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Is Your Marriage Toxic?

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

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.

Show Your Appreciation

One of the most common problems in marriage is taking your partner for granted and becoming less sensitive to that person’s needs over time, Rivkin says.

Maybe your partner no longer says hello to you when she comes home from work. Perhaps he doesn’t acknowledge that you cooked his favorite meal for dinner.

"We all need appreciation and affection," Rivkin says. Without that, a person starts to feel lonely, unappreciated, and neglected.

Show your spouse some appreciation with a gift or a simple thank you. And invest time in the relationship, like planning a date night, Rivkin suggests.

You may feel too resentful and angry at your partner to show appreciation. If so, Rivkin says to do it anyway. "Right away, that wall of resentment and anger goes down just a little bit," she says.

You can further build intimacy by remembering what you once liked about your partner and telling your partner, at a calm time, what bothers you about his or her behavior.

Let Time Heal

Don't hesitate to get help with your relationship, especially if you've tried and failed to improve your marriage on your own.

Don’t expect the walls of resentment to come down right away. Rivkin suggests allowing at least three months to see if working with a therapist or using the advice from a relationship book is helping your marriage.

Change may come slowly. But don't be afraid of taking baby steps. "One little change can be huge to begin to change a pattern," Rivkin says.

Reviewed on September 05, 2011

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