How to Divorce-Proof Your Marriage
Last Updated: Jul 18, 2017
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By now we’re all familiar with the common refrain that half of all marriages end in divorce. According to the most recent statistics from the Pew Research Center, the divorce rate for those 50 and older has doubled in the past 25 years, and for people under 50, the divorce rate is actually double that of their older counterparts. When you think of all the weddings you’ve attended, you can bet that many of those couples won’t follow through with their till-death-do-us-part promises.
While there’s no magic formula to outright prevent a broken marriage, there are things you can do to make your union as strong as possible. Here, the experts share their advice for staying together over the long haul.
While it’s important to understand your partner, it may be even more critical to fully know yourself. According to licensed mental health counselor Dana Carretta, founder of Peaceful Living Mental Health Counseling, people often have intense reactions to their partners’ actions but little idea as to why. This leads to conflict, misunderstanding and frustration.
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DON’T UNDERESTIMATE THE IMPORTANCE OF TRUST.
Trust is the foundation of your relationship. But trusting your partner, and being trustworthy, is more than having the confidence that you’ll come home to each other every night — it’s about creating a safe emotional space too.
“When your partner tells you something in confidence, do not share the information with anyone — even your best friend,” says Kimberly Hershenson, LMSW, a New York City-based therapist who specializes in relationships. “It is difficult to be vulnerable and share problems with others. When a partner is able to open up to you, it is important to not break his or her trust.” Refrain from sharing with others the personal details of your relationship, such as fights or your sex life.
OFFER SUPPORT — AND YOUR UNDIVIDED ATTENTION.
Show your spouse that you’re always there to lend your support — even when he or she doesn’t necessarily ask for it. “Asking your partner how they are doing sometime without even sharing your own personal issues allows you to be completely available to them,” Hershenson says. “Listening to others’ problems and lending an ear is a good way to ‘get out of your head’ and let your partner know you are fully present to listen to them.”
This means putting away your smartphone or laptop and letting that work email or text from a friend go unanswered while you give your partner time to share what’s on his or her mind.
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BE ACCOUNTABLE FOR YOUR ACTIONS.
Apologize if you say or do something wrong, Hershenson advises. “If your partner is upset with you, talk it out without getting defensive. Acknowledge what your part was (even if it was simply upsetting them) and discuss what you could do differently in the future.”
It’s more important to be kind than to be right, as the saying goes. Taking responsibility for your actions shows your partner that you recognize when you’re falling short of his or her needs and that you want to do better.
MAINTAIN PHYSICAL INTIMACY.
This might seem obvious, but staying married is much more likely if you physically touch one another. “Whether it’s a kiss hello or goodbye, snuggling on the couch or holding hands — even nonsexual touching builds connection between partners,” Hershenson says.
Physical touch, after all, is what separates friends from lovers. And, for many people, if they’re not getting that kind of intimacy at home, they may seek it elsewhere.
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OK, this one may seem like a stretch, but see if you’re up to the challenge: While the prevailing advice encourages couples to “fight fairly,” relationship consultant and coach Lesli Doares says that you shouldn’t be giving yourself permission to “fight” at all. “Instead, develop a healthy way of managing disagreements that minimizes harsh words, hurtful tones and harmful reactions,” she explains.
When you’re upset, Hershenson suggests using those tried-and-true “I” statements — instead of “you,” which puts the focus on your emotions rather than blaming the other person. For example, say “I feel upset when I come home from work and there are dishes piled in the sink,” as opposed to “You always leave your dishes in the sink, and I’m sick of it!”
“Also, do not threaten divorce, no matter how upset you get,” she says. “Instead, tell your partner you need time to cool down.”
LEARN TO EMBRACE THE MUNDANE.
After the whirlwind dating period is over, everyday life with your spouse can feel, well, boring. Dating and relationship coach Jonathan Bennett, who runs The Popular Man, says that marriage can become challenging when the excitement fades.
“Mindfully enjoy the mundane,” he advises. Be grateful for how uninteresting your life is — that you’re not in the midst of dealing with severe family, money, medical or personal struggles and that you have a dependable partner to lean on if and when life gets interesting in a bad way.
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STAY CURIOUS ABOUT EACH OTHER.
At the same time, commit to always wanting to learn about your partner, Carretta advises. “When a couple has been together for a long time, they often assume that they know everything they need to know about their partner and don’t realize that those preconceived notions may not always be accurate,” she explains. “By asking your partner thoughtful questions about himself or herself you will also help your partner to feel that you’re still interested and are learning and growing with them.”
For instance, she says that she and her husband make a point to have a weekly date night, and during their time together they always ask each other, “What’s one thing about you that I don’t know?” “This usually leads to an interesting and enlightening conversation, and it keeps the excitement alive knowing that there is always something to learn,” she says.
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DON’T MAKE ASSUMPTIONS.
You know what they say about assuming things — so try not to impose your expectations or perceptions onto your partner. “Never assume you know what your partner is thinking or feeling,” Doares says. “Telling your partner what they think or feel is incredibly disrespectful. Acting on your assumptions without verifying them leads to miscommunications and misunderstandings.”
If you’re not sure, ask. Having your partner clarify his or her feelings, actions or motivations will only strengthen your relationship by deepening your understanding of him or her.
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VALUE YOUR COMMITMENT.
Bennett says many people simply don’t hold marriage in very high regard, and this leads to breaking up because partners don’t value their vows the way they should.
“If both partners can embrace a high view of marriage — as a sacrament, unbreakable, etc. — then they are more likely to work through any problems and try to avoid divorce,” he says. Treating your relationship as if it’s a permanent fixture in your life is a good way to help it remain that way.
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