When a couple's marriage is on the rocks, they typically seek advice from friends, family and marriage counselors. After all, what better way to save a failing union than to call on the experts?
According to relationship expert Mort Fertel, that's precisely the wrong thing to do.
“Much of the advice people get about their marriage problems is wrong. It sounds good. It makes sense. The problem is, it usually doesn’t work,” Fertel said in an e-mail to Huffington Post Divorce. “Reconciling a broken marriage is tricky. The process is not intuitive. You really have to be careful that the advice you’re following has proved to achieve the outcome you’re looking for.”
Among the worst advice? Telling your husband or wife how you really feel.
"Sometimes expressing your feelings can be very hurtful to the other person," he says. "[People ask,] 'But shouldn’t I be honest about my feelings?' If honestly expressing your feelings is hurtful to the other person, it’s not honest; it’s stupid, it’s insensitive, and it’s damaging to the relationship."
What's more, Fertel says that traditional approaches to mending a broken marriage -- like marriage counseling -- are ineffective because of their emphasis on listening, rather than doing. He cites a couple that attended counseling sessions for weeks, and who came out of the experience with a better understanding of each spouse's point of view -- but no actionable steps to fix their marriage.
"Listening is an important skill, both for a counselor and a spouse. But a broken marriage needs leadership. After listening, someone has to have the courage and experience to say, “Ok, here’s what I want you to do,” Fertel says. "Marriages change not because of what people say or how well they listen; marriages change because of what people do."
What he suggests instead are six unconventional steps that run counter to traditional relationship advice. Check out his tips below, then let us know what you think of his advice in the comments!
"Most people think, 'I need my spouse to work with me to fix our marriage.' But it does not take two to tango. One person's effort can change the momentum of a marriage, and very often, it's that effort that motivates the obstinate spouse to join in the process of saving the relationship."
"Many people wonder, 'Did I marry the right person?' But that's the wrong question. The key to succeeding in marriage is not finding the right person; it's learning to love the person you found. Love is not a mystery. Just as there are physical laws of the universe -- like gravity, which governs flight -- there are also relationship laws that, depending on your behavior, dictate the outcome of your marriage. You don't have to be 'lucky in love.' It's not luck; it's choice."
"That might have been true in junior high school when you went away for the summer. But in marriage, particularly in a broken marriage, absence separates people. It creates distance, and that's the opposite of what we're trying to achieve, which is closeness."
"Talking about the problems in a marriage doesn't resolve them; it makes them worse. It leads to arguments and bad will. Besides, you'll never talk yourself out of a problem that you behaved yourself into. Marriages change because people change. Say little; do much. Speak in the vocabulary of your actions. New choices resolve marital problems; discussions don't."
"Marriage counseling does not work in most situations. The success rate is dismal. Most couples report being worse off after marriage counseling. One of the reasons relates to [the previous slide.] The couple I mentioned before complained that they spent months in marriage counseling and got nowhere. They talked and talked, but never received tangible practical advice that was simple to understand and easy to implement."
"One of the most important values in a marriage is privacy; therefore, it's a mistake to talk about your marriage or your spouse to family or friends. It's a violation of your spouse's privacy and it's wrong."