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improve marriage

Saving Your Marriage: What Does Pavlov Have To Do With It?
150 150 Lee H. Baucom, Ph.D.

Remember Pavlov and his dog?  In this famous experiment,Pavlov and Saving Your Marriage Ivan Pavlov would ring a bell and then feed his dog.  He repeated this process over and over, and then he just rang the bell.  No food.  Remember the dog’s response?  He still expected the food and started salivating!

We can all be clear that Fido was not sitting there thinking “dinner bell just rung, so here comes my dinner!”  Yet that is exactly what his body was doing, getting ready for dinner.

Are we so different than the dog?  Oh, sure, we can think in words, so we can do a little reasoning.  But we are still creatures of conditioning.  When we go to a movie, popcorn suddenly sounds good.  When we hear the icecream truck, we start thinking about how good that icecream would taste (Talk about a business taking advantage of Pavlov’s research!  Kids salivating at the ringing of a bell!), when we hear the angry tone in our spouse’s voice, our stomach tightens.

See how I dropped it in there?  Indeed, Pavlov and his dog have a great deal to do with our marriage.  And here, they have a good bit to do with our saving our marriage.

You see, we condition each other in a marriage.  Over time, it is as if both of us are Pavlov, and each of us is the dog, simultaneously.  At the same time I am being conditioned, I am conditioning.

**SIDE NOTE:  if you are not familiar with the term “conditioning,” it is a term from psychology that talks about how a behavior is structured by a set of inputs.  When I “condition” my dog to sit on command, I get him to sit, then reward him.  First input, my command to sit.  First response (hopefully), he sits.  Second input, I reward him.  Second response (if all has gone well), he learns that if he sits on command, he gets a treat!**

Now let me be very clear here.  I am NOT calling your spouse a dog.  I AM stating that we humans also respond to this “stimulus-response conditioning.”  In fact, we have so much coming at us that we do many things on automatic, as we just can’t think through everything.  So, our brain takes shortcuts.  We learn a response, and we use it over and over.  Sometimes, it is helpful.  Sometimes, it is not.

Imagine for a moment that you are sitting at the table, working on the bills.  In walks your spouse with what you interpret as a scowl on their face.  Without really processing it, your brain notes that it has seen that look before, and things did not go well.  So, trying to shortcut the problem, you say “what’s wrong with you?”  What you might not notice is something your spouse noticed:  a little edge in your voice.  Ouch!

“Nothing is wrong.  Why do you always assume something is wrong?”  Already, you have been trying to figure out how to get the bills to fit into the money available, and already have some adrenaline running through your system.  And that is all it takes.  Each of you have a bit of fuel thrown onto your flames.

In seconds, a quiet afternoon erupts into a relational wildfire.  And as both of you keep digging into your bag of learned tricks, you find more and more fuel to dump on the flames.  Soon, every weakness, slight, and pain from the years of your relationship are heaped onto the table.  And there seems little way out.

Sound familiar?  Change the circumstances just a bit.  Do they fit the pattern for you?  Or perhaps you have followed that path so many times that you have another conditioned response:  silence.  Freezing silence to prevent the fire.  It just doesn’t seem worth it anymore.

One of the things we humans do not like to admit is how much we work on automatic, how much we are conditioned to respond.  We pretend that only animals are that easily influenced.  Somehow, our higher capacity of thought is supposed to keep that from happening(!), but nothing is further from the truth!  MUCH of our lives is run on a simple “stimulus-response” capacity.

So why not use that to your advantage?  Why fight it?  Instead, befriend conditioning and make it work FOR you!

First, consider what ALL the research shows:  positive conditioning is MUCH more powerful than negative conditioning.  In other words, if you want to try to use conditioning, reward the behavior you like. . . and ignore the behavior you don’t like.  You see, when you give negative conditioning, you are still conditioning FOR the behavior.

Let’s think back to the toddler years.  A child is walking through the aisles of the store, sees a toy he MUST have, and tries to get you to buy it.  You refuse.  He melts down, goes to the floor in tears, and wails as if he is on the edge of death.  You:
a) grab that toy and buy it (positive conditioning for negative behavior),
b) grab that boy and drag him out of the store (negative conditioning for negative behavior, showing him that his fit DID get a response),
c) stare at him quietly, giving no cues to what you think, but giving him that slight “you look foolish, and it ain’t working” bemused look.

Outcome to a):  he will throw a fit whenever he wants something.  Outcome to b):  he will throw a fit when he wants your attention.  Outcome to c):  he learns that the fit does not work, so he gives it up.

Application:  when your  spouse does something you like, let him/her know it, loud and clear!  If your spouse does something you don’t like, as long as it falls short of abuse or danger, ignore it.

Back to the bill-writing episode of the spouse with the scowl.  Why even respond?  If something is wrong, isn’t it up to that person to address it, bring it to your attention?  Otherwise, we are training our spouse that we will try to read their mind — a recipe for disaster!

Assume that, unless your spouse approaches you about what is behind that scowl, it is their issue.  It is up to them to address, not up to you to discover.  Let it go, and move on.  Remember, you are conditioned, too.  And you need to recondition yourself.

Second, notice when you are automatically reacting.  Look for it.  Here are some places to look:
a)  when you are repeating the same arguments, and they start the same way,
b)  when you find yourself wondering why your spouse is not responding to some action, expression, or tone you are using (maybe they read this first!).
c)  when you feel your gut tightening, a sure sign that you are caught by some pattern.

Marriages do not suddenly fall apart.  They are taken apart, brick by brick.  Pattern after pattern, conditioned response after conditioned response, the foundation is taken apart.  And marriages are not saved in an instant.  They are rebuilt brick by brick.  But the rebuilding starts when someone decides to stop acting on automatic.

Save The Marriage Video: Will Problems Just Happen Again?
150 150 Lee H. Baucom, Ph.D.

Has your spouse told you that even if you did work on the marriage, the problems would just come back, so why bother?  Or perhaps you did work on your marriage, only to see the problems return.

Does that mean that problems returning is unavoidable?  Does that make you or your spouse wonder “what’s the point?”

I would contend that you have “missed the point!”  Sure, every marriage has problems.  But let me tell you how you can end a problem for good, and be better prepared to deal with any other problems that emerge!

Watch this video!

Video: How Can We Protect Our Marriage?
150 150 Lee H. Baucom, Ph.D.

Marriages get into trouble when they are not protected.  And marriages that are recovering must protect the marriage, so that it can keep growing.  Marriages that are doing well STILL need to protect their relationship, in order to prevent problems.

This video can help you protect your marriage from problems, and help recover from problems, by helping you learn how to protect your relationship.

Want to Save Your Marriage? Change Yourself!
150 150 Lee H. Baucom, Ph.D.

My guess is you are at my site because you want to learn how to save their marriage.  There are relationship issues that must be addressed.  But where do you start?  My answer:  look in the mirror.  You, yourself are the greatest tool you have in your efforts to save your marriage.

Let me tell you about a recent client of mine.

Bart came into my office this week, stuck again.  I say again, because this was not his first marriage crisis.  He and his wife had been to the brink of divorce several times.  In previous crises, they had peered over the edge of the cliff, and decided to back away.

This time, I was not so sure.  This time, Sue was adamant that she had had enough.  Broken promise after broken promise of change had hardened her heart to the possibility of lasting change.

Many times in the past, Bart had loudly proclaimed that he had realized the err of his ways, and was ready to change.  For a little while, he would act differently.  It was all an act, though.  Nothing had really changed.  Sometimes, I think he even believed it himself.

Once again, we were working hard to hold onto a marriage that had been to the edge before, trying to keep them from taking that leap into the abyss of divorce.  But I wondered if we could do it again — could we stop the divorce?

There was a difference this time.  It gave us a starting point.  This time, Bart realized something about himself that he had long ignored and denied.  Bart was controlling.  Overtly and covertly, Bart tried hard to make his world go the way he wanted his world to go.  Only problem was, his wife was caught up in that world.  His world was invading her world.  And she had simply had enough.

Why was he controlling?  The same reason anyone is:  Fear!  Control your world and you can control all the bad things that might happen, or at least that is what we tell ourselves.

Sure, Sue had some areas she might want to change.  Don’t we all?

For Sue, she might want to consider that when someone is in a controlling relationship, at some point, they got into the role of being controlled.  Perhaps she had allowed this to happen to avoid conflict.  Or perhaps it was easier to do this than to make her own decisions.  Either way, it didn’t matter.  She allowed herself to be controlled, and Bart gladly controlled.

One day, Bart asked, “why do I have to be the one to change?  She needs to change, too.”   My answer is one of pragmatics, “Bart, you are here, wanting to save your marriage.  Your wife is not, and she is willing to call it quits.  That means it is up to you.  You can either stomp your feet and tell me how it is unfair, or you can change.  The choice is yours.”

That caught Bart off-guard.  He had to stop and think about this.  He had to face the need to change, regardless of what Sue might do.

This proved to be a bit difficult.  The reason is not because he is not capable of the change.  The reason is because Bart went from working on changing to proving he was changing.  That was a problem.  Can you see it?

Bart began to work to control his world, so that his wife would see he was not being controlling.  In other words, he was using his defense mechanism to prove he did not have a defense mechanism.  We all do that.

We develop behaviors because they worked for us at one time.   They allowed us to have some sense of control and effect on our life around us.
Problem is, they stop working and start creating problems.  Our old behavior in a new world are what trip us up.  Where did we learn the behavior?  Childhood.  Where does it fail us?  Adulthood.  Ouch!

In order to save your marriage, you first  want to adopt a growth mindset.  Don’t trap yourself into feeling stuck!  We humans have a great capacity for growth and change, but we quickly forget it.

Then follow these direct and simple steps:

First step:  face the fact that a)  you have things that you can change, regardless of what is happening in your marriage, and b) you have the capacity for change, growth, and improvement.

Second step:  reflect on what your spouse has been telling you.  Write down at least 5 recurring themes or issues your spouse keeps naming as problems.  Don’t add “yeah, but. . . .”  Just write them down and accept that they just MIGHT be true.

Third step:  reflect on the places where you keep tripping up in life.  These can be patterns that keep seeming to repeat themselves.  They often tell you how you automatically react and respond to situations.  In other words, they describe places that no longer work.  Add them to your list.

Fourth step:  reflect on that list.  If there are some that you simply disagree with (not just deny because you would hate to admit it), then mark a line through them.  Don’t scribble them out, as you might just return to them and see they are more true than you would like to admit.

Fifth step:  make a list of how you might change each of the themes or issues.  Where can you start RIGHT NOW?  Anywhere is better than nowhere.  So start there.

Sixth step:  make it a daily habit to reflect on who you want to be, and what you are doing to get there.  Don’t wait and think you will do this later.  Change takes effort and time.  It took you a while to become who you are, and it will take some time to recreate yourself.

Seventh step:  give yourself some room for “relapses.”  You don’t turn yourself around overnight.  It will take some time.  But one day, you will look back and wonder about that person you had become — and be glad you have become someone better!

Eighth step:  DON’T set out to prove how you have changed.  Simply be the change.  It will be noticed.  Trying to prove something makes you act.  So simply BE the change.

A final note:  just because you are now working on yourself doesn’t mean you should ignore the relationship piece.  Discover how you can transform the marriage while you are working on yourself.  Then, you will be doing both pieces:  changing yourself and changing your relationship.  Learn how to transform your relationship here.

I Am Sore and Tired (And What That Has To Do With Saving Your Marriage!)
150 150 Lee H. Baucom, Ph.D.

I admit it!  I am tired.  I am sore.  I have discovered muscles I didn’t know I had, and ones I didn’t know could hurt!

Here’s the thing:  for years, I have been a trail runner.  I love being in the woods, seeing the changing seasons, and running with my Yellow Lab, Sunny.  We have  a blast!

But then, winter hit.  It was cold, but worse, it was wet — very wet!  And it never stayed cold enough to freeze the ground.  And it seemed that on every running day, it rained.  Well, as much as I love running, I am not so fond of bathing my 110 pound dog. . . and he is not so fond of being bathed!

End result?  I kept putting off another run. . . until suddenly a few months had passed and I had not hit the trails.  The end result for me?  I got out of shape.

So, fast-forward to last week.  I decided enough was enough, and I started exercising again.  I got a plan, and I started on it.  I knew there would be a price. . . pain and discomfort.  Sure enough, the next morning after day one, I was a bit sore.  By that night, I hurt!  exercise

But guess what I did on day 2?  I exercised.  Day 3?  New muscle pain.  I exercised.  Day 4, I had to get up an hour earlier to get in my exercise, but I did.  Same thing on day 5, 6, and 7.  In fact, that is my intention.  To get up an hour earlier, if necessary, and get in my exercise time.

I have to admit — when the alarm goes off, I have to argue with myself.  The bed is warm, the house is quiet, and I could easily grab another hour of sleep. . . but I don’t.  Because I made a commitment to myself, and I intend on keeping it.  As my wife reminds me, “consult your plan, not your feelings.”

So. . . what, you might wonder, does this have to do with your marriage (and saving it)?

Most people who come to me have not taken the best care of their marriage relationship.  Perhaps life got in the way — or fear, or anxiety, or anger, or just not realizing you needed to.

The marriage got “flabby,” out of shape, inflexible, and weak.  Sound familiar?

So, you decide to get that marriage back into shape.  Guess what?  It is not going to be easy.  You will feel pain in places you didn’t know you had.  You will discover things about yourself, your spouse, and your relationship, that you never knew before.

Oh, and did I say that after a week of exercising, I am not yet in peak shape?  I know — I looked in the mirror!  Frustrating as it may be, once you get out of shape, it takes both effort and time (in fact, sustained effort over time) to get to where you want to be).

Same is true for your relationship.  It takes time and effort.  It means refusing to get discouraged.  It requires you to make a plan, then stick with it, regardless of how you are feeling!  Remember, “consult your plan, not your feelings.”

When it doesn’t feel like you are making headway.  When another obstacle gets in your way.  When you just can’t quite get there.  That is when you dig in, keep getting up, and keep moving forward.

So, to quickly recap:

1)  This ain’t easy work.

2)  But make a plan.

3)  Stick with it:  “Consult your plan, not your feelings.”

4)  Reap the benefits.

Now, a reality check:  sometimes, people get so out of shape — let their bodies get to such a point of disrepair — that exercise can be deadly.

Unfortunately, that is sometimes true in a marriage.  Sometimes, the relationship has deteriorated too far.  The damage is too great.  The marriage might finally heave a final breath.  The marriage might end.

Problem is, you can never tell whether this is the case or not.  Some people who look like they are on the verge of death begin exercising and come back to life.  The same is true for marriages.

How can you tell?  Try getting your relationship back to life.  The worst thing that happens is you look in the mirror and say “I did my best.”  But the best thing that could happen?  You could save your marriage!

Do You WANT Your Marriage, Or Are You Playing Tug-Of-War?
150 150 Lee H. Baucom, Ph.D.

I spend a good portion of my week responding to consultation emails and working with clients. This week, I had two cases that reminded me of a very important fact: we all have a tendency to play tug-of-war.

Let me explain with a personal example. A couple of years ago, I was at a conference. In the afternoon session, we were asked to turn and face another person, and place our arms in an arm wrestling position.

The instructions were simple: touch each others’ hand to the table as many times as possible in 60 seconds.

For the next minute, everyone in the room engaged in a strenuous match of arm wrestling. Few people got their count above 10, and that was mostly because of a mismatch in size and strength!

Then, the leaders pulled out a table and put their hands in position, but they cooperated! Each took turns having their hands hit to the table, and they were able to get over 90 touches in! They had given us the directions, but we were already poised to arm wrestle!

Now, back to saving marriages. When a spouse decides that he or she wants out, a tug-of-war can be set up. Our natural tendency is to pull in the opposite direction. In other words, they pull away, we pull toward the relationship!

So, this week, one woman told me how hard she was working to save her marriage. She also told me her husband had already had not one, not two, but three affairs! I suspect there were others! I told the woman that she needed to pause for a moment, and instead of trying to figure out how to save the marriage, she needed to ponder another question. She needed to decide on whether she could continue in a marriage with a philanderer. She suddenly realized that she could not do that.

The very next day, a woman started telling me about all her attempts to save her marriage, then noted the affair and abuse she had suffered through with her husband. Again, I got her to pause in her marriage-saving strategy and ask whether she wanted to have the marriage she was in. She is still thinking.

My point is this: are you just trying to save a marriage, or do you want that marriage? I am all about saving marriages, but I am also about having a marriage you want to have. Don’t get caught up in saving a marriage, and fail to see that if you did save it, you wouldn’t want it! Instead, focus on saving a marriage AND making it a marriage you can treasure!

More marriage saving information can be found in my ebook, SAVE YOUR MARRIAGE HERE.

Four “You’s” Could Save Your Marriage
150 150 Lee H. Baucom, Ph.D.

Just a couple weeks ago, one of my clients gave me a bit of business advice that’s been directly applicable to saving a marriage. I wanted to share it with you.

My client, who is a businessperson, was telling me that there are four important “you’s” that are crucial for a business. They are crucial for any relationship. And they can be used in your marriage, starting today.

Here are the four “you’s:”
1. “How are you?”
2. “What can I do for you?”
3. “Thank you.”
4. “I appreciate/love you.”

Those are the crucial four “you’s.” Do you see the power in them? Do you see how you could use them in your marriage? Do you see how those are not happening in your relationship?

What would happen, if you don’t already do this, to have a conversation in the evening about how your spouse is doing? I don’t mean the quick “how are you?” I mean really wondering how your spouse is doing. I mean sitting on the back porch and asking how your spouse is really doing. How often does this happen for you? If you’re like most people, especially with troubled relationship, that conversation did not happen.

Or, what about asking what you can do for your spouse? Oftentimes, when relationships get into trouble, couples instinctively stop doing for each other. In good times, you may ask about what your spouse might like, what you could do for him or her. But when things get tough, the question often falls by the wayside. We start thinking “if you don’t do for me, I won’t do for you.”

Yet that is exactly what might get the relationship moving forward. When one spouse makes some forward motion toward the other spouse, often he or she responds in a similar manner. It might not happen the first time, but that does not mean you don’t do it again. In fact, you keep doing this one. As long as it takes!

Or how about. “Thank you?” Again, when the relationship is not well, this is something that we often stop saying. In fact, we stop even noticing that our spouse is doing doing anything for us. That only compounds the problem. When we stop noticing, people stop acting. So, in addition to doing for your spouse, look for what your spouse is doing for you. Then thank him or her.

The final “you” is about letting your spouse know that you appreciate him or her. You may not be ready to use the word “love” at this point, but can you let your spouse know what you appreciate about him or her? When marriages get into trouble, one thing that happens is that we feel completely unappreciated. We start acting in ways that continue that. In other words, if I don’t feel appreciated, don’t do anything to be appreciated. So, this one is letting someone know that they are appreciated.

By letting someone know this, the other person might begin to act in more appreciative and appreciable ways. At the very least, he or she will know that you are noticing what he or she is doing.

Many marriages could be saved simply if the other person felt appreciated and loved. The four questions can easily move you in that direction. Make it your habit to use these questions.

More marriage saving information can be found in my ebook, SAVE YOUR MARRIAGE HERE.

Marriage Is Tough
150 150 Lee H. Baucom, Ph.D.

“Marriage shouldn’t be that hard.” That was the opening comment of my client this week. He was convinced that his marriage was doomed. He believe it was because his marriage had become difficult. He believed that this should not be the case.

I had to chuckle. Marriage is the most intense relationship that any two adults will have in their life. There’s no way around it. Two people living together that intensely, making decisions together, having sex together, making decisions together, and doing everything else that married couple do are going to have difficulties. No way around it.

I turned to him and said “why do you say that?” He told me he just figured that marriages should just work. They shouldn’t be hard work, and when there are problems, they should just be able to be solved instantly. Now, I don’t generally laugh at my client, but it was all I could do to hold back the laughter, and only let out a chuckle. “You have got to be kidding,” I said. “Marriage is tough, whether it is in good times or bad, marriage is tough.”

I continued on for a second, “every single marriage has problems, the question is whether you work through them out or not. It is not a question of whether you will have problems.” You see, I really believe that every marriage is destined to have difficulty. That is just the way it is. Statistically speaking, half of those couples will choose not to work on their problems. About half will find a way to deal with the problems. That does not mean that there were no problems, only that they discovered how to deal with the problem.

“Come with me,” I said my client. I walked my client to the window. We looked out onto the parking lot. I pointed to car and said “is that yours?” “Yes,” he said, “that’s my car. Looks pretty nice doesn’t it?” I had to admit, it with a pretty nice car. It looked like it was well taken care of. I asked, “did you just grab the car, or did you do some research? Did you, when you were getting ready to buy it, maybe buy a car magazine? Did you look up the price on the Internet, maybe even did you research on what other people thought about the car?”

“Yes, I sure did! I spent months looking at my options. I probably went to the dealer like 10 times.” He chuckled, “my wife was tired of hearing about that car.” So then I asked, “have you had any problems with the car?” My client thought for a second. “Well, yes. It made some funny noises.”

“What did you do?” I asked. He responded, “first, I looked it up on the Internet. Then, I bought a book about the model of car I had. I found out that it was a fairly common problem, and it only needed a little bit of tightening of a couple of bolts to stop it.” I continued, “and did you do it yourself? Or did you take it to the dealer?”

“I took it to the dealer. They are the experts on this.” “So, you didn’t sell the car?” I pushed him. “No. It was just a little problem.” I pushed a little harder, “I’ll bet you would have had bigger problems if you hadn’t fixed it, and let it go on and on.”

“Probably so… Doc, is this about my car or about my marriage?” He had me. He knew I was really talking about his marriage. “How long have you been having problems?” I asked. He thought for a second, then said, “probably four or five years. But we had some of the same problems even before we got married.”

“Did you get a book about marriage? Did you talk to a therapist? Did you go to a seminar? Did you do anything that might address the issues?” I asked. I knew I had him. Just like most people, he had a problem in his relationship, but he didn’t seek good advice. In fact, as far as I can tell, the only people he talked to were his drinking buddies. Not the best place to go for marriage advice.

Marriage is tough. It’s tough because it requires us to set ourselves and our ego aside for the betterment of both of us. In other words, we have to get outside of ourselves, and look at the greater good of both people. That does not mean that one person has to give up everything. But it does mean that it takes looking at the good of the relationship when making decisions.

Someone once said, “You can either be right. Or you can be happy, but you can’t be both.” This is especially true in marriage. If you insist on being right, you both will be miserable. Choose to be happy. And when there is a problem, recognize that is normal, then seek out some help in resolving it.

More marriage saving information can be found in my ebook, SAVE YOUR MARRIAGE HERE.

New Year’s Resolutions For Your Marriage
150 150 Lee H. Baucom, Ph.D.

I remember when I was back in school. At the end of each semester, I was so tired of that class, and just ready to move on. During college, it probably had something to do with being ready to leave behind the classes where I had maxed out my skips!

In any event, it was always nice to have a fresh start. I think that really is why we like New Year’s Day. It marks the start of something fresh.

And something fresh only becomes something useful when we are intentional. So, every year, I make a few resolutions. Not too many. Then, they don’t fall away. And I really try to keep them.

You are probably familiar with those resolutions that people make, then let fall away within a couple of weeks. The gyms are full on the 2nd, and empty by the 20th. My secret: I make sure I can see them everyday. I post them for myself to see, and remind myself of them.

This year, my resolutions are:
5) Focus on being more grateful.
4) Express that gratitude.
3) Avoid surrounding myself with negativity.
2) So that I can be more positive.
. . . and my biggy:
1) Finish my book on thriving!

Now, how about you? Specifically, what are your resolutions about your marriage? How will YOU be different during the next year to improve your marriage?

This is what I really like about resolutions — they can’t be about what someone else should do. And that is what we often get into when we think about marriage. We think about how our spouse ought to be different. A resolution puts it back into YOUR court! How will YOU be different?

Remember me back in school? I didn’t make it a fresh start by leaving school. I just made it a fresh start by taking another class, opening another chapter in life. I still had to deal with my grade-point average, so it was not just leaving everything behind. It was just a new start.

It is the same with your marriage resolution. Don’t think that your resolution is a fresh start without the marriage, without a past. Instead, make a mark in the sand. Decide you will move forward and leave what has happened behind. Move forward.

Some hints about your resolution:

  • Be specific.
  • Figure out how you will measure it.
  • Make sure it is about you.
  • Put it somewhere you will see it EVERY DAY!
  • Stick to it. Make it a habit.

So, what are your resolutions? Leave me a response, because when we commit in public, we are far more likely to stick with it. Write it down here. Tell us what YOU will do to make your marriage better in the coming year!

More marriage saving information can be found in my ebook, SAVE YOUR MARRIAGE HERE.