Sometimes a marriage can hurt so much it feels better to be alone, but resist the temptation to quit. Instead, consider healing the marriage. If you are hurting, so is your partner. Your partner’s off-putting behavior is a loaded message: It means he (or she) needs healing. The worse the behavior, the more he needs someone to reach out.
Here are five steps for both of you to heal.
1. Empower Yourself
First, step out of your role of victim. I know that’s difficult – you’re hurt! But healing begins with choosing how you will engage life. If you meet anger with anger, what you get in return is more anger – with no one listening to each other.
Instead, you can accept that your partner’s is behaving in a difficult way, and decide not to act in kind. You also can decide to take care of yourself through this difficult period. That means purposeful focus on the joys in your life: Greet your children, co-workers, friends and other family with a smile that shows you are truly glad to connect. Take pride in your work and your accomplishments. Delight in the delicious food that you eat; allow yourself the pleasure of a good night’s sleep. Affirm your own goodness often.
In short, be happy with who you are and with the good things in your life. Your happiness will serve as a balm for your own wounds and those of your partner as well.
2. Set Healthy Boundaries
When we are irritated, we can’t listen and absorb information; conversations will deteriorate. So, when you or your partner is annoyed, it’s not a good time to try to talk. Arrange ahead of time to take a break, do deep breathing or mediate instead of trying to discuss things when one or the other is in a bad mood.
Setting healthy boundaries also means that even if the mood is neutral but one person or the other has slipped into blame or other negative behavior, the conversation has to be over. After all, what good is it to continue talking when one person must receive that bad energy? No information will be exchanged and there will be no improvement in the issue under consideration.
3. Listen Between the Lines
You’re familiar with the idea of reading between the lines. This is no different. It is a matter of hearing what your partner really wants to say. Sometimes we can tell by body language what is going on; other times, our history together will inform us. Listen with a kind and open heart no matter how aggrieved you feel.
Listening is the doorway to intimacy. There is no real intimacy without it. Even the best sex in the world is thin and forgettable without a mental connection. Listening means focusing on your partner, not on yourself. People can tell when the other person is distracted; the conversation will not feel genuine.
Listening with an open heart means being able to hear what you did wrong because as nice as you are, you aren’t perfect. It takes guts to hear your mistakes, but it is cleansing – for both of you. Even when you believe you did nothing wrong, if your partner feels hurt, you can assure him (or her) of your innocent intentions. That’s healing.
4. See Your Partner With Fresh Eyes
The fourth step may be harder than hearing about your own mistakes. Be willing to recognize your partner’s goodness. If healing means being able to hear what you need to change, it also means being open to the joy of noticing your partner’s changes. We get stuck in the past and have a hard time noticing when our partner has been working on himself.
Seeing positive changes is water for the garden. Commenting on it is good, but even without the comments, when your eyes light up, your significant other will notice. It will motivate further efforts.
5. Reach Out
As you both work on your own healing, you can start to help one another with each other’s projects. So, for example, if you are working on Step 1 (empowering yourself), and you inadvertently put yourself down, your husband can gently remind you not to. Suppose, for instance, you got a compliment about something you are wearing and instead of saying, “Thank you,” you brush it off. Your husband can remind you to be happy with it and say “Thank you.” And you should reciprocate.
This interaction is true friendship and it is the rich soil for growing a loving, passionate marriage.