DIY: Marriage Counseling

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Do-It-Yourself marriage counseling is a great idea as a first step in a troubled marriage, or a healthy marriage you'd like to improve. The primary focus of DIY marriage counseling is managing relatively minor concerns and conflicts.Once you have identified strategies that work for you, take incremental steps to improve your marriage.

Gain the cooperation of your spouse. DIY marriage counseling is most effective when partners agree to work together. However, if your partner is unwilling to address issues or consider that the marriage may benefit from counseling, you can make changes on your own that will help your marriage. When you model great communication and conflict resolution skills, your partner will likely follow your lead.

List areas to improve. Ask for your spouse's input and create a list -- either working together or separately -- of areas of the partnership that could use some help. For example, do you feel disconnected, as if you are not in touch with each other and what the other is thinking and feeling? On the other hand, you may feel that the housework is not evenly divided and that you are shouldering too much of the cleaning burden. The uneven division of labor problem applies to kids' activities, bringing in income or yard work as well. You may feel your sex life is overactive, unfulfilling or routine. You may want to discuss your partner's schedule, and how little time they spend at home. This is the time to brainstorm, not make judgments. If your partner thinks it is a problem, add it to the list.

Research causes of problems. Take some time separately and together to read background literature that applies to your problems. There are dozens of resources on relationships, and not all will apply to your marriage. But you can gain some significant insight into what makes your partner tick by looking at information on personality, for example. Read about the development and deterioration of relationships, communication styles, conflict styles and perception.

Write down possible solutions. Before getting together with your partner again, look at each of the problems and prioritize them, according to your perception. Your spouse may prioritize differently, so be prepared to adjust. For each of the top three challenges you are facing, write down a variety of possible solutions. Step back and think about your spouse and how they might feel about the issue. Then suggest solutions you think will let both of you reach your goals.

Identify the first issue. Decide together on the issue you'd like to tackle first. If you disagree and can't reconcile, choose one issue each. Discuss your perceptions of the problem, and listen to your spouse's perception. Focus on the problem itself, not on your spouse's personality or character. For example, if you want to have your spouse help with cooking dinner, say something like, "I get tired of the constant pressure to decide on what to cook for dinner and getting it done on time each night. Could we share this job?" rather than saying, "You are so lazy! I'll bet you haven't lifted a finger to cook dinner for two years." The first is likely to lead to a discussion; the second is likely to lead to a defensive retort, then arguing.

Suggest solutions. Listen actively without criticism to your partner's suggestions for solutions, then share yours. Discuss the ides together, then decide on a course of action that helps both of your reach your goals.

Make commitments and deadlines. Commit to a course of action and a date to meet to evaluate your progress. Keep your commitments to change.

Sign up for retreats or classes. Even strong marriages benefit from self-awareness and recommitment. Consider a marriage retreat or class offered by your religious congregation or respected community group. Be sure to get recommendations from people you trust.

Use nondemanding touch frequently. One of the best ways to strengthen a marriage is to use nondemanding touch, meaning touch that has no requests for sexual or other favors following the touch. Full body hugs -- long-lasting -- hand holds, shoulder touches and arm squeezes are touches that can build connections.