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If your marriage is hurting in any way, you have a few choices. Among them, get in there, get messy, get humble, and work hard…

or walk away (which can also get messy, but we'll save that for another time).

Today we're talking about what to do if you're sticking around, at least for now. You are hoping to make a difference for the sake of preserving, perhaps resuscitating your marriage. As you hope, consider…

1) Perspective: Here's a suggestion. Instead of thinking of your marriage as being made of just you and your spouse, think of it as a third entity all its own. Imagine a three legged stool. That's your married life. Two legs are you and your spouse. The third, your marriage. All three need equal parts support, nurturing, sustenance and care. If any part is cut off, you've got a lopsided stool which is of no use to anyone.

With couples I work with, this image helps them detach from their personal hurt just enough to see that holding on to it is hurting their marriage. That's a step to easing the tension just enough to allow communication to start.

2) Responsibility: Stop right now blaming each other for messing up your marriage. Step back and take the time to ask "What have I done that may have contributed to this catastrophe."

Here's bit of irony: If you both do this genuinely and with honesty, you will both get what you truly want; a sincere acknowledgment from your spouse that they messed up.

3) Attitude: If your first priority is to see your spouse suffer you're not ready to work on your marriage. You may not be ready to walk away yet but face it, you not ready to nurture the marriage either.

Often when we've been hurt, we feel the other person needs to feel our pain to balance things. While this attitude is understandable, human even, it can't be the only attitude if there's to be healing. To begin adjusting your attitude try seeing things from the other's eyes, walk in their shoes.

4) Anger: I know all this is hard to do when you are seething with anger. Practice expressing your anger without raging, becoming verbally violent or icing over in cold silence. As soon as you 'lose it', you've stopped communicating or worse, you've hardened your spouse against you.

Chances are you are both very angry but for different reasons. By all means acknowledge it's there. Know that it's important, and cannot be ignored. Even expect your spouse to recognize and validate it. But don't think the only way to have your anger heard is by going nuclear. That's like saying you can't go surfing unless there's a tsunami or skiing unless there's an avalanche. Too much of anything can lead to disaster.

Expressing anger directly, appropriately and effectively is healing because it can be heard. Standing still and receiving anger when it's expressed well is a high form of respect. Both make a deep impression.

5) Patience: Do not expect to heal quickly or that the trajectory of recovery is smooth. There are ups and downs, steps forward and steps back. As long as you are both pulling in the same direction more often than not, you will be gaining more than you lose. Know that you will find a way as long as you can be patient with each other and yourselves.

Some resources:

After the Affair, by Janis Abrahms Spring, PhD

The Power of Two, Susan Heitler, PhD

8 Steps to Steps to Find Hope After an Affair

The Dance of Anger, Harriet Lerner, PhD

What are your thoughts?

Photo courtesy of shewatchedthesky via Flickr