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How to Divorce Proof Your Marriage

How to Divorce Proof Your Marriage

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No person who marries for love wants to get a divorce when they enter the marriage. Yet, knowing how to prevent divorce in a marriage requires more than hopeful intentions.

You know the statistics: Almost half of all marriages will end in divorce. The best estimate we have is that 45% of first marriages will end in divorce. And the statistics for second marriages ending in divorce is even more grim. More than 60% of second marriages will end in divorce. Finally, research shows that 73% of third marriages end in divorce. This means almost 3 out of 4 third marriages end in divorce!

A Fatal Error

These divorce statistics highlight a thinking error which leads to the demise of too many marriages. This human error is to think that your relationship problems, deep down, are caused by your partner. In my work as a couple’s therapist, I see this all the time. Most people in couple’s therapy will, at least at first, stay focused on what their partner is doing wrong.

Many people struggle to see the ways they contribute to the very problems in their relationship that bother them the most. (My theory is that this is why the rates of divorce are so high for second and third marriages. People thought that the only problem in their first marriage was their ex-spouse when, in reality, they added to the problems but didn’t change these patterns within themselves before remarrying.)

I’ve fallen trap to this type of thinking time and again too because it’s human.

To be a healthy partner, you must instead develop self-awareness. You must take accountability that almost every relationship problem is co-created. Building this level of accountable self-awareness can be painful or embarrassing at times. However, to prevent divorce in your marriage, it’s necessary you look at your side of the street.

It’s Not Just Your Partner’s Fault

Every relationship problem is co-created. The only exception to this rule is in cases of abuse or domestic violence.

For example, do you resent your partner because you feel like they leave you to do much of the work in your home or in raising your children?

Then chances are you have not been clear or assertive about your needs. If you have expressed your needs and this pattern continues then it’s likely you haven’t set a true boundary. A boundary must include your assertively expressed need or limit alongside a consequence for not meeting your need or honoring your limit. In this situation, it may sound like, “I have noticed that after work, I have less time to relax than you. I need you to give the kids a bath while I make dinner. If you’re unwilling to do this, I will not be able to make a hot dinner at night for you to enjoy.” The consequence is your partner cannot have both the joy of relaxing while you do most of the childcare at night and have the joy of a hot meal you prepared. They must contribute or lose out on the pleasure of a meal being prepared for them.

Or you may find that your partner is irritable and quick to being defensive when you share your concerns with them. If this is the case, how are you approaching the issue with them?

A lot of the people I work with will ignore their feelings or needs for so long that by the time they bring it up to their partner they are already angry. The way they bring it up then may have a tone or be accusatory. For instance it’s not effective to say things such as “You never listen to me,” “You never want to have sex,” or “You always leave a mess in the kitchen.” When you use words like “always” or “never” with your partner, they are going to be on the defense to highlight the times that contradict your claim. It’s highly unlikely they will validate you or your concerns when you start the conversation like this. Instead, they will want to point out they are listening right now or you just had sex last week or they cleaned up after themselves on Tuesday.

What It Really Takes to Make a Marriage Work

It’s important to address your concerns but with kindness, mindfulness, and by being gentle. It’s a lot more effective to say, “I notice that sometimes when I discuss my family you seem distracted. Can we find a way to reduce distractions as I really need to be heard about my concerns?” Or, “I notice that we tend to have different libidos. I would like to find a way for us to have more sex as I value connecting to you in this way.” Or, “I notice that sometimes we don’t clean up after ourselves in the kitchen. I would like if we put the dishes in the dishwasher if we make a mess. Can you help me with this?”

Notice the difference between these examples and think about your own reaction. Are you more likely to listen to your partner if they tell you that “you’re not romantic” or if they say, “I would like more romance between us like having date nights”? I’m going to guess that you prefer the latter statement as I’ve never met anyone who likes them or their actions being labeled in an extreme manner.

To prevent a divorce in your marriage, it’s important to get into the habit of asking yourself, “How am I contributing to this problem with my partner? What changes could I make in my actions to support positive change?”

In my own marriage, I’ve come to learn that if I feel disconnected from my partner this means I haven’t been as mindful during our time together as I would like. Therefore, before I complain to my husband that he’s disconnected from me, I make a conscious effort to be more present during dinner time and after work. Usually, this eliminates my feelings of being disconnected because it was coming from my own sense of being distracted.

Prevent a Divorce with More Than Communication Skills

“We need to work on our communication.” This is the number one thing I hear as a couple’s therapist. While effective communication skills are necessary, they aren’t the only skills which divorce proof your marriage.

A healthy, happy, and lasting marriage you requires 4 skills:

  • Communication skills – These skills include active listening, assertive communication, and bringing up your concerns with a gentle manner.
  • Self-awareness – You must be able to look within and notice how you contribute to the problems in your marriage. You must then practice the mature accountability to make changes to these patterns.
  • Healthy coping skills – When you are overwhelmed, your nervous system is sometimes triggered into fight-flight-freeze mode.  Getting stuck in this state and trying to communicate from this place always worsens conflict and misunderstandings. It’s essential to know how to calm yourself down effectively when you’re overwhelmed.
  • Healthy boundaries – Without healthy boundaries, resentment festers. You must be able to know what you need and want as well as what your limits are while communicating this effectively with your partner. Of all the issues in a marriage, as a couples therapist, I have discovered resentment is the most toxic of all for relationships. I have absolutely witnessed couples choose to divorce because they couldn’t get over long-standing resentments.
You Can Learn New Skills

One of the most painful lessons I have ever learned is, “love isn’t enough.” Love is not enough to make a relationship last in a healthy and happy way. Sadly, many people have lost their marriages to this truth. The reality is that your marriage can only be as healthy and happy as the skills you bring to the relationship. Many people hope that love is enough but you must know how to actually make a relationship work. Before becoming consciously present and skillful in your marriage, you will role model what you learned growing up.

You may either act like your parents (or caregivers) like have a tendency to be quick to anger like your dad. Or you may have vowed that you will never be like your family so your on the opposite end of the spectrum. For example, your mother may have been incredibly passive or silent about her concerns, so now perhaps you are frequently critical.

It is necessary to consciously show up for your marriage to prevent divorce rather than living in reaction to what you learned growing up. You may have had wonderful role models growing up who spoke with kindness and clarity while taking accountability appropriately. Your family members may not have known how to say “yes” and “no” authentically to prevent resentment. You may have seen people cope well with their emotions.

Or maybe not. Which means you may want to build on your skills. To help identify where you may need support, please ask yourself the following questions:

Did family members shut down or become passive-aggressive when they were angry?

Did anyone in your family protest “I’m fine” when you knew they weren’t?

Did anyone in your family have a temper & would make this known aggressively?

Did anyone give the silent treatment?

Were any family members often defensive or made excuses blaming others for their actions?

Was anyone in your family growing up harsh, negative, or critical of themselves or others?

Did anyone in your family expect others to read their mind?

Did anyone in your life “go along to get along”? 

Was anyone in your family resentful of others?

Did the people in your family shut down or using escape strategies like TV, work, alcohol, or shopping to deal with their emotions? 

Saying yes to any of these questions highlights you may struggle, at times, with the skills of a healthy marriage. This is absolutely understandable though. It is human nature to role model what we have learned or to act completely opposite from what we saw our families do growing up.

We must learn how to be a healthy partner. Many of us didn’t receive this education growing up, myself included. This is why strategies such as therapy, couple’s therapy, and personal development work through courses, reading self-help books, and completing workbooks are invaluable.

I created my course, “Confidently Authentic: Stop People Pleasing & Start Being True to Yourself” to address these very issues. I wanted anyone who needed the skills for healthy boundaries, effective communication, and healthy coping to be able to start healing now. This is a 4-week self-paced course in which you learn how to be more self-aware, set healthy boundaries, cope well with your emotions, and communicate your needs, wants, and boundaries effectively with others. Each and every lesson of “Confidently Authentic: Stop People Pleasing & Start Being True to Yourself,” teaches you the skills necessary to prevent divorce in your marriage.

If you would like to enhance your relationship skills to ensure your marriage lasts, I encourage you to join me in the course (& exclusive community!). I can’t wait to see you there!

 

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