Let's be real. Very few couples get to the altar thinking about divorce. In fact, how many couples actually think & discuss about life beyond the wedding day? I see many couples in my practice who come in for premarital counseling (and struggles during marriage) and we discuss the areas of growth and the areas of strength. We talk about how to talk about feelings, negative patterns that may be starting to develop, how past relationships and family of origin shape our views on attachment and connection in relationship, and discuss practical tips to invest in the relationship for success. While these aren't full proof, in and of themselves, they certainly can help facilitate closer connection even in conflict. It takes two to make a marriage work and two bring it to an end.
As a relationship educator and licensed marriage and family therapist who specializes in "all things" couples, (premarital, dating, marriage counseling, blended family issues, and yes, even divorce), ere are some things that may help you prevent divorce in the future:
1. Be your spouse's biggest cheerleader. Encourage your spouse, talk about them in public in a way that builds them up, not puts them down. In private, share with them in a way that does the same.
2. Let go of your "shoulds" and "shouldn'ts" in marriage. Couples often have a preconceived notion of what marriage should look like and when their partner doesn't live up to this expectation, they get disappointed and eventually disenchanted with the partner. Share your expectations before marriage and have someone reality test these (a therapist, or mentor). Comparison is the root of all evil. Create a relationship that takes into account BOTH partners longings and needs, not just what you think it "should" be. "Should" and "shouldn't" are shaming words and make the other person, and even self, feel less than.
3. You don't always have to be right. I have a saying in my office when couples get into disagreements about who said what (there is each partners perception of what was said and what it meant and somewhere in the middle there is what actually happened) and I challenge them with this question, "do you want a relationship or do you want to be right?" Rather than argue what happened and who said what, dig deep into how your partner's behavior impacted you emotionally and be open to how your behavior impacted them and what was driving those. Choose relationship and emotional connection over being right.
4. Figure out your negative pattern. Every couple has a negative pattern that develops (even therapist couples!). When you understand what is driving your partner to pull away or pursue you in a negative way, for example, you can actually step out of that negative pattern quickly. This is where
Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy is highly effective in helping couples learn to have healthy conflict.
5. Do NOT post your differences on social media! I cannot emphasize this enough. Social media is not the place for you to air your relational problems--you invite others into the sacred space that is meant for you and your partner--it erodes that intimate space. Talk to your partner instead. If you find this is difficult, seek therapeutic support.
Don't post your differences on social media!
6. Support each other's self care. Self care is like putting an oxygen mask on--you cannot help the person next to you if you can't breathe! This is a "we" thing. While you may not share the same approaches to self care, discover what those are for each other and support the efforts to create healthy coping mechanisms for the stresses life throws you.
7. Do not share your relationship distress with those who don't have an invested interest in your marital success. This can be a slippery slope. When you are upset with your partner, you are in a vulnerable place. Sharing your distress with someone who doesn't have an invested interest in the success of your relationship can lead to affairs, competing attachments for your primary attachment to your partner, and fuel the distress. Talk to your partner first and if that doesn't yield results, talk to a therapist who can help you have those difficult conversations.
8. Have those complex conversations you have been avoiding & don't have them over text or email. You are going to have to have them at some point, let's hope it isn't in the divorce attorney's office. At that point, it's probably too late.
While texting is an awesome way to stay connected during the day and let your partner know you are thinking of them, it is not the medium for having conflict or broaching a difficult topic. It is too easy to read into the tone and intent of a written message. Do that in person. If there never seems to be time, carve out that time and make it a priority. Your marriage is worth it!
9. It takes two to create a successful relationship and two to tear it down. It's never one person's fault. Look at self and how you may be contributing to the discord in your marriage. Pointing the finger at your partner isn't helpful if you aren't looking at your own contribution.
10. Find a good couple's therapist in your area. Establish a professional relationship with them as soon as possible in your marital journey so that when difficulties arise, it won't feel like you are behind the ball in getting help for the struggles that come up in your relationship. Healthy couples have conflict and investing in therapy at any point in your marriage can prevent a future divorce or break up.
If you would like to hear more about divorce proofing your marriage, click here for Real Divorce Talk.
Kimberly Sandstrom is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist in CA, specializing in couples, individuals & families and trained in Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy, EMDR, and divorce mediation. You can read more about her and her private practice as well as her couples & divorce workshop opportunities here. The opinions, views and perceptions expressed in this blog are the author's own and do not reflect the opinions, views or perceptions of other persons mentioned or implied.