Lynn and her husband, Dan, have been married for 20 years and their youngest son is leaving for college in the fall. Over the years, between busy careers and kids’ extracurricular activities, Lynn and Dan just kind of . . . drifted. But not drifting in a pleasant, easy-breezy way; they’re basically living separate lives far apart from each other—just under the same roof. The truth of the matter is that Lynn and Dan feel anything but easy-breezy in their relationship. She feels hurt, lonely and flat-out uncared for in her marriage. Dan feels disrespected, distant and disengaged.
Does this feel familiar? If you and your spouse are struggling—is there any hope for improving your marriage? One very important thing to remember is this: it’s not hopeless. If you’re like Lynn and Dan, most likely you still care about your spouse. And where there’s hope—where even one spouse wants a change—there can be change.
Here are 2 important steps you must take if you want to improve your struggling marriage:
Step #1: Make Time to Hang Out
Here’s the thing about avoiding your spouse: the more you do it, the easier it gets, and the harder it is to reconnect. Picture what happens when you’re in, say, a really fantastic small group from church, with really tight friends . . . and then one of the friends moves away. You can stay in touch and try to stay “as close as ever,” but it usually doesn’t work out that way. You’re still friends, but you don’t share the closeness you used to. Life—and distance—gets in the way. The same thing happens to a husband and wife who aren’t up-close and personal anymore.
It’s time to start making time to be with your spouse. One counselor I know suggests literally just making time for thirty minutes of hanging out and talking each day, with no arguing allowed. She says, “You can start fighting again thirty minutes later if you want but for that time simply don’t deal with the conflict stuff. Just be friends again.” Build your friendship and the feelings of closeness will follow.
In my research for The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages, I discovered something about what makes happy couples tick: 90% of the happy couples I surveyed said they spent quite a bit of time together. Hanging out (even if it means via email or text sometimes!) is one of those simple little things that fosters closeness and without which, closeness just doesn’t happen. The happiest couples don’t necessarily do extravagant date nights, they simply go shopping together, go for walks together, or even just sit and have coffee in the mornings before work while reading the newspaper and maybe mentioning here and there the things they’re reading. On the flip side of that, only 35% of the struggling couples I talked to said they hung out at least twice a week.
Step #2: Decide It’s Time To Hang Up the Hurt
But there’s a second truth to confront as well: dealing with your hurt in a healthy way is essential. You don’t deserve to feel hurt and disrespected and “building your friendship” might sound good in theory—but it is hard to be friends with someone who you feel doesn’t care about you.
So this is where you need to enlist help. From both a qualified counselor and positive, encouraging friends who will support not just you but your marriage. You need help and guidance because you’re confused. Because you don’t know the next steps. And because if you’re feeling hurt, it is highly likely your spouse is too. The stuff that hurts you looms large, and needs to be addressed—but have you thought through what looms large for them? Maybe you shutting down has hurt them deeply. Statistically, most husbands and wives intensely care about their spouse. They just don’t always know how to show it correctly. And because we’re all imperfect people, that most likely applies to your relationship as well.
All of which is why you need help. Sure, your spouse should be willing to go to counseling—but even if they won’t right now, you can. It is absolutely critical that you go to a counselor who is not only licensed and experienced, but one that is committed to helping to restore your marriage. And you need someone capable of guiding you through this, who can help you to see the best in each other again. (One way of doing that is called the 30-Day Kindness Challenge.)
It would be such a tragedy if two people like Lynn and Dan, who did care about each other, fell apart simply because both had been trying hard in the wrong areas and didn’t realize it or were hurting each other without really intending to. Both would be feeling hopeless. But there is hope. It will take work to restore your marriage, and you will need help doing it, but as you get to know your spouse all over again, you’ll realize that you can reconnect and you’ll see that it is well worth the effort.
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Shaunti Feldhahn loves sharing eye-opening information that helps people thrive in life and relationships. She herself started out with a Harvard graduate degree and Wall Street credentials but no clue about life. After an unexpected shift into relationship research for average people like her, she now is a popular speaker and author of best-selling books about men, women and relationships. (Including For Women Only, For Men Only, and the groundbreaking The Good News About Marriage).
Her newest book, The Kindness Challenge demonstrates that kindness is the answer to pretty much every life problem, and is sparking a much-needed movement of kindness across the country. Visit www.shaunti.com for more.