I wish I could write an article that would magically change your marriage, but I can't, because that is not the way people learn and change. Character improvement, though transformational, is slow and while invigorating, often very uncomfortable. What I can offer the reader is an article that, if studied alone or with your spouse, will leave your marriage far better off. You will have created more love in your marriage. As is said about balanced mainstream diets – they work if you follow them.

Since my parents divorced, and as a therapist, I've studied what couples in good marriages do and think differently. Whenever I would meet a long-married couple who appeared to have a good relationship, I would interview them about their marriage and listen to their stories. I began to recognize recurring principles that emerged in these conversations. I also noticed that those relationships lacked feelings of resignation, frustration, bitterness, arguments, feelings of rejection and loneliness.

Dysfunctional Marital Techniques

But first, a brief and incomplete study of some dysfunctional techniques, things we say, that we utilize to improve our marriages – all leading nowhere. I list them so the reader will be able to realize if they are engaging these techniques.

Arguing / Fighting:

  • You are wrong.
  • My way is better.
  • My way makes more sense.
  • I am logical.
  • My way is economical.
  • My way is faster.
  • I want it.

Manipulation / Intimidation:

  • Reward.
  • Punishment.
  • Passive aggression.
  • Moodiness.
  • Withholding emotional and physical intimacy.
  • If you really loved me you'd do it my way... because it is so important to me.
  • Making a person feel guilty or bad.


  • You are wrong and you should do it my way. I am bigger than this whole argument – and your pettiness.
  • I will suffer for our marriage.
  • It's not worth the fight. Have it your way (but you're wrong).
  • I'll give in this time, but I get to redeem my giving in for something that I really want another time.
  • Do it your way, but leave me out of it.
  • I'll join you once in a while, but don't expect me to really enjoy it.
  • I'll do it and look like I enjoy it (maybe even enjoy it a little), but I'll let you know very subtly that I'd rather be doing something else.


  • Crossing your arms.
  • Rolling your eyes.
  • Adopting a fixed "stone-face."
  • Walking away.
  • Speaking very little, or if at all, grunt and puff.


  • Attacking your partner's personality.
  • Attacking your spouse's character.
  • Not focusing on a specific behavior that bothers you, but generalizing "I'm upset that you missed car pool" vs. "I can't believe you missed the car pool. You're so irresponsible."
  • Bringing up past mistakes and issues to prove your point.


  • The problem isn't really with me, it's you!
  • Denying responsibility.
  • Making excuses.
  • Meeting one complaint with another.
  • Fogging or making an issue unclear.

I am not going to address how to stop or transform all of the above dysfunctional marital techniques, but allow me suggest the following principles that have proven successful in healthy marriages and that help address many of them.

1. They stopped trying to change each other.

2. They learned to love and nurture each other's uniqueness.

They arrived at this realization through genuine appreciation of their spouse's uniqueness.

Please note, a person should not allow themselves to become an emotional, intellectual or spiritual doormat in the presence of their spouse. I am not speaking of situations where there is physical or emotional abuse, substance abuse, rage, depression, anxiety, OCD, workoholism, etc In these situations, change is required because there is a danger to the individual, marriage and family. There are times when the spouse may have to reassess their commitment to the relationship not out of revenge, but because love has boundaries that do not include the destruction of self.

In good marriages, spouses learn to love their partner without expecting that their spouse change or be worthy of their love. Of course, no one would mind if their overspending spouse would become more frugal, but the relationship does not depend upon it. In good marriages, spouses allow and support the other's emotional, intellectual and spiritual experience. There is no room for thoughts or words like, "How could you think that?" or "You shouldn't feel that way." When ideas, emotions or differences of opionions are discussed, it is done with interest and respect.

a) In good marriages, spouses listen to their spouses, even if it is uncomfortable for them to hear.

b) In good marriages, spouses understand that helping their spouses comes from a healthy attitude, not manipulation, threats or complaints.

My wife, Danka, can testify that our marriage had some rough spots (ouch) in our early years, but thankfully we improved. Danka is a wonderful and intense woman. When she gets involved with something she finds meaningful, she won't let go until she has mastered it. A few years ago, she began taking a class in Nia (a type of dance) at the woman's gym and became smitten with it! Some people might have taken an extra class or two. My wife became an advanced Nia instructor and still dances and teaches today. My wife's intensity is a wonderful quality; nevertheless, it can be overwhelming - and expensive. She loves talking about Nia, but I don't always feel like talking about it, or the new healing art she is studying … so I have three options:

a. Tell her I am not interested.

b. Tell her I am interested but only pretend to listen. Know how that works out? Spouses catch on pretty quickly.

c. Make myself interested because she is my wife, and if she is interested in Nia, I would like to know what she finds so fascinating. If I enter her world, than I actually appreciate it. And if I am feeling overwhelmed, I say, "Honey, I really appreciate Nia but I really don't feel like talking about it now. Let's go for a walk and talk about something else…" If my wife feels and knows that I love and respect her, she'll understand that I'm not rejecting her.