A Roadmap For Putting Your Marriage Back on Track

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“Become a student of your spouse. Learn what your partner likes and dislikes…”

Dan, Sharon and the kids were driving the expressway. Dan was the pilot, Sharon the navigator. The kids were just along for the ride. Tension was in the air.

“Put down that map! I can’t see a thing,” yelled Dan.

“I’m looking for our exit,” Sharon replied. “Why didn’t you plan this trip better? I’m tired of always getting lost. Can’t we just ask for directions?”

“Quit nagging. We don’t need help. Just keep looking for signs,” Dan responded as billows of smoke started pouring out from the hood. “Great! Looks like we’re overheating or something.”

“Didn’t you check the radiator before we left? I told you it looked low.” Sharon’s volume began rising. “Why don’t you pull over and call a tow tru…”

“I’ll fill it when we get into town,” interrupted Dan as he slammed on the brakes and pulled over to the shoulder. “Rats!!! We just passed our exit!”

As the car idled on the roadside, the engine began making a loud rattling sound. Dan laid his forehead on the steering wheel and let out a heavy sigh.

“I think we need help.”

Dan and Sharon’s road trip is a little like a marriage in trouble. As a Marriage and Family Therapist I see a lot of people with marital problems. About 45% of my clients are dealing with marital discord. And, like most counselors in the US, the percent of marriage counseling I do has increased substantially since September 11th.

I’d like to see fewer couples. Not that I want to turn away people in need. I’d just like to help people avoid the need. I’m sure you’ve heard the statistics: today more than half all marriages end in divorce. And the track record for second marriages is even worse.

Usually, there are little signs along the way before the relationship breaks down. Here are small signs to look for in your marriage and suggestions to turn things around:

Fork in the road. When couples first marry, they travel the same road together. At some point theres a fork in the road. It’s when we take too many different forks that problems begin. We’ll find ourselves doing different things with different people and spending less time with our spouse. Our goals are different. Not just different – sometimes conflicting.

Suggestion: Do more things together. Find an activity you both enjoy – and do it. It could be bowling or squash, checkers or chess, rock or opera, hiking or antiquing. I know one couple that knocked on neighbor’s doors together for a yellow ribbon campaign. Whatever works, let the activity draw you together. And make time to do it often.

Missing Stop Sign. We live in a day of hectic schedules. It’s easy to go days without stopping for a moment alone with your spouse. But time together is crucial to building your relationship. You need to stop and work on staying connected.

Suggestion: Schedule a weekly “Together Time” away from the house and kids. Don’t talk about work or children. What do you talk about? Anything: news, interests, hobbies, friends, or memories. Seeing a movie doesn’t count as “Together Time.” But, sometimes a movie or activity creates a natural bridge to help a couple connect. Just be sure to make time to talk afterwards.

Soft Shoulder Ahead. Physical touch changes over time in a marriage. But when hugs, kisses, holding hands, and lovemaking stop entirely there’s usually need for concern. It can lead you down a slippery slope.

Suggestion: Reach out and touch your spouse. Some men love being greeted at the door with a hug when they come home from work. Some women like a kiss goodbye in the morning. Find out what your partner likes. Don’t guess. Ask.

Yield Right Of Way. One of the common problems is waiting for your partner to go first in any of these areas. What if they’re waiting for you to go first? You get the point.

Suggestion: Break the pattern. Take the risk: hold your spouse’s hand, write a romantic note, or schedule an activity together. The reward could be well worth it.

Become a student of your spouse. Learn what your partner likes and dislikes. Try to understand his or her unique personality, needs and desires. One book I suggest to help you better understand your spouse is The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman. It explains how to communicate your love depending on your spouse’s love language.

If you feel your marriage problems are too big to handle alone, maybe it’s time to ask for help. A good counselor can be a mediator, a coach, a teacher and a resource. I’ve seen great marriage turnarounds. Whether you take my suggestions or seek professional help, the key is being ready to roll-up your sleeves and work on your marriage. When you get there, it can be well worth the trip.

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