According to divorce mediators Don Desroches and Dana Greco, authors of the recently released Conscious Coupling, there are things that couples can do regularly that help keep their relationship on track before they end up seeking counsel.
“The disappointing part of our job is that most of the time we can see where couples went wrong in their marriage,” say Desroches and Greco (who is also a licensed couples and family therapist). “If they had recognized the signs and put some more effort into the relationship and into themselves earlier, they would have been able to be in a much better place with each other… instead of sitting in front of us.”
Here are some of the top reasons relationships (married or otherwise) fall apart and what you can do to correct your course prior to permanently calling it quits.
Once a couple marries, they get caught up in the domestic chores and day-to-day living and do not feed each other. The relationship falls to the wayside because everything else becomes a priority.
The Fix: Ask personal questions
Get a list of questions to ask each other (at least one per week, but perhaps even one per day). Discuss personal things such as the most embarrassing moment in your partner’s life, a special memory you both have about your parents growing up, etc…. Keep asking questions to learn as much as you can about this person you’ve chosen to be with. This will re-infuse your relationship with connecting threads and help keep bringing you closer, even if you've been "together forever." Remember, there is always something new to learn about each other.
When people get married — or even just together — there are immediate expectations set by one person for the other and most times these are never agreed upon if even articulated (which can lead to relationship meltdowns).
The Fix: Pretend you're not in a relationship with this person
One really simple and surprising thing is to change the expectations you have for your partner, by pretending they’re not your partner. “Sometimes telling people to just imagine they are not married [or coupled exclusively] and not having expectations for the other person will reduce the stress for everyone and immediately make things better,” say Desroches and Greco. "Expectations should be agreed and not assumed."
What this means is that if each partner does have legitimate needs that they need their partner to meet, they need to discuss these expectations with each other. Discussions must not be broad — as in "I need you to handle the finances" — but instead specific i.e., do you need them to balance the checkbook, complete financial planning for the family, start a college fund for your kids? Spell it out.
Anything assumed or omitted is a chance for miscommunication. "It is a process and you most likely will not get it right the first time," say Desroches and Greco. "Better explanations are key and don't let the frustration lead to someone saying, 'Forget It, I will take care of it!'"
After years of being together and getting into a routine, couples are often bored with the everyday humdrum life they have come to know. Once things start getting familiar and routine, the passion leaves the relationship.
The Fix: "Required" activities
Every month, make it a habit that you and your partner pick two things you want to do together and the other person can't say no to your selection (within reason of course). "Activities you both have never experienced will rejuvenate the relationship and give you something different to discuss," say Desroches and Greco. "Try to make these kid-free activities and get a babysitter." Now that doesn't mean you couldn't do fun things with your kids as well another time, but do an activity together just the two of you in order to mix it up and give you adult things to talk about. Also consider having outside activities independent of each other, or read different books, so you can bring that experience to your partner for discussion. Keep learning and growing so you have something to chat about at the dinner table.
Many times once the children are born, the love affair that a woman once had with her husband is now with the child. For the husband, he may also make the children the focus and not really care about the relationship. Eventually, the relationship is broken and the romance is gone.
The Fix: Public displays of affection
No, we're not talking the "get a room" type of PDA, but it is good to remember each other when it comes to daily displays of affection. Children often demand your time and rapt attention, but it's not selfish for you to tell them when it's Mommy and Daddy time (and assure them they'll get their needs met later). “Make sure your children see you kissing, hugging, dancing and loving being together,” say Desroches and Greco. “Keep your couple-hood and don't let the kids' lives take over. They do not have to come first. If you two are happy, they will be happy.”
Sometimes it can be a huge release to throw stones, call names and bring up anything and everything wrong with your partner. However, these actions invariably put an emotional strain on the relationship.
The Fix: Talking about what's bugging you right away
Instead of letting something fester and boil before it gets out of control, communicate to your partner as soon as you are feeling an emotion as best you can (i.e., If you find yourself feeling hurt or angry for some reason, voice that). You may have to discuss the emotion to fully understand where it originated and why.
"Did your partner say or do something that caused that feeling... if so try to understand why it mattered to you and what can change," say Desroches and Greco. "Without this exploration, your self-awareness and the awareness of the relationship cannot grow and develop."
Though it often strikes fear into the hearts of many, the best way to bring up an issue that could be uncomfortable is to actually say, "I'd like to discuss something with you, when is a good time?" Healthy relationships will respond well even though one partner might be feeling "uh oh." Better to plan ahead and set aside space for a focused conversation, rather than potentially have an emotional outburst at an inopportune time down the line. "Safety is the key to a positive outcome, this reduces the anxiety and defensiveness," say Desroches and Greco.
Above all, be proactive in your relationship. "Most couples go to therapy when there is an issue instead of feeding and watering the relationship all the time," say Desroches and Greco.
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