After more than two decades of collecting stories about the best and the worst ways to handle marriage, separation, and divorce, the editors at Divorce Magazine have decided to offer some of their best divorce prevention tips – just in time for Valentine’s Day. “February 15 is one of the busiest days in a divorce lawyer’s calendar,” says Diana Shepherd, Editorial Director of Divorce Magazine and www.DivorceMagazine.com. “Maybe some of these divorce prevention tips will help improve your current relationship to the point where you’re willing to try to work things out – or maybe they’ll help ensure that your future relationship will be happy and fulfilling.”
Harville Hendrix Ph.D. and Helen LaKelly Hunt Ph.D. are internationally-respected couple’s therapists, educators, speakers, and bestselling authors. They have written over 10 books with more than 4 million copies sold, including their classic, Getting the Love You Want: A Guide for Couples (St. Martin’s Griffin, Third Edition, 2019). To help make love last, they recommend discovering the actions and behaviors that touch your partner’s heart. One suggestion for this fact-finding expedition is to make some time to share your tastes and preferences with each other. “We call this a Partner Inventory,” they say. “Take notes!”
You could start by asking each other questions to see how well you know each other. For example:
- If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go – and what activities would you do – on a dream vacation?
- What secret dream do you have that you most hope comes true?
- What would be a perfect date night for you?
- What is your favorite color/movie/meal/wine/ice cream flavor/song?
- Do you prefer dark, milk, or white chocolate – or vanilla?
Don’t limit yourself: ask fun, light questions as well as some deep, serious questions. “Identify behaviors that you currently receive from your partner (current behaviors), behaviors you received in your earlier romantic days together (past behaviors), and behaviors that your partner does not do but, if they did, would make you feel loved or cared about (future behaviors.),” note Drs. Harville and Helen Hendrix. “Share this information with your partner, “I feel cared about and loved when you….” And, “I felt cared about and loved when you….” And, “I would feel cared about and loved if you….” And ask your partner to do the same. Write these sharings down.”
Drs. Harville and Helen Hendrix also co-created the non-profit organization Relationships First, which helps people learn how to connect through their differences.
10 Divorce Prevention Tips from the Editors of Divorce Magazine
1. Make time to connect lovingly with your spouse every day. A couple can significantly improve their chances of marital success by devoting as little as 15 minutes a day exclusively to each other. For instance, choose to go to bed a little earlier and wake up a little earlier, and spend the extra time in bed cuddling, making love, and reaffirming your love for each other. Take time every day to have meaningful conversations with each other; to listen with the same intensity as when you were dating; to touch, hug, and show affection; to tell each other how you feel about your marriage; and to talk about your goals for the marriage and your lives.
2. Compliment your spouse regularly – both in private and in front of others. Even if your partner shrugs it off or seems a little uncomfortable at first, the glow from sincere praise lasts a long time. Of course, if your partner requests that you only compliment him/her when you’re alone together, you must respect their wishes.
3. Love your spouse in the way he/she wants to be loved. We often make the mistake of assuming that the things that touch our hearts the most deeply will affect our partner in the same way. For instance, you may think red roses are the perfect Valentine’s Day gift, but to your spouse, they represent a waste of money and an allergy attack. If you don’t already know, find out what your spouse yearns for, and then deliver it with love – and no comments about how “stupid” it is to want a cordless drill/a picnic on the living room floor/a tuna casserole. Remember: the best gift is something your spouse wants – not merely something you want him/her to have. “Start gifting your partner on a daily basis with these loving behaviors that touch his or heart,” suggest Dr. Harville Hendrix and Dr. Helen LaKelly Hunt.”When you receive a loving behavior from your partner, thank your partner!”
4. Take care of your appearance. Look your best for your spouse: he/she deserves it. Lose the ratty sweat pants or frayed sweater he/she hates so much; you can find other comfortable clothing that aren’t a complete turn-off for your partner. This also means taking care of your health – including eating properly and exercising regularly.
5. Remain faithful. Dr. Finnegan Alford-Cooper is an expert in medical anthropology and gerontology, focusing on the intricacies of long-term marriage (50+ years). She studied 576 couples who had been married for 50 years or more, then released her findings in a book entitled For Keeps: Marriages that Last a Lifetime (Routledge). In her study (called the “Long Island Long-Term Marriage Survey”), she found that 95% of the spouses agreed that fidelity was essential to a successful marriage, and 94% agreed or strongly agreed that marriage is a long-term commitment to one person. And these “lifers” weren’t making the best of a bad lot: a whopping 90% of the couples she surveyed said that they were happily married after 50+ years.
6. Do things together. Another common factor of long-term happy marriages is that the spouses regularly do things together that they find fun and exciting. Whether that’s ballroom dancing, bowling, playing cards, SCUBA diving, or skiing, participate in at least one activity that you both enjoy every week. If you have kids, make sure at least half of these activities are for you and your spouse only.
7. Spend time apart. You take a pottery course while your spouse plays hockey; you play bridge and your partner collects stamps. You don’t have to love everything your partner loves, but you do have to allow him/her the freedom to pursue cherished hobbies. An added bonus is that separate interests can generate interest between you.
8. Be friends with your partner. For nearly 40 years, Dr. John Gottman has conducted research on all facets of relationships, including parenting issues. Co-founder of the Gottman Institute with his wife, Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman, he claims his research will predict with 91% accuracy whether a couple will stay together – and the key to marital happiness and success is friendship. Some of the most important aspects of this type of friendship are knowing each other intimately, demonstrating affection and respect for each other on a daily basis, and genuinely enjoying each other’s company. Gottman based his findings on 25 years of marital research, which he presented in The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work (Crown). The Gottmans’ latest book is Eight Dates: Essential Conversations for a Lifetime of Love (Workman Publishing Company, February 2019).
9. The Terms of Endearment. Los Angeles divorce attorney Stacy D. Phillips says flowers, candy, cards, and gifts are all wonderful tokens of love on Valentine’s Day, but if you really want your romance to last, you must practice some marriage-saving steps. She advises couples to spell out the basics of their relationship in a yearly contract – or at least to clarify them. “Most disputes that break up marriages are over sex and money,” she says. “Don’t let surprises lead to trouble. Marriage is like any other contract: its terms and conditions must be reviewed and updated. Right before an anniversary is a perfect time, and Valentine’s Day reminds you to be flexible and that you have to give to receive.”
10. Say “I love you” every day. This is especially important when you’re not feeling the sensation of love; at these times, you have to actively generate it. Saying those three little words, and performing loving gestures, will warm both your and your spouse’s hearts.