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Is Your Marriage Toxic?

Start mending your unhealthy relationship before it’s too late.

Open Up About Your Feelings continued...

Heitler says that people who grew up in families that communicated well about problems "speak the language of cooperation naturally." But many people didn't learn those skills when they were younger and need tools for talking about sensitive issues in a safe way.

How do you improve your communication? Heitler, author of The Power of Two: Secrets of a Strong & Loving Marriage, suggests turning to books on communication, marriage education courses, or web sites for help. Marriage counselors are another good option, but, Heitler says, not all of them teach effective communication skills. So look for one who specializes in how to communicate with one another.

Truly Listen

Everyone wants to be heard. But partners in troubled marriages often don't listen effectively to each other. "When we don’t listen," Rivkin says, "we hear a word that triggers us and then we’re off and running with our argument."

When someone doesn't feel listened to, that person doesn't share the most intimate parts his or her self. That's because that person doesn't want to be vulnerable, Rivkin says. When someone feels heard, the conversation deepens.

Agree with your partner to take turns listening to each other for three to five minutes without interrupting. "Right away when you start to listen," Rivkin says, "you get a new view of your partner."

Avoid the Blame Game

Rivkin says unhappily married people often blame their partner instead of taking responsibility for their own actions. But blaming never solves anything.

"You’re just going to escalate the argument," Rivkin says. "It’s really not that we’re trying to be mean to our partners, but we’re at our wit’s end."

Try to find the core issues that you're really fighting about, Rivkin says. For instance, are you not feeling heard, loved, or appreciated? If you are having trouble figuring out the core issue, ask yourself what or who does this fight remind you of? "Once you understand what’s causing it, then you can change your patterns, change your behaviors," Rivkin says.

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