The easy answer is to go to a marriage counselor or therapist. It’s true. Most marital issues are communication problems, and those are best handled by having an unbiased third person serve as sounding board and bridge for struggling couples.

But here are three reasons why I have to continue the article with practical advice, and can’t end here: no money for sessions; no appropriate or acceptable therapist in town; or one of the spouses refuses to attend. Here’s a very effective technique that makes immediate improvements in your marriage and also makes further treatments and approaches more effective:

Meet your needs.

Simple, right? Here’s why it works and how you do it. Before marriage you were an individual (level 1), with your own hopes, dreams, goals, plans, hobbies, interests, and friends. Where did they all go? When was the last time you did something to move yourself closer to one your important life goals?

It’s common. Getting married (level 2) means learning to readjust your time and focus and priorities to make room for your spouse and their needs. You can’t spend all day working on your own needs and goals. It takes time getting to know your spouse, creating the life and home patterns around which you will build a family. While some understandably experience struggles at this stage, more common are the struggles that arrive with the birth of children (level 3).

Kids require a huge investment of our time, energy, and attention. It’s quite common that by this point, all those things you used to do for yourself (level 1), that I mentioned a few paragraphs ago, are distant memories. Even taking time to talk with and continue getting to know your spouse (level 2) gets seriously minimized and often abandoned. Slowly, over time, diapers, doctor’s appointments, bills, schools, teachers, homework, after-school activities, and your kids’ social scene came to dominate your lives.

Much of the marital strife I’ve seen is either really deep down about, or at least significantly impacted by, the loss of self. In other words, level 3 life has covered and concealed much of level 2 and tons of level 1. Therefore, the most immediately impactful things you can do to improve your marriage is to add some level 1 and level 2.

What one thing that’s important to you, that you enjoy, that will help you achieve one of your personal life goals, can you start doing immediately and everyday? Same goes for your spouse. It works better if you both do it. Besides, it’s easier to take time for you if your spouse is supportive and doing it as well.

Be consistent about it for 1-2 weeks and see how different you feel, see how your marriage changes, and assess the change in tension. Next, do something for level 2. What’s something you and your spouse can do together at least once a week, and preferably outside of the house, to invest in your relationship? Getting out of the house makes it easier to remember that you were a couple before the kids arrive. Can you get a babysitter and go for a 10-minute walk or out to dinner? Can’t get out of the house? How about learning together or working on something together in the home, in a lesser-used room or perhaps the balcony or back-yard? Change of scene is very good.

The best part is that you can’t fail. Even if you struggle to implement these things, the reason why you struggled is also very informative about your marriage, family, home dynamics, and the problems you face. Identifying the problem is a crucial part of fixing the problem.

There’s much to talk about. Send me comments and feedback and I'll answer your questions.