How can I improve my marriage on my own?

person opening notebook on brown wooden table

You want to improve your marriage, but you are the only one that has time (or desire) to work on it. Your partner doesn’t have any time for talks or conflict resolution or couples therapy. What can you do? Can you improve a marriage if there is only one person working on it?

Thankfully the answer is yes. You can improve your marriage just by working on you! YOU are the only thing that you can control anyway. We like to think that we can control other people like our spouse, but we can’t. So focus on what you can control: YOU.

Focus on your sense of worth

The first thing we need to work on is your sense of worth. If you are anything like me, then you probably don’t like yourself very much and spend a lot of time thinking about how you should improve. And when your spouse or anybody says something critical of you, it really hurts! You get super offended and shut down.

So let’s dig in and see what is going on here. Let’s use a specific example from my life. For a long time in my marriage, I would sometimes think: “My husband doesn’t really like me that much” and “He wishes he had married somebody else.”

Let’s put those thoughts into the Self Awareness Model and see what results it was producing for me.

The Self Awareness Model goes like this:


trigger THOUGHTS…

which create our FEELINGS…

which drive our ACTIONS…

which create our RESULTS.

the self awareness model

Notice how we just use the letters “STFAR” to represent the Situations, Thoughts, Feelings, Actions, and Results. And our results usually give evidence for what we are thinking.

So if we put my thought “My husband doesn’t really like me” in the model, let’s see what happens.

S: What situation triggered this thought? Lots of different circumstances triggered this thought for me. Usually when I use the model, I try to write down exactly what happened in a factual way. But for this example, I will focus on the general thought.

T: “My husband doesn’t really like me

F: how do I feel when I think this thought? Depressed.

A: how do I act when I feel depressed? I mope around, feel sorry for myself, get mad at him, and I am not confident in anything I do.

R: what is the result of these actions? I act in a way that reinforces my thought. When I act depressed, I don’t like that version of me. So the more I act depressed, the more I don’t like me.

Another result could be that when I think “My husband doesn’t really like me”, I look for all the evidence that this is true. I see the ways that he might not like me. I notice all the times that he criticizes me. I don’t even see the ways that he actually might like me because my brain is focusing on what I tell it to focus on (brains are very efficient that way so they only see what you tell it to see).

Changing the Thought changes your Reality

What if I could believe the opposite of this thought? What if I could think “My husband loves me.”

Well, I started trying to think “My husband loves me” and my whole world changed! My whole focal point changed. I started seeing all the ways that he does love me.

Let’s see how changing this thought changed the model for me.

T: “My husband loves me”

F: how do I feel when I think this thought? Happy.

A: how do I act when I feel happy? I smile more, I do nice things for Ian, I take care of myself, I act happy all around!

R: what is the result of these actions? I act in a way that probably makes my husband want to like me more! But more importantly, I like me when I act this way.

Do you see how our thoughts are super powerful? Your thoughts are creating your reality. If you don’t like your current reality, start being aware of your thoughts. Start trying to change them.

But what if it is hard to believe these new positive thoughts? Practice believing them everyday. Run self awareness models on your thoughts to show your brain how thinking the negative thought is NOT helping you.

Is it your husband’s job to make you feel loved?

Whose job is it to make you feel loved and accepted? Is it your husband’s job? No! It is your job. You need to love and support you! You need to be there for you. You need to have your own back and stand up for you. I used to think it was my husband’s job. And he did a lousy job at it!

You need to start loving yourself. REALLY loving yourself. Stop focusing on all the things you do wrong. Tell yourself once each day all the things you are doing right! Start practicing these thoughts:

“I am totally lovable.”

“Of course he loves me. Who wouldn’t?”

I know it’s hard to believe these thoughts at first. Stay with me. Keep trying. I’m sure if I met you, I would be able to tell you ALL the wonderful things about you. Everyone has good and bad in them. It is totally normal to make mistakes! That is what makes you human. Be nice to yourself. Start believing that you are worth it. You are enough.

When other people criticize you

When someone criticizes you, why does it hurt so much? It hurts because of what we make it mean. Other people and what they say are the “Situation” line in your model. Our thoughts are what create our feelings. So if someone says “You are so selfish”, it is your thought about what they said that will determine how you feel. So if you understand this, you will realize that no one can make you feel anything. You decide how you are going to feel.

So let’s pretend that someone criticizes you. What is your thought about the words they said? If someone said “You are so selfish”, we may think “Maybe they are right.” If we were completely sure that what they said was not true, then it wouldn’t affect us so much.

For example, let’s say you have brown hair and someone says “I don’t like your blue hair.” Would you be offended? Probably not, because you know that you don’t have blue hair. Your hair is brown. But what if they say “You are so selfish”. Maybe we think that they could be right. Maybe we think that we need to be better. But what if you just said to yourself: “Of course I am selfish. Everyone is a little selfish. But I like me just the way I am.” If that was your thought, the criticism wouldn’t bother you so much.

The point is that other people can’t make you feel anything. You are in control of you. And that is wonderful news.

What someone else thinks about you has nothing to do with you

Here is one other bit of advice that has helped me immensely. What someone else thinks about you has ABSOLUTELY nothing to do with you. It has everything to do with them.

For example, let’s say you are in a group of eight people. You say something. Do all of those 8 people have the same opinion of you after you said something? No. They probably have 8 different opinions of you. If what they think of you had something to do with you, then wouldn’t all 8 people think the same about you? They all heard the same words. But their opinion of you says a lot more about them than it does about you. You are the “situation” line in their self awareness models. They get to decide how to think about you.

So back to your spouse. What your spouse thinks about you really has nothing to do with you and whether you need to be better. What they think has everything to do with them and how they are seeing life right now. So give them permission to think whatever they want. And you get to think however you want. It’s okay to not see things the same way. If you love you, then you won’t be so desperate for others’ love and acceptance.

When I learned these things, life became so much easier! I started taking care of myself more. I loved myself more. I wasn’t so offended when others criticized me. But I’m still working on all of this stuff and some days I do great and other days I really struggle.

Start becoming aware of your thoughts

So if our thoughts are creating our feelings, look at what you are thinking about yourself all day long. Start being aware. Can you see why you don’t feel good about yourself?

At the end of the day, write down some of your thoughts. Write down your thoughts and start trying to separate thoughts from facts. Facts are what can be proven in court. That is what goes in the situation line of the model. Everything else are thoughts.

Put your thoughts in the self awareness model to see what they are producing for you.

If you can’t think of a way to change your unproductive thoughts, tell your thoughts to a close friend or life coach or therapist and ask for some suggestions. Usually our thoughts about ourselves seem ridiculous once we say them out loud. So it is easy for others to point out the fallacies in our thoughts and help direct us to more useful thoughts.

Good luck my friend! When you work on yourself and your sense of worth, your marriage will get easier and better!

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