Transforming Your Marriage

By Dr. Lawrence Birnbach and Dr. Beverly Hyman
You feel stuck and blue. Your relationship is so far away from the great expectations you once had. You wonder if your mate feels the same but you’re afraid if you ask you’ll make things worse. You wonder “Can I make it better, or will I live in a zombie marriage that keeps stumbling forward forever?”
You can take action to make it better. You need to start right now; it’s day one—the first of 30 days to transforming your relationship.

Days One to Ten: Open the Dialogue
In the first ten days you need to decide if this is a rough patch that the relationship is going through, or if things are seriously off track. There are nine areas couples must agree on. You’ll find this in our book: How to Know If It’s Time to Go: A 10 Step Reality Test for Your Marriage. They are:
• money,
• sex,
• religion,
• parenting,
• relationships with extended family,
• use of drugs and alcohol,
• gender roles and household responsibilities,
• career issues,
• how you spend free time.
When you decide which ones are your trouble spots, pick the least controversial one, not the toughest, and ask your mate how he feels about it. If he will talk about it, that’s great. If he won’t, you can still take action. If you have a reluctant partner, you must take action on your own or there can be no transformation. Don’t accept victimhood. You’re too valuable for that.
For example, if you think your parenting is faltering and you get nowhere trying to talk about it, join a parenting group and get feedback from other parents. If you think your partner drinks too much, and you get nowhere talking to him, go to Alanon and talk with others whose partners drink too much. If you think your free time is a bore, make plans to do something you’d both like to do and invite your partner along. If he won’t go, invite a friend.

Days Eleven to Twenty: Take Positive Action
Too many marriages are only about responsibility and not about rights, privileges and fun. You and your mate are so busy paying bills, taking care of children, doing chores, and going to work, you forget you each have a right to affection. You forget you have a right to be treated with respect. Look at our Marriage Bill of Rights. Ask your partner which rights this marriage isn’t supplying for him. Listen, and let him know what you need also.
See if the two of you can take one small step. For example, tonight go to bed at the same. You each need companionship. Invite your mate on a date. Get a friend to babysit.
A marriage that’s off track needs both people to fix it. If your mate refuses to participate, you have a serious problem. Take The Marriage Test –
a sample is available here and the full version is in our book. You’ll see where the problems are.
Ask yourself what changes your partner has been repeatedly asking you to make. Make one. Has he asked you to lose weight? Has she asked you to be less harsh with the children? Do it to get a positive reaction.

Days Twenty to Thirty: Evaluate the Direction
Take stock. Are you getting anywhere? If things are going well, you’ve done a lot already. You’ve started making a long needed change your mate wanted. You’ve had a night or two out together. You’ve identified where the sticking points are. You’ve each tried to express something you long for. You’ve got a conversation going. Keep up the good work. It’s going to take plenty more effort, but the first thirty days are crucial.
If you’re not getting anywhere, you can take other actions. Speak to a counselor or clergyman to get some guidance. Try to get your partner to go with you. If he won’t, you go alone. Let him know that you are going.
Do something for yourself. Take a class, or join a gym, or a book club, a bowling league, anything that will make you feel good when you are acting independently. Feel the self esteem and freedom when you are with people who accept you and respect you. Not all marriages can or should be saved. This plan will help you to see whether yours can be.

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Dr. Lawrence Birnbach is a psychoanalyst who specializes in working with individuals and couples in troubled relationships. He maintains private practices in New York City and Westport, Connecticut. Visit his website here. Dr. Beverly Hyman is an internationally known consultant specializing in conflict management. She is the chairman of the Dean’s Council at New York University’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development.
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Originally posted at first30days.com

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