It’s easy to lose perspective when your marriage deteriorates and becomes unhappy. Like with anything else that turns bad, it can begin to feel as if things will never change or improve.  Each day can seem worse than the last.  And one wonders if the clouds will ever lift.

Someone might explain it this way: “My marriage has been deteriorating for the past few years in the same way that my life has.  It began with my mother’s death.  But everything spiraled out of control after that.  I got in a car accident two weeks later.  My job changed and I am making a fraction of the salary I used to make.  One of my husband’s good friends divorced and now my husband spends more time with his friend than with me.  My marriage seems like a casualty of all the bad things happening in my life.  Things have gotten so bad that we've talked about a separation or divorce.  Some of our mutual friends beg us to stick it out.  They say we are great together and perfectly matched.  They insist that if we hang in there, things will get better.  But, I feel as if we have been hanging in there for long enough that we should have seen improvement by now.  I truly don’t think things will get better.  It seems as if they are only getting worse.  I feel guilty for only seeing the bad.  But I’m not sure how much longer I can wait. I know that I would miss my marriage and my life with my husband.  Deep down, I feel like ending my marriage would be a mistake, but I also hate the feeling that things will never improve.”

I had the same feelings, although I was always still heavily invested in my marriage.  In fact, it was my husband that was unhappy.  I knew we had problems, but I also knew I did not want to surrender my marriage.  However, I feared that we’d never be able to make the changes my husband wanted to see.  I am glad we hung in there because things eventually improved significantly. (You can read that entire story here.)  And a new study shows that we're not unique.

An Important New Study Proves That Most Marriages DO Get Better:  There is good news out of UC Berkeley.  Researchers examined 87 couples over 13 years of marriage.  They videotaped the couple’s interactions so that researchers could study marital behavior over time.  It turned out that, over the years, positive emotions increased while negative emotions decreased.  Many marriages had conflicts early on.  But the behaviors that contributed most to unhappiness  - nagging, negativity, and stonewalling - dropped off.  And the behaviors that contributed to happiness - intimacy, humor, validation, and enthusiasm - increased.  As you might guess, these changes contributed to people being more settled and fulfilled in their marriages as time passed. The only negative noted was that older couples weren’t as physically affectionate. But they enjoyed more “compassionate love.”

This study confirms what I’ve experienced and what I’ve seen in other couples.  As people age, they gain perspectives that they could not have had when they were younger.  They no longer take themselves as seriously.  They realize that many of the difficult phases in their life will eventually pass.  They may lose close friends and family or face challenges which makes them grateful to still be on Earth to experience both the good and the bad.  And they want a partner to share all of these things with.

Active Changes Can Yield Positive Results:  I find this study to be incredibly reassuring.  However, when my marriage was struggling, I knew I couldn’t just wait for things to improve.  My husband was losing patience, and I feared that he would eventually check out completely and demand a divorce.  Unfortunately, he wasn’t willing to go to counseling initially. Worse, he was hesitant to even work with me because he didn’t think we could solve our problems.  So I decided that I could only control two things - myself and my own actions.  Any changes had to start with me.

A New Perspective: One day, when I was lamenting about my marriage with a friend, she looked at me and said, “Don’t take this the wrong way, but I wouldn’t want to be your spouse right now.  And you’re one of my best friends.  But all you do is complain.”

This hurt at first, but then I really watched my own behavior.  When my husband and I had a bad day or negative interactions, I would stop and ask myself “would I want to be married to me today?” When the answer was no, I asked myself what I could have done better.  Over time, my attitude and behaviors changed. Without this, I think my husband and I would have divorced. Although we separated for a while, we later reconciled.  One major contributing factor was that, because of these changes, my husband saw - really saw - that our marriage could actually improve.

Looking at this study, I see that the changes I deliberately made may have come naturally in time.  Thankfully, I hurried them along because I had to.  I bumped up the humor.  I toned down the criticism.  I tried to be someone who I wanted to be around. Sometimes, you fake it til you make it, but my attitude legitimately shifted. I became a more positive person. After this, my life improved in areas outside of my marriage.

I know that you think it will never get better.  But I am living proof it can.  And so are all the couples in the UC Berkley study.  Sure, you could wait for the changes to happen naturally, but that would mean that you would remain unhappy for a while longer. Why not go ahead and actively make the necessary changes in your marriage so that you can be more content?  You’re clear that you’d like to stay married, so why not make some changes to ensure that not only do you remain married, but that you are happily married?  Why settle for less? If it helps, you can read more about I saved my own marriage at http://isavedmymarriage.com

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