How Can I Save My Marriage?

Identify emotions versus practical issues, and choose your language and behavior based on those classifications. Just that one step can keep you, too, from becoming a part of a statistic.
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Marriage is a tricky business, as 52 percent of our country can attest. The divorce rate is skyrocketing, and a growing number of couples have found that it's easier to separate than to delve into the actual causes of our everyday conflicts. How can you avoid the same fate? Using the following tips, you can make some major inroads in solving the problems in your relationship.

The Marital Bank
Picture this. You and your spouse have each had a rough couple of days, and you've been bickering on and off all week. When, one night, you can't decide whose turn it is to do the dishes, you explode -- with all the little things piling up, you've got no patience to deal with even the most mundane of issues.

Let's say, however, that each time one of those little conflicts arises, you take a breath (and maybe grit your teeth) and work things out civilly and practically. Even when the dishes are piled in the sink and both of you want to go watch TV, not only have you already set a precedent of patience and teamwork, but you've also eliminated the emotional buildup that often sends couples over the edge. Remember telling your kids how if they just kept their rooms relatively neat, they wouldn't have to spend their weekend cleaning when things got out of hand? That's what you're doing here -- keeping that relationship tidy.

So, in our terms, what you've done is made a deposit into your Marital Bank -- a collection of all of the emotions and interactions in a marriage or relationship. We deposit things like teamwork, patience and understanding; in times of conflict, those deposits are there to help us avoid the real catastrophes. And, of course, the greater the balance in your account, the stronger your relationship becomes.

Making a Deposit
The easiest way to make a deposit in the Marital Bank is through changing your language and compartmentalizing emotions. There are two main methods of communicating with a partner -- only one of which will accomplish a productive goal. The first and more common is, for the most part, merely an emotional reflex. Here's an example:

Withdrawal: "The garbage was collected three days ago, honey. Everyone else on the block has already put their trash cans away. We look ridiculous. Can't you just bring them in already?"

Haven't we all been there? Some little thing goes undone, we get frustrated, and we make sure our partner knows it. Everyone has a different way of expressing displeasure, but our natural tendencies all share one critical component: emotion. When we allow our emotions to direct our language and behavior, we inadvertently open the door for heightened conflict.

Let's look at another way to approach a difficult situation. What if we handled it this way?

Deposit: "Honey, would you mind bringing the trash cans in? I know you've been busy, but I don't want them to get broken or stolen out there. Thanks so much, I really appreciate it."

This approach addresses the exact same issue, but it sidesteps the frustration that pervaded our first example. Easier said than done? Actually, maybe not. The key here is simply taking a moment to identify the real problem. More often than not, our everyday communications get hijacked by the feelings that are tied to practical issues.

In the first example, the message that comes through isn't about the garbage; it's about the speaker's emotions -- emotions that may have been building for weeks. When these emotions aren't addressed, they can build up and seep out in everyday interactions like these. In the second example, however, the speaker focuses not on his or her emotions, but instead on the practical issue at hand. When discussions are unclouded by the emotions of either party, the couple can more easily work together to find a solution, which in turn strengthens the relationship. In our terms, this reinforcement takes the form of a deposit into the Marital Bank.

What About Feelings?
With all this talk of practicality, it's easy to worry about how the emotions in a relationship get processed. After all, our natural tendency to react heatedly to those everyday stumbling blocks exists because those feelings are very much present. Let's be clear: Do not ignore them! Your job as a partner in a relationship isn't to sidestep the things that bother you -- it's to address them in the appropriate context.

So take a moment before you jump into a discussion with your spouse or partner. Identify emotions versus practical issues, and choose your language and behavior based on those classifications. Just that one step can keep you, too, from becoming a part of a statistic.

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