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How To Save A Marriage

If only every couple knew how to fight fair. The right words can make the "for worse" part better.

2. Recognize the Power of the D Word

Greg and I had to stop saying we wanted a divorce every time things got rough. But it turns out that the D word serves a very important purpose in marriage. Hal Runkel, a family therapist and author of ScreamFree Marriage, says that one of the things that makes marriage and the daily decision to stay together so powerful is that the threat of divorce is always there. When the threat of divorce makes you bring your best self to a marriage, then it's a vital, even necessary, ingredient. "The D word only becomes a weapon when it's used as an attempt to avoid dealing with the matter at hand," Runkel says.

3. No Time-Traveling

After seven years together (we've now been married for nearly 10), my husband and I had a rich history to mine for both positive and negative episodes. But keeping tabs, feeling like we owed each other for past shortcomings or for past graces, was doing us no favors.

Many married people, like Greg and me, find themselves in the middle of a fight and, like a lawyer making a case, reach into the past for evidence that our partner is wrong (and has been wrong for a long time). Digging up past dirt is easy. What is effective is stopping in the middle of the fight and reaching for a happy memory.

Runkel likes to say, "You don't have a problem in your marriage; you have a pattern in your marriage." His advice? Get humble and get positive, even if it feels like you're faking it at first. "Actively pursue a broader picture," he says. "Always assume there is more than one side, even if you can't see the other side. That is basic humility."

In other words, before you get furious, get curious. Christensen advises, "Stop and ask yourself, Why is my partner acting this way? instead of getting lost in the reaction."

4. Be a Cheerleader, Not Just a Problem Solver

As couples, we tend to focus on getting better at handling problems when perhaps we should invest more energy in learning how to respond to success. After all, isn't success what we're all hoping for? In 2006, psychologist Shelly Gable, Ph.D., published a paper in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology called "Will You Be There for Me When Things Go Right?" Her work found that having a sincere and engaged response to a partner's victories, large ("I'm moving forward with my career!") and small ("I finally got Scarlett to poop on the potty!"), is even more important to a couple's long-term bond than how the partners respond to negative encounters.

Obviously, Greg's threatening to leave me when I was being offered my own television show on Food Network was...well, a categorically bad response. But even when smaller bits of good news go unheralded in a relationship, that's a problem.

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