How to fix your unhappy marriage

Wedding ring and broken heart
I often think getting married is like getting a puppy at Christmas. You get a puppy. It goes perfectly with everything. It’s fun. It’s adorable. It’s new. Now, you may find at some point that you’ve had a change of heart. Or that you had no idea how much work was involved. Or you realized that the puppy does not stay a puppy for very long. And since you did get the puppy, you need to take care of it as long as it’s living in your home.
You married. You’re in so much trouble that you didn’t expect. You are absolutely sure that now your marriage looks completely unhappy.

Happy marriage is technology

When you got married, did you think about what you expected to get out of it?
Have you asked yourself, “What is the purpose of marrying this man?”
Yes, you were crazy about her or him, and love love love …
And now, after some time, you are trying to fix your unhappy marriage.
Try to honestly answer a few questions:
  • What specific roles do you play in your husband’s life, and he in yours?
  • What do you get in exchange for this?
  • What is the description of your marriage?

Marriage is hard.

Any long-term relationship between two partners is complex

Sustaining romantic love can be difficult.

Two main reasons for the unhappy marriage

Marriages and other serious relationships fail for two fundamental reasons.

  1. You don’t know what you want.
  2.  You can’t express what you want.

End of story. No, not the end of the story. An unhappy marriage gets more small things.

Common reasons for relationship failure

There are many common reasons for unhappy relationship:

  • You are being dishonest with yourself.
  • You are dishonest with your partner.
  • Expectations are not in vain.
  • Passivity or lack of gratitude.

The list of specific possible problems is long, but most of them fall into the above two main categories.

Healthy couples know how to disagree with each other

They’re not so worried about being right, or about being more right than their partner.
Being right is not the most important takeaway, and is often precisely the obstacle to resolution.
Even in healthier relationships, though, it can be deceptively easy to keep an internal scorecard.
 He leaves his socks everywhere – 1,
 He always finishes off the last of the milk – 1,
He is consistently fifteen minutes late 1.
And you don’t do anything like that -0.
So you’re up 3–0, right?
If things are truly solid, though, you’ll tell yourself that that’s bad math because he is (1) supportive, (2) monogamous, and (3) reliable … and one would think those three positives far outweigh the three negatives.

Narcissistic need to be right every single time!

Confirmation of your righting creeps in when you’re unhappy and primed to think that your partner’s always the cause. In most divorces, or marriages heading in the direction of divorce, there is all manner of scale-tipping, meaning little to no balance: balance of fault, balance of agency.
Or there’s a need to get even.
Or a desire for mutually assured destruction.

Create balance in your marriage

There’s a fairly easy way that you can apply in your own relationship, by doing the opposite.
It’s also fairly low-risk and easy to road-test without sacrificing much of anything. The next time your partner says, “I’m sorry I did ____________________________ [fill in the really stupid thing]”—and it was genuinely a stupid thing your partner did, like not listening to you or not giving credit to your perspective—instead of pointing out how very stupid it was, why not respond with “I’m sorry, too”—which, in my experience, nine times out of ten, will completely disarm your partner.
“Wait—you’re sorry?” he might say.
“Yes, I’m sorry for the way I handled it,” you’ll say.
“I’m sorry if I didn’t see that you were in a bad place. I’m sorry I didn’t realize what you needed from me in that moment and let the conversation go down the road it did.”
What you do with that kind of reaction—and what your partner should, ideally, do back—creates balance.
  • Balance of fault.
  • Balance of virtue.
  • Balance of investment in the relationship.

Remember, good relationships require deep compromise —yes, to the point that even an important value or two is sacrificed. It’s natural to want to win the argument, to want our individual perspective.

There’s the world we want to live in, and the world we live in.

Where do you make your home?
Does your unrealistic worldview fundamentally undermine the possibility of improving your relationship?
More specifically, do you live more in the World of Expectation and Hope than—for lack of a better term—the Real World?
If so, can that be changed?
It’s rare and tough, but ultimately necessary and liberating, to be honest about your situation, yourself, and the flawed clay we’re all made of. From my experience, well-meaning people don’t live in an unreal world because they’re delusional; they do it because they mean well. They want the best for everyone, including themselves.

Be honest about what you’re actually capable of doing.

In relationships, it’s important, to be honest with yourself about your real, actual capabilities.
You need to understand what you want; and balance it against what you’re entitled to.
There’s almost no limit to what people might want, while there are rather concrete limits to what they’re entitled to; thus, the former must ultimately be driven by the latter.
Try to “live in truth” when it comes to your targets.
But, try to avoid goals that are conclusions, that are destinations instead of steps to get there.

You declare “I want to be in a happy relationship.”

Okay. May I ask, “What does that mean?” I would want to clarify. “Can you try that again?”
You – “I want to be in a relationship where I have companionship during the most enjoyable times (to share the joy) and during the most difficult times (to give me support).”

A little bit better, though still not there. But you’ve described something at least a little more tangible.

Why wait until you’re getting divorced (or heading in that direction) to be honest with yourself about what you’re capable of in your relationship with your spouse and/or your children?

Why not look closely at certain key areas in your marriage and give yourself an unflinchingly honest progress report as to what you’re actually doing?

While you’re at it, maybe you can compare that totally candid report against an equally honest, tangible set of goals that aren’t made up of conclusory statements lacking in measurable meaning.

“I want to be more present in my marriage.”

What the hell does that mean? It’s a conclusion. It’s a destination, not a path to get there.

How about something more tangible, like “I want to stop checking my Facebook when my husband is talking to me” or “I want to do more activities on the weekends with my husband.” Those are two great examples of ways to be “more present” in your marriage, and they’re tangible and measurable.

“I want to feel closer to my spouse.”

Again—I know what you mean, but I have no idea how you could measure it and I’ll bet that, with five minutes of reflection, you could give me a list of tangible, clear, and measurable behaviors that would produce that desired effect: “I want to have mutually satisfying sex with my spouse at least twice per week.”I want to remember to compliment my spouse at least once per day and, ideally, to have him compliment me.” These are both behaviors that would likely result in “feeling closer” to your spouse.

Be honest with yourself, deeply and painfully honest.

Admit to yourself what you’re good at and what you’re not good at.
Admit to yourself how much time you have to devote to the goals you’re trying to achieve as a partner, and what you’re doing with that time.
Be honest about the aspects of partnership that you enjoy and the ones that you hate (or maybe could take or leave)
As hard as that is to read. Maybe you’re thinking it’s easy for me to write?

Start slow.
Rather than getting drunk and just blurting out that for the past three years you’ve been secretly thinking about something special in your bed, perhaps you might give more subtle signs of what you’re looking for. Louder moaning when they hit that area of your personal geography might be a good start.
Or ask your husband to touch you in a particular spot or way. If you’ve been craving some dirty talk, perhaps don’t launch into full-on porn dialogue, but test the waters with a few choice comments, and appropriate pauses to assess reactions. Do not wait until the heat of the moment.
It might seem as if mid-coitus is the best time to throw a new sexual idea into the repertoire,
but if you’ve been in a long sexual relationship,
chances are you’ve already got your partner’s sexual menu, whether it’s appetizer, entrée, or dessert.
Don’t make an unexpected move in the midst. Give your partner a heads-up that the restaurant is offering (or you’re hoping to order) some specials that evening.
Humans tend to be deliberate creatures—we like to know the weather a day before so we can plan accordingly how to dress, travel, and when to get going. If what your partner is about to learn is radical, give them the space to let it sink in. • Realize that there are worse things than going without. Suppose you show the courage to share your secret need—and your partner is simply not willing. Your partner is happy you feel safe enough to share this part of yourself, and remains just as committed to you—but gives a loving no to your sexual suggestion … What then? Now you have to assess how important that particular sexual expression is to your overall happiness. Is it fundamental and undeniable, or whimsical? Is it possible that the appeal of this unfulfilled need is simply born of curiosity or absence? Don’t we humans often fixate on the things we don’t have?

How to change your unhappy marriage?

1. Change yourself (more to the point, change the way you are in the relationship).
2. Change your partner (change the way they are in the relationship).
3. End the relationship.
That’s it.
The whole menu.
In the age of self-expression, self-empowerment, and self-actualization, changing ourselves is really the only possible solution, right? Nah.
Can we agree that changing ourselves is not much fun? And a hell of a lot of work?
Changing your partner might actually be easier and more effective.
Let me explain.
NLP techniques have indoctrinated us to believe that the right way of communication is to manipulate a person (usually a man, but that’s another story): to praise behavior you want to see, and not to praise the opposite of unwelcome behavior.

Bad way to fix an unhappy marriage

Now, there’s a good way to do this and a bad way. The bad way is often known as “constructive criticism,” which I personally believe should be referred to merely as “criticism.” For instance, say your partner is rarely spontaneous; he does the same thing over and over and you’re dying for some variety. You could sit your partner down and say, “I feel we’re in a rut and blah blah blah…” That “blah blah blah” isn’t a placeholder, but a fairly accurate representation of what your partner hears after the first few denigrating words. That’s “constructive criticism,” which tends to be useless because it’s essentially saying, “There’s this way you behave that I don’t like—and here’s how I propose we fix it.” Let’s not sugarcoat: “constructive criticism” is rejection, pure and simple. Saying “constructive criticism” is like saying “a friendly smack” or “a positive punch in the face.” I wanted to help you learn how to defend yourself by hitting you. It’s offensive. It’s bullshit. Whoever came up with these ideas is an idiot who knows nothing about people.

Better way to fix an unhappy marriage

If people are smart, they phrase this admission in loving, cautious terms, something like: “You know, I don’t feel our physical intimacy like we as we used to, and I know, it is okay.
But I would really love to get back to that passionate connection we had when we were first dating and we couldn’t keep our hands off each other.”
If people’re stupid, they phrase it less artfully: “What’s going on with us and sex? It’s been once a week for I don’t know how long and it’s been robotic and predictable and utterly devoid of oral. You’re killing me. Learn how to do sex better.”
I know: On the “Let’s talk about sex” spectrum, there’s a lot in between those two possibilities.
Yet I’d suggest that both statements are both essentially the same: “You’re doing something wrong and I want you to change and do it better because you’re not making me happy.”
This is criticism: the opposite of why we fall in love.
We fall in love not only because we feel affection for our partners, but because of the way their affection makes us feel. The ways our partners accept us make it easier to accept ourselves. The ways our partners embrace and enjoy us, make us embrace and enjoy ourselves more fully.
This is why it hurts so much when your romantic partner criticizes you.
You didn’t just get criticism.
You’ve lost a cheerleader.

The best way to change your romantic partner and fix your marriage

Find some nugget in your husband’s behavior that you want to see more of, even if it’s a truly little, ridiculous thing that you’re going to have to blow out of proportion to get your point across.
“The other night, when we went to that new diner that opened up rather than our usual Italian place? I loved that you did that. It was so spontaneous. It’s so sexy when you do stuff like that. It reminds me of when we were first dating.”
Give him the credit for the idea. Double down on that behavior and give it way more praise than it’s due.
Make it seem like an inspiring moment.
Praise the potential until the potential becomes the reality.
Do you think they’re not going to want to do that again, soon, when this is the glowing response they got?
Is this dishonest?
I don’t think so.
But honestly, it’s just a nice way to get what you need.
Or use sex—yes—as a way to get more of the behavior that you want.
That’s right.
I said it.
If the behavior you like seeing from him—say, taking care of the kids while you go out with friends—leads to the reward of you becoming very affectionate or sexual, you will very, very likely see more of that behavior.

What’s true for lab rats is true for men


Never let your partner know you’re engaged in extensive experiments in behavior modification.
Ideally, after one or two or three occasions (though one often does the trick because remember: lab rats), they’ll come to the change organically.
Maybe it doesn’t even have to be so secretive, as long as it’s rooted in the positive. Rather than telling him you don’t like his beard, tickle his chin when he’s clean-shaven, or kiss it and comment on how sexy his smooth face looks.

As to changing yourself?

It’s possible, sure—but it can also build resentment in you if you feel you have to change some piece of yourself to be appreciated.
It is not cynical to suggest that a good, healthy relationship might feature a fairly steady diet of both partners manipulating each other. We manipulate our children all the time— promising them rewards if they win the “quiet game” by going the whole car ride home without talking; telling them that maybe Santa will bring whatever stupid piece of plastic crap they’re clamoring for in the store so we can get out of there without having to debate the matter—and it would be ridiculous to suggest that in doing so, we somehow don’t love them with all our heart.
Remember, you’re not manipulating merely to serve your needs.
You do it to serve the greater union of the two of you.
If you do it right, you make yourself happier, your partner happier (or at least no less happy) … and the marriage incontestably better.
How is that not a great thing?
You should periodically assess:
  • Am I doing my part to take care of the marriage so that it thrives?
  • How important is the marriage itself?
  • There are dozens of monthly wedding magazines and thousands of wedding-planning websites.
  • Are you putting as much effort into the marriage as you did into planning the wedding?
  • What are you willing to do to maintain it?
  • How willing are you to make compromises?

Adjust your marriage

You can adjust a marriage and in so doing strengthen it.
Some suggestions:

1. Remind yourself from time to time that the only rules your particular marriage has are the ones that you and your spouse agree to. You get to pick which side of the bed you each sleep on. Or whether you sleep in the same bed. Or whether you sleep in the same room or even in the same house or time zone. Marriage is a tool, and as with any other tool, you don’t have to use it the same way that everybody else does. Your marriage is a unique union of two unique individuals. Embrace that. Make it work for you.

2. Think about divorce. I mean, think about the reality that you don’t have to stay married. Marriage is a contract; every day, you wake up and decide to continue the contract. You can terminate the contract anytime you like. Sometimes contemplating what it would really look like to be separate from your spouse can help to bring things sharply into focus, either giving you a renewed appreciation for your spouse or bringing home some hard truths about the state of your union.

3. Know that a marriage can end without the marriage itself ending. Huh? What I mean is this: If a marriage is a series of chapters in a book, it might help you to realize that each chapter can be viewed as its own mini marriage. What worked to feed the marriage you had pre-children might not work after the children leave home. It might be missing an ingredient or two, or it might have new limitations that make the old ingredients ineffective at producing the same result. To look at your marriage not as a singular event or contract, but as a series of contracts might remind you that you have more control over its shape than you often feel (and passively lament) that you do. If I may put it another way: I don’t think there are any hacks to a good marriage.

 You can attempt some disruptive innovation, sure —open marriage, say, or agreeing to pay attention to each other only on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays—but I believe that, generally, there isn’t a better way to do marriage. If there were a shortcut to gaining a deep, lasting connection to another person, we’d have found it by now. Someone would have made a ton of money publicizing that shortcut. I just don’t think we can Uber marriage. Sorry.
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