February 2017

State of the Union: Divorce-Proof your Marriage

Author: Linda S. Hopkins

Depending on the moon phase, the availability of chocolate, and the frequency and quality of sex—not necessarily in that exact order—marriage can be hell on earth or the greatest thing this side of heaven. It can even be both in the same day. So, what makes some marriages last while others fall apart? I asked Punxsutawney Phil to weigh in on the subject, and he refused to come out of his hole.

Nobody plans to fail at marriage. So why then, do so many end in divorce? My theory is that too many people are saying something they don’t mean. Think back to your wedding day and the vows you took—with witnesses, to boot. Whether you chose to get married in a church, a courthouse or a chapel in Vegas, by a priest, a notary public or an Elvis impersonator, you entered into a legal contract and a spiritual union based on a set of promises.

I’m amazed by how much time and energy people put into selecting the perfect dress, music, cake and flowers, while putting little thought into the words they are about to exchange. If you wrote your own vows, you get extra credit for the added thought. But even so, it’s possible that some of the meaning got lost in the pomp and circumstance.

While marriage vows are worded differently among the world’s many cultures and religions, the one common thread is the lifetime commitment. Consider these traditional vows of marriage: Do you, (groom/bride), take (bride/groom) to be your (wife/husband), to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, from this day forward until death do you part?

If you answered, “I do,” you did not promise to have and to hold as long as the groom has a prestigious job, six-figure income and 36-inch waist or to love and cherish until your bride outgrows her size-four wedding gown or (God forbid) gets the flu or has a bad hair day. Notice that being “happy” is not part of the deal. You promised until death, come hell or high water.

Love in action
If marriage were a cake walk, everyone would be living happily ever after. We all want to be in love and make love—those are the fun parts—but few people know how to do love on a day-to-day basis. Saying “I love you” is one thing; acting the part is quite another.

I won’t lie to you. There are moments, hours, sometimes whole days or even weeks when I don’t like my husband. But I still “love” him. If you’ve been home from your honeymoon more than 10 days, you have likely experienced this phenomenon. Relax. Where the trip down the aisle and the road to reality intersect, life gets complicated; misunderstandings happen; sometimes needs go unmet. You may be thinking, “I’ve made a terrible mistake.” Most likely, you haven’t, but you may need some navigational tools to carry you through the dark side of doubt.

If it makes you feel any better, every married couple I know has (at least once) questioned the sanity of their decision, and most have seen the green grass on the other side and entertained the thought of walking away. Knowing whether to stay or go almost always boils down to one thing: how serious you are about keeping your word. Although certain circumstances such as physical or emotional abuse warrant dissolving a marriage, most differences can be worked out through communication and compromise along with a little perseverance and practice.

If your relationship is relatively intact but less than fulfilling, talk openly with your mate about what you each want and expect and ways to improve your life together. If your marriage is in trouble, improving it might be like cleaning out the garage for the first time in 25 years: overwhelming and time-consuming. But with determination, you can rekindle the love that is lying dormant like a fire log, begging for the strike of a match. Whether you are a newlywed or have been married 100 years, a more joyful marriage is within reach. It can be as simple as making up your mind to treat your mate with more kindness and courtesy or as complicated as redefining your expectations.

If you are considering divorce, consider this first: You will be trading one set of problems for another. Whether you choose to remain single, remarry, join the next mission to Mars or enter the witness protection program, you will have a set of problems. So, why not start by working with the familiar set? Go for some marriage counseling; renew your vows; plan a vacation; or simply make date night a priority and remember how and why you fell in love in the first place.

For the record, I am on marriage number three. My first ended in divorce after two miserable years. Clearly, I did not have a clue what I was saying at age 19 when I uttered the words, “I do” to Mr. Wrong in disguise. Even so, had I known then what I know now, we might have made it work.

Marriage number two ended when I left my partner of 20 years under a spray of roses and a cold stone engraved with his name and two dates. That’s where I learned everything I know about being and staying married.

Marriage number three is going strong, and I have no intention of breaking my vows, even though I don’t always like my husband. I’m sure there are moments when I am equally unlikeable. On our wedding day, 12 years ago, the minister who officiated gave us the most practical yet profound advice I have ever heard. He said something to the effect of: “Every day, when you wake up, take a few minutes to think about what you can do to make your partner’s day more pleasant. If you both do this, you will have a strong marriage.”

By golly, he was right. Remember that when people get what they need, they are more likely to give you what you need—that’s where chocolate and sex come in handy. The moon phase is completely arbitrary unless you need an excuse to be moody or a little extra amorous.

So, go ahead and have a spat now and then. Pitch a hissy fit as needed, or pout if that is your style. But then be quick to forgive. Honor your vows, and do something thoughtful every day, even when you are not “in like.” I promise it will come back to you ten-fold. When this mindset is mutual, you are well on your way to a more fulfilling union and a rock-solid, divorce-proof marriage. 

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