In Honor of `Divorce Month’: 2 Keys to Staying Married

By Kate Kovats

January is often called Divorce Month. The new year offers a fresh start for all of us – including those who have been thinking of splitting up.

But the new year could just as well offer a fresh start for those wanting to stay married or improve their relationship. Here are my two big ideas for insuring your marriage endures, making it (relatively) divorce proof – now and any time of the year.

  1. Communicate, communicate, communicate.

It all comes back to communication — in marriage and all aspects of life. I could write an entire book on this, but no need because there are so many books on how couples can improve how they communicate.

Here’s a big one: Don’t let grievances build up, but also know when you have said enough and need to take a break from the conversation. This is one thing I try to keep in mind and practice in my own relationships.

If you or your partner feel like you are seeing red or are about to explode and the arguing is going in circles, perhaps a code word or go-to phrase – “Hey, let’s call a time out.” – would be helpful to signal a cooling off period.

After the dust settles on a particular argument, ask yourselves how you can avoid it next time. And then perhaps you set rules or guidelines that also help to tamp down future conflicts. Maybe you notice that you don’t want to have serious discussions while you cook dinner. OK, so discuss with your partner the topics – perhaps politics, family finances or issues with the children – that you’d like to avoid during meal prep and dinner. That’s just one example. The trick is to identify the triggers to then set you and your partner up for better, more effective communication.

  1. Understand that people change.

It’s often said that you can’t change someone else or expect them to change. And that’s true, and it’s important to understand that. It’s also important to understand that people do change – and perhaps not in the ways you wanted or expected.

Try not to villainize the changes in your partner. Try to understand or seek to understand. It starts with – you guessed it – communication. “Hey, I have been hearing you say stuff about {insert topic here} that doesn’t sound like you, what’s going on?”

Of course, some things will feel like deal-breakers – like if your partner’s views on politics and social issues drastically change. But maybe they haven’t changed as much as you think. Maybe you still really do agree on the big stuff, the important stuff.

In the words of Henry Winkler (a.k.a. The Fonz): “Assumptions are the termites of relationships.”

Isn’t that the truth?

The point is, no matter how long you’ve been together, you don’t know anything about what your partner is thinking, going through or feeling until you talk it out. You should also recognize that you might need to call in a professional like a marriage counselor here. A professional can help you see how you can grow and change together, not apart.

I’ll leave you with another apt quote, this one from Henry Ford.

“Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.”

Happy New Year! Happy new beginnings, whatever yours might be.