The tension is palpable. You’re walking on eggshells because you’re afraid to start another fight. You feel distant from this person you love so much and you can’t figure out why. Your marriage is quickly falling apart and you don’t know what to do.
I’ve been there. And here’s what I’ve learned (and am still learning).
The first thing you should do when your marriage falls apart is work on yourself. This is not me shaming you and saying you are the only reason your marriage is falling apart. There’s two people in a relationship, so both people are responsible for nurturing it.
That being said, you should work on yourself before working on your marriage because at this point, you have nothing new to bring to the table. It’s the same you trying to work on the same problems and having the same outcomes.
Here are a few ways you can work on yourself (and your marriage):
A great place to start working on yourself is with a therapist. Therapy is a great resource to help you discover your personal weaknesses. These may be affecting both your life and your relationship.
I did a year and a half of individual therapy before my spouse and I started couples therapy. It was more of a struggle than I thought it would be. It took me two months before I really opened up to my therapist about my problems and the next six months to allow myself to be okay with my emotions. Once we had that breakthrough we were really able to dig deep into my other problems (like people pleasing, perfectionism, and my inability to handle conflict).
Our marriage is not perfect. And the outcome is not guaranteed. But if we had tried couples therapy before my individual therapy it would have been a disaster. Had I started with couples therapy, I would never have been able to express how I felt, let alone work on my marriage while my other struggles went unaddressed. Working with a therapist on my own helped bring them to light. The more I worked on myself in therapy, the more equipped I was to handle problems in our marriage.
Maybe you have struggles that you aren’t aware of yet. Working on them with a therapist first will make working on your marriage easier.
The self-help books out there are endless. Which is a great thing. I started making significant progress when I started reading about my problems.
Reading is a great resource for so many reasons. Books are so inexpensive (even free from the library). The individual work you do through reading is in your own space. So you can be as vulnerable as you need to. It’s at your own pace, which allows you to really take in what you’re learning.
It also allows for great discussion starters. Some emotions or problems are hard to navigate. But if I read something that resonated with me, I would show it to my husband and say, “This is exactly how I feel.” Then we could talk about something I might never have been able to articulate on my own.
Everyone has different needs. Asking your therapist for book suggestions can give you a great place to start. But some books I read that helped me are:
— The Defining Decade:Why Your Twenties Matter — And How to Make the Most of Them Now by Meg Jay, PhD
— Willpower Doesn’t Work by Benjamin Hardy, PhD
— 7 Principles for Making a Marriage Work by John M. Gottman, PhD
— Shattering the Porcelain by Carly LeBaron, LMFT
— Personality Isn’t Permanent by Benjamin Hardy, PhD
— The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman
You’d be surprised how much your health can affect the quality of your marriage. If you don’t take care of your body’s needs, it’s going to be difficult to take care of your marriage.
When our marriage was at its worst, so was my health.
When I decided to start working on myself, health was definitely something I gave a lot of attention to. Things I worked on were:
— getting more sleep
— drinking more water (half my body weight in ounces)
— exercising at least three times a week
— eating healthy food
By getting more sleep, I was less irritable and in a better mood. This helped me to approach day-to-day relationship struggles with a clearer head. Drinking more water and eating healthier helped me to have more energy, making me a funner person to be around. Exercising was a healthy outlet for built up stress and helped me to feel more confident in myself.
When I began to sense that something was off in our marriage, I started working overtime to change my husband’s feelings about us. I internalized every negative emotion my husband had — even if it wasn’t about me. Then I would try to fix every problem (or every anticipated problem). It was exhausting and I felt like I was always walking on eggshells.
Instead of taking responsibility for my own happiness, I invested all my effort into making my husband happy. But it doesn’t work that way. We are both individually responsible for making ourselves happy.
Changing my efforts from making my husband happy to working on myself was liberating. I felt empowered and in control. This is something I still struggle with, but it’s worth the effort.
Realizing that your happiness doesn’t depend on someone else is key for a relationship to thrive. Obviously you care about the other person and you want them to be happy, but you can’t make them happy. And they can’t make you happy. Freeing yourself and your partner from this responsibility is healthy for both of you. It will give you more space to be yourselves.
It’s hard to be a broken person trying to fix a broken marriage. And you’re likely more broken than you think. So the first thing you should do when your marriage is crumbling is to work on yourself. You need to take care of yourself before you can take care of someone else.