Divorce Prevention

I am twenty-nine years old, I’ve been married to my thirty-four year old husband, Chris, for four years. While I know that four years is not that long, I do feel that we have a very healthy marriage because of the marital habits we have implemented. Also, as a Marriage and Family Therapist graduate student I have been living, breathing and eating healthy relationships. Chris and I do many things to keep our marriage healthy and in tact. First of all, before we even got married, we did preventative things. We waited to have sex before we got married. Not all couples do this, I totally understand, but it was important to us because it meant we had a solid friendship foundation supporting our marriage. We let the physical connection follow the commitment level. I’ve noticed from my own experience and from friend’s relationships that when we let the physical part lead, it often leaves us feeling confused and mistaking lust for love (they feel awfully similar in the moment). Chris and I would talk about our future sex life. In fact, one date we even placed all things we could ever do physically together into categories of white, grey, and black. White were the things that we would do before we got married, and black were the things we’d do after. There are a lot of grey areas and talking about them helped us to clarify where each of our boundaries were. The best time to have these conversations are on dates, away from the bedroom.

Speaking of dates, that brings me to my next divorce prevention tip. Chris and I started dating in February of 2009. We went on one date a week where we would go out to dinner and then do something fun afterward like play mini-golf, go to a concert, or see a movie. When we got engaged in December of 2009, we continued dating once a week, and once we were married in April of 2010, the dating continued. Now, four years married, guess what we do once a week? Date, that’s right! We are not perfect, and sometimes life gets too insanely busy, like when family is visiting from out of town. The times we miss our date we feel it. All the conversations we have saved for our date have built up into a tension-filled pressure cooker and conflict is bound to happen. Having weekly dates allows us to blow off marital steam by creating space for us to make eye contact, slow down, remember why we love each other, and to play. The date is a priority that gets scheduled during the week. There is no “we should go on a date sometime soon” ambiguity. It is something that is agreed upon, highlighted on the calendar, and other things get planned around it. We don’t have a regular night or time that we go, the date moves as our lives move. When my weekends were busy with work, we used to go on dates on Thursday afternoons- it was remarkable- empty restaurants and no lines and the movies (plus matinees are cheaper!). While we do love going to the movies, it is important that we have plenty of time to talk. The main goal of date night is connection. It is hard to connect when we are both facing away from each other focusing on a film. When we do go to the movies, we tend to also get yogurt after or go on a night drive where we can have more intimate conversations. If you’re not going on a weekly date- I urge you to start doing that. It’s the glue that keeps us together!

Another thing that Chris and I do is from the book Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus. The book suggests that each day the man allows the woman to talk for ten minutes uninterrupted without offering solutions or trying to fix the problem. It’s called a “Venus Talk”. I usually let Chris know that I need a Venus Talk by saying “I have something to tell you.” It’s our way of knowing that I need to be listened to. Chris just happens to be a really good listener, but the book explains how to do it really well if your guy needs help in that area.

Another divorce prevention tip is continued self improvement. Many of the couples that I see in therapy tend to point the finger at each other telling me what that person needs to do or change so that they will be more compatible. The truth is, that does nothing. We can’t save a marriage by pointing fingers at the other person. What we must do is spend time looking at the areas of our life that we don’t like about ourselves and work to improve upon them. For example, I worked really hard the past four years on my anger. While it’s ok for me to get angry, it’s not ok for me to rage at Chris and call him names. I have had to learn how to take a time out to let my autonomic nervous system relax. I even did ten sessions of therapy focused on anger where I made friends with my emotion and grew to like it because it showed me when my boundaries were being crossed. I took up meditation and practiced relaxation exercises so I would be more chill. I focused on getting enough rest and eating regularly so I wouldn’t be grumpy. I also used the Venus talks and dates as places to air frustrations rather than lash out way after the annoying incident. Chris sees his self improvement as more of a slow evolution of self, he is growing ever more patient, loving and kind as the years go on, but his improvements are less dramatic and harder to measure. The point is, we work on ourselves for the sake of our marriage.

Being honest with other people is another thing we do for divorce prevention. You’ve heard the saying, “it takes a village” in regards to child rearing. I think that marriage is like a child at times and I urge you to not underestimate the importance of community and support from friends and family. One thing I don’t do is go around telling everyone the nitty gritty of our fights about stupid things. The details about he said she said is not helpful information. What we need are people who will help shape us as human beings; people who will provide honest feedback about our character, and wise married people who have been there before. Before Chris and I got married we took pre-marital counseling (with his parents) (not the sex part, that was with a pastor). We spent time doing homework exercises and discussing finances, sex, children, communication, and our very different personalities. Going to others for help with marriage is helpful because they offer perspectives and questions that you wouldn’t have seen or asked on your own. While we maintain our marriage, we also maintain our friendships. Chris and I both go separately to weekly bible study/life groups where we share vulnerably with our friends. The women in my group pray and encourage each other. Having these intimate friendships outside of our marriage helps to remind us that we are not alone, nobody is perfect, and we need each other. This honesty helps keep us grounded in our faith and grows us individually which strengthens our marriage.

Finally, the last marriage prevention tip I have is that it is all about the conflict repair. While fighting fair is important and using “I” statements, never saying always and never, and not saying “yes, but” helps, it’s the way that we make up that makes a world of difference. Chris and I wait until we have calmed down, and that could mean the next day. It’s not always the best to wait until morning, but sometimes we are both just plain exhausted and that is why we are fighting. A good nights sleep can help us to be kinder to each other when it is time to repair. Usually we both say sorry and talk about what happened to gain understanding. Often, the thing we were fighting about was stupid but the reason we got hurt is not. It usually comes down to disrespect, not feeling loved, and feeling unappreciated. When we finish talking about it, we move on! We don’t bring it up again unless we are laughing about it because it was probably a very silly thing we argued about. Then, we try to do loving things for each other to bring us back to homeostasis.

I’m sure there are many, many other things that people can do to prevent divorce, and my hope is that each couple becomes an expert about what their marriage needs so that it can stay intact. What do you do to prevent divorce? What does your marriage need?

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