Marriage doesn’t protect you. You must protect your marriage.
I have worked with thousands of men, women, and couples over the last 20+ years. In this article, I want to share with you what I have observed to be the most common causes for marriage and relationship breakdowns. Although the divorce rate and rate of unhappy marriages is very high, people never believe their marriages can end–until they do. Then, they scramble like mad to try to save them. How much easier it would have been if they had put in the right kind of effort from the beginning. This article addresses the most helpful things you can do to prevent marriage failure.
Make sure your expectations match
You love your partner and your partner loves you. Isn’t that enough for marriage? No, it isn’t. Without matching expectations, one of you will have to change or else you will have enduring conflict that will eventually destroy your love and your relationship. This is the most important reason for people to have premarital counseling. Even couples who have been together for years can have mismatching expectations. How would you and your partner answer these questions?:
- What is the main role of a wife/husband?
- What things will change about your relationship after having children? After the kids get older? After retirement? What will not change?
- How will having children affect what you do together?
- How will you combine or separate your incomes? Who will pay the bills? Will you both get the same amount of spending money, even if one of you quits your job or has a much higher income?
- What will you do if you find yourself becoming attracted to someone outside your marriage? What will you do if your partner starts becoming attracted to someone else?
- What will be the warning signs when you are growing distant and what will you do about it?
- Is there anything about your partner, that if it never changed, would make you not want to continue your relationship?
As scary as it may be to discuss these things before they happen, waiting until they happen is often too late. And if your answers to these questions are, “Our love will conquer all and we will never have to worry about that,” then you are much more likely to have problems. No one believes when they get married that their marriage could end, but for 40% to 50% of people who marry, they will. Don’t go in blind and ignorant. Prepare for the worst so that problems can be dealt with before they get out of control.
Even better: Return to these questions once a year or see a counselor once a year for a marital check up.
Expect existing problems will continue to exist
Marriage accentuates problems, it does not make them go away. So many times I have heard people (especially women) say, “I thought he would change after we got married.” Sometimes this is for issues such as unfaithfulness or drug abuse. Other times it is for personality issues like selfishness and low empathy. If something about your partner is not acceptable to you, do not commit to that person until his or her behavior becomes acceptable and stays that way. The behavior has to change long enough for you to see the change is not just temporary. If you commit to a person, expecting him or her to change, it is terribly unfair to that person. Accept or do not accept, but don’t waffle back and forth.
Continue to spend daily time together and to date each other
Couples build their attraction to each other by spending quality time together before they are married. If they did not, they would not stay connected and would not get married. After marriage, the same quality time is necessary for couples to want to stay together. If you will be prevented from spending time together because of mismatching work or school schedules, don’t get married. If you are already married, change your job if necessary in order to spend time with your spouse. Either that or prepare to change spouses. You cannot compensate for quality time together by bringing home a bigger paycheck or by going on an occasional vacation. And, family time (with the kids) does not count at dating time with your spouse. I have found that many people who say it is “impossible” for them to spend more time with their spouse can find time for people they have an affair with. People also find time to be with their spouses when their spouses are preparing to divorce them. This new found ability to find time makes departing spouses really angry. they rightly question why it wasn’t possible for their partners to find such time before.
Not making time for each other after having children
The best thing you can ever do for your children is give them parents who have a loving relationship with each other. Some of the sacrifices parents make for their children actually break the bond between their parents, which is detrimental to the children in the long run. While there may be some benefit to keeping your child in bed with you, it is likely to damage the relationship with your spouse, making the disadvantages far outweigh the advantages. I have had many parents tell me they wish they had not let their child sleep with them and they wish they had gotten a regular babysitter so they could continue going out one on one with their spouse. Because, guess what–if you don’t find the time to have sex with your spouse and to go out one on one, someone else will. Think about how that will affect your children. If you are concerned about your children walking in on you and your spouse being intimate, put a lock on the door and use it. Set a good example of how your children should be when they are married some day. Children should add to your marriage–not take away from it.
Continue to be boyfriend and girlfriend
The way to behave after you are married is the same as before you were married. Be your husband’s girlfriend; be your wife’s boyfriend. If you behave like your spouse’s mother, father, or child, your spouse will start to long for someone who is more like a partner. Treat your spouse with the same care and attention you would if you were not married and were first dating them. When relationships go bad, people long for their spouse (or someone else) to be the way their spouse was in the beginning. Much of my job is helping people to again be their spouse’s girlfriend or boyfriend. Your goal should be to always connect with your spouse rather than to correct your spouse.
Take care of your self
Many people expect their spouses to be attracted to them simply because they are married. They don’t take care of their bodies, their stuff, their appearance, they complain a lot, and become antisocial. One exercise I do with my clients is to have them imagine that someone made a film of their daily behavior from waking to bedtime, and then showed this film to a theater full of people of the opposite gender. I then ask them if they think the people watching the film would leave the film saying, “Wow, I wish I had a man/woman like that!” or “Wow, I’m glad I don’t have a man/woman like that!”? If you don’t think other people would be attracted to you, then don’t expect your spouse to be attracted to you either. Work on becoming attractive to others and your spouse. If your spouse has to take care of you because you are not taking care of yourself, your spouse will feel like your marriage is a 7 day a week job and will eventually burn out. Their is nothing inherent in marriage that maintains attraction. You need to do the work of staying attractive.
Marriage failures are preventable
My mission is to save as many relationships as I can by helping people to fall in love with each other again. Nearly every person I work with could have prevented their relationship from getting to the point where it is about to collapse. How bad do things need to become in your relationship before you are willing treat your spouse like your boyfriend or girlfriend again? Divorces are not inevitable. They are preventable, especially if you will continue to take the same care with your spouse as you did when you were first in love. What spouse would possibly want to lose that?