Tips for keeping your marriage on track
Divorce is not uncommon today in Israel, with 30% to 35% of marriages ending in divorce. In the US, close to 50% of married couples divorce, similar to the rates in France and England. Most divorced individuals, 75%, do opt to remarry, but a whopping 60% of those marriages end in divorce.
After looking at the scientific literature on this topic, I have tried to outline some of the major factors to be considered and preventive measures that can keep your marital relationship healthy, for both a first marriage and a remarriage.
Dr. John Gottman, a leading researcher and marital therapy practitioner, believes that couples need to stay attuned to each other. This is the most vital component in making a marriage work.
So how can couples stay attuned to each other?
• Try not to blame your partner. It is okay to express a specific complaint as follows: “I was worried when you didn’t come home on time. We agreed that we’d check in when one of us was running late.” Don’t express it as a criticism: “You never call me, you’re so selfish.” “I messages” are always more effective than “you messages.” Happy couples complain without blame by talking about what they feel and about what they need, not about what they don’t need.
• Stay in the present and focus on the issues at hand. If you are angry, talk about what is bothering you without name-calling. Remember, anger is usually a symptom of underlying hurt, fear or frustration.
Keep things in perspective by doing healthy things to deal with your anger. First, try to cool down. Do whatever works for you. For example, try exercise, meditation or listening to music. Then sit down with and talk to your partner. First try to identify what is hurting inside yourself that got you so angry, and then share these feelings with your spouse.
Resentment can build up when couples sweep things under the rug, so do not bury negative feelings.
• Boost physical affection. Physical contact releases feel-good hormones. Holding hands, hugging and touching can release oxytocin (the bonding hormone) that causes a calming sensation. Studies show that it is released during sexual orgasm and affectionate touch as well. Physical affection also lowers stress hormones, cortisol and adrenalin. Physical affection is not only good for your emotional bond, but also good for your health.
• Step away from your work or house chores and kids – arrange a baby-sitter – and do something together. Look at your partner rather than at your phone, especially during meals. Take a walk, play tennis or shoot basketball hoops; just do something together that you both can enjoy and can take you away from daily routine.
• Compliment your partner at least twice a day. Express your positive feelings out loud several times each day and say something nice about your partner often. Feeling appreciated is positively correlated with good feelings about oneself and your partner.
• Take responsibility for your part in the conflict or dispute. A person’s ability to do this can change the dynamic of the relationship.
• Develop a hurt-free zone policy. This term, coined by author David Akiva (2014), refers to a period when criticism is not allowed. Akiva writes, “Your prime directive right now is to eliminate the most toxic negative communication and reduce intense negative emotions for three to four weeks.” This timeout period can help many couples to defuse the tensions and get back on track with each other.
• Experiencing conflict is inevitable, and couples who strive to avoid it are at risk of developing stagnant relationships. However, the goal is to get back on track with each other after a fight, if you do not want issues to fester.
• Practice apologizing and granting forgiveness. Apologize to your partner when appropriate. Offer a sincere apology when you have said or done something to hurt him/her (even if not on purpose).
Forgiveness is not the same as condoning the hurt done to you, but it will allow you to move on. This does not mean that you accept your partner’s hurtful actions. What it does mean is that you and your partner will feel better and closer by getting through those painful moments.
• Do your best to remember why you fell in love with your partner in the first place.
I often suggest that couples look at photo albums of the beginning of their relationship. These pictures often capture the happy moments and can help remind you of what you love about your partner. This perspective may help you revitalize your relationship at a time of tension and feeling distant.
The most important thing to remember is that we seek attachments and intimacy because they are the most important dynamic in human life. Therefore, if we want to succeed in our marital relationships, we have to work hard to practice behaviors that help make this happen.