Therapy Blog for Orem, Spanish Fork & South Jordan

How to Fix Your Marriage Problems

marriage problemsIn a previous article, I wrote about 4 signs you have marriage problems. In this article, I will outline how to fix marriage problems. These concepts are taken from one of the world’s leading researchers on marriages, John Gottman. He has followed couples in his research studies and has found out what it takes for couples to make it. Also, he has found out what it takes for couples who don’t make it. 

Let’s take a look at the four horseman of the apocalypse, as Gottman calls them, that can signal marriage problems. They may even signal the end of your relationship if not taken care of. Relationship conflict is inevitable in marriage. However, one of Gottman’s most hopeful findings is that the presence of conflict in your marriage does not cause it to fail. But rather, it is how you go about your conflict that can cause it to fail or succeed. So, let’s look at what to do when certain types of conflict enter your marriage. 


Criticism’s Antidote is a Soft Start Up

The first horseman is criticism. The antidote is approaching a problem with your spouse in a gentle manner. Starting a conversation with a harsh tone or words can move you in the wrong direction. Instead, try coming from a position of ‘I’ rather than ‘You’. Talk about your needs and experiences rather than your thoughts or criticism about your spouse. You might use some principles from how to set boundaries appropriately as well. 

For example, criticism would say, “You never come home on time. Sometimes I just don’t think you care about me and the kids.”

Whereas, using a soft start up would sound like, “Its nice when we can all eat together at the same time. When you come home late, it’s hard to do that and I feel unimportant to you.”


Contempt’s Antidote is a Culture of Appreciation and Respect

The second horseman is contempt. This is one of the most telling signs of a marriage that will end. So, let’s make sure to get rid of it quickly. The antidote is expressing appreciation, gratitude and respect for your partner. Notice what they do whether it’s large or small and let them know you appreciate it. Use a positive filter in how you see them instead of using a negative one. See what they do, even when they make mistakes, as coming from a good place. 

For example, you could say, “Honey, I appreciate that you work so hard to take care of the kids while I am at work. I know that it’s important to you for us to have time together.”

Gottman’s team would also highlight a 5:1 ratio of positive to negative interactions needed to make your marriage work. By doing this, he states, you are adding to your emotional bank account and making your marriage stronger. 


Defensiveness’ Antidote is Taking Responsibility

The third horseman is defensiveness. The antidote for this is taking responsibility. One of your natural reactions to marriage problems is to defend yourself. Especially if you are met with criticism or your partner interpreting your actions. Taking responsibility takes courage and vulnerability. Isn’t it difficult to do that when the risk is that you could be hurt by your partner? If you are able to do this, you will soften them as well, potentially. 

For example, defensiveness would say, “I work really hard everyday to provide for you and the kids. It’s not my fault that sometimes I don’t get home on time for dinner.”

Whereas, taking responsibility sounds like this – “I know that eating dinner together is important to you. Sometimes I miss it because I work too long. I want to do better.”


Stonewalling’s Antidote is Physiological Self-Soothing

The fourth horseman is stonewalling. The antidote for this is to calm your body down so that you can stay engaged with your partner in a meaningful manner. Gottman describes being ‘flooded’ as the state you are in when your body is physically reacting to what is happening emotionally. But, it’s reacting in a way that makes it so you can’t use your skills. One way to calm yourself is to take a break – for at least 20 or 30 minutes. 

For example, “We have been going over and over this. I need to take a break to calm down. Can we talk about this in 30 minutes?”

When you take this break, make sure that you are doing something constructive. You don’t want to continue the argument in your head. Instead, you could do something physical, or easy, or fun. Doing this helps you take your mind off of it and disengages your fight or flight response that is causing your body to physiologically react. Another way to calm your body down is to use a breathing technique.

Learn how to apply these principles to your marriage problems. Developing your own emotional health is an important part of helping your marriage as well. 

We have trained therapists ready to help in Orem, South Jordan, American Fork and Spanish Fork.

Call us today to start doing it right. 

Written by Triston Morgan, PhD

Utah Therapy


Contact Us

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.