Can Just One Person Save A Marriage?

Many people believe that either both partners must be actively involved in order to save a marriage or that one of them must completely give up his or her individual position and do whatever the other demands. I don’t think this is necessarily true. Sometimes just one spouse can indeed save the marriage. Here’s why.

A troubled marriage, especially in the power struggle stage, usually involves a repetitive pattern in which each partner tries to prove that he or she is “right” and the other is “wrong.” Conversations regularly deteriorate into arguments that are circular, predictable and frustrating. Both spouses feel badly and each blames the other for the situation. Common themes I hear in initial marriage counseling are that “If only s/he would change everything would be all right.”  Or, “We just can’t communicate.”

It only takes one person, acting alone, to change the frustrating pattern. If s/he doesn’t give the expected response to an invitation to argue then pattern of the argument is broken and something different happens. Here is an example.

Jim was referred to me for coaching because his work was not up to par. When I asked him why he told me he was so worried about his marriage that he just couldn’t concentrate. He told me that his wife just wasn’t holding up her end of the bargain to take care of their household responsibilities and no matter what he told her about what she was doing wrong she did less and less. He was doing all the shopping, cooking and cleaning as well as working while she watched TV all day.

I had him experiment with making just one change. He agreed to stop telling her what she was doing wrong and only tell her about what she was doing right. (She still did a few things right.) He did and within a few days things began to change. Within a week she took back her responsibilities and he could concentrate again. Their sex life improved, too.

It only took one determined person to change his own pattern and save that marriage. You may need to be a detective to figure out one thing you can do differently to interrupt negative patterns in your marriage. I will give you one more hint: Stop blaming your spouse for what is wrong and think about what you contribute to a negative pattern. Then do something else. If you can’t figure it out for yourself ask a counselor for help.

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