take time before the partner who thought of getting a divorce becomes really committed to the marriage again, and the marriage might need a lot of working on.

She says the spouse who lost interest in the marriage might start to be curious about the life changes the other one's made, and may start asking a lot of questions about them and even requesting the two meet together. But the other one should be loving, but they shouldn't get too excited by this or enthusiastic, or the spouse who wanted the separation might start to feel pressured again and back off. The partner trying to save the marriage should accept some invitations to spend time with the other one, but not all. A few other things that might be good ideas would include:

She says that if a partner's excited by their spouse's renewed interest in them and the marriage, they could share their joy about it with friends, but not with their spouse.

They can feel free to start becoming more enthusiastic around their spouse once they feel absolutely sure their spouse has made a new commitment to saving the marriage. Then, they can try discussing the future. If the spouse who lost interest seems willing to discuss the future with them, they can start to discuss why they drifted apart and what to do in the future to prevent it happening again. But if the spouse seems reluctant, then the other one should go back to being interested in them but distant.

It might take some time for things to start looking more positive, but if the spouse who wanted to separate is showing some interest, it at least means there's hope, even if it takes weeks or even several months for the interest to grow. The spouse who's waiting for it to grow might be tempted to become impatient, but it's important to stay patient to keep the partner's interest. The task of enticing them back is the important thing.

The author says it's unlikely, but it can happen that making the life changes can entice the partner back quickly. They might want to come back and behave as if nothing happened. But she says that if they do, it's important that the two of them don't actually behave as if nothing happened, but that they address the problems that drove them apart. Otherwise, the partner who lost interest in the marriage will get disillusioned again at some point and lose interest again.

She recommends that people are cautious about getting back into their marriage. For instance, they shouldn't spend every minute together if they've previously been emotionally far from each other, and they should keep their separate interests going. They should take things slowly. Otherwise, if things are too much like they were before, the spouse who got fed up of the marriage will get fed up of it again.

She recommends that people could take a course in marriage enrichment/relationship skills. She says many churches, colleges and mental health centres do good ones.

Watching What Happens Afterwards

The author says it's important that the person trying to attract their husband or wife back keeps looking out to see if the new things they're doing are having an effect on their husband or wife.

She says that although changes can happen fast, it's more usual for them to be gradual. She says the length of time it will take to get the marriage good again will depend on several things:

She says it's absolutely necessary to be patient while things are changing, since it might take weeks or months, much longer than hoped for. And the progress might not be smooth. There might be good days that fill spouses with optimism, but then bad days that disappoint. Or good weeks and then bad weeks. But it's important to remember on the bad days that a good day might be just around the corner, and not to start feeling self-pitying or discouraged.

She says that sometimes, a spouse who's made a recent new commitment to the marriage might be suspicious of the other one's changes, thinking they're just putting on an act to win him or her back. She advises that if a partner asks that question, the other one shouldn't be defensive or anything. They can just be reassuring that they can understand why the other one thinks that, but that the changes are for real and they intend to keep them up whether or not the marriage lasts. The other spouse should become more confident about that as

the spouse who's changed keeps up their new behaviour.

She says that the important thing is that the one who's made changes can be confident that at least they're making efforts to save the marriage. So that can be comforting, even if there's some way to go.

She says people can tell whether what they're doing's improving things if they look back at the goals they wrote for how they would know things were improving and see if any of them are being met. Even if it's something as simple as going a whole day without an argument, when that happens, the person who wrote the goals can be confident they're doing something that works.

The author says it's important to remember that progress might be very gradual. For instance, a marriage is unlikely to go from distant to passionate over night. But every tiny step forward can be a sign of encouragement.

She says that on the other hand, if a partner responds negatively to something, even if it's something the book recommends, it may mean it isn't working for that couple, so the one using it should stop doing it and try something else.

But she says an angry reaction won't always be a bad sign; sometimes, people can react angrily at first, for instance if their partner's been very careful about what they said in the past but then tells them everything they're thinking; but then in the following days, they can start to be kinder, as if they've got the message. So sometimes, it can be best to wait a few days to see whether things are improving afterwards.

But then, she says people should be cautious when trying out new approaches to see how well they're working before they try them out a lot.

She says that if a change is working to improve things, small positive changes should be seen within a week or two. She says it's unlikely that anything major will happen in that time, but people might notice a bit more friendliness from their spouse, less argumentativeness, a few more thoughtful little actions, a greater willingness to engage in conversation, some signs of interest occasionally, and other such things.

She says if nothing like that has happened within two weeks, there might be no harm in carrying on with the method, since change might happen soon. But if things seem to be getting worse at all, then it might well be a sign that the person needs to change to another method.

She says someone told her she'd been separated from her husband for ten months, and she decided she couldn't stand it anymore, so she'd file for a divorce to see if it made him think. But she told him all about how much psychological pain she was in because of the divorce and because they weren't together, and he interpreted it as pleading, and said he'd been going to come home, but he just couldn't stand the idea of having to hear about all the misery, so he'd decided not to again. So she advised that people should be happy around their partners to make themselves seem like people they'll want to come home to. She advised that people work bad feelings off before meetings with their spouse, by doing physical exercise or whatever works best for them, so they can seem contented when they arrive.

Part Ten
Gaining Encouragement About Progress in Improving the Marriage

Don't let the fear of the time it will take to accomplish something stand in the way of your doing it. The time will pass anyway; we might just as well put that passing time to the best possible use.
--Earl Nightingale

The author says that after some time of working on gradually bringing more love, thoughtfulness and enthusiasm back into a marriage, it might be heartening for people to work out how far they've come compared to how things were when the marriage was at its worst, since progress might not seem much from day to day, and so it might be easy to forget how much progress there has been altogether, so it might be really encouraging to think through how much there has been since the start of efforts to work on the marriage. So she suggests questions people can ask themselves to help them reflect on how far they've come:

The author says people's answers to those questions will tell them whether they've accomplished their goals, improved things a bit but not to the point where they're satisfied, or whether nothing's changed. And they might prompt new ideas on what to do next.

If Things Are Progressing, But Not Enough Yet

The author says people should feel encouraged no matter how much progress they've made, even if it doesn't seem much. But if it doesn't, they can ask themselves as specifically as possible what would have to happen for significant progress to be made, before they ask themselves the list of questions about how high up their marriage is on the scale again in a few weeks or months. If they're finding it difficult to think of answers to the questions, there are things that might help them:

She recommends people think about that question about what would have to happen to move the marriage a half point up on the scale again. She says when she asks some people that question in therapy, they talk about what their husband or wife would have to do to move it up half a point, like saying he or she would have to be willing for them to spend more time together. She says that people who think their marriages would improve a bit if their spouse took an action should ask themselves what they would have to do themselves to make it more likely that their spouse would take that action. Loving behaviour will make a spouse feel more loving.

Then they could put the behaviour they think might make their spouse more loving into practice.

If the spouse who was considering divorce is amenable to change, the author says the one who's been working most to save the marriage can discuss what they'd like them to do more of with them. But she says it'll help if it's stated in terms of what action they could take, rather than being vague or negative like a complaint, and it will help if it's realistically achievable in the near future.

She says that sometimes, people say that it's their own behaviour that needs to change, like saying they need to keep their temper with the kids or to be more appreciative of their husband or wife. She says that people who think their own behaviour needs to change should plan how they could take concrete steps towards changing it that are achievable soon, and make sure they're specific and positively stated, so as to promote clear action. For instance, a person who just resolved not to lose their temper as much in the future might not manage to do it, because they might not have any idea about how to stop themselves getting so angry. So they would have to think of things they could do to stop themselves instead, that they knew they could achieve, and resolve to do those instead.

She says some people think that what would have to change is that they would have to feel more confident that the changes are lasting and not just a fluke. She says people who feel like that ought to ask themselves how much longer the changes would have to be going on for them to become confident they weren't just a fluke. She says that even when changes are genuine and long-lasting, it doesn't mean people won't have a bad day or week every now and then. It's natural for people to do that. So it's important for people to make a distinction between a bad day and the beginning of changes for the worse.

So people could ask themselves what would have to happen in order for something to seem like just a bad day and not a reversal of progress. Again, they should be as specific as possible.

She says people should rate the progress of their marriage weekly until they reach their goals, even if it takes quite a while. And they should write down all their successes in their solution journal, encourage themselves with every small success, and be patient for the rest.

If No Progress Has Been Made

She says that if no progress has been made, there are several reasons why that might be the case. She lists some of the most common:

Not Giving Methods Enough Time

She says one reason is that people haven't given a method enough time. If one method hasn't worked immediately, they go on to trying another one. And another. But sometimes, the methods will take a little while to work. So it's best to stick with one for at least a fortnight before moving on to another, unless it seems to actually be making things worse.

She says that if couples are separated, the methods might take even longer to show positive results, because the two of them will see less of each other so there will be less opportunity for putting them into action.

If the Methods Aren't Different Enough From the Norm

She says another reason methods might fail is that they aren't different enough from the way a person normally does things. She says some people tell her they've tried everything, but this is highly unlikely to be true. It usually turns out that they've tried many, many variations of the same technique and got the same results.

She gives an example, saying there was a woman who asked her husband nicely to change, and when he didn't, she pleaded, threatened and cried. Still nothing happened. Then she took a communication class where she learned to express herself more effectively. She did well in the class, but when she tried her new skills on her husband, he still responded in the same old way. She just didn't know what to do! She thought she'd tried everything. But really, all the techniques were quite similar. Her husband would describe them as her going on at him to change, no matter how she expressed herself.

The author says that people should think carefully about what they've been doing. Even if it isn't using words, it might be something where they think they've tried lots of different things, but really, they've just been using variations of the same technique.

She recommends people try something radically different from what they've done before, even if doing it seems a bit weird. She says people can give themselves permission to be creative, thinking back to see if they've had any zany ideas about what might work before but have held back from using them, and giving them a go.

Not Noticing Small Changes for the Better

She says another reason people might not think there have been any changes is because they just haven't been noticing the small signs of change. People can be longing so much for more love to be brought back into the marriage sometimes that they overlook little positive signs that things are moving in that direction. There may have been little signs of kindness which hold a promise of things to come, but they may have been missed. So people can feel discouraged.

Not Thinking Small Changes Matter

She says that some people notice the little steps that take place every so often in the right direction, but don't think anything of them because they think they're so small. But again, that can also lead to discouragement. Every little step should be appreciated, because it means things are moving in the right direction and it'll lead to others. For someone who wasn't interested in the marriage at all a while ago, even little changes in their behaviour should be considered signs of encouragement.

The author says some people don't want to feel excited about little steps forward in case things go wrong again and they feel let down. She says she understands that people might feel like that, but it's best to allow oneself to feel hope and encouragement at little steps, because a positive attitude can lead to more.

Only Using Methods Half-Heartedly

She says that sometimes, things won't have changed because the person trying the methods has been only half-hearted. Their spouse will notice they're not doing things wholeheartedly, so they might think they're just putting on an act and trying to manipulate them. So they'll respond negatively.

She says one reason people do things half-heartedly is because they don't feel comfortable doing them but they just feel as if they ought to. She says that if a method feels artificial to someone, they shouldn't use it but should choose something else instead.

She says another reason people can do things half-heartedly is that although they might not admit it to themselves, they're still blaming the other one for the marriage's problems and think they should change first. But that kind of attitude won't get the marriage anywhere. An attitude of blame will just make the partner even less pleased with the marriage and more likely to leave. But once a person starts looking to the future instead of feeling embittered about the past and starts changing themselves, it may well spark off changes in the other so they no longer behave in the way that upset the partner who changed first, and that's the main thing.

Falling Back Into Old Bad Habits

The author says another reason changes don't work is that the one initiating the changes accidentally falls back into their old ways again, so their partner lapses back into the same old routines as well. Then, they think it's the technique that doesn't work, when really, it isn't working because they're not really using it.

She gives an example, saying there was a couple who resolved to stick to a budget to stop their quarrels about money. This worked for some time and they were getting on really well. But they became complacent and didn't see the harm in the odd extravagance every now and then. They began to splash out on things more and more often, until they had money problems again and they were rowing as much as they had before. At first, they thought their budget couldn't be working. But then they realised they weren't sticking to it. So they changed back to how they were when they started using it, and started getting on much better again.

She says that if the partner most concerned about the marriage noticed improvements at all at any time, it must mean they were doing something right. So if the improvements have slowed or come to a halt, they should ask themselves what they aren't doing any more that they were doing before, and start doing it again.

The Other One Isn't Motivated to Improve the Marriage

She says that one reason things don't change is because the other partner's having an emotional or physical affair with someone else, so they aren't motivated to bother with the marriage, even though they know their partner's changing. This can be difficult, but not impossible. She says there are things people can do, such as making themselves as attractive as possible to a husband or wife by following the advice about the "last resort technique". And she says that most affairs end within six months.

If There is Genuinely No Hope for the Marriage

She says that another reason things don't work, and the most difficult to cope with, is that when the other person said the marriage was over, they really meant it. There was no room for uncertainty in their minds.

She says that when people say a marriage is over, it can sometimes be difficult to know if they can be made willing to try again or whether they've made a very firm decision. The author advises that people who aren't sure act as if they think the marriage still has possibilities, telling themselves that it might, but that things might just take longer than expected to work out. So they should do all the things they'd do if they expected an eventual positive outcome.

The author advises that people don't let themselves be convinced by anyone, whether friends, lawyers, therapists or whoever, that they need to move on with their life without their husband or wife, if that's not what they want to do. They shouldn't stop trying to improve their marriage until they're absolutely convinced there's no hope, or until they just can't stand the emotional pain of rejection any more and they can't think of anything else they can do.

She says that if and when people finally do decide there's no hope, they'll probably go through a painful period of mourning, grieving for the death of the relationship and the dream they had. They should accept the pain as natural, but while they're mourning, they should still think to a certain extent about what they can do to make life more pleasant for themselves, doing nice things, spending times with loved ones, and doing things that are productive. She says it might be difficult to believe, but people do find happiness again. People who finally concede that divorce is the only option they're left with can find happiness again, develop new interests, find new enjoyment of life with new partners and work things out as best they can with children.

Part Eleven
Continuing to Make Efforts to Keep the Marriage Healthy

The author/therapist says it's very important not to take positive changes in a marriage for granted, but to make sure they're kept going in the coming months and years. She says anyone who wants to review what positive changes have helped to make their marriage better and which ones to keep going can look back at their solution journal to see what's worked best and ask themselves questions like:

She says people who want to stay in love with their spouses have to keep doing loving things for them every day. They'll never get to the point when they can stop being thoughtful or caring.

She says that everyone has days when they fall back into old bad habits, perhaps shouting at their husband or wife angrily instead of thinking about what would be the best solution to a problem. But she says that when people fail, they shouldn't feel bad about themselves, because they can always get themselves back on track when they realise they're slipping back into old habits. She says the difference between winners and losers isn't the amount of failure each one has but the way they deal with it. Winners don't sit around brooding about it feeling sorry for themselves or guilty or holding grudges, but they just acknowledge they didn't do so well and resolve to get back into their new ways straightaway and go for it.

She says it doesn't matter who's at fault when things start to go a bit wrong; the important thing is that responsibility's taken for getting the marriage back on track. She urges people to remember that every day when a couple aren't getting on is a day lost from their lives. So even if the one trying to make the changes feels wronged, sulking or getting angry is really just wasting time.

Ideas for Making Up After Arguments

She says that just as couples tend to argue in the same way in the same place at the same time about the same things all the time, people tend to give out the same signs to signal that they're getting in the mood to make up all the time, or there are certain patterns that happen when they want to make up. For instance, some talk through what happened and resolve things; sometimes one apologises; sometimes one brings the other a cup of coffee without saying anything; one might touch the other lightly in passing; one might phone up from work for a chat; one might do little kind or loving things for the other; one might leave a little loving note, maybe one asking the other out to dinner; some couples who've been distancing themselves from each other might start sitting in the same room again watching television or something, and so on.

She says timing's another important thing; some people like to make sure they make up that day; some people prefer to wait till tempers have cooled and they're feeling more hospitable, because trying to make up before then will make things worse.

She says she used to have a big difference of opinion about the timing of resolving things with her husband when they were first married, until they learned to compromise. She says that in an argument, she used to like to argue on until they'd resolved things, whereas her husband liked to go and be alone to calm down and think things through for a while. She used to follow him and carry on talking, and he'd get more angry with her.

At first, she didn't think it was right that she should leave him alone, and he didn't think she was right to insist they talked things through then and there. She thought it was healthier to talk things through till they'd finished, and he thought it was healthier to take time out to think things through before continuing. At one time, they would argue about how they argued.

But after a while, they came to believe that neither of them was either right or wrong; it was just a matter of preferred styles of doing things. So they began to make allowances for each other. She became more willing to leave him alone, realising he'd be nicer to her if she did, and he realised that if he was nicer to her during an argument, she'd be less likely to follow him and want to resolve things right then. She discovered that if she left him alone, he was quite good at coming to see her and making up when he'd calmed down.

She says it doesn't feel natural to her to stop in the middle of an argument; in fact she hates it. And it isn't easy for him to start saying loving and understanding things in the middle of arguments. But they've both learned to do those things to keep the peace in their marriage, and it's worth it.

So she says it can be helpful if people can identify each other's preferred methods of cooling arguments down and making up, and make allowances for each other's preferred styles of doing things. Then, the home can become more peaceful. If people can identify their spouse's styles of making up, they can respond to them sooner to make friends again.

So she suggests several questions people can ask themselves to help them work out what they habitually do when they feel like starting to make friends with their spouse after an argument again, and what their spouse's are:

She says that once people have clarified in their minds what they usually do to make up, they can discuss the matter with their spouses, and then put the techniques into practice deliberately to speed up the making-up process.

She says she thinks the couples who have the most difficult time making up are those who are more concerned about who's in the right than about being close. She says it's not wise to get too bothered about always having to be the one who makes up first, since when people look for them, they're likely to see signs that actually, their partner is making moves towards making up. They might have never taken too much notice before, but even if their partner isn't specifically apologising or saying they want to make up, they might be doing a few helpful little things, or phoning up from work to talk about something they use as an excuse to have a chat, and so on. So she says people shouldn't let pride be a hindrance to getting more love in their lives.

She says the more people take steps to reconcile after arguments, the more they're setting an example for their husband or wife, and if they carry on, without feeling resentful, the likelihood is that their spouse will follow the behaviour and do it more themselves.

Avoiding Arguments by Planning Ways of Dealing With Problems Differently

She says that sometimes, arguments can be avoided altogether when people think about the next few weeks and ask if there are any difficult issues that are likely to crop up that need to be resolved, and what they are. She gives a few examples, saying that some couples might traditionally fight when they have house guests, or when one of them gets tense because they feel under pressure because they've got deadlines to meet at work, or one of them might be especially moody at certain times of the month or year and those times are just coming up.

She asks people to think through how they can handle the situations differently this time. She advises that people think through everything they've learned about changing their behaviour, and think of at least one thing they could say or do differently when the challenging situation arises, something that would be different enough that their spouse would take notice and perhaps act differently themselves. She advises that people make a note of what they plan to do, to remind themselves.

Keeping the Marriage on Track

She recommends that people ask themselves to identify signs that things are slipping back to the way they used to be, and plan what actions they could take to get things going in the right direction again.

She says the more practice people have at moving the marriage forward and getting things back on track after setbacks, the more confident they'll become that the changes are permanent and the love has been restored to the marriage. She says sometimes it takes time and patience before people get confident that that's happened, but it's worth persevering, and as people do, thinking in terms of working things out rather than getting bogged down in problems becomes more and more automatic.

Part Twelve
How Other People Have Saved Their Marriages Using the Techniques in a Previous Similar Book

The author illustrates how one half of a couple can get their marriage going again, using a couple of examples.

Steve and Judy

She says there was a man called Steve who thought he was almost the perfect husband. He worked hard to provide for the family, didn't drink and didn't stay out late. His wife Judy stayed at home looking after their three young children. They'd been close at the beginning of their marriage, but Steve realised they'd become less so. But he didn't think that was a problem, believing that his wife was content. So he was shocked when she one day told him she didn't feel happy in the marriage, because she felt unsupported by him and unloved, and was strongly considering divorce. She didn't even feel they were good friends any more.

He asked why she hadn't told him before if she was so unhappy, and she became angry and said she'd tried to get that through to him for years but he'd never seemed to pay attention. Then she left the room.

Things grew worse between them, and he realised he'd have to do something to save the marriage. So he put into practice the suggestions in this author's previous book.

The first thing he put into practice was the advice to stop playing the blame game. The author says he couldn't understand why Judy was so unhappy, because he was sure he'd been a good husband, so he became very angry sometimes. At other times, he was desperate to keep the marriage going. He felt like the victim. He thought Judy must have gone mad. But he realised he had to try to see things from her point of view, and find out why she'd been unhappy, or else risk her leaving. Even if he found her viewpoint hard to accept, he'd have to try to understand it and do more of what would please her.

Another thing he had to take on board was that he needed to take responsibility for working on the marriage, since she was losing interest. He didn't think it was fair that he should have to do all the work at first, and also he'd grown up assuming that both halves of a couple have to agree to working on a marriage before it can be improved. But he accepted the idea that one person can save a marriage on their own, and decided to work on it himself.

Then, he read about how he had to set concrete goals for himself. He had vague goals like, "I want my marriage to improve", but he needed to specify actions that would let him know things were improving, so he'd be able to monitor his progress and be encouraged when it happened. Also, he needed to break the aim to have his marriage improved down into little steps forward, little encouraging signs, some of which might appear in the next week or so to let him know things were moving in the right direction. So he decided he'd know things were improving in the marriage when:

  • Judy stopped bringing up divorce in conversation.
  • She spent more time with him.
  • She included him when she talked about the future.
  • They started having family dinners again.
  • She talked about the holiday they'd planned together.

Another one of the goals he'd thought of originally was that there wouldn't be any tension between him and Judy any more. He decided to follow the marriage saving programme and turn that goal from one that was stated negatively to one that was stated positively, and broke it down into little signs that he would actually be able to notice happening as they happened. He thought of them by asking himself the question,

"When there isn't any tension, what will be happening?"

He came up with a few ideas:

  • Judy would smile again.
  • She'd ask him how his day was.
  • She'd be willing to be in the same room as him.
  • She'd start a pleasant conversation with him.
  • She'd answer his questions with more than one word responses.

Another goal he had was that he'd like him and Judy to be happy together. Again, he realised that was too vague. He would need to break it down into little signs that it was happening, so he could be encouraged that progress was being made when they happened. So he chose some concrete signs that they'd be happier, after asking himself,

"When we're happier, what will we be doing differently?"

His answers were:

  • We'll get a baby-sitter once a week and go out as a couple.
  • We'll talk more.
  • We'll make love more often.
  • We'll laugh together like we used to years ago.

The next stage in the marriage programme recommended people ask their spouse for things they wanted. But he was sure his wife wouldn't be in the mood to do anything he wanted, so he decided to skip that step and go on to the next one.

The next one was to stop doing old behaviours that just caused trouble but that had become such a habit they kept happening. He was angry with his wife for wanting to end the marriage after so many years, but he realised that every time he expressed anger, he was making her more fed up with the marriage and making it more likely he'd lose her. So he decided that no matter how justified he felt in being angry, showing anger wasn't helping, so he'd have to change. So he decided that whenever he felt his anger growing, he'd go for a walk, or work on his car, or divert himself by phoning a friend, so he didn't alienate her by expressing anger towards her.

The trouble was that when he realised his anger wasn't persuading her to give the marriage another chance, he did something that was just as off-putting to her by becoming desperate. He would beg her to give their marriage another chance, often reminding her of their marriage vows and asking her to consider the children. He cried a lot. He bought her romantic cards and flowers. He tried to get her to remember the good times in their past. But nothing worked. In fact, it just made her more fed up with him. So he realised he'd have to stop pressuring her to stay in the marriage and trying to persuade her to change her mind, even though it was difficult. So then he considered what he could do instead.

Beginning to Make Positive Changes

He asked himself what was different about the times when they were getting on better in the marriage. He thought back to when they'd got on better, and realised they'd got on a lot better before the children were born. He wasn't going to start regretting having the children, but he thought about what they'd done differently before they'd had them. He realised they'd spent a lot more of their free time together. They'd talked more. They'd complimented each other more. They indulged their common interests. Since he was happier, he participated in the marriage more, doing more of the housework, visiting Judy's parents, and doing projects with her. He realised that over the years, he'd stopped really noticing her. He'd stopped complimenting her and spent much less time with her. And he left her to do the vast majority of the housework and childcare.

He realised he could start behaving the way he used to again. He started complimenting her on the way she looked. He did more housework and became more involved in the lives of the children. He started doing little things to please her like bringing her a cup of coffee in the morning. He realised he used to be more light-hearted; so although he really didn't feel like it, he made an extreme effort to be happier at home.

He didn't find it easy to make the changes, because he didn't get any reward for them at first. Judy either seemed not to notice, or she seemed even more put off. She didn't talk much, and kept her distance from him. The first time he brought her a cup of coffee, she asked him why on earth he was doing it. His feelings were hurt, but he didn't show it, and just said he felt like it.

However, then he realised that the rowing had stopped, and she was no longer bringing up the subject of divorce. So one of his goals had been achieved.

But he wasn't sure if it meant that what he was doing was beginning to work, or whether it was a fluke. So he thought he'd wait and see. But he did feel happier that the arguing had stopped.

More and More Encouraging Signs of Progress

By the third week, he did notice a small change in Judy. She was no longer avoiding him, but was content to be in the same room as him. They talked more. The conversations were about trivial things or about the children, but the fact that they were talking was an encouragement. He took to heart what the book said about how small changes matter, so he took them as a hopeful sign.

In the fourth week, he made what he realised was a mistake by asking her if she felt more ready to stay in the marriage now. She said she could tell he'd been trying, but she wasn't sure things would really change in the long term. He realised he'd fallen back into the old habits of pursuing her to stay in the marriage rather than enticing her to stay in it by changing. But though her answer discouraged him, once he'd realised he'd made the mistake, he went back to behaving in the new way again. He decided he wouldn't ask her what she thought of the idea of staying in the marriage again until he was sure he'd like the answer.

Steve kept up the changes in the following few weeks. He remained much more involved with the children and other things at home, and didn't ask for much in return. Sometimes he felt frustrated because Judy wasn't changing her attitude to him in a big way, but he kept his feelings to himself and went out for a while when he started to get bothered by them.

By the end of the eighth week, he felt sure her attitude to him was softening. There seemed to be a definite change.

About that time, she phoned him at work one day, something she hadn't done in months, and asked if they could go out to dinner, because she had something to tell him. After the phone call, he became worried, because he wasn't sure if she was going to give him good news or whether she'd tell him it was all over. But he remembered he shouldn't show desperation or get pushy, although it was difficult because he was so anxious. He remembered the recommendation in the book that people should act as if they're expecting the best, because their enthusiasm can be contagious. He asked himself how he'd behave if he was expecting the best. He felt sure he'd have a self-confident air, he'd dress well, he'd appear relaxed and happy, and he'd talk quite a bit, but allow her to lead the way in the important conversation. This was very different from the way he'd behave if he allowed his anxiety to take over. So he planned to behave as if he was confident.

He was pleased to hear at the dinner that she'd really appreciated his efforts to change and do more with the children. She said it meant a lot to her. But she said she was wary that the changes wouldn't last and things would go back to the way they'd been before. He was tempted to get defensive when she said that, because he was sure he wouldn't go back to the way he'd been before. But just before he opened his mouth, he asked himself the question the book recommends,

"Is what I'm about to do going to bring me closer to her or push me further away?"

He knew that protesting would push them further apart. So he told her he could understand her caution, but he intended to work to keep the changes up. He said it meant a lot to him that she was now showing she'd noticed his changes. He said it would help him keep them up if she continued to show that she had a positive attitude to them. She said she would.

She said she couldn't give him any guarantees that she'd stay in the marriage. She wanted to take one day at a time. He agreed to that.

The conversation was generally positive all evening, and he left feeling really happy. But he remembered not to show too much enthusiasm in case it made her feel under pressure to do what he wanted and the pressure put her off him. So he wrote his joyful feelings down instead.

Four weeks later, Steve decided to follow the book's suggestions in assessing the situation so far. He asked himself how satisfied he was with the marriage, on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being as good as it could be. He estimated his satisfaction to be 8 on the scale. He asked what the number was before he'd started changing, and he estimated it to be 2. So there'd been quite a bit of improvement. He asked himself whether he was as satisfied as he wanted to be, and thought he wasn't quite. He thought that if the number could move up to a 9, he would be. He asked himself what he'd have to do, or what would have to happen, to move it up a point or a half point, and he concluded that it would happen when they started making love again. She so far hadn't expressed any interest in being touched by him. It was difficult for him because he loved her and longed to be affectionate with her.

He decided that given that there had been a lot of positive changes in the marriage, he'd just have to be patient, because the likelihood was that it would happen in time, and if he pushed things, he might ruin things.

But after several more weeks of progress, she started to be more physical. She deliberately touched him on the shoulder several times in passing, and once hugged him after dinner. Several times, she kissed him goodbye. Then one day, she did express interest in making love. He was really happy.

Keeping the New Behaviours Going

He knew it would be important not to slip back into old ways, because he knew how much he valued his marriage now. So every few months after that, he looked at what he'd written down about how he'd turned his marriage around, and resolved to keep to the new behaviours. They did argue sometimes and relations between them sometimes got a bit strained, but he discovered that as long as they kept communicating and he stayed involved in her life and in the lives of the children, things never got too bad. They grew closer, and ended up happier than ever.

Carol and Dean

The author tells the story of a couple whose marriage took a year to heal, but in the end it was happier than ever. The wife had criticized and complained about the things her husband did that she didn't like all the time for years, but she got out of the habit and became more loving, and eventually, her husband responded and they became the best of friends after a while.

She'd been very discouraged at first, because she'd left a letter for him about how she finally realised she needed to change and intended to, and how much she loved him. But he didn't have any hope that things would change, and so he didn't take it seriously. And she slipped back into her old complaining ways and things got worse. But she realised she'd gone wrong, changed again, and persevered with the changes, till eventually, relations between them became better and better.

He'd been contemplating an affair at the beginning and refused to stop seeing the other woman. She realised she'd have to stop nagging him if she was going to make herself more attractive to him. She started focusing on doing things to increase her enjoyment of life, and in the process, she probably became more attractive to her husband. He realised he was still committed to the marriage and eventually cut off contact with the other woman to get temptation out of the way. They still argued sometimes after their marriage had improved significantly, but for the most part, they were very happy again.

Well, it's good to read about these things working. I think the book's given me some good new ideas.


This article is written slightly differently to most articles. It comes with a very short story about someone finding out information to help people improve their marriages - not a real person but a representative of others - and the article's presented as if it's what she's found out.

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The Story

The Way Things Are Before They Begin to Improve

Trying to think

Nicola is a trainee marriage counsellor, but she has become disillusioned with her course, because it focuses on encouraging people to express feelings and talk about problems rather than concentrating on looking for solutions, and she feels this could make marriages worse, especially if there's a lot of bad feeling around to start with that could just inflame matters if expressed more. Also, she worries that the course encourages people to think that personal happiness is more important than the welfare of the family group and that it can be achieved if people divorce after having tried a few things to improve their marriage and failed. She's convinced that divorce isn't usually the path to greater happiness. Having seen too many unhappy children of divorced parents for her liking, as well as people who divorced only to discover it didn't lead to happiness but caused even more problems than they had before, she looks for information that's more positive about the possibilities of saving marriages and that can give her some good new ideas.

She finds an optimistic self-help book, written by a therapist who's had years of experience counselling couples in danger of divorce, and reads it, hoping it will help.

It does, and she learns a lot of things that she and others find helpful.

The End

Note that if you choose to try out some or all of the recovery techniques described in this article, they may take practice before they begin to work.

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Literature Used in Creating This Article

The articles are written in such a way as to convey the impression that they are not written by an expert, so as to make it clear that the advice should not be followed without question.

The author has a qualification endorsed by the Institute of Psychiatry and has led a group for people recovering from anxiety disorders and done other such things; yet she is not an expert on people's problems, and has simply taken information from books and articles that do come from people more expert in the field.

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