I empathized with Sam’s discouragement and Susan’s sadness. I then shared with them an idea—something I call the 90-Day Experiment. Here’s what it looks like and how I described it to them:

“For 90 days—three months is all!---we’ll meet and perform an experiment. No promises, no guarantees, but we’ll try some things I’m sure will create positive changes in your marriage. You must be willing to follow these guidelines:

1. We will engage in weekly marriage counseling for three months;

2. We will not engage in any physical or emotional extramarital relationships of any kind;

3. We will learn how to solve problems, using proven strategies and techniques;

4. We will stop blaming each other, believing the other person is the cause of all the problems;

5.  We will not criticize each other;

6.  We agree to never intentionally cause the other harm;

7.  We will increase positive activities, having fun on a weekly basis;

8.  We will keep our promises;

9.  We will pray and attend church together;

10. We will catch each other doing things “right,” and celebrate each and every small step of progress.

At first Sam refused to participate, saying he was convinced nothing could change. I shared with him that he seemed to be basing his decision on how things had been, not on how they could be.

“What’s going to be different?” he persisted. I had heard his argument from countless other couples whose energies and enthusiasm is drained by disappointment.

“You will both have to play by some new rules,” I said. “These new rules aren’t just pulled out of a hat, but have been proven to change the most troubled marriage. If you’re both willing to work hard, you’ll see a lot of progress—guaranteed!”

Sam reluctantly agreed to give the marriage another ninety days. While he was skeptical, he did the homework I gave them, and they made progress. He slowly warmed as he discovered things actually could change.

Sam wasn’t the only one needing to change, of course. While Susan felt victimized by Sam’s threat to leave, she had significant work to do as well. She tended to be critical in ways she had never noticed. She agreed to examine ways she participated in their turmoil. She agreed that while Sam was the one threatening to leave, she had to take responsibility, as well as he, for their troubles. Both had to learn effective ways to solve problems, and then to encourage each other as they noticed efforts to change. Each small step of progress, celebrated, led to even more efforts to change.

With much work, Susan and Sam were able to save their marriage. While it was not easy work, and took months before they noticed significant change, they were encouraged with each step of progress. As we “pulled the weeds, and planted seeds,” they noticed a beautiful garden growing.

You, too, can find new hope in your marriage. It takes hard work, often professional help, deliberate effort and much grace—but, it is possible!


Dr. Hawkins is the director of The Marriage Recovery Center which you can read more about on his website at www.YourRelationshipDoctor.com. He is the author of over 30 books, including When Pleasing Others Is Hurting You, Love Lost: Living Beyond a Broken Marriage, and Saying It So He'll Listen. His newest books are titled  The Relationship Doctor's Prescription for Healing a Hurting Relationship and  The Relationship Doctor's Prescription for Living Beyond Guilt.  Dr. Hawkins grew up in the beautiful Pacific Northwest and lives with his wife on the South Puget Sound where he enjoys sailing, biking, and skiing. He has active practices in two Washington cities.