I sometimes hear from people who aren't sure how much more work they can put into their marriage. Often, they feel as if they have been working for a long and difficult time, although they have little to show for it. And many times, they are disappointed that they are not seeing any real change that would give them hope that their marriage can be transformed.

I heard from a wife who said: "my husband and I have been working on our marriage for about a year. I honestly believe that if it wasn't for our children, we may have just walked away. But neither of us want our children to grow up in a household with a broken family. The main issue that we have is that we are very different personality-wise.  My husband still acts like he's a college boy or single sometimes.  He still goes out with his college friends on Friday nights. We rarely agree on things. Our outlooks are almost opposites. I am the one who pays the bills. I am the one who plans for retirement. I am the one who makes sure our kids have what they need and are doing well in school. I am the one who sends cards to our relatives and cares for the sick. I am the one who makes the money in our household. I am the one who makes sure the gutters get cleaned out once per year and that the taxes get paid. All my husband cares about is having fun and planning his next adventure. At first, this was just annoying but lately, it has lead to us fighting a lot of the time. I try to compromise but I end up feeling resentful because it seems that I am the one who ends up compromising. He never seems to make similar concessions. So because we rarely agree, we end of fighting about everything from money to our personalities, to parenting, to our in-laws. It seems that we are at each other's throats all of the time. We have committed to trying to work on our problems. And we do try to discuss things, but we just end up disagreeing and we go away angry. He will tell me that he’s going to stay home more and take on more responsibilities. He tells me what I want to hear. But nothing changes. It's been a year. Is my marriage doomed? Is there just no hope left?"

I really hesitate to tell anyone that their marriage is without hope, although it did seem that this couple's methods so far were not all that likely to pay off. Sometimes, if you are just applying the band-aids that had already been shown to be ineffective, you can't expect to heal. Perhaps the wife could try a new strategy since it didn't appear that she had much to lose. I will discuss this more below.

If Trying To Tackle Too Many Things Is Ineffective, Break The Bigger Issues Down: It seemed to me that both people were a little overwhelmed by all of their problems. So they would try to talk, but they would know that they had a very daunting task ahead of them and both would approach this with dread.

Rather than trying to address everything all at once and being too overwhelmed to make any real headway, I would suggest breaking the issues down and then dealing with only one topic at a time. For example, perhaps one month you would explore the issue with money. And only when that issue seemed to be resolved would you move onto something else. Luckily, both people agreed to try to work things out before walking away, so it was likely that this couple could take a more gradual approach. This would keep them from becoming overwhelmed and discouraged.

Do Whatever You Can To Make The Process Pleasurable: It was pretty clear that neither husband or wife was having any fun with this process. Both people ended up feeling defensive and discouraged. As a result, no one was putting forth their best effort. That's why it's so important to make this process as fun as you can. If sitting on your couch and hashing things out isn't working for you, then walk around a lake, go out to dinner, or just hold hands outside underneath the stars.

If you have to, put your issues on hold until you rediscover some of the fun in your relationship. If both people aren't looking forward to participating in your progress, then you are more likely to have less than stellar results. No one says this has to be a dull and boring process. Make it fun so that you look forward to it.

If You Need Help To Stay On Task, It Is Worth It To Seek Out Help: I know that many people resist counseling and I agree that it isn't for everyone. But sometimes, this really does help to keep you on task and it offers the insights that you never would have gotten on your own. Even if you or your spouse are resistant to counseling, at least consider some self-help to keep you motivated and to help you gauge your progress.

Sometimes, what you think are the most persuasive issues are just a shield for what is truly going on and you need someone (or some method) to help you identify the core issue and discover why it keeps coming up over and over again.

Don't Allow Yourself To See This As Hopeless: One major problem in this scenario is that the unsatisfied spouses begin to believe that change is never going to happen. They do this without trying everything in the arsenal, like counseling, breaking the problems down into smaller ones, or taking a hard look at their own expectations and seeing if any adjustments can be made. Ending your marriage or separating is a huge, life-altering decision. From my own experience, I can tell you that my own separation was by far the lowest period of my life. You can read about that here.) If I could turn back time, I would most certainly have taken our issues much more seriously.

Regular Accountability And Re-evaluation Are Vital: Many spouses start out being very proactive but then things fizzle out. And that’s often because the spouses don’t regularly check-in and give feedback.  You need to know what is working and what isn’t. Counseling makes this easier but you can do this on your own if you’re very vigilant.  It can be tricky to identify what behaviors can realistically stay and what absolutely must go. For example, it was probably unrealistic to think that a man with this husband’s personality was ever going to become a straight-laced businessman who never craved adventure or risk. That wasn’t who he was. And that wasn’t who the wife fell in love with in the first place. But that doesn't mean adjustments can't be made.

But to answer the question posed, sometimes you don't see a change after extensive work on your marriage because you are taking on too much, you are approaching it in the wrong way, or you are approaching it as "work" rather than as an opportunity for bonding and having fun.

It wasn't until I saw saving my marriage as an opportunity rather than a chore that things changed.   "Working on your marriage" is a common phrase, but it's also an unfortunate one.  Because when done correctly, it shouldn't feel like work.  But it took me way too long to learn this and it almost cost me my marriage.  If it helps, you can read about our rebuilding process on my blog at http://isavedmymarriage.com

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