4 Rules That Can Save Your Marriage: Rule 1

How is your marriage doing? Are you and your spouse where you want to be, or are you wanting to improve upon your situation? Marital advice can be found many place, but true help for your marriage can be rare.

This series of four articles is designed to give you advice from my years as a therapist. Hopefully, you will find the advice practical for helping you save or improve your relationship. I’ll skip the theory and go straight to help.

Rule 1: Don’t Take Everything Personally

Just yesterday, I was speaking to a couple that illustrated this point. The wife said that if she walked in and said “the sky is certainly blue today,” her husband would immediately jump up and say “It’s not my fault!”

Part of the difficulty with marriage is that we are in close proximity with the same person for extended periods of time. We are well-acquainted with the idiosyncracies of that person.

And over time, we find shortcuts to communication — some good and some destructive. In fact, we do arguments by shortcut, and this generally involves taking things personally. I remember working with a couple that showed this. They entered into my office in good moods, but told me how arguments never get resolved. I asked for an example.

They looked at each other, and the woman turned to me and said “the lawnmower.” With two words, they launched into an angry response with each other! The tide turned sharply, and I suddenly had two people furious with each other. They took the shortcut to their conflict. And with it, they took the conflict personally.

My first rule of marriage is to not take everything personally. If a spouse is in a bad mood, don’t assume that it is your fault.

In fact, you are probably better off assuming it is not you. We all have some insecurity over our spouse loving us, even in the best of marriages, so when the spouse seems distant or angry, we tend to fear it is about us.

The problem is that when we assume it is personal, we tend to respond in defensive ways. Back to my couple and the blue sky: since he took his wife’s comments personally, he was always responding with defensive anger. The problem with that is it triggered his wife’s anger because she took what he said personally. Suddenly, there was a communication loop that was going back-and-forth between them, escalating the frustration and anger.

When that happened, nothing positive was possible. Rather, they began to assume the worst about the other person and the relationship. Isn’t it interesting that when they started with taking things personally, it led to a loss of faith in the relationship?

Now, there is a corollary to this rule: “Take some things personally.” Some pop-psychology has gone to an extreme and said “take nothing personally.” But sometimes, we need to hear what our spouse has to say. When a spouse says something critical, harsh, or angry, we can do several things.

First, we could ignore it. But over and over, I have heard spouses at the end of a marriage say “why didn’t you do something when I told you about this long ago?” In other words, their spouse ignored some important feedback for so long, it destroyed the relationship (or at least contributed). Many times, a spouse, at the very end, tries to make the necessary changes, but it happens months or years too late. So, ignoring it won’t work.

Second, we can respond to everything. This can be the epitome of taking everything personally. When a spouse seems angry, this person would immediately try to find some way of reducing the anger. If a spouse says something critical, this spouse would immediately try to change it. Unfortunately, this creates an extremely destructive pattern where one becomes responsible for the emotional state of the spouse, and therefore for the future of the marriage.

Third, and the best option: we assume our spouse’s emotional state is not as a result of us. But, we assess whether what our spouse says has merit. In other words, we don’t take everything personally, but are open to consider that we may need to change.

Using the third option, we start with a less reactive posture. But we don’t build a wall that keeps out all suggestions. Instead, we consider the truth of suggestions or complaints made by a spouse, and make changes where necessary. This could be thought of as a proactive (rather than reactive) stance. We seek to change what we need to change, but without assuming that everything needs to change.

When we choose to not take everything personally, we regain our own health, and help to restore the help of the relationship. So, seek to not take everything personally, but don’t make the mistake of taking nothing personally.

About the Author: Dr. Baucom is a 15-year veteran of marriage therapy. He works day-in and day-out to help people save their marriages. Dr. Baucom is creator of the best-selling ebook, Save The Marriage . He also offers free podcasts at http://www.MarriageMoment.com

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