“50 percent of all marriages end in divorce.”
It’s a statistic that’s constantly sited on news programs and relationship shows, and among tipsy friends at cocktail parties who use it as a reason why they’re never getting married.
However, as I explained in a previous post, this statistic is actually decades old, and has little bearing on the state of marriages today. The divorce rate has actually been on a steady decline since the 90s, and it’s projected that 63 percent of couples who get married in the 2000s will never divorce.
Still nervous? You might be reassured to learn that new figures and studies have found that there are certain factors that can help strengthen your marriage and avoid divorce. There may not be a magic wand that can “divorce-proof” your marriage, but there are certain ways you can significantly minimize your risk of divorce and make your relationship last.
Begin with yourself. If you want to be happy in your relationship, you must first be happy with yourself. If there are reasons you feel unhappy or dissatisfied, these feelings could be products of personal wound – either from the past or present. If you can become a stronger, emotionally healthier person, your marriage will be stronger too.
Communicate. Whether you are having relationship troubles or not, it’s essential to talk regularly about what you need from your relationship. Be open and honest with each other and work to stay on the same wavelength. Instead of focusing on the negative and past wrongs, try to discuss steps you could take to move forward in your relationship. Make an effort to listen to your partner’s point of view, resisting the urge to argue, correct your partner, or become angry.
Learn your partner’s love language. Your partner may express love and affection in a certain way, whether through actual words of affirmation, physical touch, acts of service, or something else entirely. Get to know your partner’s love language and learn how to identify cues for affection, affirmation, and attention. When you learn each other’s emotional language, you can adopt behaviors that communicate your feelings in a way your partner can understand.
Go on weekly date nights. When couples become complacent, life gets busy, and schedules are strained, date nights often fall by the wayside. But having regular date nights can help you ignite your marriage with newness and excitement, keeping relationships from growing stale and partners from becoming distant. On these date nights, make a commitment to avoid discussing problems or engaging in arguments. Date nights should be a special time to relax, have fun, and grow close together over a new activity or experience.
Learn how to fight fair. While arguments are a healthy and natural part of human relationship, you can cause a lot of harm if you’re fighting in malicious or unproductive way. You can prevent healthy conflict from turning into dirty fighting by avoiding relying on concepts of power, gender roles, or name calling.
Instead, keep your focus on your relationship as a whole rather than this small issue at hand, and listen to your partner’s concerns with an attitude of acceptance. To keep fights from escalating into heated battles, try taking “breaks” in the argument to cool down before returning to the discussion when you are both feeling less emotional.
Don’t fight in public. Conflict between partners should never ignite in front of children or friends. Discuss disagreements in a private place like your home, and never lash out or undermine your partner in front of others.
Don’t threaten divorce. In the anger, frustration, or desperation of a moment, couples may threaten “divorce” in order to hurt the other partner. But you should never use divorce as a punishment, weapon, or way to gain leverage in an argument. Doing so can cause a lot of pain, and set the stage for divorce to truly come into play in the future.
Practice forgiveness. When your partner does something that upsets you, you have two choices. You can choose to stew in your anger or hurt, or you can forgive and free yourself from the pain the incident caused you. Forgiveness doesn’t mean you have to forget or condone their actions, but that you’re opening yourself to empathize with your partner and work with him or her to move on.
Have regular sex. Don’t let sex fall by the wayside. If regular sex doesn’t happen naturally, you may want to consider scheduling a time for sex. While it may at first seem unromantic, scheduling regular sex can be a wonderful way to carve out a time for intimacy in your busy lives and boost the longevity and happiness of your marriage.
Discuss finances. Too often, serious marital problems arise out of conflict over finances. You and your partner may have different expectations about money, so it’s important to reach an agreement on how to budget money and handle debt.
Give each other space. It’s a common misconception that couples who are truly in love should be joined at the hip. The reality is quite the opposite—alone time can be one of the healthiest things for a relationship. By spending time apart, you give each other time to miss each other and strengthen your identity as an individual. If you both enjoy your own interests, hobbies, and friends during your time apart, you can return to each other rejuvenated and ready to share your experiences.
Stay healthy. Taking care of your body isn’t just essential for your physical health. It can also boost your energy levels, reduce stress, and improve intimacy between the two of you. Try working out together—studies have found that couples who engage in physical activities together are happier in their relationships and more in love with their partner.
Participate in an IMAGO couple’s workshop. No matter how they feel about their current relationship, the vast majority of couples can benefit from professional marriage advice. Consider attending a “Get the Love You Want” IMAGO Couple’s Workshop—an intensive weekend of seminars, exercises, and group activities designed to provide couples of all kinds with practical tools and techniques to strengthen their bond.