11 Ways To Divorce-Proof Your Marriage

06/23/2014 11:55 am ET
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What does it take to make a relationship last? Love? Passion? Respect? An ability to forgive? Certainly all of these things are key aspects of a successful marriage but there is something lacking in all of them. In my opinion, the best way to prevent divorce and thrive in your marriage is to nurture fondness and admiration with your partner.

How is this done? In The Psychology of Romantic Love, author Nathaniel Branden suggests that admiration is the most powerful foundation for a relationship. He posits that if you admire your partner, not just for how he or she acts with you, but for how they operate in all spheres of their life, it will strengthen your love when it is being tested by adversity and conflicts.

Mutual admiration is a hallmark of mature, lasting love. It is something not simply arrived at by chance, but is deliberately cultivated. It’s important to remember that maintaining admiration for your partner does not mean you put him or her on a pedestal. But it does mean that you like and respect who they are and how they conduct themselves in their world.

Is your relationship with your significant other defined by fondness and genuine esteem? Renowned relationship expert Dr. John Gottman reminds us that friendship is the glue that can hold a marriage together: “Couples who “know each other intimately [and] are well versed in each other’s likes, dislikes, personality quirks, hopes, and dreams” are couples who make it.”

Here are 11 ways to nurture fondness and admiration with your partner:

1. Make a list of everything you admire about your partner. For instance, he is thoughtful, kind, or hard-working? You’re not writing down his/her actions. You are writing down their basic human qualities. So you wouldn’t write, “He washes the dishes after I cook dinner, or “He pays the bills on time.” You would write, “He’s thoughtful and considerate."

2. Remind yourself of your partner’s positive qualities -– even as you grapple with their flaws -– and express your positive feelings out loud several times each day. Catch him or her doing nice things and let them know how much you appreciate their actions. For instance, when your partner invites you out to dinner to your favorite restaurant, you might say “You’re so romantic and loving.”

3. Complain, but don’t criticize. According to Gottman, criticizing your partner is different than offering a critique or voicing a complaint. The latter two are about specific issues, whereas the former is an attack on the person. Consequently, you are cutting to the core of their character when you criticize. For instance, a complaint is: “I was upset when you didn’t consult me before buying that motorcycle. We agreed that you’d discuss large purchases with me.” Versus a criticism: “You never share things with me, you’re so selfish!”

4. Don’t show contempt. When you communicate in this manner, you are being disrespectful and likely using sarcasm, ridicule, mimicking, icy tone of voice, or name-calling. The result of these behaviors is to make the person feel despised or worthless, whereas you want to nurture fondness and admiration.

5. Take responsibility for what you need to change. Rather than blaming your partner, take responsibility for our own actions.

6. Don’t make threats or issue ultimatums. Avoid saying things you’ll regret the next day. Take a short break if you feel overwhelmed or flooded so you can remain calm.

7. Search for common ground rather than insisting on getting your way when you have a disagreement. Learn to resolve conflicts skillfully by focusing more on listening and solving problems rather than assigning blame.

8. Listen to your partner’s point of view and avoid stonewalling. This is when one partner shuts down or withdraws from the interaction. Unfortunately, this becomes a habit and issues that get swept under the rug are never resolved, leaving the partner who feels hurt even more resentful.

9. Approach conflict with a problem-solving attitude. Focus on win-win solutions that can benefit both of you and enrich your bond.

10. Set aside time to spend with your partner on a daily basis. Carve out time to be together so you don’t evolve into two ships passing in the night. Focus on spending time doing enjoyable activities than can bring you both pleasure.

11. Look at your list and revise it periodically. Reminding yourself of those things you admire about your partner can save your marriage. What is the secret to reviving your fondness and admiration for your partner if you have drifted away? Couples who practice emotional attunement and “turn toward” one another rather than “turning away” are more likely to be happy and less likely to be headed toward divorce, according to Dr. Gottman. In his book The Relationship Cure, he writes: “It’s not that these couples don’t get mad or disagree. It’s that when they disagree, they’re able to stay connected and engaged with each other. Rather than becoming defensive and hurtful, they pepper their disputes with flashes of affection, intense interest, and mutual respect.”

Couples who nurture fondness and admiration also know the importance of connecting by being physically affectionate. According to author Dr. Kory Floyd, physical contact releases feel good hormones. Holding hands, hugging, and touching can release oxytocin (the bonding hormone) that reduces pain and causes a calming sensation. Studies show that it’s released during sexual orgasm and affectionate touch as well. Physical affection also reduces stress hormones -– lowering daily levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

Couples counseling can be a beneficial way to improve communication if both partners are motivated, especially if you catch your problems early and work on relationship skills. Don’t put aside resentments that can destroy your relationship. Counseling can help you learn more about yourself and ways you can resolve conflicts with your partner in a healthy way. Experiencing conflict is inevitable and couples who strive to avoid it are at the risk of developing stagnant relationships.

In sum, for your marriage to thrive, it’s important to create daily rituals of spending time together, show physical affection, and learn to resolve conflicts in a healthy way. Reminding yourself of the things that you admire about your partner and expressing them daily will help to prevent the breakdown of your marriage.

Follow Terry Gaspard, MSW, LICSW on Twitter, Facebook, and movingpastdivorce.com

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