If your spouse has gone from being your best friend to feeling like a total stranger, you may wonder if your marriage is on the outs. But getting a divorce is a huge decision, especially if there’s a chance you can rebuild what’s been lost. We asked the experts for their advice on how to save a marriage, so you can stop googling “signs you’re in a loveless relationship,” and start trying to salvage what’s left-if that’s indeed what you’re looking for. Here’s what we learned:
Recognize what’s working.
Chances are, your relationship isn’t all bad, all the time―but it can be hard to single out the good things when there’s so much discord. “All marriages have low points,” says Chute, LMSW. “What brings people out of the low points is their ability to be open to the positives.” One way to do this is by changing your inner dialogue when you’re unhappy with your partner. For example, instead of thinking I’m so irritated that they’re never home for dinner try saying, I’m grateful they have the weekends free to spend time with the family. Reframing your mindset to be more positive, allows for more acceptance and may help rebuild the friendship and trust that feels gone.
Remember the good.
When you first met, did you love exploring new places together? Did you make each other laugh? When a marriage is failing, it’s important for both partners to try to recognize and remember the things that once attracted you to each other, says Dr. Erica MacGregor, a clinical psychologist who specializes in couples therapy.
According to MacGregor, if couples can remember why they fell in love in the first place, then there is “a glimmer of hope.” Use those feelings and memories as the foundation to rebuild what’s broken.
Accept the past.
Maybe one of you had an affair. Or perhaps you discovered something about your partner that shook you to the core. Whatever it is, if you’ve both decided to move forward together, it’s important to embrace what happened and commit to a new beginning, says MacGregor.
She explains, “In some cases, this means grieving the loss of what you once idealized in your relationship and realizing that it has changed into something different.” Nancy Dreyfus, author of Talk To Me Like I’m Someone You Love, agrees, “You don’t want a patch-up job,” she says. Instead, “recreate something fresh, with more transparency than before.”
It can be difficult to see your partner’s point of view, especially when you disagree. But in order to bring a marriage back from the brink,“couples need to be able to listen to something that sounds totally absurd, and still see how it looks to their partner,” explains Dreyfus. For example, this may mean saying things like, It’s hard to admit, but I can see why you may fantasize about other people. While it may feel uncomfortable, “you are not betraying yourself,” says Dreyfus. Instead, what you are doing is validating your partner’s truth, bringing you one step closer to rebuilding your partnership.
Find time for self-care.
Do you count on your partner to be your everything? If so, that can hit a marriage hard. “We cannot expect our partner to fulfill all our needs,” says Kelley Kitley LCSW psychotherapist and author.
In order to have a healthy marriage, “we have the responsibility to live dynamic lives including socializing, friendships, and activities that ensure we are living our best life,” she explains. When you are happy with yourself, it’s easier to be happy in the relationship. “We are all a work in progress,” says Kitley.
Put the relationship first.
“Both individuals in the marriage need to make improving the relationship a priority,” Kitley says. But to do this, each person needs to be self-aware and reflective of their role. Kitley recommends asking yourself, “Am I putting effort into this relationship or are we just living parallel lives?” She says some marriages just need a “tune up,” and recommends date nights or going away on an uninterrupted weekend together to help regain lost intimacy.
Acknowledge what you can’t fix.
Relationship expert and best-selling author John Gottman believes every couple has their own set of conflicts that will never be resolved. “These conflicts come up again and again in a relationship,” explains MacGregor.
Instead of trying to win the argument each time these unsolvable issues arise, MacGregor says that couples should come to an understanding regarding the deeper meaning of each other’s position. “That understanding creates intimacy and connection,” she says.
Don’t give up too soon.
“Understandably, there may be some ambivalence,” says MacGregor, “but there has to be a commitment to try to work through the difficult issues.” This can take months or even years-each couple and situation is different. The truth is, everyone has their bad habits, annoyances, and unique problems. “If each partner realizes that they will have conflicts no matter who they are married to, this bodes well for the success of the marriage,” she says.
Ask for help.
You can follow all the advice, and read all the books, but sometimes the most effective option is to see a licensed professional who can work with you and your spouse to address specific issues. “A marriage therapist can act as coach, mediator and a teacher,” says Kitley. A good marriage therapist should stay as neutral as possible while supporting and challenging both parties, she explains. To find a therapist you both are comfortable with, Kitley suggests asking friends for recommendations. Or, start your search on GoodTherapy, ZocDoc, or Psychology Today. Alternatively, if you’re a member of a religious organization, you can ask if they have trained clergy to counsel.