I sometimes hear from folks who feel as if they are running out of time to save their marriage. And they typically feel this way because their spouse has made it clear that he is getting very impatient. Some spouses go so far as to threaten divorce or separation if something doesn't change very soon. This can lead to a sense of panic which can sometimes make matters even worse.

An example of this scenario is the wife who says: "my husband has been saying that he is going to leave me for the last year. For the first couple of months, I thought that he was just blowing off steam. But, then one day I saw that he was looking at apartments in the newspaper when he didn't know that I was watching him. So then I started to take him seriously. And I asked him to please reconsider leaving before he gives me a chance to improve things. I tried to appeal to his sense of commitment. I have given this man almost two decades of my life. He reluctantly agreed to this, but he stressed that he 'will only give our marriage so much time.' I asked him what this meant, and he said that I should do things quickly because he is really out of patience. The thing is, I'm not completely clear on why he is so unhappy. Sure, our marriage has become comfortable, but he acts like I am the most boring person in the world. I don't think he's too thrilled about getting older and he takes this out on me. At this point, I feel like I'm running against a timer that is getting ready to chime. I feel like I'm running out of time when it comes to my marriage. And I'm not sure that he will agree to give me more time if I fall short. What can I do?"

I know that this is tough. I felt the same way during my own separation. And even worse, my husband actually did leave. (More about that here.).But I firmly believe (as demonstrated during that time) that panicking is about the worst thing that you can do. When you start reacting to fear, you tend to misread cues, take desperate measures, and come off as insincere. And none of these things help your cause. Instead, I would suggest seeing if you can get some clarity first.

Understanding The Nature Of The Change: When both of you are calm and your husband seems to be receptive, you might try something like: "I know that you said that you're only going to give our marriage so much time. And I want you to know that I really am trying. But in order to be as effective as I can possibly be, I need more information from you. Can you tell me what bothers you the most? Can you tell me what would most help the situation? I don't want to waste time, so it only makes sense to tackle the issues that are making you the most unhappy. Will you help me figure out what needs to happen first?"

Know That Addressing One Issue Will Help With The Others:  It's important to listening carefully to any response that your husband might have.  Later, make a list of everything that he has said. Then, prioritize each thing. Don't let this process overwhelm you. Don't get discouraged. Because frankly, sometimes when you are able to make headway on the most problematic issue, that will make all of the other issues seem much less significant. Typically, the issues are all related in some way so that addressing the most problematic will go a long way toward lessening the others.

Take Inventory As Often As You Can. Use His Reactions As A Compass: As you feel that you have made real attempts at change and are noticing a reaction or progress, don't be shy about bringing your husband's attention to this. Ask him if he's noticed your efforts and ask him they make a difference. If he answers no, ask him what would. I know that this is awkward and difficult to talk about it. But, the last thing you want to do is to attempt to find your way when you don't have a compass, especially when you feel like your time is limited.

Ask for and accept all of the feedback that you can. But be careful that you don't set it up where you are the one doing all of the giving and making all of the concessions. Your own happiness is every bit as important. And if during this process you see places where you'd like to see some changes, speak up when the situation makes it appropriate to do so. Having this type of giving and taking is the only way that either of you is going to know what works and what doesn't.

And having open communication lessens that sense of panic that really does cause harm. I found that, almost without fail, when I was acting on emotion during my separation, I made things worse. But when I was calm and calculated, I actually made things better. If you'd like to read more about my reconciliation process (and how I finally got it to work) you are more than welcome to read more on my blog at http://isavedmymarriage.com

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