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3 ways to repair your marriage this week

Posted July 21

Question:

My husband jumps at every request his adult daughter asks of him and she is constantly asking her dad for help on different needed repairs. He is very attentive and will quickly run to help. I've been needing repairs in our home too and I don't see him having that same desire to help me. Should I let this bother me and just let it go? I just don’t feel as valued as his daughter. A relationship takes a lot of work and I'm willing to put in the work, but I feel that I'm putting in more than he is. He also really hurts me when we have disagreements. He keeps every negative, critical thing about me in his head and spouts them off every time we fight. As a result, my self-esteem is suffering. I walk away from disagreements wanting to get out of this marriage more than work on myself. I’ve tried to explain to him the damage he is causing, but he responds by listing things I’ve done to cause damage, too. We are both in our second marriages, but I don’t know how to stay in a relationship where most of the time an argument ends with me feeling like I’m the one at fault, I’m the one with most of the issues. What can I do?

Answer:

Here are three things you can do to turn this situation around and bring the love back.

  1. Work on your individual self-esteem. You are both struggling with self-worth, which is making both of you overly focused on the faults in the other. The worse your self-esteem is the more you tend to cast your spouse as the bad one (so you feel better about yourself). The problem is first, there is no bad one here — it takes two to create these kinds of problems and you are both contributing in some way. Second, you focus on getting validation actually means no one is giving it.

    You and your spouse also both have fear of failure issues, meaning you are both afraid you aren’t good enough on some level. This creates subconscious neediness and selfishness in the relationship (and keeps you both focused on getting not giving love).

    You are also making your self-esteem your spouse’s responsibility — and this creates great disappointment and resentment in a relationship. It does this because it’s impossible for your spouse to validate you enough to fill an empty bucket — that you keep putting holes in (because you don't see your own value). Your spouse will therefore always fail to make you feel good and loved enough and you blame them for it.

    In order to have a healthy relationship, you must (both) do some serious and individual work on your own self-worth so you can come into this relationship with a full bucket and something to give. I highly recommend working with a life coach or counselor (each by yourself) to change the way you see your own value. Learn how to fill your own bucket so you won't be needy.

    I would guess serving his daughter makes your spouse feel successful and good about himself on some level and that’s why he does it. You must understand this is about filling his own bucket, it’s not about a lack of love for you. Stop taking it personally.

    If you want this second marriage to work you have to become less needy for validation and more giving. You need to fill your own self-worth bucket and stop making your spouse responsible for it.

    If you want more love, attention, service or validation from your spouse, the way to get that is to give it. Focus on what you are giving, not what you are getting. I promise this works (most of the time) and turns things around fast. When you show up with unselfish, not needy, love for them, they feel this and start to treasure you and treat you better.

  2. You must stop keeping score of mistreatment and getting offended. You must stop dwelling in fear of loss and being afraid that you aren’t getting a fair shake. You must stop watching for anything and everything that doesn’t seem fair.

    This fear-based mindset is again selfish, needy and all about you. Even if it’s true that he does help his daughter more than you — it really isn’t about you and doesn’t mean he doesn’t love you.

    It probably means that he has some divorce guilt and feels he has to make up for the broken family by really showing up for his kids. (This often means spoiling them a bit.) You must stop making this about you and taking it personally.

    Also understand that most of us consider our own home to be an extension of ourselves. So, it actually feels selfish to work on our own home and selfless (better and more important) to work on someone else’s. In his mind, he probably thinks he is being a good person putting his own home last. You could choose a different perspective on this and actually appreciate his giving nature and his desire to do good.

    Then you can learn how to communicate what you need done around the house in a positive way (without shame or guilt) or just hire someone to do it without any resentment.

    You could also choose to see this situation as a perfect lesson in your classroom journey, to help you learn to let go of the need to cast your spouse as the bad one and keep score of mistreatment. It’s your lesson on being more loving, giving and understanding. It’s your chance to forgive his faults, because you want yours forgiven too.

    Trust the universe; it knows what it’s doing. These specific challenges are showing up in your life to help YOU get more mature and wise. You can do this. You can stop keeping score and focus instead on being loving and understanding. Using the formula below you can show up for him and also ask for what you need in a loving way.

  3. Learn how to have mutually validating conversations. This means:

    1. See your spouse as an equal first (just as bad and as good as you are) and never talk down to them. Remember that you both have the exact same intrinsic value and you both deserve respect and kindness.

    2. Ask them how they feel about the issue and really listen and honor their right to their feelings and perspective. Showing them you care by asking for ways you can do better. Be really open to make changes to yourself and your behavior. Let them talk and express as much as they need to, while making them feel heard.

    3. Then ask if they would be willing to make a change (moving forward) for you. Do this using “I” statements not “You” statements (don’t blame and shame) and don’t focus on their past bad behavior. Only talk about the future behavior you would really appreciate moving forward. If you follow these steps, you can talk about any issue without anyone getting defensive or mean.

I would guess that the disagreements you have (where he clobbers you with criticism and blame) are happening because he feels criticized, too. You are both just trying to defend your self-worth and it is human nature to blame and attack when you feel that way.

If you don’t like how these conversations end, you must learn how to validate his worth and make him feel safe and valued, then ask for what you need. The steps above will help you do this, but you must also fix your fears, self-worth issues and stop keeping score.

There is a Understanding Your Marriage Questionnaire on my website which will let you take an honest inventory of the ways fear is poisoning your relationship. You should both fill it out on your own after reading this article. I also recommend getting some professional help now, before you both hurt each other any more. People tend to wait to ask for help until it’s almost too late.

Don’t do that.

Asking for help is a sign of strength not weakness.

You can do this.

Kimberly Giles is the president of claritypointcoaching.com. She is the author of the book "Choosing Clarity: The Path to Fearlessness" and a popular life coach, speaker and people skills expert.

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