Really, it boils down to just one thing.
First Brad and Angelina called it quits. Then this week, Liev Schreiber and Naomi Watts threw in the towel after 11 years together.
And of course there’s Jennifer Garner and Ben Affleck. Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin. Gwen Stefani and Gavin Rossdale… With all these celeb breakups, is there any hope for the rest of us? Can’t anyone go the distance anymore?
Look – getting divorced isn’t the end of the world. I did it, and while it wasn’t fun, it was the right decision for me and my family. I don’t regret it. But most of us don’t go into marriage planning to bail out when things get rough. Ideally, we’d prefer to stick it out, and even be happy.
So while you may not be able to exactly predict whether or not you’ll get divorced, there are a few things you can do to make your marriage last…
1. Be nice
John Gottman, author of The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, says that practicing kindness – in other words, being nice – is the the most important thing a couple can do to keep their marriage strong.
Being kind to the person you’ve promised to love until death do you part may seem like a no-brainer, but many people really don’t think they have to be nice to their partners. Instead, they think of their partners as a dumping ground where they can unload their worst on. Maybe they figure since they’re married, their spouse has to put up with it. But that negativity feeds on itself, ultimately driving people apart.
The good news is, kindness works the same way. When someone is kind to us, we’re more inclined to be kinder, too. So chances are, being kind to you SO will come back to you.
2. Focus on the good stuff
Another thing Gottman talks a lot about is keeping an eye out for the good in your relationship, rather than harping on the bad stuff. Psychologist Ty Tashiro, author of The Science of Happily Ever After: What Matters in the Quest for Enduring Love, agrees.
“Even in relationships where people are frustrated, it’s almost always the case that there are positive things going on,” Tashiro told The Atlantic.
“A lot of times, a partner is trying to do the right thing even if it’s executed poorly. So appreciate the intent.”
It’s only natural that we tend to focus on the negatives instead of the positives: it’s our evolutionary instinct to pay more attention to the threats that surround us, rather than to the warm fuzzy stuff. But we can at least try to overcome our reptilian brain’s impulses and pay attention to the things our partner is doing right.
3. Speak the right language
When you’re having a fight with your partner, it can feel like you’re not even speaking the same language. But maybe you really aren’t speaking the right language to make your SO feel loved. Gary Chapman’s The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts, explains we need to discover which ‘love language’ our partner speaks – in other words, what makes him or her feel loved – and then practice it.
For example, I really couldn’t care less about getting presents, but my boyfriend loves them. Being surprised with even the smallest gift makes him light up. So if I want him to feel loved, I search out goofy little presents to give him, or pay attention when he talks about a new book he wants to read.
And if he wants me to feel loved, he’ll remember to give me an extra hug and kiss before he leaves for work, because my ‘love language’ is touch. He can shower me with presents, and I can give him a million kisses, and we both might still feel like something’s missing, because we’re speaking our own languages, not each other’s.
4. Fight for it
In every relationship, no matter how good it is, tension builds up. A good fight releases that tension and allows you to work through your issues. Is there anything sadder than a couple sitting in silence, too worn down to even bother fighting with each other? You just have to know how to fight fair: don’t call names, try not to say anything you’ll regret later, and don’t fight when you’re hungry or tired.
If you feel like you’re fighting all the time, or your fights are out of control, consider seeking out a marriage therapist. Couples therapy can help you both learn how to air your grievances without tearing each other apart.
5. Get physical
Maybe there actually is something sadder than a couple too apathetic to fight: a couple who don’t want to get it on anymore.
A sex-starved marriage can make you both feel disconnected from each other and eventually destroy your relationship. We might like to think otherwise, especially when you throw babies and long work hours into the mix, but sex is a big deal, even when you’ve been together a long time. You’ve got to find ways to keep it interesting, or you might as well just be roommates. Physical intimacy makes everything better between you and your spouse. It makes you feel loved, desired, attractive, connected, and alive. So if you’re not doing it, get to the bottom of it – or just get busy.
6. Be nice (yes, again)
Wait, aren’t we right back where we started?
Yup. Being nice to each other is so important in a relationship, it’s worth repeating. John Gottman says that being mean to your partner can actually shorten his or her life. Studies show being treated with contempt and criticism actually keeps people from fighting off illnesses, including cancer. So you might not just be killing your marriage by being mean, you might actually be killing your SO. Want to save your life and your marriage? Be kind.
This advice might be too late for Brad and Angie, and Liev and Naomi, and Ben and Jennifer, but it might not be too late for you.
GIFs via giphy.com.
Comment: What do you think is the key to a lasting marriage?