There are many strategies that couples might try when it feels like they're treading water with their marriage. Often, they will first sincerely try to work through their issues. Unfortunately, this can be a tricky and/or gradual process. So couples can become impatient or frustrated. That's why it's understandable that a "fresh start" can seem so attractive in this context. What if you could just wipe the slate clean and start again? Would it be possible? Would it be advisable?

Scenarios Where Someone Wants A Fresh Start: I see the "fresh start" concept come up in two common scenarios. The first is the couple who wants to avoid separating or continuing to live in an unhappy marriage. They want to start over in their marriage because they hope that doing so will erase the discontent that has contributed to the separation. The second scenario is the couple who has already separated. These folks are still hoping to reconcile and want to stay married eventually. However, although they may have attempted to heal their marriage, they've decided that they'd rather just "start fresh" instead.

Someone might say, "I feel like my husband and I are going round and round with your issues without making any real or lasting progress in our marriage. I'm afraid we're going to end up divorced. We both mean well. We're both trying, but there are issues that I just can't forgive, and there are places where he just can't settle. So last night, I proposed just starting over. I told my husband that I would wipe the slate completely clean if he would join me in doing so. He stopped me right away and told me that I was fooling myself and that what I wanted to do is impossible. He said that it is just wishful thinking to think that I can erase all of the damage to our marriage by wishing it away and declaring a do-over. I wasn't suggesting any of that. I just wanted us to agree that we would start over so that we could put the negativity behind us. But I couldn't get him to understand or accept this. Is he right? Is it impossible to start fresh when your marriage is in dire trouble?"

I'm not dodging the question, but my honest answer is both yes and no. I do think he is right that it's not possible, or even advisable, to deny the problematic issues or the deteriorating dynamic between you. However, I completely agree with you that it's a good idea to come at this with a fresh approach, especially when what you've tried hasn't worked. I'll explain exactly what I mean below.

Why The Clean Slate Is So Tempting, And Why It Can Fail: I completely understand why the "clean slate" is so appealing. The idea that you can brush all this awkwardness and these bad feelings aside and replace them with newer, better feelings is so tempting.

And this strategy may initially work, at least for a little while. It can feel like a relief when there's a pause in the drama. And you may even convince yourself that it will stay this way. But it rarely does, and I'll tell you why. If you give yourself that fresh start without figuring out where you got to this dark marital place, then the darkness is still going to be hiding in the shadows, biding its time, and waiting to come out again the second you let down your guard. (Which is exactly what happened in our case, although we did eventually save our marriage.That entire story is here.).

Yes, you may alleviate some of the stress for now. You may even have a honeymoon period that feels good. But at some time, and in some way, you'll be under stress again. That's unavoidable. That's life. And if you haven't figured out why you got here, or how to truly fix the path you're on, then you're going to wind up at the exact same destination that you started with.

You don't want that. You want a different, and better, outcome, which is why there is a better way.

An Alternative To the "Fresh Start" Approach (That Is More Likely To Work:) I so often see the traditional "fresh start" strategy fail. So I'd like to offer an alternative. You aren't going to brush any problems under the rug. You aren't going to erase or deny them. However, you might delay coming back at them until you and your husband are in a better place. Why? Because when you and your spouse feel united and close, you're more willing to cooperate and negotiate so that you can give something to get something. Even better, this strategy will still relieve some stress, and you will still turn your attention to the issues, but you'll wait until the time is right.

Identify The Most Important Issue To Both Parties And Allow Each Person To Win: So what is the gist of this fresh, new strategy? You're going to narrow down the biggest issue for each of you, and you're going to think about solutions that allow both parties satisfaction and peace. Once you start to see some success with this method, you're going to keep methodically doing this until you find that most of your issues are settled so that you are both satisfied and able to see reconciliation more clearly.

If you haven't already, let go of the scenario where one party wins and gets what they want while the other has to settle. No one truly wins in this scenario. If your partner feels that he's had to concede or tamp down his own wishes or desires, then I can guarantee that next time an issue comes up, your husband's resentment will mean less cooperation. Ask yourself if you're both "digging in" because neither of you has really gotten your needs met.

Ideally, any resolution should have you BOTH feeling like you've won something. That's why it's so important to understand which issues are most important. If you can give your partner some of what he most wants, he is likely to give you what you've been coveting all along. It's a win/win.

Many problems have multiple facets. Perhaps you give up something that doesn't matter all that much to get something that does. You can take this approach with any issue. And if you do it correctly, it leaves both of you with dignity and hope. But even better, you now have a strengthened, rather than weakened, relationship. And hopeful people are more willing to come to the table and work things out.

How To Begin: This may all sound promising, but if you are already in the basement with your spouse, it can be very challenging to reset because he's not all that receptive to you. Unfortunately, you may have to be the one who sets the tone by making the first move. This isn't always comfortable, but it's very necessary.

Instead of suggesting that you just "start over" without making significant overtures or improvements, try something like this instead: "I know that I can't just proclaim a "fresh start" and wish away all of our problems. But I would like to start over with our approach. I would like a reset as to how we're handling this. I'd like for us both to think about what is most important and then to come at this in a spirit of negotiation and cooperation rather than competition and anger. I'm not denying or delaying our problems, but I am saying that our current approach isn't working. And I want to reset. Can we do that?"

A "fresh start" in your approach is easier to achieve than one in your marriage or separation. It's also much more realistic and likely to work. Believe me, I would have loved for my husband to take me up on a "fresh start." But that was never going to happen. So I had to get creative. And this creativity was what ultimately turned things around. You can read that story at

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