Protecting your Marriage: Sealing all of the exit doors

The most recent topic on my G105 appearance was about living together before marriage.  This Monday will be about having sex before marriage.  As I said last week, the research is clear on living together before marriage: couples are almost twice as likely to divorce if they lived together before marriage than those that didn’t.  There are many theories as to why this is – but the general consensus is if you live together before marriage you are more like a “rental agreement.”  This means that when you’re just living together it is technically a shorter term commitment and if either party is dissatisfied, the “agreement” can be broken without much penalties (Yes of course you’ll still be upset and you may have to divide up your stuff or figure out who gets custody of a pet – but it’s a break up, not a divorce).  The problem is, once married, you no longer have exit doors that are available all over the place.  In fact, there should be no exit doors because marriage is supposed to be forever.  One idea for why couples who lived together first are at a higher risk for divorce is that they still see the exit doors even when they shouldn’t be there.  So does this mean your marriage is doomed if you lived together first?  No.  Does it mean you might have to fight harder to make your marriage last?  Yes.

Here are some tips for all couples to strengthen your marriage and seal off all exit doors:

  • Focus on your spouse’s needs – it’s so hard to let go of the selfish idea that “I want to be happy so he (or she) should make ME happy.  Try to do whatever you can to meet your spouse’s needs and in turn, they’ll be motivated to meet yours.
  • Don’t threaten divorce or breakups as a way to scare your spouse.  Don’t think to yourself “I can always leave if things don’t get better.”  If you even have the hint that exit doors are an option, you may be drawn to them without even meaning to.  Tell yourself “divorce is not an option.”  We will figure out how to make this work.
  • Don’t be afraid to try marriage counseling.  EVERY relationship would benefit from couple’s counseling at some point.  Going to see a marriage counselor is like taking your car to get an oil change.  Sure, you could skip the oil change and try to keep driving.  But eventually, the car would start to display small problems, and eventually it would stop working (or blow up).  A trained psychologist can provide a neutral point of view and help each of you see what you are contributing to the problem.
  • Assume the best about your partner.  At some point in relationships, couples get into a rut where they have had the same fight so many times that they assume their partner is criticizing them, being negative, being dishonest, not caring enough….etc. etc. etc.  You have to wipe the slate clean and tell yourself, “My partner loves and cares about me.  Let me really try to hear what he or she is saying and stop assuming he or she is out to get me.”
  • Finally, like I said last week on G105, at some point in every relationship, the ooey gooey “I’m in love” feelings fade.  (Bummer huh?)  When they do, what you’re left with is the choice to love this person for the rest of your life.  You wake up every morning and say to yourself, “I will choose to love my spouse today “warts” and all.  I will not try to change him (her) or fix him (her).  I will love him (her) every day for the rest of my life.”

No doubt marriage is hard work.  But it also has so much potential to be rewarding and fulfilling over time if you focus on enhancing the relationship day by day.

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