You got married hoping for a soul mate, but ended up in a relationship that feels like a roommate.
You know that marriages are never perfect. You expect occasional disagreements and a certain boredom that comes after a while from living together.
The experts say that a good marriage partner does four things very well: communicates, resolves problems, builds trust, and does nice things for their spouse. You rarely have those experiences with your partner.
You think about divorce, but you’re scared. You tolerate a known meaningless marriage to avoid an unknown future. Maybe this is as good it gets, and you should lower your expectations and be grateful for what you have.
What should you do?
- Begin with you. Before you demonize your partner, reflect upon your own behaviors. Are you happy with yourself? Do you act in ways that are caring, enthusiastic, and positive? Are you the type of person that others enjoy being around? Do others trust you and view you as a valued friend?Bad marriages are rarely the responsibility of only one partner. What happens over time is that a spouse develops negative habits in response to the behavior of the other. This is the “I Don’t Recognize Myself” phenomena. You wake up one morning and realize you’ve become a person you neither know nor like.
- Communicate. Trust and communication are the foundations of any relationship. Good marriage partners talk about stuff that matters. They are able to discuss their fears or frustrations and share joyful events.This level of emotional engagement can only occur in an environment of psychological safety. Your partner must have complete confidence in you before honest communication can occur.
The responsibility for creating that safety net rests with the listener. You must be honest and caring. While listening, you shouldn’t interrupt or try to correct another’s point of view. Your goal as a loving listener is understanding one’s perspective, not convincing your spouse of the fallacy of his feelings.
Talk less, and listen more. Say back the main idea or feeling that your partner is expressing to see if you really got it. Ask lots of questions. Work hard at understanding a point of view that may be very different than your own.
- Take small steps. Good intentions are not enough to change a bad marriage. The key is to make small changes in your behavior. Habits that took years to develop won’t change immediately. Be successful at accomplishing something small (e.g., a 10 minute walk together after dinner), rather than a failing at some unachievable goal.
Gregory Ramey, Ph.D., is a child psychologist and vice president for outpatient services at the Children’s Medical Center of Dayton. For more of his columns, visit www.childrensdayton.org/ramey and join Dr. Ramey on Facebook at www.facebook.com/drgregramey . Dr. Ramey has been a guest contributor to the Ohio Family Law Blog since 2007.
[Reprinted by permission from the November 23, 2014, edition of the Dayton Daily News, “3 Ways to Save a Bad Marriage”, Gregory Ramey, PhD]
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Guest Contributor Gregory Ramey, PhD, Child Psychologist and Dayton Daily News Columnist
Gregory Ramey, PhD, is a nationally recognized child psychologist and columnist who has worked at Dayton Children’s Hospital since 1979. In addition to his weekly column in the Dayton Daily News about effective parenting, Ramey has conducted more than 200 workshops and has recently been quoted in articles in Redbook, Parenting, Ladies Home Journal as well as columns distributed by the New York Times Wire Service.