No doubt you’ve heard countless advice about how to avoid divorce and save your struggling marriage. Your parents, the in-laws, friends, church members, everybody has an opinion—and most of the well-meaning nuggets of unsolicited wisdom contradict one another. You are left more confused than ever on how to find a detour on the road to divorce court.  Maybe you’ve tried all the advice you’ve been given and still—your relationship is as wobbly as ever. It’s time for a Hail Mary. At this point you know one thing for sure, the clichéd, tired advice isn’t working. It’s time to go against the grain of conventional wisdom and try some advice to save your marriage that you likely haven’t heard.

1. Disorient her with praise. Just when she’s expecting you to let her know how much it ties your stomach in knots when she (fill in the blank), complement something she did that was positive within the behavior, even if it’s something small. For example, if you regularly argue that she’s too hard on the kids about their schoolwork then wait until you see her helping them with their homework in a patient manner and mention to her: “The kids are lucky to have a mother that takes the time to get involved with their education. So many parents don’t show enough interest in what their kids are doing or make an effort to help.” The unexpected positive spin on what has become an on-going sore spot will throw her off balance and encourage new behavior to replace the knee jerk, defensive reactions that have become ingrained—from both of you.

2. Stop correcting unrelated factual errors. This only gets you off the topic at hand and throws the both of you into a no-win contest of pettiness. If it was a Tuesday and not a Saturday, or if it was at your brother-in-laws’ house and not at Aunt Frannie’s, is not the point. Stick to the core of what you are trying to resolve instead of fixating on exacting some satisfaction from being right about a useless detail—and losing the opportunity to connect and communicate on a deeper level.

3. Be Specific in your Praise and Affection. Of course it’s not bad to offer generalized affirmations of your love like “You’re the best thing that ever happened to me, and I love you.” It’s just not that moving or powerful. There are probably things she does that make your heart feel like it skips a beat or that make you feel safe or that takes a weight off your shoulders and brings you relief: the way she makes your lunch the night before so you don’t have to worry about it in the morning when you’re rushed, or the way she rubs your head when you have a headache, or her witty sense of humor. Maybe you used to tell her how these things made you feel, but haven’t in a long time, or maybe you never mentioned it at all. If you think about your criticisms, they’re mostly specific: “Why don’t you make the bed in the morning” or “Why do you wait until the same day to ask me to handle dinner or pick up the kids, can ya give a man a heads up?” Be that specific with your praise too. Your words will have more meaning and show her you really see who she is.

4. Ignore the experts. While marriage counseling helps some couples, more than half come away feeling that while they understand their partner’s viewpoints and feelings more, they don’t know how to actually improve the way they relate to one another. Talking will only get you so far. You need practical, applicable steps you can take to reduce the tension and regain the intimacy. You intuitively know three things you can do to make your partner happier: fill the gas tank up when you use the car, start the coffee maker in the morning, and throw the boxers and socks into the hamper. Identify your three—and do them, right now. With marriage counseling the focus is on listening rather than doing, and while honest communication is key, you can’t stop there. You have to go a step further to actually make changes that will improve your relationship. Marriages are saved because of what people do, not just because of how well partners listen to one another.

5. Stop focusing your energy on the wrong question. Don’t fall into the obsessive “Did I marry the right person?” trap.  Put your energy into loving the person you committed to share your life with. A happy marriage is not about finding some magical person that completes you, it’s not that mystical—it’s much more practical. Your behavior toward your spouse, your level of trust and intimacy, your willingness to see that person, and your relationship, through tough times and hard decisions, that’s what dictates the outcome of a marriage. Love is not some magical meeting of soul mates, it’s a mutual decision to see the best in one another, and to accept the worst.

You know your wife better than anyone else. So stop listening to so much of what everyone else has to say, even the so-called experts, and start being that spouse that you know you can be— the one that once had a deep connection to the woman he loves and that loves him.


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