Today I’m presenting a well researched ultimate guide of how to save your marriage . If you read along, you’ll eventually learn every strategy I used to save my marriage.

How have you contributed to the failure of your marriage?

Um, are you thinking something along the lines of this: “Look Samantha, I’ve done nothing to hurt my marriage. It’s all my partner’s fault. Now if you would kindly tell me how to fix my partner, everything would be just swell.”

I thought that, too, when I first came across that question. After all, I was the one who was not happy, and I wasn’t happy with him. I could have listed hundreds of ways my husband had contributed to our failed marriage. Me? I was perfect. Wasn’t I? The Friels also mentioned that they thought my husband was my emotional equal. I really laughed at that one. Oh, did I laugh. I actually talked out loud to the book, saying, “You really don’t know my husband, now, do you? My emotional equal? Yeah, right.” Thing is, the Friels were right. My husband and I were stuck in dysfunctional pattern that was, in part, caused by my inability to ask for what I wanted. For example, my husband would ask, “Is it okay if I can go for a bike ride?” I’d say, “Yeah sure” when I really meant, “Are you out of your mind?! Don’t you see how overwhelmed I am right now? Are you that blind or just completely insensitive?” It’s true that my husband is not a sensitive mind-reading type. He doesn’t get body language. He doesn’t pick up on tone of voice. He just doesn’t. Expecting him to somehow read my mind is like expecting an infant to sing the alphabet. It’s never going to happen. Yet, my husband is really good at following directions. Once I found the ability to speak my voice and stand up for my needs, he found the ability to listen and do as I requested. He just needed an instruction manual.

Looking back on it, I’m thankful that he was such a failure at reading my mind. It forced me to grow up and become a better person, one who is now more assertive in every area of her life. So think about that question. How are you contributing to your bad marriage? It takes two people to have a good marriage, and two people to have a bad one. You are just as much a part of your dysfunctional marriage as your spouse. Really think about that question, because owning the problem of your bad marriage is your first step toward fixing it.

Me: You really pissed me off when you [LATEST TRANSGRESSION GOES HERE.] It’s just like the time you [ANOTHER TRANSGRESSION THAT WE’VE ALREADY FOUGHT ABOUT, BUT THAT I HAVE NOT YET FORGIVEN HIM FOR GOES HERE.] And the time you [DITTO] and [DITTO] and [DITTO TIMES 600.] Do you see why someone like me would have a hard time being happy with someone like you? Do you see it?”

Him: “I’m sorry. Again.”

Does this sound familiar? Marriage experts call it stockpiling. It’s really dysfunctional.

Here’s the thing: it feels really good to stockpile. If it didn’t, none of us would do it. Every time we scratch open an old wound during a new fight, it’s our way of saying, “I am better than you. It’s all your fault. See? See? See!?”

More important, holding onto past grudges prevents you from improving your marriage. If you stay stuck in the past, you’ll never be able to create a better future, and you want a better future. If you didn’t, you wouldn’t be here reading my free marriage advice. You’d be flipping through the Yellow Pages in search of a good divorce lawyer.

Still, forgiveness is hard. It’s REALLY hard. I’ve so been there, okay? Here’s how I released my grudges. I hope this five-step plan will work for you, too.

5 Steps to Forgiveness

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Step 1: Commit to releasing the old grudges. Make it a resolution.

Step 2: Remind yourself that you’re part of the problem. Your spouse hasn’t been perfect, but neither have you. When you see yourself as a person who deserves forgiveness, it’s easier to see your spouse as the same type of person.

Step 3: Hold one last stockpiling blowout. List all of those old grudges on a piece of paper. Go back in time and relive every drop of anger and hurt. Then, when you and your spouse are both calm, go over your list. Now, this isn’t your time to beat up on your spouse and prove to him that he’s the rotten person you think he is. No, it’s not about that. It’s about getting it out of your system. So say something like this, “I’m having a hard time moving on from the past, and I really want to move on. I know you are better than I give you credit, but these old wounds still need to heal. Can we talk about these past incidents? I’d like to tell you why I felt hurt. I would really appreciate it if you told me that you were sorry. I know it may seem silly, but please bear with me. I’m really trying to forgive and I think this might just help.”

Step 4: Meditate. If you are not into meditation, what I’m about to suggest is going to sound very Crystal Ga-Ga to you. Trust me and try it. This really works. When you realize just how powerfully it works, you’ll get goose bumps. Go somewhere quiet. Close your eyes. Get yourself nice and comfortable. Do some deep breathing. Then, one at a time, bring the image of three different people to your mind’s eye: 1) You 2) Someone you love dearly 3) Your spouse. Send your best loving energy to each person. Give each person every drop of love, understanding, and acceptance you have to offer. Hear yourself say, “I forgive you. I love you. I wish you well.” Then release the image of that person from your mind’s eye.

Step 5: Be patient. It takes time to see your spouse for who he is today and not who he was yesterday, but it will eventually happen. It will happen faster if you make a mental note of all of the things he is doing right, so you can remind yourself just how far he’s come.

When you think about having sex with your spouse, do you think something along the lines of, “Oh God, please not that.”

Been there.

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Assuming there’s no truly good reason for it (say, one of you has been hospitalized for a few months), the Dry Spell is one of the main symptoms of a bad marriage. It means one or both of you has given up on making things work.

If you are the person who has put a ban on all non-sleep-related activities in the bedroom, then you are probably thinking something like, “Look, no woman in her right mind would want to have sex with my husband. He’s annoying. He talks down to me. He does nothing around the house. He scratches his balls in public and he farts in bed.”

(Although I can see how they might interfere with your sex life, I mostly added the last two details to see if you were still with me.)

I get you. I’ve been there. But here’s the thing: if you want your marriage to work, you need to have sex with your partner, and you need to have it somewhat regularly. Sex is how you validate your partner. It’s how you say, “You are worthy. You are sexy. I want you.” For strong and silent men, like my husband, it’s a form of communication. It’s how he connects with me.

Sex is also how you relax. Regular sex keeps you happy and resilient. Now that my husband and I have a regular sex routine, I’m much less tense and much more enjoyable to be around. Stuff just doesn’t bother me as much. In fact, whenever I start to get moody, I know it’s been too long since the last time we’ve had sex.

Of course you need to work on everything else that’s wrong with your marriage, too. A good marriage creates a good sex life, and a good sex life leads to a better marriage. It’s all interrelated. We’ll talk more about how to fix what else is wrong in your marriage in future installments of this Free Marriage Advice Series. But you need to start having sex again now, before your marriage is perfect. It’s part of the healing process.

Make a date to start having sex again. Put it on the calendar. If it’s been a really long time, start at first base. Cuddle naked together. Then try some kissing and touching. Advance to you pleasuring him, and him pleasuring you. Eventually, go for the grand slam. Read this related post for more on How to End a Dry Spell.

Schedule it. Don’t wait until the mood strikes. This sets you up for problems in two ways. First, for some people, the mood never strikes. This is especially common in women with young children. We’re so exhausted and busy that we don’t give ourselves enough time to relax in order for the mood to surface.

Second, one partner is usually a bit more highly sexed than the other. If that partner is always in the role of initiating and the lower sexed partner is always in the role of turning down, a power struggle can easily emerge. The highly sexed partner feels unloved and the less highly sexed partner feels guilty. If you schedule it, you can break out of this role. Talk to your spouse about an ideal sex schedule. It might be as often as three times a week or as little as once a month.

Make your sex date sacred. Nothing interferes with it. Get down to business even if you are not in the mood. Just get into bed together and see what happens. Chances are, once you tune out the world and tune into your partner, the mood will strike. And, if it doesn’t, explore the use of DVDs, magazines, erotica, sex toys, lubricants, lingerie and other options.

Stop withholding sex. When you withhold sex because you are irritated with your partner, you start a Bad Marriage Cycle. It goes like this. He ticks you off. You declare your vagina a Man Free Zone. He gets frustrated because he’s not getting any, so he becomes even more irritating. You not only declare your vagina a Man Free Zone, you start wearing frumpy underwear. He sees the underwear and starts thinking other women are sexier than you are. Do you see where this is going?

If you do the opposite and Reward Him with Sex, however, you just might save your marriage. Have sex whenever he’s been a good boy. Trust me. It works.

Teach him how to get you going. Sexperts claim that it takes about three minutes for the typical man to get in the mood. He sees you naked. He’s in the mood. Done. For women, it’s a lot more complicated, and any number of turn-offs that take place over any random 24 hour period can make a woman rank sex right up there with scrubbing the bathroom floor on her list of most treasured activities.

So you need to teach him what to do and what not to do to get you and keep you in the mood. For help, go ahead and print out the following lists and hand them to your partner to read.

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Honey These Things Turn Me On

  • Text “I love you” to me, just because you really do.
  • Do the dishes for no other reason than the fact that you noticed them sitting in the sink.
  • Eat whatever I’ve made for dinner and declare it a 5 star gourmet creation that the world’s pickiest eaters would all adore.
  • Get up in the middle of the night whenever one of our kids wakes from a nightmare.
  • Rub my feet, without expecting a foot rub (or any other kind of rub) in return.
  • If you borrow my car and notice that it only has a quarter tank left of gas, fill it up.
  • If you see a pile of letters sitting on the kitchen table, take them to the post office without being asked.
  • Whistle when you see me getting dressed or undressed.
  • Ask me if I’ve lost weight.
  • Tell me I look fantastic in whatever it is that I happen to be wearing.
  • Ask me to turn around so you can get a better look at all my beautiful body has to offer.
  • If you hear me cursing at my computer, ask me if there’s anything you can do.
  • If you notice me brooding, ask if I’d like to talk. Pour me a glass of wine, turn off the TV, and listen attentively.
  • Bring me my coffee or tea in the morning.
  • Brush your teeth and shower before asking for sex.

Honey These Things Turn Me Off

  • Whenever I am cooking, don’t say, “Don’t you think the burner is on too high? I think you’re going to burn it again.” In fact, just stay out of the kitchen.
  • Please don’t leave your empty beer bottles by the recliner or your underwear on the floor in the hallway.
  • If I am sitting next to you on the couch, please don’t force me to watch the fishing channel, hunting channel, or anything to do with cars-especially if a new episode of Criminal Minds (or whatever your favorite show is) is on.
  • Please don’t make sarcastic or hurtful comments about how I look. Also don’t make negative comments about something I say, wear, make for dinner, or do. For instance, “Have you gained weight?” Not good.
  • If you are in the mood, please don’t communicate that fact by rubbing my thigh with your hand or by suddenly crawling on top of me.
  • Don’t pass a violent amount of gas, turn our entire bedroom into a Hazmat zone, and then ask whether I’d like to have sex.
  • When I tell you that I really need to talk, don’t say, “Sure in a second. It’s almost half time.”
  • Please don’t leave the toilet seat up. It’s not fun to get my butt wet in the middle of the night.
  • Please don’t tell me, “I thought you were trying to lose weight” whenever I order dessert.
  • Please don’t stare at or make comments about another woman’s boobs, butt, or other random body part.

If you’ve tried marital counseling or have read any of the marital improvement books, then you’ve heard this phrase: A happy marriage requires communication. To me a marriage counselor can’t save your marriage.

Makes sense, right?

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Yet, if your marriage is anything like mine, it’s hard enough to find the time and energy needed to communicate the daily essentials like, “Honey we’re out of milk” and “Thursday is Wear White Day in Pre-K. Don’t forget to dress the kidlet in white.”

If I can’t even remember to tell my husband that his mother called and would appreciate a call back sometime this season, how am I supposed to find the time and energy to have a long sit-down about the fact that I’m none too enamored with his good-for-nothing midlife-crisis mobile? (More on this next week).

Are you with me?

I bet you are. What follows is a blend of advice that I picked up from the various marital improvement books I’ve read, along with some unique Samantha-isms, added in for good measure.

Samantha’s Guide to How to Save Your Marriage

Step 1: List your issues

Spend some time alone thinking about everything you don’t like about your marriage and your partner. List it all on a piece of paper. Then go through the list and check off the issues that really and truly matter. Perhaps, for instance, you can learn to accept his absence of table manners. On the other hand, you probably want to address the fact that he talks down to you.

Step 2: Pick your battles

Prioritize your list, picking just three items to address sooner than later. Of those three, pick just one to address right away.

Step 3: Create a “let’s talk” night

You won’t need to have an official Let’s Talk night forever, but it’s helpful in the beginning, because of that long list of issues you just created. It’s going to take a while to get through the list, so you might as well designate a night for it. More important, setting aside an official night to “talk” prevents you from threatening your partner with the phrase, “We need to talk.” Certain people—and my husband is one of them—completely shut down when they hear those four words. Instead of, “We need to talk” they hear, “You are so far into the dog house that I am declaring my vagina hands off for an entire year. And I’m not going to be civil to your mother for at least 6 months, too.” And once they hear that, they stop listening until you’ve stopped talking.

Step 4: On your given night, talk about one issue each

Flip a coin to see who goes first. Follow these rules:

  1. You can only bring up one issue. This is why I asked you to prioritize your list, to prevent you from asking your partner to change 50 aspects of his behavior and personality in just one night.
  2. While one person is talking, the other listens. If you find yourself formulating comebacks while your partner talks, YOU ARE NOT LISTENING. When listening, take notes if needed. Repeat back to your partner what he just said. Knowing that you must do this will force you to listen.
  3. As you talk about your issue, smile and keep an even tone of voice. It’s okay to avoid eye contact, though. In fact, it might help alleviate the tension. If your man is a strong and silent type, consider piggybacking your “let’s talk” session with a “let’s exercise together” session. You might find that he’s much less threatened and much more communicative if you talk as you walk.
  4. Get rid of the words “never” and “always,” as in, “You always do this to me” and “You never do what I ask.” Focus only on the one specific incident or problem.
  5. Get rid of the rhetoric. It’s much more effective to just state your case. The more colorful adjectives and zingers you toss into the mix, the more your partner will shut down or become angry.
  6. Try to use phrasing like, “When [INSERT DETAIL HERE], I feel [INSERT FEELING HERE.] Can you help me to solve this problem?” For instance, when I bring up the blasted midlife crisis mobile issue to my husband, I might phrase it like this, “When you tell me that you need to borrow my car because you can’t safely drive your car in the snow, I feel really frustrated because that means I’m stuck at home without a car. What can we do to make sure you have a car that you can drive in the snow?”
  7. Help each other solve problem. This is not about winning. It’s not about figuring out who is wrong or who is the poorer excuse for a spouse. It’s about finding a solution, so you can both be happier. Mutually define the problem together. Then come up with lots of different solutions, listing the pros and cons. Remember: tackle only one problem at a time. Don’t dredge up everything that has ever ticked you off since you met the man. (See Free Marriage Advice Part 2 for more on stockpiling).
  8. If you get heated up, take a time out. Some problems can’t be solved right away. Some problems take days or weeks (or months or years) to solve.

Step 5: Validate

Whenever your spouse follows through on your request, say two important words, “Thank you.” You can say those words in any way that makes sense to you, but say them. This will get him to do it again.

Step 6: Follow Up

Spouses learn in the same way kids learn—by taking two steps forward, one step back. He will slip up from time to time. Expect it. Whenever he takes a step back, gently point it out, “Honey, you just did it again” or “Sweetheart, you are doing it again.”

In the months after we started working on our marriage, my husband and I fought more than ever—and over some of the stupidest things. One night we got into it over the VCR, and how neither one of us could figure out why it wasn’t working. Another day we had a knock-down drag-out over the laundry, and the fact that I’d done a load. (Long story).

We argued about the tidiness of the bathroom counter. We got into shouting matches over whose turn it was to be the parent. We slung insults over which night should really be the Let’s Talk night.

It was ugly.

Periodically, I’d wonder: Shouldn’t we be fighting less? We’re working on our marriage. Our marriage is improving. Why are we fighting even more? Why am I angrier than ever?

We fought more, in part, because I was finding my voice. Whereas in years past I would have dealt with my displeasure with a loud sigh or an eye roll, I was now standing up for myself, and neither one of us was used to it.

I will tell you this: the fighting was much better than the not fighting. The not fighting almost wound us up in divorce court. The fighting? It always, without fail, brought us closer. More important, this spicy stage of our marriage eventually came to an end. We still fight, of course, but not nearly as often as we did then.

Fighting is Normal

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Once you allow yourself to really and truly believe that fighting is normal—that even the happiest of couples lose it from time to time—you’ll be well on your way to fighting fair. When you find yourself in the middle of an angry face off, do the following:

1. Abide by the following fair fighting rules.

They are:

  • Never threaten to leave.
  • Never threaten to hurt yourself.
  • Never express your anger physically, by hitting or throwing things at each other.
  • Never involve the kids. It’s not fair to your kids. They love you both and they don’t want to take sides. Don’t make them.
  • Never involve other people. It’s okay to vent anger to a friend, but don’t lure friends and family into a fight by forcing them to take sides or, in some way, participate in the argument.
  • Never fight while one of you is at work. It’s just not good for your career, and things that are not good for your career are also not good for your marriage.
  • It’s a great idea to try to never sling insults at one another, either, but know that—at times—you just will. You are both human. Yours is still a good marriage in training. You will have a few fender benders along the way. Deal with the damage and move on.

2. As soon as you are somewhat lucid, call a time out.

Say, “I’m so mad at you right now I could cut your balls off.” Or something like that. Be creative. The more creative you are about describing your anger, the more likely one or both of you might just laugh and, if that happens, the anger will drop down one level. Once you state the obvious, say, “Let’s take a time out until we both calm down.”

3. Calm down.

Do whatever it takes. Exercise. Break a few glasses in the sink. Breathe deeply. Do serious damage to a punching bag. Call a friend and rant. Do whatever it takes to get the anger out of your system.

4. Remind yourself that your objective is NOT to win.

This isn’t Wii boxing. It’s your marriage. Your objective is to come to a common understanding. As you calm yourself down, try to stop formulating comebacks and zingers. Instead, try to see the situation from your partner’s perspective. Don’t even bother opening your mouth again until you can do this. If needed, table any further discussion until your Let’s Talk Night.

5. Apologize, even if you don’t think you are wrong.

Learning how to say those two important words, “I’m sorry,” will not only improve your marriage, it will also improve your entire life. And it’s okay if you are not sorry for whatever caused the blow up—say for making your spouse’s least favorite meal for dinner. You can say, “I’m sorry you are so disappointed with me” or “I’m sorry that fight got so ugly,” or “I’m sorry I got so angry.”

How to Prevent a Blow Up

Anger usually surfaces for the following reasons:

Grumpiness. One or both of you is sick, tired, not sleeping well, hungry, or not eating right. Doing what you need to do to take care of yourself—by getting plenty of sleep, exercising, relaxing, and so on—will improve your marriage by making you a less tense and moody person.

Stress. Common Problems at work and in other areas of your life can easily stress out your relationship, too. If you are the type of person who likes to brood quietly, learn how to communicate this to your spouse. You might just say, “Something’s bothering me. If I seem grumpy or standoffish, don’t take it personally. It has nothing to do with you.”

Not speaking your voice soon enough. Too often, we get ticked off about something but, for any number of reasons, decide not to say anything about it. Then, time goes by, but the anger simmers and simmers and simmers. Left unaddressed, it will eventually boil over.

So whenever you find yourself slamming drawers, throwing laundry on the floor, or just generally fuming about something your spouse did or did not do, stop and do the following:

  1. Think about what’s wrong. How do you feel? Angry? Taken advantage of? Overwhelmed? Label the feeling.
  2. Why do you feel this way? What happened, and how did it lead to this emotion?
  3. Is the emotion legitimate? Be honest with yourself. Are you just grumpy or did your spouse really do you wrong?
  4. Get it out of your system—and not when your spouse is around. Go for a long run or walk. Call a friend and rant for a while. Write in your journal (or blog).
  5. Once you are calm, address it. Tell your spouse how you felt and why. Talk about how to prevent this problem in the future. Would you appreciate a change in behavior? For instance, do you want your spouse to not talk to you in a certain tone of voice, not make fun of you in front of your friends, or not ignore the kids? Ask for what you need.

This brings us to the end of this Free Marriage Advice post. I hope you found it helpful. Do you have questions about how to save your marriage? Leave a comment or email me directly. I will try to answer these questions either here in the comments area or in future blogs. Good luck!

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