After twenty years of working with couples and seeing everything from pre-marrieds to unfaithful mates, we would like to share some of our best tips about divorce prevention. These suggestions can help you work things out with your current spouse, or they will help you avoid the same mistakes in your next relationship.
1. Take on your marriage.
Get off your lazy butt and do the hard work of creating the marriage that you want: stop whining, complaining and blaming. Find a boot camp, conference, workshop or a great counselor. Remember this: you don't get what you want, you get what you work for.
2. Speak a second language.
Communication is the key to a strong relationship. Study your mate, learn the subtle cues for attention, affirmation, and (of course) sex! Learn to speak your mate's emotional language and distinguish it from their logical language. "Do I look fat in this?" is a request for affirmation, not information! Learn also to speak your mate's love language.
3. Learn to forgive.
Master the art of forgiveness. Learn what forgiveness is and is not. You do NOT have to forget, it does NOT mean that you condone their behavior, you do NOT have to go back to a bad relationship, you do NOT have to confront the person, and they do not have to apologize for their behavior. You DO have to make a decision to forgive or you will continue to live in the past, and forgiveness is something you may have to do over and over every time the pain comes up. After all is said and done, when you release the offender from being in your debt, YOU can be free and they no longer have control.
4. Start with yourself.
Deal with your past. Take a thorough inventory of yourself and make sure that you are not poisoning your current relationship with your baggage. When you grow, so will your marriage.
5. Learn to fight. Get the skills, the tools, and a solid foundation of rules for fair play. Here are the rules of engagement:
- You're on the same team. Know that you are fighting for your relationship, not to make a point, not to win, not to beat your mate down. Attack the issue, not each other.
- There is one play. Tackle one issue at a time and stay on topic. Do not bring up past arguments or other unresolved issues.
- Stay in the game. We tell our players to "play hurt", get past the pain and stay focused on the goal. Do not run out on your team unless you are prepared to lose.
- Listen, understand and validate. Listening means stop, pay attention and focus. You must put your own opinions, feelings, and logic on hold for the moment. Understand means putting yourself in your mate's shoes and learning to "mirror." When your mate is done sharing say, "what I heard you say is..." Validating does not mean that you agree. You can say, "I see why you would think that..." and you use your imagination to really get it.
- Here are a list of bad plays: Name calling, cursing, button pushing, third party testimonials (my sister thinks so too!), superlatives (never, always), non-verbals (eye rolling, headshaking, etc.)
6. Take a time out.
Have you ever gotten overheated and said something that you wish you could take back? When this happens, you need to back off, stop action and, take a time out. Rule of thumb: take a 15-minute break then check in to see if you can continue in a productive way.
7. Strive for solutions that benefit everybody. Win-lose is really lose-lose in marriage because nobody wins a power struggle! Use these techniques instead:
8. Spike the ball: Excessive celebration is highly encouraged.
When you get through a tough conflict, make sure that you celebrate together! Go out for ice cream, have a happy hour, or everyone's favorite -- make-up sex!