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How to fix your marriage with the 3 L's

Dr. Susan Heitler has worked for years empowering couples to save their relationships. Read the story of one of her clients to discover the three key steps for how to fix your marriage.

Anna and Louis were ready to give up on their marriage. They had spent former years in a loving, happy relationship, but now all they seemed to share was their problems. At best, they felt like strangers. At worst, they fought constantly. The only solution to the bickering and negativity seemed to be to live separate lives. Lisa and Sam withdrew from each other, barely seeing or speaking to each other. Both wondered, “Should I get a divorce?” but neither were sure about taking that final step.

At last, Louis decided he had had enough of being in limbo. “Anna, I hate our marriage. We don’t speak; we’re barely married anymore. I can’t take it. At the same time, I know I still love you and I can’t stand the idea of divorce. I think that’s why I’ve stuck in this situation for so long...but I hate it. I don’t know what to do.”

Then Anna made a proposal, the first step in how to fix your marriage. “Let’s end it,” she said. Louis’ heart sank. “No,” she continued, “I mean out OLD marriage. I want a new marriage with you, a great one.”

Louis thought, too—about the high cost of divorce, how he still envisioned spending the rest of his life with Anna, and how his own parent’s divorce hadn’t solved anything. He agreed.

Anna and Louis have the important idea here: focus on starting a new marriage, not ending one. But where do they go from here? If you are in a similar situation, Dr. Heitler recommends using the 3-L’s cure for how to fix your marriage.

1. LISTEN.

The old wisdom is true: communication is key (although it isn’t “everything” in how to fix your marriage—be wary of any therapist who tells you that!). Both Anna and Louis have fallen into poor communication patterns. Each just restates their own view over and tunes other out when they disagree. Because neither feels heard (because neither is truly listening) their conversations often turn into fights. Before they can move forward with discussing specific relationship problems, they first need to amp up their communication skills. So they agree to practice listening fully to each other and digest what the other person said before responding. Power of Two has a whole section of activities and worksheets to help you learn how to do this.

2. LOVE.

Like Anna and Louis, you may find that negativity and coldness have hijacked your interactions with your spouse. These reactions have been learned through repetition—just as you used to automatically smile when your partner came in the room, now you are automatically on edge. How to fix your marriage involves reigniting love and warmth by replacing the negativity with positivity. It just takes little pushes to get the pendulum swinging in the positive direction, and you will find that the more positivity you radiate, the more your spouse will respond in kind.

Positivity means being curious about each other, respectful, helpful, willing and playful. It means paying attention to your spouse even when you are having a bad day. It also means increasing intimacy with small acts such as hand-holding, hugs and kisses, and warm, positive sexual sharing. Anna and Louis start out with a small, easy activity: they agree to share one positive story each from their days over dinner and to practice paying attention and being supportive of each other.

3. LEARN.

You may know a couple that seems to have the perfect marriage—they communicate, are positive, and seem like a true team. Just remember that they are working hard every day to make it so. No one is born knowing how to have the perfect marriage! Being married takes skills—and luckily, skills are something you can learn too. Learn how to fix your marriage by checking out marriage help books, seeing a marriage counselor, or trying out Power of Two. We are an online program that combines the privacy and go-at-your-own pace of a book with the professionalism and personal attention of a certified therapist. Learning how to fix your marriage can be simple, accessible, and, dare we say—fun!

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Funding for this project was provided by the United States Department of Health Services, Administration for Children and Families, Grant 90-FE-0123. Any opinions, finding, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the United States Department of Health and Human Servies, Administration for Children and Families.