It’s 2017 and, sadly, divorce rates are skyrocketing. The overwhelming amount of real life and celebrity break-ups last year broke our hearts.
If you’ve been left wondering how on earth to prevent your marriage from hitting the rocks, check out these fifty ways prevent your relationship from becoming another statistic…
FIFTY WAYS TO DIVORCE-PROOF YOUR MARIAGE
For each of the suggestions below, award yourself 0 points if this never applies to you, 1 if it does sometimes and 2 if it’s how you always behave. Add up your score and see how you rate on Harry Benson’s marriage ‘traffic light’.
1. Be a friend. Chat to your spouse, hang out, have their back.
2. Make time for sex, however unspontaneous, as it affects every other part of your relationship. Push on through if its rubbish and remember that the physical side of a relationship almost always improves when there is underlying communication and happiness.
3. Buy into your relationship. ‘Decide, not slide’ into marriage and make this your mantra throughout. Adopt a mindset that there is no way out, and no one else. Divorce isn’t an option.
4. Break the rules sometimes. Get a takeaway on a Tuesday night, don’t wash the car on a Saturday. Shaking up the routine is healthy.
5. Don’t dent your spouse’s pride. This means no dwelling on the sexiness of somebody else or success of friends or colleagues. Big up your husband or wife.
6. Take an interest in your children and their needs. The same goes for your spouse’s family and their friends, however much they irritate you.
7. Make sacrifices for your spouse. Drop everything when they call, forgo things for them, try to put them first in all your decisions.
8. Prioritise your relationship over everything else including work and children. Do everything you can to make them feel cherished and loved.
9. Use the language of couples: ‘we’, ‘us’, ‘our’. This shows that you are committed to your marital unit.
10. Talk about the future. Make plans together, things to look forward to. You both need to know that your relationship has legs.
11. Be forgiving. Don’t hold grudges, let things go, accept that people mess up.
12. Care about your partner’s health and wellbeing. Know when they’re in pain or developing a migraine or backache. Be sympathetic when they’re ill or feeling down.
13. Don’t try to score points against your other half: ‘you left your trousers on the floor again’; ‘you didn’t empty the dishwasher’. Never helpful.
14. Likewise, never opt out of an argument. Slamming doors and driving off gives the message that you don’t care. Hang in there and be gentle.
15. Work out what makes them happy and do those things often.
16. Don’t bang on about your own views and ideas all the time. You don’t need to ‘teach’ your spouse new things.
17. Be aware that gender stereotyping – he takes out the bins, she does the laundry – isn’t the only way. Be more open minded and decide together how you want to divvy up boring chores.
18. Sporadic acts of kindness are key: tea in bed, a morning off the school run, a sweet text message. Your spouse will feel more loving towards you if they know you are thinking about them.
19. Go out together at least once a month, not always to the same place. New research from Marriage Foundation shows that parents who go out monthly – but not weekly – are more likely to stay together.
20. Remember birthdays, anniversaries and Valentine’s Day and make an effort to give your spouse something that they’ll really like.
21. Be honest if you’re unhappy. Men don’t get subtle hints and some women don’t either. It can be helpful to put your thoughts in a letter or email.
22. Take an interest in who they are, their interests, what they find funny, what makes them sad.
23. Remember that equality doesn’t work when it comes to responsibility. You’re going to have to take the lead in some departments, whereas your spouse will be in charge of others.
24. Don’t always think the worst or take what your spouse says a criticism. See the best in them, remind yourself that you’re a team and you love each other.
25. Go away together without kids for at least one night a year. Take it in turns to choose somewhere exciting and to book it.
26. Only confide in friends you know will prioritise your marriage in any advice or support they give you. Most struggling couples don’t need therapy or counselling, they just need practical inspiration and hope.
27. Shine light on your spouse. Tell them they look lovely and congratulate them on achievements however small. If compliments aren’t your thing, make them your thing.
28. Take charge: get the children’s homework done; book that hotel; pay that parking fine. It’s irritating if one person takes a diminished responsibility – you feel as if you’re always asking them for favours.
29. Be open to the fact it might be your fault your relationship is drifting apart. If in any doubt book some individual counselling sessions.
30. Don’t compare your marriage to anyone else’s. You never know what really goes on behind closed doors. Cherish your unity as something beautiful and unique.
31. Every so often, take a moment to consider all the reasons you love your spouse. Think back to what attracted you to them when you first met.
32. Likewise don’t neglect the person you were when you married. Don’t give away too much of yourself to work and children.
33. Be kind. Always. This means being sensitive to the things that make them angry, sad and frustrated and going out of your way to make them happy.
34. Accept that men and women are different. We think, feel, communicate, make decisions and behave in different ways. Men tend to focus on or think about one particular thing at a time whereas a woman’s brain is like a room filled with spinning plates.
35. Also accept that certain situations can unavoidably change someone: having a baby, for example, or the death of a loved one. They might develop a different mindset or attitude towards life – be accepting of this.
36. Be reliable. Follow through with plans and be true to what you say. Answer their text messages swiftly and be on time.
37. Maintain a degree of your own privacy and respect your spouse’s boundaries. Not everyone is comfortable with the idea of a shared bank account or an open-door bathroom policy. Keeping an element of mystery does not reduce your intimacy.
38. Listen, really listen to each other. This also means picking up on the underlying feelings in what your spouse is saying.
39. Hang out together. Over a coffee in town or weeding in your veg patch or the kitchen late on a Saturday night. Enjoy simply spending time with each other.
40. Do activities together that give you no choice but to live in the moment: bike rides, skiing, golf, jogging around the park.
41. Kiss and cuddle and tell your spouse you love them. Hold their hand. Say hello and goodbye and thank you.
42. Always say exactly what you mean. But kindly.
43. Don’t be distracted. Look away from your phone or the TV when they’re talking to you – and if you genuinely can’t focus, ask nicely if it can wait until afterwards. Then give them your undivided attention.
44. Know their trigger points or ‘red flags’. Some people get fired up when they are hungry, tired, guilty or lonely. Set a moratorium on any kind of conversation – and an amnesty if either of you snap – during the half-hour it takes to de-stress after putting young children to bed.
45. Discover their ‘love language’. They’ll respond best to one of the following: time, words, actions, gifts or touch. You can read all about it in Gary D. Chapman’s book The Five Love Languages.
46. Tread carefully with those subjects that habitually lead to arguments. It might be the children, or a particular friend, or the mother in law.
47. Don’t put them down, particularly in front of your children, parents or friends. No eye rolling or telling them what they’re thinking or feeling is idiotic or wrong. You are both wonderful. In turn, tell your spouse when their negative messages are upsetting you.
48. Establish rituals: special ways of celebrating birthdays and Christmases, annual trips and film nights in bed when it’s raining.
49. Learn how to heal your spouse after an argument. Discuss how to resolve conflict. Get good at saying sorry – and meaning it.
50. Don’t expect marriage to be easy. Even if you follow all these suggestions, times of happiness and sadness will come and go. Remember that unhappiness is not a permanent state and it is certainly not the end of a relationship.
HOW DID YOU SCORE
GREEN: 75-100 points
Well done. You are lovebirds who are doing all the right things. You are friends, you care what’s going on in each other’s lives, you make time for one another and you treat each other with kindness. You are a hope and an inspiration to all around you and will bequeath the most important gift to your children. Reliable love is achievable reality because you live it and breathe it. Keep going.
AMBER: 36-74 points
Take care. You are mostly fine together but you need to take charge of your marriage. You could do with being a bit more deliberate or intentional about being friends. That means treating one another as friends do. Remember what you did when you were first going out together. You put your best foot forward. You were kind. You were interested. You took time for one another. Your relationship was important.
READ: 0-35 points
We need to talk. Things are not so good and you know it. If conversations between the two of you now tend to degenerate into “fight or flight”, your first port of call should be to sit down over a cup of tea with some wise friends, friends who won’t take sides, who want the best for you. They will have had their own ups and downs. Their input alone might reassure you that you will eventually emerge from the difficult phase of bringing up young children, or that it’s normal to have ups and downs, or that you need to reboot your whole attitude to one another.
Either way, do something about your marriage. Write a love letter to one another saying what you need. Don’t point the finger. Keep things positive and be kind to one another. If you stay kind, you’re in with a shot of making your marriage work better than you ever imagined.