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Improve Your Marriage Singlehandedly

In yesterday's Wall Street Journal, Lunch Break columnist Elizabeth Bernstein offered great hope to anyone in a less-than-perfect marriage.

She reported the results of a study by Howard Markman, one of the marriage education greats I have studied with. His lab at the University of Denver followed 300 couples for five years after receiving marriage skills training. One month after training, it did not matter if both in the couple had attended or just one. The marriages were equally improved.

At eighteen months, they saw something very interesting. If only one spouse had received the training, the marriage was doing better if the one who got trained was a woman. This is great news, because it is much more often the woman who is willing to go to counseling or a marriage education program, and it is much more often the woman who files for divorce if nothing gets better.

One woman Ms. Bernstein interviewed for the article went to counseling alone. She said it took her two years before she stopped blaming her husband and started trying to enjoy being married without changing him. Two years! If you're reading this blog on a regular basis, I know you have already made the shift that led to a happier marriage for her and her husband. This makes me very happy. Thank you.


Thank you, Patty, for all you do for your readers!

This makes me so sad. I have been trying to do this for over half of our 25 year marriage. I keep going on thinking that if I am just sweeter to him, find more ways to be considerate, giving in, etc., etc. that we will both be happier. All it has done is make him more selfish and demanding. Worse yet, my son has seen and taken this to the extreme from the outset and treats his bride horribly (an incredibly sweet and good woman whom I am blessed to have as my DIL) . My heart just breaks for other women when I read this kind of advice. It is presented as fact and it seems to be forgotten that we are dealing with human beings here who have free will and there are those who will choose themselves above everyone else. I try and try, but I am weary.

Thank you for this comment, Elaine. I completely agree with you. Things seldom get better with this strategy:

"I keep going on thinking that if I am just sweeter to him, find more ways to be considerate, giving in, etc., etc. that we will both be happier."

And being nasty to him won't work, either. Insults and threats never make anyone more loving.

If you read my Find Third Alternatives category, you will see I do not advocate giving in. I don't advocate compromise, either. I think we both need to be pleased with the result of any disagreement.

I think being sweet and considerate are wonderful. I also think they are much easier as the result of a happy marriage than as a way to create a happy marriage. My goal is for each of us to have a happier marriage without waiting for a change in our husband or wife.

Being sweet and considerate when our needs are not getting met will not make us happy. And neither will being rude and demanding. But, as I learned when my husband so suddenly dropped dead, our needs are there whether the husband is or not, and we have the power to get them met, with or without a spouse.

Much of our unhappiness in a marriage comes from not getting what we expect from our spouses, getting angry or hurt by stuff that really wasn't about us at all, and by not getting what we want when we disagree. All of these are under our control. Once we take back this control, it becomes easier to recognize the real love we are offered. And, except for narcissists and sociopaths, most spouses will give as much love as we are willing to receive. Then, being sweeter and more considerate becomes a joy, rather than an unrewarded burden.

I hope you will stick around and read more about how to Assume Love when you're upset, Expect Love when you're not getting all you expect from a marriage, and Find Third Alternatives when the two of you disagree. There is some real science behind all this. As it says at the top of each page, Assume Love is about how to have a happier marriage without waiting for your spouse to change, whether in response to your being nicer or nastier or the two of you getting counseling.

I love the input on the study of couples who went to training and improved.

We take classes and have to PROVE ourselves capable before operating a vehicle. Same goes for accepting a job offer... how come this does not also apply to marriage?

If we took this approach instead of the "hapilly ever after" fairy tale approach... we'd have a better chance.

Well that makes sense, the class helps the person who is trying to improve and that person puts it into practice improving the overall health of the relationship.

Just like when you do dog training the people are being trained not the dog.

And, of course, its the woman, in most cases doing the heavy lifting.

So true, Sam. Women are a lot more likely to work at fixing their marriage. Men don't seem to expect effort to help.

For me, trying to do that heavy lifting caused my first marriage to spiral downhill. I was putting in an awful lot of effort and getting no results. I thought it was my husband. Now I know it was just the wrong effort, and doing more of it was building resentment, adding to the problems instead of fixing them.

This morning I got an email from a woman who changed tactics and just discovered how easy change can be in her marriage, even while her husband is under great stress.

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Patty Newbold is a widow who got it right the second time...

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