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What to Do If You Find Yourself in an Unhappy Marriage

What to Do If You Find Yourself in an Unhappy Marriage

Growing up, when we envisioned getting married, we probably thought about it as a fairy tale. You know… the white knight, the Cinderella moments, and then riding off into the sunset living happily ever after.

But with the divorce rate as high as ever, it doesn’t seem like that fantasy is coming true for most people. Even if you are in a relatively happy marriage, it might not be as perfect as you had hoped.

For many people, they find themselves in a downright unhappy marriage. I know how that feels, because I was in one myself once too. I never thought I would be a person who got divorced, but it happened.

That’s not to say I didn’t try. I did. I really, really did. But sometimes, it’s simply not meant to be.

With that said, just because my marriage didn’t work out doesn’t mean that yours won’t.

Before you read through this list, I have to make one VERY important point. BOTH of you need to be 100% invested in rebuilding the marriage. If only one person is, then it won’t work. That’s what happened to me. I feel like I tried everything I could, but he wasn’t really committed to working on things.

And even if both of you are mildly committed to working on things, then that’s not the best scenario either. Because you both have to have your heart completely in it for any kind of positive changes to occur.

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Now let’s take a look at what needs to be done in order to repair your marriage.

1. Both People Need to Put Their Partner’s Needs at Least Equal to – or Before – Their Own

Just as I said that both people need to be 100% committed to rebuilding the relationship, you also need to put your partner’s needs before your own. Or at least equal to yours.

You see, this is what happened in my marriage. I felt like his needs were always his top priority and he didn’t care about mine. Even though I tried to put him as a priority, it never worked in reverse. And that was not okay with me.

2. If You Have Children, Keep Your Problems Away from Them

A lot of couples make the mistake of fighting in front of their children. That is the worst thing you can do! Not only does it make the children feel unsafe, it brings them into adult issues that they should not be involved in.

Keep your problems between the two of you, and whatever you do… do NOT involve your children!

3. Make a List of What Makes You Unhappy

Sometimes we go around with just a general feeling of unhappiness and don’t really know why. You know something is wrong, but you don’t always sit down with yourself and actually figure out the specifics of what it is.

So, if you haven’t done that – do it. What exactly are you unhappy about? What do you want to change that would make you happy?

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Once you look at the list, you might find that some of your reasons are petty or insignificant. Maybe, maybe not. But at least you will know.

4. Make a List of What Is Your Spouse’s Responsibility and What Is Yours

I know you want to place all the blame on your spouse and make everything all their fault. But remember – it takes two to tango.

Relationships are not made or destroyed by only one person (usually). In my case, I know I grew more resentful of his lack of effort in the marriage. And as I grew more resentful, I emotionally withdrew. I’m sure that wasn’t great for him either.

We all have a part in the state of the relationship. But sit down and write it down so you are clear about your thoughts on that.

5. Talk to Your Spouse About Your Concerns

Now that you have everything clear in your head, you are ready to talk to your spouse. It won’t be an easy thing – they might not even want to talk. But it’s absolutely necessary.

You can’t change what you don’t recognize. Bring your lists that you just made above to the table and talk it out. The purpose of that list is not just to get your thoughts down on paper, but to have a clear path to your conversation. And you’ll have “evidence” in front of you, not just relying on your memory in the moment.

6. Try to Come up with Compromises

After you voice your concerns, let your spouse voice theirs. I’m sure they have some complaints just like you do. Maybe they haven’t told you anything about it yet.

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If they can’t come up with any in the moment, give them time to make their own list and then reconvene. You need to talk logically and rationally about these problems. Neither one of you should get defensive or overly emotional/aggressive, because that will not work if you do.

Try to meet in the middle and come up with some compromises.

7. Write a Contract and Make Agreements

It might sound cheesy or even unnecessary, but once you have made some agreements and compromises, write them down. Pretend like it’s a legal, binding contract between the two of you.

For instance, husband agrees to do “x, y, and z” to make necessary changes in the relationship. And wife agrees to do “a, b, and c” to help change the relationship. Then keep checking in on these agreements to keep yourselves on track.

8. Wait to See How Well Both of You Implement the Changes

Change is difficult for most people. Anyone who has ever gone on a diet and tried to go to the gym to lose weight knows this to be true. But the same is true for ALL habits. So, give it some time and see if how well these changes are going to go.

Typically, people are good with change in the beginning, but then they start to slip back into their old ways again. So, wait and see how well both of you are going to implement these changes.

9. If Nothing Changes and Promises Are Broken, Re-Negotiate and Try Again

If, after some time, nothing really changes to your satisfaction, then you should try again. Real change is long-term and so you need to wait it out and keep trying.

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10. If Nothing Changes Again, Then Seek Therapy

At some point, you might need to seek out a marriage therapist to help you. Many people can’t do it by themselves, and so they need a professional to help them. In fact, if you don’t think you can do tips numbers 3-9 on your own, then maybe you should just start with a therapist.

Some people are against therapy (which is sad), and others can’t afford it. So, the first part of my list was for those people. Remember, going to therapy is a sign of strength – not a sign of weakness.

11. Have a Talk with Your Spouse and Make Sure They Agree to Try What the Therapist Suggests

My ex-husband and I tried therapy too. I didn’t really work for us because he didn’t put in the effort. I don’t mean to sound like I’m blaming him – that’s just who he is. He’s a good person, but he didn’t know how to (or want to) make changes in himself that would make our marriage happier.

I followed all the therapist’s suggestions, but noticed he wasn’t. So, if you find this happening to you too, have another conversation with your spouse and try to get them to take it more seriously.

12. If It Doesn’t Work, Then Consider Separating And/Or Other Arrangements

Sadly, sometimes you can try everything to make a marriage work and it still doesn’t. That’s what happened to me. And that’s okay. There is no shame in separation or divorce anymore.

I don’t see it as a “failure.” Instead, it’s a learning opportunity. I learned what doesn’t work for me in a marriage. And I also learned what to do differently next time – namely, finding someone who I am naturally more compatible with.

Final Thoughts

When my marriage ended, it was very sad. And if yours does, it will be for you too. Or it could just be a relief (or both).

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But if you do end up going your separate ways, at least you know in your heart that you did everything you could to save the marriage. And then you can look back and figure out how to move forward and do it better the next time – just like I did.

Featured photo credit: Jelleke Vanooteghem via unsplash.com

More by this author

Carol Morgan

Dr. Carol Morgan is the owner of HerSideHisSide.com, a communication professor, dating & relationship coach, TV personality, speaker, and author.

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Published on May 18, 2021

How To Improve Listening Skills For Effective Workplace Communication

How To Improve Listening Skills For Effective Workplace Communication

We have two ears and one mouth for a reason—effective communication is dependent on using them in proportion, and this involves having good listening skills.

The workplace of the 21st century may not look the same as it did before COVID-19 spread throughout the world like wildfire, but that doesn’t mean you can relax your standards at work. If anything, Zoom meetings, conference calls, and the continuous time spent behind a screen have created a higher level of expectations for meeting etiquette and communication. And this goes further than simply muting your microphone during a meeting.

Effective workplace communication has been a topic of discussion for decades, yet, it is rarely addressed or implemented due to a lack of awareness and personal ownership by all parties.

Effective communication isn’t just about speaking clearly or finding the appropriate choice of words. It starts with intentional listening and being present. Here’s how to improve your listening skills for effective workplace communication.

Listen to Understand, Not to Speak

There are stark differences between listening and hearing. Listening involves intention, focused effort, and concentration, whereas hearing simply involves low-level awareness that someone else is speaking. Listening is a voluntary activity that allows one to be present and in the moment while hearing is passive and effortless.[1]

Which one would you prefer your colleagues to implement during your company-wide presentation? It’s a no-brainer.

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Listening can be one of the most powerful tools in your communication arsenal because one must listen to understand the message being told to them. As a result of this deeper understanding, communication can be streamlined because there is a higher level of comprehension that will facilitate practical follow-up questions, conversations, and problem-solving. And just because you heard something doesn’t mean you actually understood it.

We take this for granted daily, but that doesn’t mean we can use that as an excuse.

Your brain is constantly scanning your environment for threats, opportunities, and situations to advance your ability to promote your survival. And yet, while we are long past the days of worrying about being eaten by wildlife, the neurocircuitry responsible for these mechanisms is still hard-wired into our psychology and neural processing.

A classic example of this is the formation of memories. Case in point: where were you on June 3rd, 2014? For most of you reading this article, your mind will go completely blank, which isn’t necessarily bad.

The brain is far too efficient to retain every detail about every event that happens in your life, mainly because many events that occur aren’t always that important. The brain doesn’t—and shouldn’t—care what you ate for lunch three weeks ago or what color shirt you wore golfing last month. But for those of you who remember where you were on June 3rd, 2014, this date probably holds some sort of significance to you. Maybe it was a birthday or an anniversary. Perhaps it was the day your child was born. It could have even been a day where you lost someone special in your life.

Regardless of the circumstance, the brain is highly stimulated through emotion and engagement, which is why memories are usually stored in these situations. When the brain’s emotional centers become activated, the brain is far more likely to remember an event.[2] And this is also true when intention and focus are applied to listening to a conversation.

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Utilizing these hard-wired primitive pathways of survival to optimize your communication in the workplace is a no-brainer—literally and figuratively.

Intentional focus and concentrated efforts will pay off in the long run because you will retain more information and have an easier time recalling it down the road, making you look like a superstar in front of your colleagues and co-workers. Time to kiss those note-taking days away!

Effective Communication Isn’t Always Through Words

While we typically associate communication with words and verbal affirmations, communication can come in all shapes and forms. In the Zoom meeting era we live in, it has become far more challenging to utilize and understand these other forms of language. And this is because they are typically easier to see when we are sitting face to face with the person we speak to.[3]

Body language can play a significant role in how our words and communication are interpreted, especially when there is a disconnection involved.[4] When someone tells you one thing, yet their body language screams something completely different, it’s challenging to let that go. Our brain immediately starts to search for more information and inevitably prompts us to follow up with questions that will provide greater clarity to the situation at hand. And in all reality, not saying something might be just as important as actually saying something.

These commonly overlooked non-verbal communication choices can provide a plethora of information about the intentions, emotions, and motivations. We do this unconsciously, and it happens with every confrontation, conversation, and interaction we engage in. The magic lies in the utilization and active interpretation of these signals to improve your listening skills and your communication skills.

Our brains were designed for interpreting our world, which is why we are so good at recognizing subtle nuances and underlying disconnect within our casual encounters. So, when we begin to notice conflicting messages between verbal and non-verbal communication, our brain takes us down a path of troubleshooting.

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Which messages are consistent with this theme over time? Which statements aren’t aligning with what they’re really trying to tell me? How should I interpret their words and body language?

Suppose we want to break things down even further. In that case, one must understand that body language is usually a subconscious event, meaning that we rarely think about our body language. This happens because our brain’s primary focus is to string together words and phrases for verbal communication, which usually requires a higher level of processing. This doesn’t mean that body language will always tell the truth, but it does provide clues to help us weigh information, which can be pretty beneficial in the long run.

Actively interpreting body language can provide you with an edge in your communication skills. It can also be used as a tool to connect with the individual you are speaking to. This process is deeply ingrained into our human fabric and utilizes similar methods babies use while learning new skills from their parents’ traits during the early years of development.

Mirroring a person’s posture or stance can create a subtle bond, facilitating a sense of feeling like one another. This process is triggered via the activation of specific brain regions through the stimulation of specialized neurons called mirror neurons.[5] These particular neurons become activated while watching an individual engage in an activity or task, facilitating learning, queuing, and understanding. They also allow the person watching an action to become more efficient at physically executing the action, creating changes in the brain, and altering the overall structure of the brain to enhance output for that chosen activity.

Listening with intention can make you understand your colleague, and when paired together with mirroring body language, you can make your colleague feel like you two are alike. This simple trick can facilitate a greater bond of understanding and communication within all aspects of the conversation.

Eliminate All Distractions, Once and for All

As Jim Rohn says, “What is easy to do is also easy not to do.” And this is an underlying principle that will carry through in all aspects of communication. Distractions are a surefire way to ensure a lack of understanding or interpretation of a conversation, which in turn, will create inefficiencies and a poor foundation for communication.

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This should come as no surprise, especially in this day in age where people are constantly distracted by social media, text messaging, and endlessly checking their emails. We’re stuck in a cultural norm that has hijacked our love for the addictive dopamine rush and altered our ability to truly focus our efforts on the task at hand. And these distractions aren’t just distractions for the time they’re being used. They use up coveted brainpower and central processes that secondarily delay our ability to get back on track.

Gloria Mark, a researcher at UC Irvine, discovered that it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds for our brains to reach their peak state of focus after an interruption.[6] Yes, you read that correctly—distractions are costly, error-prone, and yield little to no benefit outside of a bump to the ego when receiving a new like on your social media profile.

Meetings should implement a no-phone policy, video conference calls should be set on their own browser with no other tabs open, and all updates, notifications, and email prompt should be immediately turned off, if possible, to eliminate all distractions during a meeting.

These are just a few examples of how we can optimize our environment to facilitate the highest levels of communication within the workplace.

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Effective communication in the workplace doesn’t have to be challenging, but it does have to be intentional. Knowledge can only take us so far, but once again, knowing something is very different than putting it into action.

Just like riding a bike, the more often you do it, the easier it becomes. Master communicators are phenomenal listeners, which allows them to be effective communicators in the workplace and in life. If you genuinely want to own your communication, you must implement this information today and learn how to improve your listening skills.

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Choose your words carefully, listen intently, and most of all, be present in the moment—because that’s what master communicators do, and you can do it, too!

More Tips Improving Listening Skills

Featured photo credit: Mailchimp via unsplash.com

Reference

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