How to Repair A Broken Marriage

by Carrie Stemke ; Updated November 17, 2017

A wedding photo in a broken frame on the wood floor.

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When your marriage is on the rocks, it can be a struggle just to get through the day with your spouse, and even harder to remember why you married this person in the first place. If you do decide that you want to try and fix your broken marriage, you should be aware that it will take a lot of work. Whether you decide to seek professional help or go it alone, there are many different methods that you can try. You just need to find the methods that work for you.

Don't Be Afraid to Work Alone

Conventional wisdom says that both spouses need to be putting in an equal amount of work in order to save the marriage. That's not necessarily the case. In fact, saving a broken marriage often boils down to the efforts of one person working toward a positive change. So if your marriage is suffering because of frequent criticism or due to a lack of quality time together, go ahead and compliment your spouse on a daily basis, or plan a date and surprise your partner. Receiving unexpectedly positive feedback can surprise and disarm your partner, and break the cycle of mutual negativity.

Break the Cycle of Fighting

People whose marriages are in distress often feel as though they spend all of their time either fighting with or being quietly angry at their spouse. Getting the marriage back on track will involve breaking the cycle of arguing and negativity. The key is what therapists call compassionate listening. It’s the listener’s job to let the other person speak without interruption or criticism, and then to repeat what the speaker said when she’s finished. It doesn't come naturally: It's something you'll need to deliberately practice, and it will take all your willpower not to interrupt when your partner says something that hurts or infuriates you. One technique that often helps is to shift your focus to your breathing for a few seconds, whenever those moments occur, and then exhale slowly once you've gotten on top of your emotions.

Limit Yourself to Three Sentences or Less

In any relationship, there are going to be arguments and complaints. Having a healthy marriage doesn't mean that you never fight, but it does mean that you learn to fight better. One great way to start is by learning to limit yourself to three sentences or less when you're bringing up an issue to your partner. So when he forgets to stop by the supermarket on the way home (again), say, "You said you'd bring home milk, and you didn't," and stop there. Resist tacking on those seemingly related extra issues, like, "I can't trust you with anything" or listing the other things he's forgotten to do that week.

Seek Professional Counseling

If you and your spouse both want to save the marriage but are having difficulty making any headway, you may want to consider seeking the aid of a professional marriage counselor. A trained therapist can help you see your relationship more objectively, interact with each other in a healthy way, and express personal emotions that you might have been holding back from each other. The best therapists are pragmatic and adaptable, following an evidence-based approach - using only techniques that are empirically proven to work - rather than sticking with one specific theoretical model or technique.

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About the Author

A New York native, Carrie Stemke is an avid writer, editor and traveler whose work has covered many different topics. She has had a lifelong fascination with and love of psychology, and hold's a bachelor's degree in the subject. Her psychology research articles have been published in Personality and Individual Differences and in Modern Psychological Studies.