You can fix a broken relationship. And below, we’ll walk you through 7 steps to doing so, with real-life advice from 10 married couples.
Your relationship used to be great.
But now you argue more than you talk.
And when you’re not arguing, you’re just ignoring one another.
It feels like you don’t have anything in common, so you spend a lot of time doing your own things.
You’re unhappy… and they’re unhappy, too.
But the good news is, in many cases, relationships can be fixed.
My wife and I, who’ve been together for 8 years, have had our rough patches, but we’ve always come out the other end.
You can, too.
So set aside 30 minutes to go through this guide together.
To start, we’re going to talk about WHY you should work to fix your relationship… because it’s probably worth saving. 🙂
WHO IS THIS GUIDE FOR? This guide is meant for people who are in a struggling but respectful relationship. That is, while arguments abound and the two people don’t see eye-to-eye a lot of times, you both still maintain general decency and humane respect for one another. This guide is not helpful for fixing toxic, disrespectful, or outright abusive relationships. Please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 if needed.
Should You Try To Fix Your Broken Relationship?
Is your relationship even worth fixing?
The answer is… probably.
But in our world of open relationships and divorce celebrations, monogamy gets a bad wrap.
“We live in a society that, in my opinion, normalizes taking the easy way out.
Don’t like your job? quit. Don’t like the way your body looks? Get surgery or liposuction. Don’t want to stay married? People celebrate divorce now with divorce parties…
We live in a society that is, on one hand, incredibly empowering, but on the other, it normalizes taking shortcuts.
No one can see around all the corners, but I feel like people take it way too lightly because they can just ‘get out of it.'”
– Pete & Meaghan, Married for 8 years
Look — staying with the same person for a lifetime is difficult.
(That’s why 50% of marriages end in divorce)
BUT, if you do it right, it’s also a ton of fun!
My wife and I, for instance, got married at the ripe age of 19 (which made our first couple of years quite challenging).
We were young, immature, and opinionated.
We thought that our way of doing things was the only way of doing things.
We argued about how to properly spend money, have sex, cook burgers, brush teeth, and cut hair.
(One time, I got half a hair-cut because I nit-picked my wife until she finally said, “Okay. THEN YOU CUT IT.”
Vengeful, I know.)
But we pushed through. We stayed together. We learned how to argue. We learned how to compromise and apologize. We learned how to support one another.
We learned how to be companions.
We learned how to be lovers.
We learned how to stick together.
And we’re still learning.
Have you ever learned a difficult skill and, in the beginning, you never thought you were going to figure it out?
But then, after a lot of practice, you finally got a little bit better… and a little bit better… until you were actually good?
And do you remember the awesome feeling that came with that mastery?
Marriage is like that.
Being with someone for a long time is a skillset.
It’s something that can be learned.
It’s something that can be mastered.
And working on your marriage will give you pride in your marriage, as well as provide you with emotional support, companionship, better sex, and a sense of security and contentment.
If you do it right, that is.
So how do the two of you fix what’s broken and start building something that you’re proud of?
That’s what we’re going to talk about.
The following steps are a culmination of the lessons I’ve learned from my own 8-year marriage and the hundreds of conversations I’ve had with other married people (particularly, during my years as a Minister).
Go through them together!
Note: Want to skim the article for some quick, pertinent advice? Well, I asked my married friends the key to building a happy long-term relationship, and I got a ton of responses! I’ve taken my favorite of their responses and sprinkled them throughout this article. They’ve got some really great advice! 🙂
Step 1. Commit To Fixing The Relationship
Fixing a relationship isn’t easy.
But if you’re both willing to work at it — schedule date nights, learn how to love each other properly, adapt your communication styles, find common interests, and maybe even get couple’s counseling — then you’re most likely going to succeed.
Marriage, after all, is a commitment between two people.
And when both people work hard to honor that commitment, the relationship lasts.
The opposite is also true — if only one person or neither person is willing to work on the marriage, it isn’t going to get better.
That’s the first step. You both must be willing.
But there’s one other thing you need to understand, and it has to do with the fact that humans (specifically, you and your spouse) are imperfect.
You both have flaws.
Maybe you get angrier than you should, nit-pick, avoid difficult conversations, or give your spouse the silent treatment.
Whatever it is, here are three things to keep in mind.
- You’re fucked up.
- They’re fucked up.
- That’s probably not going to change.
That’s the reality of long-term relationships.
Relationships aren’t perfect because we’re not perfect.
And expecting your relationship to be perfect is as futile as trying to write the perfect book, cook the perfect meal, or create the perfect painting.
It can’t happen because it doesn’t exist.
So you’ve got to let go of perfectionism.
You’ve got to accept your partner as they are, and they’ve got to accept you as you are.
Doing that opens your relationship to full honesty, transparency, and authenticity.
And that is where love thrives.
So, for this first step, there are really only two questions you need to answer…
- Are you both willing to fix the relationship?
- Are you both willing to accept one another as imperfect?
If you are, great!
Move onto the next step.
If you’re not, then I’d recommend skipping to step 7 and getting couple’s counseling — an unbiased mediator can make a BIG difference.
“Marriage is not static. It is constantly evolving.
You can love a person and not like everything they do. Don’t expect to have everything your way. Talk to each other about things that bother you, but wait until you are both calm.
Be happy for each other’s successes and supportive when difficulty comes.
Be open to the changes that come. Sometimes, the most amazing things come from change.”
– Marilee & Jim, Married for 43 Years
Step 2. Problem Solve
Now it’s time to thrust your hand into your marriage-throttling bag of problems.
But before either of you speak up, take a second to remember that this isn’t a time for arguments… this is a time for teamwork and collaboration.
Good to go?
Then dive on in.
Grab a piece of paper and a pen and start brainstorming the problem areas in your marriage.
And I’m not talking about writing down “he does this” and “she does this”… I’m talking about the actual problems — the things you argue about, the stressors in your marriage, the problems you’re facing as a team.
- Finances are tight.
- Sex is scarce.
- Raising a kid is hard.
- Work is frustrating.
- Parents are demanding.
You can be more specific than that, of course, but you get the idea.
The goal here is for you both to view your problems as separate from your marriage — they are challenges that you must face together.
And it’s together, as we’ll see next, that you’re going to overcome them.
The next step is to go through the list you’ve made, one item at a time, and problem solve.
This requires both people to ask selfless questions…
- How can I help you de-stress when you get home from work?
- How can I support you in dealing with your/my parents?
- How often do you want to be having sex?
- How can I support you once I get home from work so that you feel like you’re getting a break from the kids?
- How often would you like to go on a date?
- How can we make finances less stressful?
The answers to these questions (and the questions you need to ask) will be slightly different, but surprisingly similar, for each couple.
Most couples, for instance, should be having sex regularly, going on dates, budgeting out their finances, saving for a rainy day, sharing the burden of raising children, allowing time for each person to de-stress from a long day’s work, and prioritizing the marriage relationship over other relationships.
Still, answering these questions for your own relationship is an important process.
It’ll help you realize that the problems you’re facing are outside of your relationship, and when faced head-on, together, they’re not all that scary.
But keep in mind that all marriages contain problems.
The goal here’s isn’t to solve every problem in your relationship, but to learn how to problem-solve as a team.
So do the best you can. And move onto the next step.
Pro-Tip: Research from Berkeley suggests that married couples who learn to laugh away their problems stay together longer. So don’t be afraid to laugh at yourself and let things go. A lot of fights or perceived problems are actually pretty silly when you think about them.
“Playful arguing may seem like a weird thing, but we find when we playfully rib each other and talk smack, then kind of laugh it off — especially when we make a mistake or could be genuinely mad — it heads off the actual argument.
Sometimes, we are so busy playfully yelling at each other and ribbing each other that we forget to have actual arguments!
Laughter is a bit more obvious. The fact is, when you are laughing with your partner all the time, there is very little time to be mad or argue.
Laughter keeps the happiness fresh.”
– William & Brandon, Together for 7 Years
Step 3. Rediscover One Another
My wife and I believe that a healthy marriage is built on friendship and companionship.
Yes, we’re lovers. And yes, we live together.
But we’re also best friends. And we’re life-long companions.
That’s how we see it, at least.
And it’s that mentality that’s brought us so much joy and security in our relationship.
We trust each other, understand each other, feel comfortable with each other, and know how to work together to accomplish goals.
In fact, we both feel that we’re made better by the other person.
Your relationship is likely struggling — at least, in part — because you’ve lost touch with this feeling of friendship and companionship.
(If you haven’t, then celebrate that!)
So let’s have a little fun and work to recover that. 🙂
“Honestly, it’s been about having ‘real talk’.
‘Real talk’ for my spouse and I is saying something along the lines of ‘Hey can we have real-talk?’
For us, this has been super helpful to remember we don’t need to get defensive about whatever will be brought up. It has seriously helped us communicate much better and understand where we are coming from.”
– Jesce & Michael, Married for 2 Years
Personality tests are a fun way to learn about yourselves and each other.
You might even learn why you don’t see eye to eye on certain things.
I recommend the Myers Briggs test (you can take that for free over here). It’s one of the best personality tests out there, in my opinion, and it gives a good overview of your motivations, interests, and why you do the things you do.
Take the test. Review your results with your partner. And talk about what you’ve discovered!
“Never stop dating each other.
Look at them every day and say ‘today, I choose you.’
It’s easy to take your relationship for granted if you assume you’ve reached your goal already. But just because a sapling has become a tree, does that mean you stop watering it? Stop checking it’s soil?
Or do you continue to care for it daily so that, as time goes by, it grows to become more beautiful and more precious?”
– Megan & Matt, Together for 7 Years
The 5 Love Languages
We all show and receive love in different ways.
The 5 Love Languages quiz (also free!) will show you how you want to receive love.
In relationships, it’s important to be sensitive to the other person’s unique love languages — if you want to make it last, then you’ve both got to try and communicate your love in a way that the other person understands.
So again, take the test and review your results with your partner!
Deepest Desires & Greatest Fears
Your partner is the one person with who you should be able to share everything.
And you can create a stronger bond by discussing things that you can only discuss with each other.
Try answering these two questions, for instance.
- What are your deepest desires?
- What are your greatest fears?
Make it fun.
This conversation should be full of openness, honesty, and 100% free of judgment.
Step 4. Schedule Date Nights
You want to go for a hike, but your partner wants to stay home and watch TV.
You want to stay up late, but your partner wants to go to bed.
You want to chat, but your partner wants some peace and quiet.
Marriages are full of these little disagreements.
That’s not unnatural… it’s just what happens when two people build a life together.
Still, finding things that both of you enjoying doing — things that you can do together — can strengthen your bond and help you fall more deeply in love.
Often, my wife would rather stay at home and read a good book while I’d rather go for a nice long walk. And while we respect those differences (and spend a good chunk of time just doing our own things), we also schedule date nights every week to do something together that we both enjoy.
“Give each other space to be yourself — invest in your hobbies and friendships so that you’re not dependent upon the other to fulfill every need or desire. Otherwise, you’re setting up your spouse for failure and imminent disappointment.
Also, my wife and I use a scale system when addressing our capacity to handle anything. 1-10 where 10 is fully capable, energized, and prepared to handle whatever may come up and 1 is utterly depleted and exhausted from the day.
This can apply to physical, emotional, spiritual, or social aspects.”
– Daniel & Chelsea, Married for 5 Years
(Although, this research suggests that going on dates once per month is ideal)
Sometimes, this is as simple as watching a movie at home and cuddling on the couch. Other times, we go horseback riding, for a hike, or book a sailing excursion.
It just depends on how adventurous we’re feeling.
But after each date night, we feel closer and appreciate each other more.
Scheduling date nights with your partner is cliche advice for a reason… because it works.
In fact, married couples that date each other consistently are 3.5 times more likely to be “very happy” in their relationship, have above-average sexual satisfaction, and experience better communication. Additionally, they feel twice as committed to the relationship than couples that don’t date each other.
So do whatever it takes; hire a babysitter, change your work schedule, and decide when you’re going on dates.
Your marriage depends on it.
Oh — and here’s an awesome list of date ideas that I highly recommend checking out!
Knowing everything about your spouse and continuing to date your spouse long after you’ve said your vows.”
– Justin & Kara, Married for 12 Years
Step 5. Be Quick To Forgive & Quick To Apologize
There’s a theme to this article.
The theme is, you’re not perfect and neither is your partner.
But you know who else isn’t perfect?
All of the other people you compare your partner to.
The only difference is, you see your partner’s imperfections.
So keep in mind that you’re likely viewing other people through rose-colored glasses while viewing your partner through a shit-stained telescope.
The fact is, it doesn’t matter who you end up with — they’re going to annoy you, frustrate you, and drive you crazy sometimes.
What both of you have to learn to do is apologize quickly and be even quicker to forgive the other person.
Because again, everyone has imperfections, making forgiveness and humility prerequisites to a healthy marriage.
So say you’re sorry… and stop holding grudges.
“Forgiveness is very important.
I don’t mean you can’t have deal-breakers, but you are going to disappoint each other sometimes and you have to be able to forgive to keep moving forward.”
– Sheri & Matt, Married for 17 Years
Step 6. Improve Yourself & Take Responsibility
This might sound backward.
Aren’t you supposed to prioritize the relationship and your spouse before your own needs?
Well, if you aren’t getting your needs fulfilled, then you’re going to be a worse partner — you’ll be more irritable, feel less satisfied, and even grow bitter.
If, on the other hand, you take care of yourself — if you spend time on things you’re passionate about and grow personally — then you’ll become a better partner.
When both people pursue self-betterment and take responsibility for their marriage, that’s where the real magic happens.
So the advice here is simple.
Always strive to be a better partner, take responsibility for your actions, and spend time on things you’re passionate about.
Your partner will thank you for it.
“One of the things that took me a long time to understand is that I cannot control the way my spouse acts or behaves.
Early on in our marriage, I would get so frustrated at my wife about the things that she was doing that I didn’t feel was right, and I blamed her for a lot of our problems. But it isn’t really about assigning blame. It’s more about working through the problems together.
That mindset shift came when I stopped focusing on her and instead focused on myself. I started changing my behavior (I realized I can’t force someone else to change). I started taking responsibility for the problems in our marriage, which is different than assigning fault — it didn’t really matter who was at fault, I just needed to take responsibility for what I could control. I changed how I acted toward my wife and started becoming a better man overall.
By focusing on my self-improvement, I became a better and more attractive husband. I started noticing things were getting much easier in our relationship.
It sounds counterintuitive but you need to focus on being the best version of yourself in order to have a better marriage.”
– Jake & Lindsey, Married for 8 Years
Step 7. Get Couples Counseling
Some of the advice in this article is easier said than done.
Problem-solve, rediscover each other, schedule date nights, and be quick to apologize and forgive…
But if the two of you are still blocked, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with seeking out couple’s counseling.
This is something that my wife and I have always been open to and would definitely do if we were struggling in our marriage.
There’s no shame in seeking out help — in fact, it’s a sign that you both take your marriage commitment seriously and that you really want to make it work.
Here’s a list of the 6 best online marriage counseling services to check out.
“As someone who has gone through counseling from having a broken marriage to leaving and being in an immensely happy relationship, I would say communication and sacrifice.
If it’s all one-sided, and you never do what the other person wants to do or listen to them, or compromise, it will never work and you’ll never be super happy or want it to last.”
– Taylor Watt, Together for 1 Year
Fixing a Broken Relationship is Challenging, But Possible
Make no mistake.
Damage has been done.
And the more broken your relationship is, the more difficult it’ll be to recover.
But it is possible.
Especially if you’re both willing to put in the work.
By rediscovering one another, scheduling date nights, being quick to apologize and forgive, and maybe even pursuing couples counseling, the two of you can build something that you’re both proud of.
The only question left is, are you both willing to do the work?
Mike is a writer for SUCCESS, AdWeek, and Addicted2Success. He’s been quoted on Forbes and Entrepreneur for his expertise in marketing and personal development. He’s also the owner of Get Your Gusto Back where he helps people reignite their inner fire.