5 Ways Not to Get Stuck

Has your marriage ever felt stuck? That is a terrible feeling. You want to have a better relationship, but it never seems to improve. At least, it only improves for a time, and then it feels like it falls apart.

Improving your marriage is hard work. Not only do you need to work on the relationship, but you often need to work on yourself. This takes a great deal of listening and managing our own reactions. It can be a painful process when you start to work on the relationship. It can take a lot of work for both people. Both partners need to change.

Here are five tips that can help.

Own Your Own Stuff

When we are unhappy, we want our partner to change. “If only they would….” So, we tend to point the finger and blame our partners. The problem is that you can’t change your partner. You can only change yourself. You can own your own behavior. You are 50% of the relationship. If you change your own part, the relationship will change.

Many couples ignore conflicts and sweep them under the rug. The problem is that the unresolved issues sit there like land mines until someone steps on one. Then, the pain and hurt come rushing back. You find yourself fighting the last 20 arguments. Ignoring conflicts only makes for temporary peace.

The opposite of ignoring a conflict is to blame and criticize your partner. Which leads to your partner becoming defensive and counterattacking. That doesn’t help either.

I applaud people that are assertive about asking for their partner to work on the relationship! You can control how you bring up an issue with your partner. The softer you approach your partner, the more likely they will listen without defensiveness.

If you are pretty happy in your relationship and your spouse is unhappy, you may be unaware of the depth of frustration your partner is experiencing. The risk is that your partner’s resentment will grow. Get help sooner rather than later! If you are the unhappy partner and your spouse doesn’t respond, let them know that you want a fantastic relationship, but you are hurt.

If your partner has lost hope, they may need to see your work to make your own changes. They need to know that you are working on bettering yourself and listening more.

Don’t Settle for Mediocre

Don’t settle for a mediocre relationship. My wife and I have met with numerous couples that have had a mediocre relationship for years. We often start with having the couple do a timeline of their relationship. We have them graph out significant events in their lives, then rank their marriage satisfaction every 6 months. Did your relationship start out with high satisfaction, but it has decreased over time? Do you both see it the same way? Perhaps one person is unhappy, and the other is happy?

I have seen couples in a poor place and started to work on their relationship. They move from being unhappy to being mediocre. However, they stop working on the relationship. It becomes too painful to move from mediocre to fantastic. They get stuck on mediocre.

Work on Positive Interactions

When I meet with a couple, they usually come to the first meeting knowing that they don’t get along. The couple has specific disagreements that are causing disconnection. When I ask them how often they do something positive for each other, they often don’t know what to say. I ask that they start with positive interactions.

I ask if their emotional bank accounts have been depleted. I suggest that they make deposits before we start to work on the tough stuff. What can they do to create a positive interaction? Often, they may not be feeling like doing this. It is a choice. Doing something nice for your partner is a way to repair damage and make deposits into their emotional bank account.

I encourage couples to continue to do positive things that demonstrate love. This can help improve their ability to stay engaged in difficult conversations.

Recognize the Progress

Couples often don’t recognize when something good happens. It’s easy to be so aware of the poor interactions that the positive interactions go unnoticed.

I see couples getting discouraged when they aren’t perfect. For example, let’s say that you and your partner agree that it would express love if you said hello when you come home. The couple will come back the next week and describe how they failed.

I’ll ask, “How many days did you do that?”

They’ll respond, “Two days.”

“How many days in the previous week?”


I’ll respond, “It seems like you are doing great. Two days when you didn’t do it at all. That’s progress.”

I want couples to recognize when something goes well. What went well? How did it feel? What did you do differently?

I want the couple to be very aware of the positive things they are doing to continue to improve.

Three Steps Forward, Two Steps Back

It often feels like it’s three steps forward and two steps back. Change usually doesn’t come in a straight line. Often, there are setbacks when you fall into old patterns. The couple that was getting along great suddenly had a big fight. This can be discouraging, but it’s normal. We change slowly, with lots of setbacks.

Tips for Marriage Mentors:

  • Understand where the couple is at – Is one person resistant because they don’t think there is an issue? Has one person lost hope?
  • Encourage people to work on themselves – People can’t change their partners. They can only change themselves. They can work to be assertive on their wants and needs.
  • Work on positive interactions – Have the couple do something that expresses love to the other person.
  • Explain that change is slow – Many of these patterns have been there for years. The change will be slow, but progress can be made.