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Health & Sex

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5 Couples Reveal: "The Extreme Ways We Saved Our Marriages"

"He enrolled in husband boot camp."

Amy McDougald, 41, and Steve McDougald, 43, married 21 years;
Aurora, OH

Amy: For most of the 20 years I'd been married to Steve, he was like two different people: really nice or very short-tempered. I never knew who was coming home from work that day. He seemed to hate my family, his work, many of my friends — and, at times, me. In 2007, a few days before we were going on a cruise, we got into a big argument over something small. I tried to walk out of our bedroom. Steve blocked my way, and I was so scared that I locked myself in our bathroom, refusing to come out until he left. That's when I realized I was afraid of my husband — and there was no way I could go on a cruise with him.

I was about to separate from Steve for the third time in our marriage when he announced he was going to a Smart Marriages Conference in Denver. Frankly, I doubted that a short conference would make any difference. When he came home, though, I noticed an immediate change: He didn't yell, and he was very affectionate. When he mentioned that Dr. Steven Stosny, the program's founder, also offered a three-day-long boot camp, I thought he should definitely go. If one day did this much, what could three days do? The answer: a miracle. After boot camp, Steve was able to admit for the first time in 20 years the damage and pain he had caused, and he became willing to work on healing our marriage. It wasn't easy; it took a full year for me to feel sure that Steve's anger issues were no longer a part of our relationship. But it was worth it.

Today, we love spending time with each other, and we even teach a class at our church to help couples improve their marriages. We celebrated our renewed connection by finally taking that seven-day cruise, and this time, I was more than happy to be stuck with Steve in the middle of the ocean.

Steve: Amy and I used to fight about everything. Over the course of our marriage, I became increasingly demanding and raised my voice if I felt like I wasn't heard, which would cause Amy to shut down and get scared. When she canceled our cruise because she didn't want to be alone with me for seven days, it was a big wake-up call. I wasn't ready to give up on us, so I went online and literally went shopping for advice and professionals that could help us in a short amount of time. I came across a conference called Smart Marriages. I was looking for an experience that was different from our failed marriage counseling sessions.

The conference helped me accept that I had an anger problem, and while there, I discovered that Dr. Stosny offers a three-day boot camp specifically for men to learn how to handle anger. At the camp, I practiced responding to hurt feelings with compassion instead of anger. I basically trained my brain with a new choice — to protect my wife instead of responding in anger. Over time, Amy has grown to trust and feel safe with me because I've stopped raising my voice, and I try to meet her needs. She associates me with positive feelings instead of negative ones. It's absolutely worth doing, and I'm so glad I did.

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