In a longitudinal study starting with couples in their first year of marriage, Dr. Terri Orbuch, PhD continued to check in with the couples, even those who ultimately divorced (46%) eventually over the 25 years of the study so far. She even followed many of the divorced people into new relationships and asked what they had learned from their mistakes. What marriage advice came from this? Some points are widely known and talked about issues that come up for couples in marriage. But there are a few that I think are particularly important and too often taken for granted. I encourage you to consider the following aspects of your marriage or relationship and whether they can benefit from some improvement. If you’re not currently in a relationship, reflect upon them for the future.
- Communicate Effectively: Yes, this is one of the more obvious areas most of us have some awareness of. But it’s one thing to have heard of it or “know” this is something that couples should do and putting it into practice. Healthy communication in a relationship means not only consistently checking in with the other emotionally but really knowing each other.
- Less Blame, More Collaboration: As a couples therapist, this is one of the first things I work with couples around; how to shift energy away from blame and to holding a mirror up to themselves. If there has been damage or unintentional harm, both must learn to take responsibility and make attempts to repair along the way. Be sure to ask your partner what their thoughts and feelings are on the matter at hand – then validate the response. Remember, a healthy relationship feels more like teamwork, less adversarial.
- Money, Money, Money: According to the study, this was the “No. 1 point of conflict in the majority of marriages, good or bad.” People come into marriage with their own ideas, meanings, anxieties, fears and expectations around money. We must circle back to the importance of communicating well and being able to hear and understand the others history with money. Compromise is important. Honesty is also paramount in that when there is discomfort or disagreement around this topic, dishonesty around spending can follow which can significantly damage trust.
- Notice and Show Appreciation: It’s easy to get in a routine where couples forget to be affectionate, give support or compliment the other. It’s a habit easy to get into but also easy to break with some effort. According to this study, there is a negative long term effect of failing to “boost” the other spouses mood. Emotional safety and trust are built by these behaviors. Put up post-its as a reminder to be affirming in some way if your habit has not been this for some time. For those hyper-connected to their iPhones and other gadgets, set alarms. It’s my belief, in most cases, it’s less about not caring about each other and more about bad habits.
- Address Your Unresolved Baggage: I said a quiet, “hurray!” to myself when I saw this one. As an individual and couples therapist, I’ve seen streams of people before me held hostage by their pasts. Old wounds can impact emotional and relationship health. Unfortunately, this issue doesn’t seem to be as prioritized for people especially when so many are of the belief that, “The past is the past, what’s done is done, there’s no need to get into it.” You might want to ask your partner if they see signs of you being held back by your past. You can move through it and you – and your marriage – can only benefit.
As much as some might think, “Why would I take the advice of divorced people on marriage?” I say you should. They have the benefit of their experience and time to reflect. Married, planning marriage or hoping to marry in the future, you have a great opportunity to learn from their mistakes.