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With the divorce rate being what it is, it’s a wonder that anyone expects to stay married for the long haul. Probably one reason divorce is more prevalent now than it was 50 plus years ago is because there is not as much stigma about divorce. Back in the day, divorce was avoided at all costs. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean couples were happier. So what is the first step in staying happily married?

  1. Marry the right person. Marriage is not something to take lightly and it should not be viewed as an end goal because marriage is a process.

If you are a relatively stable person, your best bet for success is to find a similarly stable person. It is tempting to be a hero and try to turn someone’s life around for the better but it seldom works. It also starts the relationship off on an unequal footing. Find a person with a similar world view. If two people see reality very differently, they will not be able to connect to each other. It’s like trying to give someone directions but you don’t know where they are starting from. It’s confusing and frustrating.

What are some bad reasons to get married?

  • You’ve been dating a while and marriage is the next natural step.
  • This person is probably the best I can do, or he/she is better than nobody.
  • Your biological clock is ticking and you want children.  
  • Grandma wants to see you get married and she’s getting old.
  • Your family is putting a lot of pressure on you.
  • Etcetera, you get the idea.
  1. Be courageous – being your true self makes you feel vulnerable and that is ok, in fact, it is good. Vulnerability is honest and it leads to a deeper connection with the people who care about you.

It’s natural and healthy to want to be your ‘best self’ when you meet someone you like but if your behavior is very different from the person you truly are than you are being a bit deceitful. The person who likes you now may not like you when he or she sees the real you.

3. Communicate effectively – Honesty and vulnerability are important parts of communication. Communicate from the heart. Let your partner know how you feel and what you need. Stating the facts as you see it, then express how the situation makes you feel. Finally, ask for what you want instead.

When you start a sentence with “you,” it sounds like an accusation or criticism. When it’s followed by the word, “always” or “never,” Then you are asking for an argument. Absolute words are problematic because as soon as it is stated, the other person stops listening, feels defensive, and begins to search their memory bank for a time that the accusation was not true. There will likely be at least one time that it was not true. If nothing comes to mind, the other person will still be triggered and will likely have a negative come-back remark which will then escalate into a full blown argument. Clearly, communication has broken down and it will be difficult to recover. 

4) Be kind to one another (a phrase Ellen DeGeneres uses daily) – Sometimes we are meaner and ruder to the people closest to us. It’s okay to feel comfortable and relaxed with your partner but there is no reason to be rude or thoughtless. There is a concept in couples counseling that has to do with how we respond to a play of engagement. For example, a woman tries to connect with her partner by bringing up an idea or stating an opinion. The partner has three possible reactions. He can turn towards her by responding in agreement or discussing the issue in an interested way. He can turn away from her by vehemently disagreeing or responding negatively. Or he can completely ignore her. Guess which response is most destructive? If you guessed the last one, you’d be right. Being ignored is sending a powerful message that the speaker is not even deserving of a response. This is also referred to as stonewalling. Stonewalling in a relationship is one of the horsemen discussed in John Gottman’s book, “The Four Horsemen.” The other three horsemen are criticism, contempt and defensiveness. When any of these attitudes are consistently expressed in a relationship there is a good chance the relationship will not last.

So in conclusion, there are four important things to remember when entering into a committed relationship and staying there: 1) Choose a suitable, like-minded partner not someone you think is exciting and impulsive when in reality they are a bit crazy and you want to tame them. 2) Be you, it’s a lot less work than trying to be someone else. 3) Say what you mean and mean what you say and don’t be mean. 4) Pay attention to how you treat people, especially the ones closest to you. Always strive to be kind even when you disagree with the other person’s point of view.