Heal from your past pain.  Pursue healing for emotional pain from your past that is affecting your marriage right now.  Write letters to the people from your past who have had a dramatic, lasting impact on how you operate in opposite-sex relationships (such as your parents and ex-boyfriends or ex-girlfriends).  Ask your spouse to do the same.  Identify how you're repeating unhealthy behaviors you learned from your relationships with them in your current marriage.  Join your spouse to read each other's letters and discuss how best to stop the transfer of past pain to your marriage.

Forgive.  Write a letter to your spouse describing specific events or behaviors for which you're choosing to forgive him or her.  Ask your spouse to do the same.  Then read your letters to each other and discuss them.

Work to meet each other's needs.  Talk openly and honestly together about what specific needs you hope the other will try to meet, and how and when to accomplish that.  Discuss both daily needs (like splitting errands and household chores) and your ongoing top emotional needs (such as for enriching conversations, sexual intimacy, and spiritual growth).

Use tough love to help motivate your spouse to change.  If your spouse is stuck in a serious sin (like an addiction to alcohol or pornography, or a pattern of verbally abusing you), stop tolerating the status quo and go to war against the sin that's harming your marriage.  Stand up to your spouse and clearly state that either he or she chooses to change, or you'll separate.  Gain the strength you need for this process through prayer, a support team of people you can trust, and a professional therapist and financial and legal advisors, if necessary.  Write a letter to present to your spouse during your initial confrontation and invite him or her to discuss it with you at a later date, on which your spouse should also begin intensive work on your marriage if he or she wants to save it.  If your spouse doesn't choose to work on your marriage, bring several people on your support team with you to confront your spouse.  If that doesn't work, get your pastor and other church leaders involved.  If even that doesn't work, shun your spouse and separate.  Don't pursue a divorce.  Instead, keep praying while you're separated and God will strengthen you.

September 10, 2009

Adapted from I Don't Want a Divorce: A 90-Day Guide to Saving Your Marriage, copyright 2009 by Dr. David Clarke with William G. Clarke. Published by Fleming H. Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group, Grand Rapids, Mich., www.revellbooks.com.   

Dr. David Clarke is a Christian psychologist, speaker, and the author of seven books, including Kiss Me Like You Mean It. A graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary and Western Conservative Baptist Seminary, he has been in full-time private practice for over 20 years. He lives in Florida.  

William G. Clarke has been a marriage and family therapist for over 30 years. A former Campus Crusade for Christ director and founder of the Marriage and Family Enrichment Center, he lives in Florida.