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.

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!


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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    Don’t settle for an “OK” marriage”! Ask for what you need!

    So many couples are staying together in an unhappy marriage. When you ask how they’re doing, they’ll say, ‘OK’.

    That’s code for ‘I’ve settled’.

    In more open and honest moments, they’ll admit, ‘We say we’re happily married, but actually most of our needs are being met outside our relationship.’


    ‘Everyone thinks we’re doing fine, but we don’t really feel connected. He does his thing and I do mine. We’re like ships passing in the night.’

    Can you relate? Would that describe your marriage?

    Well join the crowd!

    Experts tell us that up to 60% of couples who stay married report their relationship as ‘less than satisfactory’.

    Some of these couples make it to the end of their lives, surviving in this prison. Life sure didn’t turn out like they expected, but they felt hopeless to change it.

    But other couples don’t survive. Their relationship eventually blows up and ends.

    And it doesn’t have to be a big problem that blows it up. You’ll hear them blame it on things like, ‘We couldn’t agree on whether to squeeze the toothpaste from the top or the bottom of the tube.’

    But here’s what actually happened:

    Years of living with someone without feeling connected resulted in pain that became unbearable.

    And they put off getting help until it was too late.

    Dr. John Gottman said that the average time it takes for a person with a pain in their heart to call for help is four hours.

    But the average time it takes for a person with a pain in their marriage to call for help is seven years!

    So don’t wait!

    You can break out of that place where you’re stuck by learning to ask for what you need!

    Change happens when we make it safe enough for each other to turn our frustrations into desires expressed.

    Then when my partner gives me what I ask for, it brings healing to me and closeness in our relationship.

    But for my partner, it usually means they must be willing to grow into parts of themselves they never developed.

    And that’s hard.

    ‘Wait a minute Chuck! You said to ask for what I need? I’ve done that a thousand times and it didn’t work!’

    Did you make it safe enough to ask for what you need? Or did you just ask?

    Asking someone who is in a defensive mode always comes across as nagging. And you’re right! That never works!

    But in a safe conversation, asking for what you want gives your partner a great opportunity to stand tall and be your hero!

    And that’s when everything changes.

    Just ask Mark and Sunny.

    One day Mark made a request of Sunny.

    It was something he really needed from her.

    He was tired of them both being ships passing in the night. After years of marriage, he wanted to know this woman he lived with in a more personal way.

    Turns out that request was not easy for Sunny. It required of her something she had never done. It required that she stretch and grow a part of herself that was lost growing up and never developed.

    Watch their story then discuss it together with the questions below.

    (This is a powerful video by one of my mentors, Nedra Fetterman. Watch it as she tells the story of her own parents, Mark and Sunny.)

    Click here to watch it on Vimeo, and then come back and discuss what you saw using the questions below.

    Discuss with your partner…

    1. In what ways is your relationship like Mark and Sunny’s before Mark made his request?

    Here are some steps that have to be followed in order to make a request that deepens the connection in your relationship.

    – Create Safety
    – Connect
    – Make a Request (small, specific, doable and positive)
    – Be Courageous

    2. Why is safety important?

    3. Why should the goal of a request be ‘to connect’ rather than to just make a change?

    4. Why do you think this takes courage?

    5. What would you like to ask from your partner right now? If the conversation feels safe, do it and then talk about it.

    Subscribe below to receive my weekly post that will come to you email inbox every Saturday morning! 

      My goal is to provide free relationship resources delivered to your email inbox every week! 

      The Art of Caring Confrontation

      What happens to my marriage if I choose to be ‘nice’ rather than honest?

      ‘¦if I go “silent” rather than confront an issue head on?

      Usually there’s an ugly consequence.

      Today I’m sharing an amazing tool I call “The Art of Caring Confrontation”.

      I always assumed that going silent and being nice is better than blowing up into a raging argument.

      I’m not advocating blowing up, but clamming up doesn’t work either.


      Because a healthy relationship requires vulnerability.

      And vulnerability takes courage, not just being nice.

      I’ve learned that I tend to avoid vulnerability like the plague.

      I’d much rather hide what I really feel about something than to confront it in a scary conversation.

      Can you relate?

      I call it ‘being nice’ rather than being honest.

      ‘I know how sensitive she is. I don’t want to get a reaction.’
      ‘Talking about it only brings up the pain of the past.’
      ‘Sharing how I really feel will hurt his feelings. I don’t want to go there.’

      I’m so ‘nice’.


      Sometimes being nice is just a big cover up job for something I’m too afraid to broach.

      What a whimp!

      It takes COURAGE with a capital C to be vulnerable.

      There is a relationship in my family were we have gone silent for 20 years.

      There are things that we do not talk about – and have not talked about for two decades. And stuff we will not talk about for another 20 years, unless something changes.

      And that big fat elephant shows up and sits there in the room with us every time we’re together. And no one talks about it.

      Oh, there are some people who tell me ‘Just say it because it needs to be said!’ If I did that, it would just trigger everyone’s defenses so that no one would really listen.

      So, it’s easier to just be ‘nice’.

      Why? Because it’s too painful to open old wounds.

      Wait a minute! Too painful!?

      Too painful compared to what? (Now I’m talking to myself again.)

      Have I even considered the price of silence?

      Evidently I’m willing to suffer a slow death over 20 years rather than facing the pain of a brief surgery that might start the healing process.

      For me that’s been the price of silence. And it’s a heavy price.

      OK, whew’¦! I hope there’s some value in that catharsis I just went through.

      Now I want to lighten up, and apply this amazing tool to our marriages. It’s a skill you and I can use every day.

      I call it’¦


      This is how I’m working against that forceful tendency to go silent in a conflict.

      This is how I’m learning to say what I need to say in a healthy way that leads to dialogue.

      It’s a skill I adapted from the book Crucial Conversations. It’s a way to be honest while being nice.

      It goes like this:


      1. State the FACTS

      Start with the facts because facts are less controversial.

      Facts are the basis of the story I’m telling that is creating my emotions.

      So start with what happened. ‘This is what I saw or heard.’Facts are what a video camera with sound would have recorded about the event.

      2. Tell your STORY

      This is my interpretation of the facts. The meaning I’m adding to the facts. The story I’m telling myself about what happened.

      Use a sentence stem that goes something like this. ‘This makes me wonder if’¦’

      3. Ask the QUESTION

      A question that invites dialogue. Something like, ‘Is that what’s happening, or am I missing something?’

      Here’s a real life example from Chuck and Sandy’s experience.


      FACTS: ‘You asked me if I’d be willing to tear out the old tomato vines and I said I would. But then you went and did it.’

      STORY: ‘That makes me wonder if you don’t trust me to do something when I say I will.’

      QUESTION: ‘Is that what you’re thinking?’

      At this point I was in control of my emotions because I’m not leading with my ‘story’. Rather than judging Sandy’s intent I used this process to turn on my curiosity.

      And this actually made it safe and got us into a healthy dialogue.


      ‘Sometimes I’m afraid you’ll forget, or you’ll think I’m nagging you. So I went silent and just did it myself.’


      ‘That makes sense.’

      Then we try to be open to a Behavior Change Request.


      ‘Is there a request you’d like to make?’

      And this is how Dialogue becomes the means to a real change in the relationship.


      ‘Yes. It would be help me if you would use your Caring Confrontation skills and talk about it rather going silent and then not trust me. That feels bad.’


      ‘Can we have a do-over?”

      Now Sandy is in the game. She’s not going silent. She’s choosing to be honest rather than ‘nice’. (But honest in a nice way.)

      And she’s willing to practice it by going back over it. (We notice our skills get better when we practice them.)


      FACTS: ‘Chuck, when I mentioned the dead tomato plants needed to be removed, you said you’d take them out. After a few days I noticed it wasn’t done.’

      STORY: ‘That makes me wonder if you forgot or you’d changed your mind. And I started feeling frustrated.’

      QUESTION: ‘Can you help me know what’s going on?’


      ‘Oh yeah. I was planning to do that this weekend. It did slip my mind, but I thought about it the other day and figured I could do it Saturday morning. Thanks for the nudge and reminder.’

      Right on, Chuck and Sandy! Issue resolved!

      But…in that first round, why did Sandy go silent?

      Fear’¦fear that I would get upset.

      But which is harder? Doing the surgery now and having the hard conversation, or letting it fester and become a disease in the relationship?

      Can we see how avoiding conflict keeps you in conflict? I’m starting to get it.

      Using a skill like The Art of Caring Confrontation opens things up so that we can stay connected and grow and heal together.

      Try this out the next time you’re tempted to be ‘nice’ rather than honest.

      My goal is to provide free relationship resources delivered to your email inbox every Saturday morning! To receive my weekly blogpost just subscribe below.

        How a husband’s destructive anger was transformed into passionate love

        ‘My husband’s destructive anger is wrecking our family! I can’t deal with his abuse any longer!’

        Tears filled Gina’s eyes as she explained what her husband Gary’s anger was doing to her.

        This began a 7 step journey that transformed Gary’s destructive anger into passionate love.

        Recently, in an argument over how to deal with one of their children, Gary blew up at Gina and put his fist through the wall.

        Gary had not previously been physically violent toward Gina or their three children. But there were repeated times of yelling and name-calling.

        And now Gary had literally hit the wall. Where was it going to end?

        Gina was not only concerned for her own safety, but was really afraid of what this anger would do to their kids.

        In our first session, we began a structured dialogue that helped Gary and Gina take seven steps toward dealing with abusive anger.

        1. Set a boundary against uncontrolled anger.

        It was very important for Gina to say to Gary that uncontrolled anger is not ok. Gina must realize she does not have to tolerate it, and must be empowered to leave the abusive situation in any way necessary. This may include getting a restraining order.

        There are cases of emotional and physical abuse where the first step is for the victim to separate from the abusive partner and get professional help.

        Gina communicated this boundary in a Dialogue where Gary mirrored and validated her concern.

        It was very important that this boundary be communicated to Gary in a safe way. The Couples Dialogue helped him receive and accept it rather than feel judged by it.

        In Gary’s case, he was ready to get help, and fully accepted Gina’s boundary.

        For Gary and Gina, this act of violence was a wake up call to get help.

        Both of them were eagerly seeking change.

        They invited me to continue to facilitate this process of transforming anger into passionate love.

        2. Commit to “zero negativity”.

        After setting a boundary against violence, Gary and Gina agreed to sign the Zero Negativity Challenge.

        This is a pledge to stop all negative comments, criticisms, and uncontrolled expressions of anger.

        It is something I ask all my clients to sign whether violent anger is an issue or not.

        Because nothing can happen in a relationship unless it is safe.

        And it will never be safe if the tiniest bit of negativity is allowed in the space between the couple.

        Negativity in a relationship is like putting a drop of raw sewage into a glass of pure drinking water.

        Would you drink it even if I assured you it contained only a drop of sewage? 🙂

        Of course not! Because, even with a drop of bacteria infested sewage, it’s no longer safe to drink.

        In the same way, when a drop of criticism or unbridled anger is deposited into the space between a couple, it’s no longer safe to for either partner to open up to each other.

        Going forward Gary and Gina weren’t perfect, but this commitment to zero negativity was a good start down the right path.

        3. Avoid assigning labels to each other.

        “My partner is abusive!”
        ‘My husband is a narcissist!’
        ‘My wife has Borderline Personality Disorder!’

        Labeling like this produces enough negative energy to keep a person permanently bound in the role assigned to them.

        People live up to what we say about them.

        It’s important to drop the labels.

        And here’s another reason why.

        Gary and Gina are just two partners doing the best they can to manage their anxiety.

        What do you mean?

        When couples feel disconnected, the result is always anxiety.

        The human mind cannot handle anxiety for more than a few seconds. To cope we turn it into either anger or depression.

        So most people are not what we tend to label them. They’re just trying to manage their anxiety the best they can. Obviously some better than others.

        Of course there are true narcissists and there are violent aggressors that are unsafe people period.
        But in many cases where a someone claims their partner is a narcissist, it is a label unfairly assigned.

        During the Dialogue process, we often find that the “so-called narcissist” is perfectly capable of empathizing with his or her partner. It’s just that the relationship had never been safe enough for that to happen.

        We are all self-absorbed until we experience differentiation in our relationship.

        It’s the growth challenge of marriage that changes us from self-absorbed individuals into differentiated individuals capable of intimate connection.

        In many cases people are self-absorbed because they’ve never stepped up to the ‘growth challenge’ that every marriage presents.

        Therefore it’s important not to label.

        The Couples Dialogue process helps you reimage your partner as someone who is simply trying to manage their own anxiety the best they can.

        Some do it by exploding anger outwardly. Others by internalizing anger and becoming depressed.

        4. Listen to anger’s ‘cry for help”.

        As Gina mirrored Gary’s angry feelings, she learned that his anger was a cover for deeper emotions he was experiencing.

        Usually anger is not about what you say it’s about. It’s a way to protect yourself from your more vulnerable feelings.

        Like the tip of an iceberg, anger can be used to cover deeper emotions that we my not be conscious of.


        Gina and Gary’s big blow up was not really about differences over child discipline. It was about Gary not feeling important in the process.

        And at the very core was Gary’s hidden fear of losing his connection with Gina.

        As a child, Gary experienced feelings of abandonment from his early caretakers. Unknowingly, he had brought these wounds into his marriage.

        When he felt Gina withdrawing from him, his deep fear of abandonment was triggered.

        In an unconscious reaction he would then use anger to mask these feelings of abandonment.

        This in turn caused Gina to move even further from Gary.

        But Chuck, that doesn’t make sense. If Gary wanted to be connected with Gina, why would he yell and punch the wall?

        Why do kids throw temper tantrums?

        To get the attention of the parent they fear won’t be available to them when they need it most.

        Gary was doing an ‘adult version’ of this kind of behavior.

        So how does Gina ‘listen to anger’s cry for help’ and begin to understand Gary’s real emotion behind anger?

        It was through the structured Couples Dialogue that Gina felt safe enough to listen and validate Gary.

        And in the context of that safety, Gary got in touch with the fear of abandonment that was driving his explosive anger.

        And then, as we’ll see later, things went even deeper…

        5. Stay present rather than retreating.

        As Gina stayed present and listened to Gary, this had a powerful calming effect on him.

        It was Gina’s withdrawal that triggered the fear and anger in Gary.

        Most every day we walk our dog, Brie, in the neighborhood. There is a cat about a block away that Brie loves to chase. It goes like this.

        The cat sees Brie and takes off. When Brie sees the cat take off, she begins pursuit until she reaches the end of her leash. And then it’s all we can do to hold her back. We should have gone to dog training school.

        One day the cat saw Brie, and instead of running, he sat down in the driveway and began licking his paw.

        Brie was really troubled. And stood perfectly still. Why?

        We discovered that Brie will only chase if the cat retreats. If the cat doesn’t run, Brie waits.

        In the same way, Gina’s running away was one of the triggers for Gary to pursue her in anger.

        A dramatic change occurred when she remained present for Gary. His anger was diffused and he was able to express his fear in a safe dialogue.

        Gina was able to empathize with Gary’s feeling of abandonment, and that was when everything changed.

        Continuing to be curious in the Dialogue, Gina found out Gary’s hidden fear.

        Recently she had became more involved in her work as a school teacher. This meant more social engagement with her coworkers as well.

        As Gary saw her having fun with people that had more in common with her than he did, Gary feared that one day she wouldn’t need him and would leave him for good.

        So the anger wasn’t about the differences they had in parenting. It was about Gary’s deep fear of being left alone.

        Very often the problem you’re arguing about is not the problem. It goes much deeper.

        Both Gina and Gary got in touch with the real issue which was Gary’s hidden fear.

        This happened because Gina stayed present and curious in the process.

        6. Use your anger as a signal to stop and dialogue.

        The Couples Dialogue slows things down, enabling you to talk about your anger rather than exploding it.

        Anger does not have to be unhealthy. It doesn’t have to turn into destructive aggression.

        Anger can be an incredibly useful emotion.

        Anger serves as a stoplight – a signal that something is not right and you need to STOP.


        Gary learned to recognize when he was angry by noticing the sensations in his body.

        Sensations like a tensed body, clenched teeth, restlessness, or increased intensity of speech were the cues that helped him realize he was angry.

        If we can recognize anger before it’s expressed, it can be a signal to stop and use our safe conversation skills to talk about it.

        If we heed anger’s warning, it’s possible to return to love and connection. If we ignore its warning, our relationship will suffer.

        It’s a choice we have to make.

        7. Channel anger’s energy into passionate love.

        Anger and passionate love are opposite expressions of the same energy.

        When anger’s negative energy gets redirected in a safe conversation it transforms into passionate love.

        Gary took steps to moderate his anger, by talking it out rather than acting it out.

        Gina stretched in order to be present with Gary rather than withdrawing and triggering his feelings of abandonment.

        What happened as a result?

        Anger was transformed into passionate love.

        I saw evidence of this in the parking lot of my office after our last session as Gary and Gina stood by their car for what seemed like forever in a passionate hug and prolonged kiss.

        As people watched them, I thought, “They have no idea what’s behind this. If they only knew…”

        Gary and Gina not only learned to deal with destructive anger, but all of their feelings of love and passion returned.

        That’s because anger’s negative energy can be channeled in the opposite direction. And passionate love can be reborn.

        It can happen for you as well. If you need help, I can take you through the same process that Gary and Gina went through. Here’s more info.

        If you haven’t already, subscribe below to Relationship Resources and receive my weekly post emailed to your inbox every Saturday morning!

          What if my husband is unwilling to work on our marriage?

          Every marriage needs work. But what happens when a relationship goes flat and one partner is not willing to work on it? Is there hope for that marriage?

          Yes, and here’s why.

          One person can change the relationship!

          Change happens when one partner starts doing something differently.

          One reader told me…

          “Chuck, we are trapped in that cycle of blaming and defensiveness you talk about. I feel stuck, and powerless, and it hurts because my partner doesn’t want to work on our relationship? I feel so alone.”

          That’s really hard and can feel hopeless.

          But if you will change the way you communciate, the dynamic of the relationship will change, and something will shift.

          And your partner will have to change. Not by force, but willingly.

          My experience tells me that at least he will become curious, and he’ll probably end up wanting to work with you toward change.

          It’s a principle of the universe. If you change, your partner will have to respond differently.

          It’s like when you change your tennis serve, your opponent has to change their response.

          Quantum physics claims that, in our interconnected universe, anything you do anywhere impacts everything, everywhere. This is no truer than in relationships.

          So here are some steps that are in your power to do, no matter how hurt or powerless you feel.

          1. Listen before talking

          Helen LaKelly Hunt said in an interview that on average we hear about 13% of what is being said in a conversation.

          I believe that. Because as soon as my wife says something that triggers my defenses, I start ‘reloading”. At that point, I’m not listening to her. I’m listening to me! And I doubt if I even hear 13%!

          So start listening to your partner.

          How do I do that?

          Mirror rather than react.

          Use the powerful Imago Dialogue sentence stems to regulate your emotions, listen to every sentence, observe every inflection, and be attuned to every non-verbal message.

          ‘What I hear you saying is’¦

          ‘Did I get it?’

          ‘Is there more about that?’

          Mirror rather than react.


          Validate rather than shame.

          Be the one who lets go of the need to “be right”.

          Validation says…

          ‘While I may see it differently, you make sense; and what makes sense is’¦’

          You don’t have to agree with your partner, but you do have to see that his reality is valid.

          “If 6 turns out to be 9, I don’t mind. I don’t mind.” – Jimi Hendrix

          If you are looking down at the number 6 and your partner who is across from you is swearing that it’s a 9, you can argue forever about “who’s right”.

          Validation says even though I hold my own reality and won’t deny it, I can also see from your perspective why you say it’s a 9. Though I may see it differently, you make sense.


          Empathize rather than villainize.

          When you mirror rather than react, validate rather than shame, then you can actually empathize with how your partner feels. This is where your relationship is transformed.

          ‘A first I saw you as a disrespectful person who was nagging me. Now I see that you’re upset because you’re in pain, and fearful of losing your connection with me. That changes everything.’

          This will cause a shift in your relationship, draining the negativity that would otherwise fill the space between you.

          So listen before talking.

          2. Be curious rather than critical

          One sure way to keep your partner in that uncooperative state is to criticize him for it.

          Very often the reason a husband is not open to getting help is because he fears being railroaded into something that feels unsafe.

          “But Chuck, I can’t help it. I just open my mouth and all these things I’m not happy about just come flooding out.”

          “How can I not be critical when he’s being so difficult?”

          This is where you should make curiosity your best friend.

          It’s impossible to be curious and critical at the same time.

          Being curious is one of the most powerful and pro-active things you can do for your relationship. That’s because curiosity helps regulate your emotions and makes the conversation safe for your partner.

          Plus, when you are curious and stay curious you’ll actually find that your partner is far more interesting than you may have thought. That happens when you get curious and stay curious.

          Still feel like you need to criticize?

          Then it may be that you’re more frightened of intimacy than your partner.

          Why do I say that?

          I believe you when you say you want to work on the relationship, but you may be unconsciously maintaining your distance by criticism. Why? Your own fear of intimacy.

          Whenever there is criticism the relationship is not safe. And distance is assured!

          ‘I want to work on our marriage but you don’t.’

          ‘I want to have sex and you don’t!’

          Hey, someone is definitely not going to want to have sex with you if you approach it this way.

          So what do I do?

          Simply drop the criticism and be curious.

          This will change the game!

          Get curious about what’s going on and what’s making you feel disconnected. Say to your partner…

          ‘I don’t know what’s wrong but I’d like to learn from you. How could I be the kind of person with whom you’d want to be more romantic, make love, spend more time with?”

          If I’m interested in you, really interested in you, not interrogating you, but really interested and curious about what’s inside of you, you’ll open up to me.

          And when I listen to you and not try to change you, you’ll start liking me and not react to me.

          “Chuck, I did all that, but it didn’t work”.

          That’s because his defenses were activated. When that happens, nothing will work. So start over with #1 Listen Before Talking. Refuse to come up against his defenses. Once either of you are defensive, the conversation is no longer safe. So start over, make it safe, stay in dialogue.

          Listen before you talk, be curious rather than critical, and things will begin to change!

          This final step will seal the deal.

          3. Share appreciations rather than complaints

          When you’re grateful rather than complaining, negative energy is replaced by positive energy in the space between you.

          This will make your partner want to work with you toward a better relationship.

          So no matter how you are feeling about your partner, share with him three things you appreciate about him every day. Tell him some of the many things he’s doing well and what it means to you.

          ‘One thing I really appreciate about you is’¦’

          ‘When I experience that I feel’¦’

          And if possible, relate it to your childhood.

          ‘When I feel that, it reminds me of when I was little and’¦

          But will this really work???

          The power of appreciation

          There was a wife who went to counseling alone because her husband wasn’t interested in working on the relationship.

          The counselor said, ‘Just tell him three times a day something you appreciate about him and see what happens.’

          She said, ‘There is no way. There is nothing I appreciate about him. There is not one thing I can honestly say I appreciate about that man.’

          ‘Come on, you can think of something.’

          ‘Nope. There’s nothing.’

          ‘Oh come on think about it. Surely there’s something. One thing.’

          ‘Well’¦I guess you could say he’s good looking’¦even though to be honest I can’t stand to look at him right now.’

          ‘Well, just start with that. Just tell him.’

          So she did. And, to her amazement, there was a surprising openness she hadn’t felt before. That compliment sat rather well with him.

          So the next day she said, ‘You know, I appreciate the way you are with the kids. In our parenting, you bring to the table things that I don’t have. I appreciate that.’

          And in those first few days she began to feel a subtle shift in the relationship.

          Over the next couple of weeks, as she continued to express appreciation each day, two things began to happen.

          First of all, the more things she shared that she appreciated, the more things she saw that she appreciated.
          Second, as she shared things she appreciated about him, she began to notice him trying more and more to live up to those things that were being said about him.
          Wow! Amazing!

          And, in time, it completely transformed their relationship!

          Affirmation and criticism cannot travel the same narrow pathways at the same time.

          So push all the negative energy out of the space between you and your partner and watch your partner change and become open to working on the relationship with you!

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            Until next week!