The first weeks back after the Christmas holidays are historically the time solicitors issue the most divorce proceedings. This year, though, it is predicted to be a record breaker. The reason is the credit crunch. Research from the University of Essex suggests that for every 10% reduction in house prices, there is a 5% increase in separations. In fact a survey from the website InsideDivorce.com suggests that in the UK, 1.3 million married couples are considering splitting up.
So what should you do if you want to save your marriage? My take on this is to first dispel two myths about marriage.
The first is that marriage is about love. Perhaps I’m old-fashioned, but in my book marriage is as much about honour and duty as it is about love. Of course it’s great if that loving feeling is there, but too many couples throw in the towel too early after the loving feeling disappears. The reality is that love is an emotion, and like all emotions, including anger, jealously, happiness and despair, they come and they go. Furthermore, like all emotional states, if you want to experience love for your partner, you need to create the conditions for love to arise. You may not love your partner now, but there is no reason why you can’t grow to love the person again.
The second myth is that couple split because of conflict. Research by the relationship Guru John Gettman, suggests that in reality its emotional distance that predicts whether a couple will split or not. All couples have their rows, but it’s the couples who maintained the closest emotional intimacy, who are best placed to survive them (see Gottman, 1995).
The conclusion from this is that the best way to save your marriage is to spend time rebuilding emotional intimacy. Here are some tips:
1. Plan time together to talk. If talking is simply too difficult right now, try sitting back to back, and each talk for five minutes with the other person just listening. This might help break your pattern of arguing. We can only feel emotionally close, if we feel heard.
2. Build romance into your relationship. Time spent composing a love letter or a thoughtful card really helps to make someone feel appreciated and valued. Romance is just as important in sustaining marriages as it was when you first met.
3. Initiate affection. Research suggests that couples that are affectionate with each other are more likely to stay together (see Gottman, 1995). The emotional reassurance of a well-placed touch or hug speaks a thousand words. It is important, though, that such affection isn’t always the precursor to sex.
4. Go on a date every week. When we first meet, we make a special effort to dress up for a date. It all adds to the feeling of excitement of meeting the other person. When we marry our special person, however, it is all too easy to fall into bad habits, and not really take the time to look good. Making time for a date every week can give you the excuse back to look and feel special for your partner. Try doing something different, for example a new restaurant, to try and recreate that feeling of courtship.
5. Quit the porn. Porn continually keeps the mind focused on something better, leaving you to compare the airbrushed images that you see on the screen of the page with the reality of the person you are with. If you are continually chasing an elusive image or perfect body in print, it is inevitable that you will fail to be stimulated by your partner. If you find difficulty quitting porn, you might want to consider if you have an addiction to sex, something you could getting professional help for.
6. Find a new common interest. Nothing can liven up a relationship as quickly as finding a new common passion. If you can learn to have fun with each other again, the loving feeling won’t be far behind.
7. Let your partner know you care every day. We often assume our partners know we care. Nothing could be further from the truth. Take time every day to let your partner know that you care, whether by telephone, text, or face-to-face. Human beings are fragile when it comes to matters of the heart, and we all need constant reassurance that we are loved and valued.
8. Visit a relationship counsellor. In my experience of working with couples, it is almost always true that it is the man who is most resistant to coming to relationship counselling. It is also my experience that it is the man who has the most to gain. When things go wrong in a man’s life, we tend to withdraw into ourselves and try and figure it all out by ourselves. This strategy might be fine for fixing our cars, but not for fixing our relationships. By getting an outside perspective on your relationship difficulties, you’ll be on the fast track to recreating emotional intimacy which is where you need to be if you want to make your relationship work.
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