I was watching a rerun of “Modern Family” the other night. In the episode, Phil learns a neighbour’s wife has left him. Phil tells the viewer that he hopes it is due to an affair or drugs and alcohol, because those he can protect against. Unfortunately for Phil, the neighbour tells him that he has no idea why his wife left. This makes Phil anxious because he thinks there is no way for him to safeguard his marriage against the unknown.
This got me thinking. I am trained as a social worker and a lawyer, so this may be a more “social worky” than legal post. But the t.v. show got me wondering about whether I had any advice for people who want to stay married, based on the experience I have had with parties getting divorced. So here goes.
Talk to each other. This is possibly the most important piece of advice I could give. Many of my clients complain that they just stopped talking and grew apart as a result. Share yourself with your partner. Talk about your day, your life, your goals, your dreams, your frustrations. You used to talk for hours when you were dating, remember? Don’t allow that to stop because you are married.
Following a close second is listen to each other. Be an active listener. When you converse, consider what your spouse is actually saying. Be present and think about what is being communicated. And be honest in your responses.
This is especially important in times of conflict. Don’t jump to respond or defend yourself. Hear your spouse out. Let him or her express what they need to convey before you share your thoughts and feelings. Being right is not important. What is important is a resolution you can both live with.
Third, fight fair. Stay in the moment and don’t dredge up the past. Be specific. Avoid general statements like “You always” or “You never…” They do not help resolve the problem.
Make time for each other is my fourth recommendation. Otherwise you will look up, years will have passed and you will no longer have a partner but a room-mate. Life is busy. Schedule regular partner time. Commit to it. Do things together. Remind yourself why you fell in love with this person to begin with. And let your partner know the many new reasons you continue to adore him or her to this day.
Finally, share the crummy tasks. This may sound silly, but clients tell me they hated being the one who always had to do the dirty work: disciplining the children, taking out the garbage, doing the laundry and dishes, etc. Find out what tasks your spouse considers unpleasant, or a burden, and do them at least some of the time. You will be amazed at the positive feedback that engenders. Be part of the team. Isn’t that part of why you wanted to be in a relationship in the first place?