There is no question about it! Strengthening your marriage is not something you can do all by yourself. It is often advantageous to get marital advice to help you with some of the relationship problems you and your spouse may be experiencing.
Why is it so difficult for husbands or wives to reach out to get help with their marriage?
I think the reason is two fold. Let me first introduce you to the concept of Relationship Inertia. Strange word, isn’t it? Just try repeating the word, “inertia”, 20 times and after awhile it sounds like you are speaking gibberish! But I want you to remember this concept.
So why do married couples, seeking to strengthen their marriage, have difficulty reaching out for help? Well part of it is because they have not read this wonderful post!! Just kidding. But do take a look at it because I walk you through all the things that make up a successful marriage.
It’s partly because the force of inertia within a marriage is like an invisible hand that just keeps things moving in the same direction….like a train on a track.
So what happens when the marriage is on the wrong track?
This force which governs physical laws of the universe and in this case our marital outcomes, just seems to prevent us from stopping what we have grown accustomed to doing. So the couple just keeps living life, forming unhealthy patterns, repeating many of the same mistakes over and over. After a while, the weight of their problems finally starts to wear on the marriage. But It may take a long time before the married couple takes any action. By then, it may be too late. The marriage could be in shambles.
When we wait that long, our actions are best characterized as reactive as opposed to proactive. In my experience, when a married couple is reacting to problems, it makes the task of strengthening the marriage all the more difficult. I think of this problem as a form of Marital Behavioral Inertia. We develop these unhealthy routines in how we interact with our spouses and as time goes by, they become rooted within the marriage itself. And here is the real scoop, often times we are not even aware we are in a marriage trouble zone. So we don’t even seek help or advice.
Denial Is Not a River in Egypt!
The second key reason why husbands and wives do not snap to attention and try to get help is one or both of them are in denial. It’s hard to solve a problem, unless the marital parties recognize that they have a problem.
I can’t tell you how many times I have gotten comments from my clients telling me that their spouse just “doesn’t get it” or are “blind” to the issues in the marriage. Sometimes, the husband or wife just does not want to accept their role in helping make the marriage right. They may take the position that they are doing nothing wrong, so why change.
If you think you are among the many couples out there that are struggling to keep their marriage strong, then take a moment and read my survival guide for struggling spouses.
There are many reasons why married couples can’t agree to seek marital advice in order to strengthen the relationship. These reasons include:
- Fear of angering their marriage partner
- Embarrassment of admitting their marriage is suffering
- Lack of financial resources to seek marital counseling
- Inability to act due to depression or a total sense of failure
So I am not surprised that dysfunctional marriages can largely exist for long periods of time before marital advice is sought. But I have some good news! Seldom to couples completely give up. After all, couples invest a good amount of time in the relationship. They will continue to forge ahead with the hope things will get better. The problem though is they just often don’t know what to do….where to turn.
Is Your Relationship Full To the Brim?
Most of us are conditioned to see the world as a glass half full. When we enter into a lifelong commitment with our spouse, we don’t want to throw in the towel as we enter into troubled times.
What we need is a push. Hopefully, that is why you came to my website. You are looking for ways in which your marriage can escape the choppy waters. You are looking for ways to make your marriage much better, right?
My advice is if you expect something transformative to happen in your marriage, then you should expect that it will require a significant departure from the routines you and your husband or wife have grown accustom to.
So how in the heck are you going to accomplish all of that?
Strengthening Your Marriage When in Troubled Water
There is this terrific song by Simon and Garfunkel called, “Bridge Over Troubled Water”. When I hear it, I think of troubled marriages. The song, recorded in 1970 is both beautiful and incredibly instructive to those willing to listen and learn.
In almost every situation in which I dispense of marital advice, I am dealing with individuals who feel partially broken. They feel down and out. They often feel frustrated and helpless. Their sense of self has diminished. Tears come easily. What they need is a savior who can come to their aid. Someone or something to ease their pain and help them feel better.
Just as in the lyrics of the song, “when you are weary, feeling small, when tears are in your eyes, I will dry them all”; a savior comes to offer support. In the song, the savior is represented by a bridge:
“Like a bridge over troubled water, I will lay me down”
In real life, your bridge to a better tomorrow is more likely to be a competent marriage coach (counselor) or a Marriage Improvement System represented by a series of e-books, videos, and/or audio tapes.
Usually, somebody in the marriage has to make that first bold step. You have heard of the definition of insanity, right?
This rather brilliant, somewhat funny looking guy (Albert Einstein) supposedly described insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results”.
Now for those literature purists out there, let it be said that old Albert really may not be responsible for this quote as the proof of authorship is still contested.
By my thinking, whoever said it, had it right in a BIG way!
When I think about my clients, so many of them churned through months and years of unhappy marriages without taking the proactive step to turn it around. If you are caught up in vortex of bad marriage patterns, it is time to BUST out of it!
Bad Marriage Busters
Inertia is a bi@ch, so say some!
It just keeps dragging you along, if you let it. But guess what? This post is all about learning to be a “Bad Marriage Buster”. If you are in a bad marriage, then something has to happen to stop the runaway inertia of negative patterns.
Are you ready to sign on! I sure hope so. Because it’s going to take some courage on your part. You will need to break the old bad patterns that have taken control of your marriage.
Let’s first talk about some of these bad patterns which can rob you and your spouse of happiness. It’s crazy, isn’t it. We know that some of the things we do in our relationship with our husband or wife are not healthy, but we do them anyway.
Inertia can suck!
But guess what! We are going to put a face on it. Flush it out, so we can recognize what we are dealing with.
The Bad Patterns In our Married Lives
As has been demonstrated through the sheer numbers of marriages that fail, unhealthy relationship patterns can take hold and chip away over time. These patterns are the kind of routines you and your lover want to avoid. Sometimes these behaviors take root because one or both of the married partners bring them into the marriage.
Now, why would we want to do that?
Well, sometimes we are not even aware. And sometimes we rush into relationships without knowing what we may be getting ourselves into.
Were both you and your spouse really ready for marriage when you tied the knot?
I think the honest answer to that question for most everyone is Yes, No, and Maybe. So let me underscore the obvious….be sure you know your significant other as well as you possible can before you take the plunge. . Take time to learn about all of their strengths and weaknesses.
Many marriage experts believe that detailed knowledge and insights about your boyfriend or girlfriend prior to the marriage can be very helpful in assessing the future success of a marriage.
Now, I realize that many of my readers are past that point. Your are probably already married and are looking to understand how to deal with negative patterns and routines.
You are looking for reversal strategies. You are trying to change or modify the negative patterns and replace them with healthier routines.
I will delve into some of the things you should be trying to accomplish. But I am a firm believer that it is best to take a hard look at your marriage, so you can recognize exactly what you are dealing with. Now, there are a lot of bad patterns out there that can adversely impact a relationship. I am going to focus primarily on the high hard ones.
Three of the common bad patterns couples experience include:
1. Frequent Fighting:
I am still amazed at how often couples will wage war with each other when deep inside they realize that fighting with the spouse is a zero sum game.
In case you are wondering what a “zero sum game” means, let me expound.
When you fight, you might score a few points during a skirmish here or a battle there. But you are doing it at the expense of the “love of your life”. If you are keeping an internal scoreboard…and 90% of the people who fight usually do …you have already lost.
Indeed, a point could be made that when you fight with your husband or wife, you both lose. You are both making “withdrawals” to your “marriage trust account”.
So if you insist on keeping score, just know that when you fight, not only do you enter into a potentially damaging pattern, but you are both losing points…making withdrawals.
2. Controlling Behavior:
I see this behavior a lot in marriages and while it is not bound by gender, I honestly see it more often with males, than females. Now, let it be understood, we all exhibit controlling behaviors. It is our way of trying to manage our lives within the constraints of chaos.
Yep….that is what I said. Everyday, we enter into a battle with chaos.
I think “chaos” is like a cousin to “inertia”. Both of these principles have a runaway aspect to them. You have heard of Murphy’s Law, right? Well, that is the offspring of Chaos!
I think, oftentimes, in order to deal with our fragile grip on the world around us, we can turn to obsessive, controlling behaviors.
So without a doubt, there is a psychological component with your husband’s or wife’s desire to be overly controlling. The trick is recognizing when controlling behavior is… you guessed it…”out of control”.
If you see this in yourself, own up to it and get help with managing it.
If you frequently observe this behavior in your husband or wife, talk to them about it and discuss how the behavior is adversely affecting the marriage.
Now, I don’t wish to sound the alarms of doom and gloom. Life is not nearly as crazy as it sometimes seems to be. But we would be foolish to ignore the fact that many things around us are outside of our control.
But guess what? There is one thing couples have a great deal of control over. And that is the way they treat each other and the “attitude” they exhibit each and every day.
3. Very Little Sex:
Ok, today I will not be talking a lot about the importance of sexual intimacy in your relationship. That is such an important topic, that I will save it for its own post.
But clearly, things can unfold in marriages in such a way that sexual intimacy between the couples goes missing.
Or perhaps the sex in the marriage is still present, but one or both partners are dissatisfied with the quality and/or frequency. And this can be very problematic because a lack of sexual intimacy can lead to other negative patterns such as resentment or it can springboard to another serious negative relationship pattern such as “withdrawal of affection” or “seeking sex outside of the marriage.
This is why one needs to clearly identify and understand the bad patterns that wedge their way into marriages. Some of these negative trends can lead to a dangerous domino effect in which one bad pattern leads to another and another. Left unchecked, the entire marriage can be at risk.
The Positive Patterns for Strengthening Your Marriage
So enough of the negative patterns! Let’s turn our attention to positive patterns both you and your spouse can practice in order to strengthen your marriage.
The very first post I wrote for this website dealt with the 5 essential Principles you and your husband or wife need to practice in order to have a successful marriage.
I presented this information in the form of a training module. If you have not done so already, go read it because it will help you and your spouse get your heads screwed on right. It is an excellent template on how to deal with the business of improving your marriage.
If I had to offer the “Mother of all Marital Advice” it would revolve around these 5 synergistic principles. And that is the cool thing about it. Each of these principles work together to help make your relationship strong.
I am sure you have heard of the quote, “the sum of the parts are greater than the whole”.
If you think of your marriage as an “engine” with a lot of moving parts, you will realize that some parts are more important than others.
You take away one important part, the engine will either not start or stall. Be with all of the key parts in place, something magical happens…you get combustion…and then suddenly the vehicle starts moving, capable of doing all kinds of things.
You see, marriages operate in a similar way. There are lots and lots of parts that make up a marriage. There are dozens upon dozens of components. And when you start thinking about them all, it’s not unusual to go glassy eyed.
A common question I get from a reader or client is “Chris, where do I start? My marriage is in such a mess and I have read so many things about what to do. I am utterly confused.”
Believe me, I understand. I too have read hundreds of relationship self help books purporting to be amazing guides on how to reconstruct your marriage.
Most of the time the information is either far too generic, without any real substance or actionable plans or they go in the other direction where you are provided with a 68 point Relationship Fitness Plan that you are assured (beyond a shadow of a doubt!) will make your marriage stronger.
So I know it can get confusing. I will tell you upfront that getting your marriage on the right track is not going to be an easy undertaking. But it indeed is achievable and it helps with focusing on the essential elements that make up every successful marriage.
So you ask, “what are these 5 principles, Chris?”.
At least, that is what I hope your are thinking! The five critical principles you need to adopt to embrace a happy and fulfilling marriage are:
- Treat Each Other With Kindness & Positivity
- Embrace Balanced and Transformative Communication
- Seek to Become the Best Version of Yourself
- Spend Time Together Alone With Your Spouse
- Periodically Revitalize Your Relationship
Instead of going into all kinds of details about these principles, I would like you to click on the link I provided above and come up to speed on your own.
In the future, I will be writing a comprehensive series of e-books on these 5 essential marriage principles. That is how important I believe them to be.
Now, let’s turn our attention to how to break the unhealthy marriage patterns than can pull both of you down.
The Keys to Breaking the Unhealthy Relationship Patterns
If you are like me, you enjoy breaking things.
I think this force of inertia which propels the bad marriage patterns, seemingly forever, is the second worst force acting upon a marriage.
So you ask, “By golly Chris, what then is the worst force?
Well of course, it has to be the force that we ourselves exert within the relationship in the form of negative patterns.
So there you have it. There are two forces that work together and run amok. One force that seems to be outside of the relationship, a force we call inertia. It is always there..always pulling us along..irrespective of whether we wish to go in the direction it is taking us.
Then there is another force. A force that acts within the relationship. Indeed, husband and wife have given birth to this force through their actions or lack of actions.
And often times, when this force takes the form of negative routines…bad behaviors…it can easily morph itself into destructive patterns.
Sometimes these destructive marital patterns can come upon very quickly, but more often, such patterns unfold over time, increasing in their scope and worsening in the degree they pull your marriage apart.
Don’t you just hate these bad patterns that can overwhelm the good that is in your mariage?
Let’s do something about them. Let’s go BREAKING BAD!
Breaking the Bad Marital Patterns
The Emmy winning cable show, “Breaking Bad”, illustrates well how a once well connected couple can over time develop patterns that result in a highly dysfunctional marriage.
Of course, it sure does not help when the husband is obsessed with cooking crystal meth!
But that was not the only problem in this marriage, was it? When you add up all the transgressions that took place between this couple, it covered the gambit from deceit, addiction, betrayal, spousal violence, financial deception, and depression.
No doubt, the main character, Walter White, was the catalyst of most of these marital issues. And he was in so deep….addicted to his obsession with his newly found occupation (cooking meth)…that I seriously doubt if the typical marital advice could have done much to strengthen the marriage.
What was needed to shake up that marriage and bring it back to some form of normalcy was a transformative event.
The wife in this case used a form of No Contact. She insisted the husband move out and treated him like he did not exist. Eventually, the shock and realization that his wife and son’s life would continue without him triggered a “reckoning with the truth”.
Sometimes it takes something extraordinary to break the serious negative patterns that build up in a couple’s relationship.
Sometime’s it’s just one person (the husband or wife) that needs to have a “reckoning with the truth”.
Scientific studies show that to break the negative patterns that can interfere with a marriage, one needs to replace the negative patterns with new healthier patterns and stick with them for approximately 60 days for them to become habit.
Remember, we are creatures of habit. So it is paramount we adopt positive routines…habits…patterns….whatever you wish to call them.
It is entirely possible that good routines can replace the bad routines even sooner than the 60 days I quoted above. The study shows some people are able to form and stick to these new, healthy marital patterns even sooner. It varies from individual to individual.
Marital Lessons from Groundhog Day
Another lesson of breaking old, negative patterns comes from the popular movie, “Groundhog Day”. I think you know it!
Bill Murray, who played a weatherman, kept waking up every morning to the SAME day. The movie provided a reflection upon who we really are and in the beginning of the movie, the character played by Bill Murray, was self centred, deceitful, selfish, and unkind.
As the movie played out, with the character waking up and facing the same people and same situation, we see the character experiment with almost every form of behavior in order to draw closer to a certain specific woman.
Working from his core belief system which revolved around deceit and selfishness, the character failed each and every time he tried woo this particular woman.
Caught up in a sort of time loop, in which the same day was repeated thousands of times, his efforts seemed futile.
Finally, what allowed him to break away from his unsuccessful patterns was the realization that when you seek to connect with another human being, it must be from a position of SELFLESSNESS and KINDNESS.
Only when the character exhibited these behaviors and they became his natural patterns, did he meet with success.
So readers, please go back to my discussion above about the 5 synergistic principles of a successful marriage. These are the negative pattern busters!
What you want to do is replace the old, bad patterns, with the good, newer patterns.
And one more BIG TIP!
Exhibiting genuine “KINDNESS & POSITIVITY” in your marriage is the greatest Principle of them all.
So How Does One Get Started With Turning a Marriage Around?
1. Please Stop Blaming Yourself
At least half of my clients feel upset and responsible that they have done something wrong to cause the marriage to get off track. Well guess what….we all do something wrong at times.
We also do things that are helpful to the marriage. So, let’s keep things in balance!
The past is behind us and the future is ahead of us….and we only have the here, NOW. So live in the present. Learn from the past, but quit assigning blame to yourself or to others. It is all about shaping the NOW, so you and your spouse can have a better tomorrow.
If you find yourself caught up in self blaming thoughts, I want you to remember something important. Thinking that way is a negative pattern in itself. We want to end the bad patterns, not add to them.
Negative thinking only reinforces the relationship blues and takes away from hope. Head for the hope. Hope is about shaping your future.
You subconscious mind is a powerful thing. All kinds of negativity can flow from it and bury you deep into the muck.
The way to trump the subconscious mind is to embrace positive thinking. Start with reading all of my articles because they show you a way to a more positive outcome.
Take up yoga or exercise to clear up the internal stress and anxiety that naturally affects us all.
- Learn From Your Past and Forgive Yourself
Whatever you think you did to contribute to your marital woes, forgive yourself. You must forgive yourself because living in your mind’s past, filled with negative thoughts, is a pattern you do not want to take with you.
The future is your playground. It is full of potential where you and your spouse can weave new patterns that will enable your relationship to shine.
- Recognize Where Negative Marital Patterns Come From
Our bad Patterns in marriage come from many places.
They come from laziness and indifference. Some people are just not motivated to change and as a result, keep playing a losing hand.
If your spouse falls into that category, remind them of the jackpot they are playing for (i.e. healthy and fulfilled marriage) and show them what they can lose (i.e. a wonderful spouse).
Our negative patterns often arrive from our past experiences and can hitch a ride right into our marriage.
Sometimes, a husband or wife are not even aware that they embrace patterns that are detrimental to their marriage.
Maybe the individual got away for a while with acting selfish or being mean spirited. Individuals who are this way simply need a tough love wake up call.
Sometimes, our negative patterns emerge from our ignorance about how to act in a marriage. Every marriage goes through a period of trial and error. If the couple is willing and eager to improve….you are in great shape. Get some education and start applying the essential principles.
Undesirable patterns can also just slowly creep into a marriage. Humans tend to default to their own agenda and needs. This is why it’s good to do a status check in order to see where you both are in the marriage in terms of your levels of satisfaction.
Often times, one or the other marital partner has some concerns, but they go unmentioned. There needs to be a process in place for the couple to assess their own marriage. A marriage is constantly changing, ebbing and flowing. Pay attention to the warning signs.
- Decipher the Warning Clues Like Detective Columbo
Way back in the day, there use to be a popular detective show called, Columbo. It is now in rerun and is still worth a watch because it can be instructive about a great many things.
One thing I found interesting about this show was the bumbling detective whose name was Columbo. He was actually quite brilliant. He was an expert in deciphering clues.
Indeed, he never lost a case.
So how did he accomplish that brilliant track record? Was it the amazing forensic talents he possessed? No.
Was it his ability to intimidate the suspects? No, it was not that either.
Columbo was such a genius because he was a keen observer of human behavior. He would go out of his way to make the people around him relaxed and at ease. He would ask non threatening questions to learn more. And he would listen. Then he would ask more questions in a nice manner. He would even use humor to relax this suspects .
Then guess what? Yep…you are right! He would listen more. Columbo was a natural. He was non threatening and friendly, often empathizing with the people surrounding the case.
Eventually, Columbo would have asked so many questions and had gotten so much information, he would be able to draw a picture in his mind about the case and what had really happened.
A couple needs to be like Columbo. They need to ask each questions about how they feel things are going. And they need to listen…really listen to each other. They need to have good humor.
Even if one of the marital partners are unsure as to the veracity of the concern, they need to ask more questions in a supportive manner to better understand the problem.
But the bottom line is that there must be an open, non threatening environment in which both individuals of the marriage can learn what they can do more of or less of. And they should be able to talk about it without assigning blame.
Yes indeed…every good marriage has a little “Columbo” in it.
- Take Stock of Your Situation
So you have picked up on some signs and are now taking stock of your current marital situation. But let me give you a little more advice. This process should feel completely natural.
It should not be complicated. Nor should it feel like a formal process. Don’t go whipping out some worksheets and checking them off. That is usually a huge turn off.
Just remember, figuring out what is truly the opportunity areas should feel informal and occur naturally. Doing it in little steps. Don’t make it into a big deal or someone could get spooked.
It could be pillow talk one evening. Don’t do it when you are making love. That’s a big turn off for most men.
Sometimes a little wine can set the mood. Every couple is unique in how they communicate, so you will have a good idea of what the most receptive times might be to explore things.
Finally, to get the ball rolling, start off with asking your spouse, what “You” could do differently to make the marriage better.
- Agree on What You Both Want to Achieve
The process of discovering these negative patterns, whether they be big bad patterns or just smaller, less desirable patterns…the process should be a natural part of how the wife and husband communicates.
Once you identify the opportunity area, then agree on a solution and move forward with it.
If you feel your marriage is disabled or crippled due to the number of serious bad relationship patterns that exist, then you and your spouse will most likely benefit from implementing a marriage fitness system.
Something such as the 5 synergistic principles I described earlier. If you want to start with something powerful, and you both buy-in, then start with the Principle of Kindness. Make that your core action. Commit to integrating much more Kindness within your relationship. It is highly synergistic and researchers show this attribute of marriage is the leading predictor of success.
One of the greatest song ever written is called, “Imagine”, by former Beatle, John Lennon.
What makes this song so powerful and instructive is its simple, core message. The beauty of the music also lies in the composition of the melody which draw us into a positive experience of actually imagining such a world that John Lennon was telling us about.
My favorite line and there are many, is:
“Imagine all the people living for today…”
I think what we can take from this little pearl of wisdom is that a big part of breaking the bad old marriage patterns is learning to live in the moment.
Jonathan Goethe, a 19 century deep thinker and lyrical poet, told us:
“The present moment is a powerful goddess”
If the couple can put their past failures behind them and get in tune with the present….focusing their efforts in the present moments to create new and better patterns, just imagine what these two people are capable of doing.
Remember, inertia which preys on marriages lives in the past and whipsaws you into the future. Inertia is often not your friend. It will resist your efforts to stop it.
If you get caught into it slip stream of its momentum, it might just take you and your spouse to a place you do not desire to go. Break the Pied Pier spell of Marriage Inertia by living in the present moment and asking each other what you want to see changed.
- Aspire to be the Best Version of Yourself
When couples come to me for advice, they are often surprised that I will talk to them about becoming the best version of themselves.
I usually will get these bugged eyed stares or long silences, followed by, “Chris, don’t you want us to work on things together?”
Of course I do, I tell them.
But part of making the marriage work for both couples is to acknowledge that each person should strive to become the best version of themselves.
By doing so, their confidence will grow and their needs of individual fulfillment and freedom will be met. Indeed, each spouse should support the other’s desire to fulfill their personal goals.
Marriages are interesting, aren’t they?
On one hand, they are partnerships between two different people, neither perfectly compatible with the other. This is where we see the push and pull of forces that act positively and negatively on the relationship.
But marriages are also entities (for lack of a better word) in which two people strive to be ONE.
I think both pursuits are well worth your best efforts! And you can accomplish this goal and still seek to improve your individual “self”.
- Revitalize Your Relationship
One of the best pattern breakers in a marriage is one of the 5 Synergistic Principles, namely, “Revitalize Your Relationship”.
Look, no matter how wonderful you and your spouse are, your relationship can get caught up in routines and habits that may not be destructive, but are dull. This is going to happen. And happen again.
So knowing this ahead of time, you will want to do some things to rekindle the energy. I discuss several ideas in my 30,000 word post for which I provided link above.
Do yourself and your husband or wife a favor and go check it out!