How to Fix a Broken Marriage Like I Didby Ed Fisher
Fixing a broken marriage is complicated. The great news, though, is that most marriages in trouble have the same problems that yours does. You are not alone. Your situation is not unique. Other couples have traveled this road before, and what saved their marriages can save yours too.
You don’t need to start with marriage counseling, which can do more harm than good as I’ve written about in my article Does Marriage Counseling Work? You need to start by learning about these common problems and then applying the solutions step-by-step to your own marriage. You can do it by yourself, or together with your spouse, but make no mistake: if you are committed to saving your marriage, you will! And you can fix it by yourself, even if your spouse doesn’t want to try. I did. So be encouraged! (Whatever you do, get my acclaimed free Marriage Advice article series here)
In this article, I’m going to talk about how to fix a broken marriage by focusing on the most important first step: How to stop fighting.
Fix This Problem First: Stop Fighting
I looked at her and wondered if she was the same person I married… Every conversation about even the smallest, stupidest thing turns into an argument. It’s not MY fault. She WANTS to fight. She won’t listen to me. She always tells me I’m wrong, when I’m right. She wants to win every argument because winning is more important than the truth. She drives me crazy! She makes me mad (like her). And let’s get one thing straight: I try to fix this broken marriage, and she doesn’t!
That was me, Ed Fisher
Recognize The Problem
You are never going to get anywhere if you get into arguments and those arguments become fights. Every time you get into an argument, the atmosphere becomes toxic. Adrenaline pumps through your veins and emotions get out of control. Even when the initial argument is over, the resentment lingers. When you resent each other, you lose respect for your partner. You “dig in” and stop wanting to get along.
Fights and arguments poison marriage. It’s easy to enter a vicious cycle where resentment builds fight after fight until slipping into conflict becomes the most likely ending of every interaction with your partner. Blow-ups lead to divorce. Very few marriages get into trouble from not fighting. But when you fight, the negative emotions trick you into thinking you’d be better off ending it. You start to believe that getting away from your spouse is the only way to be happy. Who can blame you? When you fight, the marriage is not a nice place to be. And when you fight with your spouse, the last thing you want to do is spend time with them, when spending time together is something all marriages need if they’re going to be fixed.
You can’t fix your marriage until you stop the conflict. So to fix your marriage it is essential that you stop getting into arguments and you stop fighting. At all costs. Fighting will destroy your marriage. But on the flip side? When you stop fighting, everything will be better! So that’s where you start.
The Problem is the Fighting, Not What You Fight About
What you fight about doesn’t matter. Don’t agree on something? No married couple agrees on everything. But having different opinions is not what breaks a marriage. Arguing and fighting lead to anger and resentment which is what is so dangerous. You don’t have to agree on everything. You just can’t fight or argue to solve your disagreements. Will some go unsolved? Maybe. But it is more important to avoid fighting than to get your ideal solution to every problem. More on that in a minute.
How to Stop Fighting with Your Spouse
These are some of the steps you can take to get the fighting and arguing under control. I will go into each one in great detail below.
- Accept that it is YOUR Job to Stop Fighting, Not theirs
- De-escalate / take a break
- Take responsibility for what you have done to upset them and Understand their Anger
- Stop Judging and Try Losing!
- Take Their Perspective
- Give your partner a hug
Why It’s YOUR Job to Stop Fighting
I strongly believe that you can save your marriage by yourself like I did. If you wait for your husband or wife to work with you on fixing your marriage, it might never happen. Maybe there is too much resentment. Maybe they have lost hope. Maybe they’re too angry. The good news is that you can do it without their help. It’s not easy to see and admit your own mistakes. And, to be honest, I’m not sure that Allison has changed her mindset all that much over the years. But the truth is, one of us changing was enough. I took it upon myself to fix our marriage and the only person that I could reasonably expect to change was me.
Take full responsibility for what you can control: your side of the relationship. Even if you blame your spouse for all your marriage problems (after all, wives think their husbands are morons, and husbands think their wives are unreasonable) you can’t force them to change. But you can make it easier for them to move in the right direction.
Here’s the key: your relationship can improve dramatically simply by changing how YOU behave. My wife often tells me that she’ll be nice when I’m nice. So, I try to be nice! Same with you. If you change YOUR behavior, they will notice, and they will change how they feel about you and your marriage. Don’t expect anything from them side and don’t demand anything from them. Focus on yourself and be patient.
Here’s an obvious example: Does your partner over-react when you “push her buttons”? Have you been telling her that she must learn to control herself? That she’s ridiculous for getting bent out of shape so easily? Try this instead: STOP PUSHING HER BUTTONS. See? Focusing on yourself is much easier.
It takes two people to fight. If you stop fighting, there is no fight. So it is up to you to stop. Now that you’ve accepted that, here’s some things to try to stop fighting.
De-escalate / Take a break
You’re never going to agree on everything and arguments are going to happen. As tensions rise and emotions heat up, common sense goes out the window. You feel yourself entering “battle-mode.” Now you have to de-escalate to regain control. Walking away for even 30 seconds can be enough to let emotions subside. Don’t wait for your partner to calm down, you calm down. Stopping the fight is the goal here, so wait for a later time to make your point.
Do it quickly. Rising emotions can trap you in a fight. By giving time to “cool off” both of you will be able to think about the situation reasonably. If you’re lucky, you’ll never even have to resume the conversation because the solution will be obvious once emotions stop clouding good judgement.
Take responsibility for what you have done to upset them
My daughter, who is now 12 years old, saw me working on this article and wondered why I was writing about broken marriages and fighting since her mom and I don’t fight at all (We’re not perfect, but when we do argue we try not to do it in front of the kids). Well, we used to fight a lot more!
I asked Allison what she thought, and she said the big difference for her, compared to when we were having marriage problems, is that I am more accepting of her point of view when we have disagreements. I am not so “condescending.” I listen more and seem to respect what she has to say. I don’t try to “win” every argument.
Take responsibility by asking yourself what you did that really upset your spouse. Treat their opinion with the respect it deserves. If you talked down to them, didn’t listen, or dismissed what they said as “silly” immediately apologize and admit that you were wrong to do it. Never use the word “but.” Don’t say, “I’m sorry… but…” That is not an apology. Just apologize and stop arguing.
Most of us only have a very unclear idea of our partner’s thinking process; very little understanding of what drives this person to fight and argue with us. Do you know that when your spouse gets angry, the anger is often caused by FEAR? Ask yourself, what is he or she afraid of? Is fear making them defensive? You might find that you can sympathize more with them when you understand where they are coming from. Next time your spouse gets angry at you, instead of lashing out at them defensively and making things worse, calmly take a second to ask yourself what is it that your spouse is afraid of? (Don’t ask your spouse this question or they might hit the roof. This is no time to engage them, wait till the “steam” has passed).
The Anger/Fear connection – is not obvious. It’s something I picked up from Lee Baucom’s book Save The Marriage. That book is full of great insights that can help you understand your spouse much better. This is knowledge that comes from helping thousands of people save their marriages. Believe it or not, most couples have exactly the same issues driving them apart. It is essential to learn from their mistakes so you can help to fix your own marriage. And if you decide to go to marriage counseling you need to know this stuff first so you don’t waste the first few sessions ($$) getting up to speed. Educate yourself. Start with this:
I’ve put together a whole bunch or articles with tips like that and I give it away for free to people who visit my website. Click this link to take a quick peak at my free Marriage Advice articles. They will help you a lot. I’m not going to rehash it all here in one article – get the package and read all the articles and I promise you will be well on your way to being an expert in how to save a marriage. I’ve gotten countless emails thanking me for the articles and they are spam free.
Stop Judging and Try “Losing”
Many of us were raised in households where dinner time conversations were really debates. They were opportunities to prove that you were smarter than your brothers and sisters. In my case, I think that I was conditioned to think that conversations, like debates, had winners and losers. If I didn’t win, I felt deflated and my self-esteem suffered. So, I had to win! Even if it meant my brothers and sisters were brought down by the negative feelings that I was trying to avoid for myself.
You might not have been raised like that, but you can still have that attitude. And you can see why bringing that attitude to a marriage isn’t going to work. If your spouse feels deflated and weakened when they talk to you, you are going to have one angry and resentful spouse on your hands!
Take Their Perspective
But my Spouse is Always WRONG! (Said Everyone)
It’s easy to think that, especially when years of anger has made you resistant to anything they have to say. BUT IT’S NOT TRUE. Right and Wrong are just opinions. I mean, facts are right and wrong, but your arguments aren’t usually about facts. They’re about opinions. About whether someone’s behavior was the “right thing to do.” “The Best Choice.” “The smart thing to do.” “The right attitude.” You get the idea. Life is not “black and white”, it is shades of gray.
Your Spouse isn’t wrong. They just have a different perspective than you do. They bring a different understanding to the table. They value certain things more than you do, and other things less. Your goal is not to defeat your partner. It is to understand your partner. Ask yourself why they’re saying what they’re saying. What they say must make sense to them, right? So why is their perspective different from yours? What are you not seeing? Don’t rush to judge. Take the time to understand why they see something differently than you do.
What happens when everything your partner does raises alarms in your head?
He’s an idiot!
She never has good ideas!
She is totally closed off from anything I have to say!
I Can’t fix my marriage when It’s all about him!
If you’re thinking this way, you have to catch yourself and stop. It’s a habit that you must break. Stop judging! Your judgement is not true. It only seems this way, especially when you are frustrated, angry, or it has simply become a habit to judge. Stop judging and listen instead.
Let Them Win for a Change
Let your spouse have their way if you can. What do you think will happen? The world is not going to end if you let them have their way. But they will be shocked. And then they will become aware that you are trying to get along. That you are actually making an effort. And that will be appreciated. Don’t be surprised if your spouse is nicer to you in return.
Understanding Leads to Respect
If you really understood them, and what is important to them, then you would probably have more respect for their opinions. This won’t make them right. But it will allow you to truly respect what they have to say. Respect is often all they want.
Many years after I changed my own attitude towards conversations, I’m frequently shocked by how some of my oldest friends still carry this winner/loser mentality with them and how exhausting it can be just having a few drinks with them. Imagine having to be married to them! And imagine how your spouse feels if you do the same thing to them.
The funny thing here is that all of this is true, in my case, but I don’t think it is true in Allison’s case. Does she accept my point of view? Not really. Does she try to “win” arguments? I think she does. And I think sometimes she disrespects my point of view and even laughs at some of my ideas (even when I take them seriously!) Do I want her to change like I did? Sure. But she doesn’t have to and I’m not even going to bring it up with her. I would rather accept her as she is. After all, the changes I made to myself —the only changes I had the power to make on my own— were enough to stop the fights. That’s all we really needed. If my goal had been to fix my wife, I would have failed.
Hugs Help to Repair Marriages
Physical contact and tenderness go a long way to making them believe that you are sincere. When you apologize and end a fight, give them a hug. It will do wonders.
When your first goal is to stop fighting, don’t try to change your spouse. It won’t happen. Change your side of the equation. You will find that when you change how you behave, especially when it comes to arguing, that they will change also. When you stop making them angry, they will not need to “win” arguments at all costs. They will be more interested in your opinion. They will be nicer to you and respect you more. When you stop fighting, you stand a much better chance of saving your marriage. NOW SIGN UP FOR MY FREE ARTICLES!
Here are a few other (outside) articles I looked at when I was writing this article:
A Guy Who Saved his Marriage
I’m Ed Fisher and I saved my marriage by myself after counseling almost destroyed it. Be sure to sign up for my free email article series — full of useful advice to turn your marriage around. Good luck!