I was talking to a reporter at CNN the other day, answering questions about another matter entirely, and she asked... "Do you mind giving me some advice? What can I do if I am the only one who wants to work on my marriage?"
Of course I was happy to help her and her question was so important that I thought I'd answer it here too....because you might be wondering the exact same thing.
It really only takes 1 person to change a relationship. While it's great when both partners want to improve things, you'd be surprised by how much 1 person's actions can shift the whole dynamic of a relationship. This is good news for us because it means even if your spouse is reluctant to change, you can still make powerful changes on your own.
To start making changes, focus on YOUR actions and pay attention to these four areas:
1. Start being more positive.
Your attitude towards your marriage predicts the direction your marriage will go. If you have a negative, bad attitude, things will go south quickly. If you have a positive, optimistic attitude, things will get better and better. To improve your relationship, start looking at your own attitude and find ways to be more hopeful, more optimistic, and more positive. Believe it will get better, start acting as if it's getting better, and it will get better! Come up with a mantra that will help you stay positive and inspire you to act as if things are improving.
(Need more help being positive? Check out this blog post on how to be truly happy.)
2. Compliment and praise your spouse more.
We all want to be liked. We want people to think we are smart, important, and valuable. Most of us really want our spouse to like us and be impressed by us, from time to time. So to improve your relationship, start praising your spouse more. Tell your partner what he/she does that impresses you. Tell them what you appreciate and what good things your notice. It doesn't have to be a big thing, you can just say, "Oh, I noticed you were really paying attention when Carmen was telling you about her new job." It can be anything, like "I really appreciate your buying the cereal I like," or "Thanks for making sure there's always gas in my car." Go out of your way to notice what your partner does right. Also notice when your partner looks nice, smells good, or is doing something new. We like to be noticed!
3. Assume your spouse has good intentions.
If you assume your partner a bad guy, you'll start to put a very negative spin on everything they do and say. Once you start down this negative path, you behave more negatively, your partner responds poorly, and pretty soon, we have a very bad situation. Instead, assume your partner has good intentions and wants the best for you. Assume there was a good (or at least a semi-good reason) for your partner to do the less-than-thoughtful thing they did.
For example, my husband and I went to a concert with friends yesterday. We got separated when the concert was cancelled due to rain (a super rare event in California in July!), my cell phone was out of juice and it took us 45 minutes to reconnect. Now, my husband would have had every right to be very frustrated by this, but he assumed there was a good reason that I didn't get to him sooner. He assumed that I was not trying to be jerky and thoughtless, but that something "weird" must have happened. And that was true: I got stuck in a group of people that had to be shuffled out a different gate for a hand-stamp to re-enter later (long story...). So follow his great example: assume the best, assume good intentions.
4. Increase the fun factor in your relationship.
Many marriages suffer from being all work and no play. Think about what you look forward to each week - is it going to work on Monday morning or is it going home on Friday night? For most of us, it's going home on Friday so we can have free time to do what we want and have fun! Your marriage is no different. If you only talk about and focus on what has to be done, chores, child care, and the business of being married, things start to feel pretty boring and stale and unappealing. Instead, focus some time each week (and each day if possible) on doing something fun.
On a daily basis, make time for a quick, happy chat about what was good, what we're looking forward to, what the positives of the day were. You could also take a small walk, share a glass of wine, watch a TV show you both like, play a quick card game, or do any small task that adds a little more fun to your day.
On a weekly basis, absolutely schedule some alone time to do something fun. It can be the two of you taking a beautiful, relaxing walk somewhere and having a picnic; it can be a dinner and move date. Make it a point to do something fun together every weekend and watch your relationship get better.
Give these tips a try and come back and let us know how they worked for you. I'm confident that if you increase the fun, assume good intentions, increase praise, and really work to have a positive attitude, that you'll see remarkable changes in your marriage. And you'll have caused them to happen all on your own!
(You can do it, I know you're a superhero... smart of you to skip the cape, though.)