Does your partner want to leave you? Here are 9 things you can do to save your marriage

For years, Mary pleaded with Jim to work on their marriage, but Jim felt they didn’t need help.

Eventually she gave up and made plans to leave him. Now Jim is desperate for help.

Mary’s desire to leave was a painful surprise and a powerful wake up call.

Having Jim’s full attention, I recommended 9 things we can do to save our marriage.

1. Express your appreciation for your partner multiple times every day

Jim’s first assignment was to share appreciations with Mary every day. This was a real change from his behavior in the past.

One evening, instead of leaving her to do the dishes, he dove in to help and said, “One thing I appreciate about you is how hard you work doing more than your share of the housework.”

Mary not only warmed up to the words of appreciation, she was impacted positively by Jim’s sincere desire to help with a task he usually left to her. 

Good job Jim! But don’t expect immediate results. You’re goal is to win the superbowl. You just got a first down. This requires patient endurance. But that’s a good start!

2. Do things that make your partner feel loved multiple times every day

If she’s open to it, use the Caring Behaviors exercise to discover the things that make her feel loved.

If not, watch for hints that she drops. If she says, “If only I had a break from the kids on Saturday, I could get a pedicure”, what do you do?

That’s right! Secretly make an appointment for her, and plan a Saturday outing with the kids. Then let her know on Friday night.

When you hit the target of what makes your partner feel loved, she cannot help but feel loved. Doing this consistently will start to open your partner’s heart and rekindle her love for you. 

But, if she is not open to your doing these things at first, don’t push it. Just continue making gentle efforts without pressuring her. 

3. Take your partner on a date to do something fun

Not what you think is fun. Find out what is fun for her and do that. 

Take her to see that movie she wants to see. Plan a dinner at her favorite restaurant. Take her to that park she has wanted to visit. Take her shopping. Find ways to laugh together.

Go all out. Pretend you’re trying to win her for the first time. Spare no effort or expense. Invest everything you’ve got. It’ll be well worth it in the end.

save-your-marriage

4. Surprise your partner with something she loves

Surprise her with coffee in the morning. Surprise her with breakfast in bed. Go out and initiate a project she’s wanting to do in the patio. Jump in and help her get the kids ready. Vacuum the house. Do the dishes. Surprise her with that new fountain she’s been wanting. Repair that broken fence that has been causing her stress. Take her out for coffee just to talk. Surprise her with flowers or her favorite candy.

Some things like planning a romantic getaway may not work if she’s not ready for that. Make sure you respect her limits at this time. Pressuring her will  be counterproductive. Don’t focus on what you can’t do. Do the little things you can do.

Be spontaneous and sincere. Let your efforts to surprise her come out of a heart that says “I genuinely care about you”, not “I’m just trying to get you back.”

5. Casually initiate non-sexual touching

Don’t let it be obvious what you are doing. Be subtle about it. 

A brief shoulder rub. A hug when you see her. Casually put your arm around her. Hold her hand briefly when you’re walking. A longer backrub if that is welcome. Rub her feet (even if she can’t stand you right now, she might let you rub her feet). 

Give her any kind of non-sexual touch that is welcome. 

Make sure to keep the touching non-sexual if your partner doesn’t want to be intimate. Give her room to not want to have sex right now if that’s where she is. You want to win her heart. When she gives you her heart, her body will follow.

Here’s a little secret: Non-sexual touching will bypass her rational rejection of you and release a chemical called oxytocin into her system which will cause her to feel closer to you and safer with you. This combined with all these other efforts you’re doing will go a long way in changing body chemistry and opening her heart to you.

6. Listen to your partner with undivided attention

Listen to what she’s thinking and feeling. Don’t judge. Don’t fix. Don’t even piggy back with your own ideas. Don’t look at your phone when she’s talking.

Use basic mirroring skills to show genuine interest and curiosity.

Use these sentence stems to simply mirror back to her what she’s saying. 

“Let me see if I got what you’re saying. You said…” 

(Paraphrase or repeat word for word what she said.)

“Did I get it?” 

(This is checking for accuracy. Staying interested.)

“Is there more about that?” 

(Turning on your curiosity. And staying curious.)

Mirroring makes your partner feel like you care. Mirroring says “You matter. What you have to say matters.” Your partner will translate that as “You value me.” 

When we feel heard, we feel valued and safe. Mirroring can help your partner start to feel safe enough to join the conversation with you about your relationship.

7. Validate your partner’s reasons for not wanting to be with you

You can validate her without agreeing with her. You don’t have to admit guilt if you’re not guilty. But do not defend yourself even if she doesn’t have her story right about you.

Simply let her know that she makes sense. 

Use this prompt:

What you said makes sense. And what makes sense about it is…

Here’s an example.

“It makes sense that after years of feeling neglected and taken for granted you wouldn’t want to be with me. That makes sense.” 

Let her know she’s not crazy. Anyone would feel that way.

8. Empathize with your partner’s feelings of anger, fear, sadness or hopelessness

This is where you start feeling what she feels. 

Use the stem: “I can imagine you’re feeling…”

Here’s an example: “I can imagine how lonely you’ve felt for all these years. I can understand how empty and sad and frustrating that must have been.”

If she questions your sincerity it’s because she doesn’t trust you yet. That is normal!  Just keep working to make your conversations sincere and safe for her. You’ll get there!

Finally…

couple-reconnecting-after-affair

9. Learn to express your own needs in the relationship

Hey Chuck, “What about my needs? Will there ever be a time to share my frustrations with her? This sounds like I’m taking all the blame. What about her part in the relationship failure?”

Even though you’re taking the full burden of restoring the relationship by using these tools, it will also be important eventually for you to share your own needs, desires, and frustrations. 

One of the ways we can lose connection with our partner is when we withdraw and repress our own needs. We may think we’re being nice, but we are actually robbing our relationship by doing this. 

In our example, part of Mary’s frustration is that, for most of their relationship, Jim didn’t share his needs. This caused her to feel abandoned by him. Ultimately Mary won’t be happy in the relationship unless she is meeting Jim’s needs, even as he is working to meet hers.

So, it will be important for your partner to listen to you in the same way, and to express love to you in the same way. She needs that as much as you do.

But for now put this idea off in the future. Wait until she feels safe and wants to be with you again.

Patience and perseverence!

At one point Jim said, “I’ve been doing these things for three weeks and she still wants to separate. It’s not working!”

I said, “How long did it take you to get in this mess? Don’t expect results so soon.”

Although…you’ll be surprised how often a breakthrough is right around the corner.

So don’t give up. Keep going!

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What do I do when my husband is avoiding conflict?

I was that husband avoiding conflict!

Here are three powerful insights that helped me stop avoiding conflict, and start engaging in a way that led us to a deeper connection as a couple.

Last week I wrote a personal account about how “Our fights started on our honeymoon! Is there any hope for us?”

The focus was on Sandy’s feeling of abandonment whenever I (Chuck) would withdraw from conflict.

Today’s focus is on how I felt controlled whenever Sandy would be upset about “being abandoned”.

Can any of you guys relate? No wonder I avoided conflict, right?

Here are some insights that helped me do my part to break this unhealthy pattern.

1. Avoiding conflict can activate the childhood wound of abandonment in your partner.

When I pulled away from Sandy to avoid conflict, I thought I was doing a good thing.

I thought, “Fighting is bad.” “Not fighting is good.” So let’s not fight.

I couldn’t understand why Sandy would get so hurt and upset when I was just “trying to do the right thing”.

It was because I didn’t see how avoiding conflict was affecting her.

My withdrawal triggered her feelings of abandonment at the deepest level.

According to Dr. Herb Tannenbaum, when our childhood wounds are triggered…

A five watt stimulus can produce a 1000 watt reaction.

So the first step for me was to become conscious of how my actions to avoid conflict activated Sandy’s childhood wound of abandonment.

You can read more about that process in last week’ post.

2. Avoiding conflict keeps you from getting the love you want.

Why did I avoid conflict?

Because I feared intimacy.

This strategy of avoidance helped me survive a childhood, where I often felt smothered and controlled.

As a child, connection and attachment was not a pleasurable experience.

So, in my adult relationship, I feared intimacy because it was tantamount to intrusion and absorption and control.

And yet what I craved more than anything was that very intimacy I was missing by avoiding conflict.

Wow! Talking about a dilemma!

I craved connection with Sandy. And yet I avoided the conflict that could lead us to that connection.

If conflict is handled well, it can lead you to a deeper connection and to getting the love you want.

We get married because we have found someone who will help us finish our childhood, by healing and recovering parts of ourselves lost along the way.

We know intuitively that this person is the key to feeling fully alive and whole again.

So marriage makes a lot of sense.

The problem is that conflict is what catalyzes the healing and growth that results in wholeness and full-aliveness.

So, if I’m avoiding conflict, I’m missing out on the whole deal.

I realized that Sandy and I did not feel connected. And by continuing to avoid conflict I was settling for less, willing to live in that disconnected state.

And it doesn’t end there. If you don’t address this it will get worse.

The partner who is avoiding intimacy will look for substitutes for that intimacy in things outside the marriage.

Things that bring a temporary feeling of being alive but it doesn’t last.

In my case, I was first driven to pursue my career with passion.

Nothing wrong with that in itself, but when it’s a replacement for the real intimacy missing in your marriage, it always turns out to be an empty illusion.

The more I would seek my full-aliveness in work…you guessed it.

The more Sandy would feel abandoned.

And although she was careful not to criticize, her negative feelings came through.

I just wasn’t measuring up!

And it was true.

What a wife needs most is to feel connected with her husband. And that feeling of connection was not there.

When the glory my career accomplishments faded, I turned to my lifelong love affair with music and my guitar became the new “mistress”.

Then it was my infatuation with road biking

…all good things, but all empty in the end.

When we’re in a marriage that doesn’t feel connected, we look for exits that we think can fill the emptiness and loneliness.

But they don’t really work. And the pattern continues.

Experts tell us that only 10% of married couples report having a truly satisfying relationship.

We were one of that 90% – staying married, but not happy campers.

The 90% settles for either a “silent divorce” where they remain together in agony and in separate lives…

…or they settle for a “parallel marriage” where they are relatively happy together, but most of their needs are being met outside the relationship through things like work, hobbies, social causes, sports, gaming, etc.

This is where we were.

But thanks to Sandy we didn’t settle there!

What did Sandy do? She talked about it.

And I’m glad she did, rather than settling for less.

I so admire her for that. She was able to identify what was missing in our marriage, and that is the reason we are where we are today.

So speak up. But do it in the context of a Safe Conversation so transformation of your relationship can occur.

Our marriage was transformed the day I realized that full-aliveness doesn’t come through all the things I was seeking outside our relationship.

Full-aliveness comes with safety, connection and passion in my relationship with Sandy.

Like Dorothy of the Wizard of Oz, I realized that everything I needed was right here with me all along.

But how did this change happen?

3. The “Commitment Dialogue” helps the “avoider” stay present and heal the one who feels abandoned.

Nothing happens in a relationship unless it’s safe.

One drop of negativity renders a conversation unsafe and therefore nothing transformational can happen.

Whenever someone withdraws from a conversation, the conversation is unsafe.

Whenever someone criticizes someone (even so called “constructive criticism”), the conversation is unsafe.

And did I say that nothing happens in a relationship unless it’s safe?

Oh yeah.

Ok, so how did you get to a Safe Conversation that brought about this change in you and Sandy?

The most powerful tool we found is called the Commitment Dialogue from Imago Couples Therapy.

Here’s how it went for Sandy and me.

After I integrated the first two insights I’ve shared above, i.e.,

1. My avoidance was hurting Sandy at the deepest level, not because I was evil, but because neither of us were conscious of the childhood wound of abandonment that was so painful.

2. My avoidance was ripping me off from the experience of full-aliveness in my relationship with Sandy.

I was ready to do…

3. The Commitment Dialogue.

Here is a summary of what happened:

Chuck made an appointment to dialogue with Sandy.

Chuck began with the sentence stem, “One activity I use to avoid connecting with you is…” And I talked about how I withdraw when I feel criticized.

Sandy mirrored using the stem, “What I hear you saying is..” She checked for accuracy by asking, “Did I get it?” And then she remained curious by asking, “Is there more about that?”

Chuck continued with more details that went deeper into his childhood.

BTW: Curiosity helped Sandy regulate her reactive emotions, and made it safe for Chuck to access his feelings.

(As a result, several new insights dropped out of  my unconscious mind, helping Sandy to better see and know the real me. And it helped me to see me too :-).

Can you see how it would have shut things down if Sandy had allowed feelings of abandonment to cause her to react rather than remain curious?

Did I say nothing can happen in a relationship that’s not safe?)

Sandy summarized what Chuck said and then VALIDATED it, using the stem “Chuck, what you’re saying makes sense, and what makes sense about it is…

Then she EMPATHIZED with Chuck saying, “I can imagine that it feels…”

Chuck finished the dialogue by saying, “I’m committing today to keep talking about this with words, rather than acting it out and withdrawing from conflict.”

At this point the new paradigm was integrated, a shift occurred, and Chuck transformed fundamentally into an “engager” rather than an “avoider”.

It’s not perfect, but it is truly a fundamental shift that has changed everything.

Now when I feel criticized or controlled, I’m working toward facing it and talking about it rather than avoiding it.

That new area of growth for me is hard. But it enables me to be present with Sandy when she needs it most.

When I do that, it brings healing for her.

The area of growth for her is learning to communicate her feelings in a safe way with zero negativity.

And of course that means healing for me.

And that makes it much easier to stay present with her and deepen our connection.

The old cycle of criticism and withdrawal is being replaced with one of safety and connection.

This new partnership of healing and growth is a “win-win” to say the least.

Share you insights and questions below…and, if you haven’t already, be sure to…

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4 warning signs that your marriage is in trouble (and what to do about it)

Perplexed about problems in your marriage? Looking for solutions?

“I didn’t know we had marriage troubles, but then, without any warning, she left!”

“I felt a little strain in the relationship, but didn’t think it was a problem until I saw a text message revealing his affair!”

Marriages blow up! And sometimes it happens unexpectedly!

If you’re reading this and thinking “Who me? No, we’re doing fine.”

Good. I hope so.

…but read on, just in case.

Because some couples don’t see the signs of the end until it’s too late.

What are the signs that my marriage is in trouble?

John Gottman researched it, and what he found was this:

Four communication styles that predict the end of a relationship with over 90% accuracy.

Gottman calls them, “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”.

 

As I briefly describe these warning signs, ask yourself, "Are any of these present in my relationship?"

And if so, consider the answer I provide at the end, and let’s head off the horsemen before it’s too late!

THE WARNING SIGNS THAT YOUR RELATIONSHIP IS IN TROUBLE:

1. CRITICISM

Instead of dealing with the problem, you attack your partner’s character.

It looks something like this.

“You’re so selfish!”

When a conflict happens are you prone to attack your partner?

But Chuck my partner IS selfish!

Sure it feels that way, but can I let you in on a little secret?

It’s because he’s only seeing his reality and not yours. 

But guess what?  The same is true for you! 

You’re only seeing your reality and not his.

Hmm.

You say he’s selfish. And what is he saying (or thinking)?

"You're selfish!"

"No! You're selfish!"

Am I close?

It’s that limited, one-sided view of your relationship, that makes you seem selfish to each other. The psychological term for this is symbiosis.

So what do we do? How do we stop the mudslinging?

The answer is differentiation. The ability to hold your reality and his at the same time.

Differentiation can happen through the Couples Dialogue.

The Imago Couples Dialogue will help you begin to see your partner not just as someone who is “selfish”, but someone who is actually trying making a legitimate need known. 

Harville Hendrix said

Every criticism is a wish in disguise!

You just didn’t know there was actually something very legitimate behind that expression of “self”. 

But perhaps this was the real problem:

Your partner expressed it in a way that didn’t acknowledge your reality, making you feel stepped on.

Well that makes sense!

This is what causes us to be defensive and see our partner as selfish.

We both have the idea, 

“You and I are one. And I am the one.”

And there’s this power struggle.

Right?

The Couples Dialogue can help you transform a conflict into an awesome opportunity for growth and healing. More on that later.

Let’s look at the second of the signs of demise.

2. CONTEMPT

Contempt is when you assume a position of moral superiority.

Like…

“What an idiot!”

Remember that saying by Irving Becker?

“If you don’t like someone, the way he holds his spoon will make you furious; if you do like him, he can turn his plate over into your lap and you won’t mind.”

Contempt is fueled when couples don’t feel connected. They start not liking each other.

“The way he hold his spoon make me furious.”

“I can’t stand all those annoying habits.”

“The way he eats disgust me.”

That’s contempt.

Things that really didn’t bother you when you were close, now repulse you.

Here’s a secret.

It's not the annoying habits that are the problem, it's that you don't feel connected.

Once you reconnect all this contempt goes away.

I promise.

But here’s a sobering reality.

If I don’t deal with contempt, that is the beginning of the end.

Gottman says, of all these predictors, this one is the biggest predictor of divorce.

There is an answer; a way to turn your contempt into close connection and rekindled love. 

We’ll get to that later.

But first, for those who still looking for danger signs in your relationship, here’s another one. 

Keep your eyes open. Grab some more coffee if you need to.

3. DEFENSIVENESS

Rather than seeing my role in the relationship problem, it’s easier to blame you.

“It’s not my fault we’re always late!”

And wherever you find defensiveness there is always blaming.

“If you weren’t so controlling our children wouldn’t be so out of control!”

Have you ever wondered why your partner sometimes reacts in a way that is extreme? Or have you noticed yourself doing that?

There’s a reason behind that extreme reaction that your may not be seeing.

If that’s true then your partner is only the trigger. 

The source of your reaction might be a childhood wound, frustration or need of which you’re not even conscious.

This means you might be blaming your partner for a frustration they are triggering, but in reality that is not where the pain is actually coming from.

I think I would want to know this, if it is indeed true.

It sounds complicated and mysterious but really it isn’t.

And there is a solution. Keep reading.

The final sign that my relationship is tanking is…

4. STONEWALLING

Stonewalling = Rather than talk about our problems, I’m too hopeless to even try.

“Just forget it.”

You stonewall when it’s just too painful to even hope that things could ever change.

There’s a fatal sense of resignation that is palpable when partners are stonewalling.

Some see stonewalling as a way to keep the peace.

But things that aren’t talked out always get acted out.

In one way or another.

Sometimes a partner will stuff it until it blows like a volcano.

Others will stuff it until it severs the feeling of connection completely. 

Then they don’t even care to resolve it.

That’s when stonewalling becomes your lifestyle.

You’re no longer living with your partner; you’re only living with his or her defenses. Yikes.

Stonewalling may avoid conflict temporarily but it won’t help you reconnect.

Is there a better way?

 

"So, what is the answer, Chuck? How do I eliminate these destructive patterns from my relationship?"

Imago Couples Dialogue

This is the tool I use with couples every week in many different forms.

(Click here to print out this tool for your own use.)

Everything we do in Imago Relationship Therapy is based on this basic and powerful approach.

It’s more than a communication tool. Communication isn’t your only problem. You can communicate and still not feel connected. 

It’s more than conflict resolution. You can even resolve your problem but still not feel connected. As a matter of fact, if you’re just talking about your problem, you may never solve THE problem, which is not feeling connected.

It’s more than active listening. It’s listening in a way that leads to differentiation – seeing your partner’s reality as valid, and empathizing in a way that transforms how you see your partner while making it safe for you to connect.

Imago Couples Dialogue can help you transform your relationship.

You can turn...

CRITICISM into healthy self-expression that results in connection.

CONTEMPT into a safe connection where romance is rekindled.

DEFENSIVENESS into a conscious awareness of my own part in the problem, and that my partner is not the villain I thought she was.

STONEWALLING into a new hope that I can be heard and validated by my partner, and that he can be with me in my pain and in my fear.

Wow! I want that.

Here’s how the dialogue works.

There are thee parts: Mirroring, Validation and Empathy.

MIRRORING

Mirroring slows things way down.

Mirroring involves taking turns talking, where one talks and the other listens.

It seems awkward and wooden at first but keep going because it works.

If you’re the one listening, after your partner gives a few sentences about their concern, repeat what was said in your own words. Then ask, “Did I get it?” Then ask, “Is there more about that?”

Those questions help you stay curious and regulate your own reactions.

Let her continue talking until she feel completely heard.

MIRRORING says to your partner, “You matter. I see you. You’re worth being heard and understood.”

After your partner says everything needed to be said, SUMMARIZE it, to once again make sure you got it.

Then the next step is Validation.

VALIDATION

To validate what your partner said simply complete this sentence:

“What you said makes sense. And what makes sense about it is…”

VALIDATION says to your partner, “Even though I may see things differently, you make sense.”

Did you get that part about “I may see things differently”

That’s right. Don’t let your need to be right sabotage the dialogue that will help you connect.

Here’s the point: Your partner IS different! 

Your partner is not what you project on him or what you expect her to be. 

That’s romantic fantasy. 

Now you’re in reality. 

A real relationship with ANOTHER person. Did you get that?  an “other” person. Different from you. Wow!

Though the Dialogue process what you discover is she’s not what you thought she was.

But now you’re curious and exploring her, rather that playing tug of war with her.

And you find that, although there is brokenness and scars and sensitivities you didn’t know about, she really is beautiful and fascinating in all that brokenness.

Now you’re on your way t0 connecting!

EMPATHY

You empathize by finishing these kinds of statements with what you now see and understand.

“Given all that, I imagine you feel…”

“Are those the feelings?”

Empathizing says to your partner, 

I know what it’s like to experience your pain or fear or joy.”

“And I’m present with you in that feeling.”

Keep going in this Dialogue until you see a breakthrough in your relationship.

So, if you see some of these predictors of doom in your relationship,

the Couples Dialogue can help you address and eliminate them, and bring you into a deeper connection with each other.

(Click here to print out The Couple’s Dialogue.)

Try it! And let me know if I can help

Also, please share in the comments below your thoughts, questions and stories so we can all learn from you.

Until next week,

Chuck

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