Marriage is hard work, and couples will face many challenges over the years. Couples grow together through these experiences until the challenge is the marriage, itself. Here are some tips for taking the first steps for saving your marriage:

1. Acknowledge there is a problem

Mental health works like medical health, and the sooner you notice symptoms and intervene, the easier it is to get treatment. Ignoring marriage problems doesn't make them go away. Not only do problems get worse, but your resentment or other emotional responses to them worsen. It's easier to solve small problems than big ones, but any sized problem can't get better until someone addresses it.

2. Remember when things were good

One of the best ways to save your marriage is to remember what worked when you were courting or newlywed, and start doing those things, again. Small and simple acts of service for each other will go a long way toward melting hard hearts and returning your relationship to a place of tenderness.

3. Focus on the positive

It is easy to notice what others do wrong, and feel overwhelmed by all the problems around us. Focusing on what your spouse does right, giving praise for what your spouse does well, and expressing gratitude for small acts of service will help you refocus on strengths rather than struggles.

4. Encourage instead of criticize

When the only feedback we give to our spouse is criticism, it is not long before our spouse has no reason to try. When we appreciate, our spouse will recognize success and be motivated to try harder. When we correct, we become a parent instead of a spouse, but we are on the same team when we encourage.

5. Spend time together

Couples often forget they are a "couple," above all else. Work, kids, caring for aging parents, and community responsibilities are all a good part of life, but couples need time together when they are just a couple. Make time for regular date nights and find activities you can do together. You can be creative, rekindling your courtship without spending a lot of money or neglecting other duties.

It is OK to ask for help from a professional if marriage problems feel too big to solve on your own, but there are many things you can do on your own to improve your marriage. Often it's the small, yet simple things you do for each other, the activities you share, and the kind and gentle ways you interact that most nourish your marriage.

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