By Kathleen Doheny, WebMD
Relationship experts say much more than luck is needed to stay together and beat the odds of a divorce, now estimated to end half of today’s marriages. Here, relationship experts consulted by WebMD offer their best marriage tips for how to stay lucky in love. And they go way beyond the usual tips to buy her flowers, cook his favorite meal, and remember to schedule date night.
Marriage Tip No. 1: Purge the “D'” word.
With the taste of wedding cake barely off their lips, divorce is the last thought — or word — on newlyweds’ minds. But as the honeymoon period wanes, and day-to-day difficulties crop up, the word can come up frequently during arguments for some couples, say relationship counselors.
“Just don’t go there,” suggests Steve Brody, PhD, a psychologist in Cambria, Calif., who counsels couples. “Some people pull that out much too early, and much too often in a relationship. It raises a whole level of anxiety [in the person hearing it].”
Divorce is also considered a dirty word by the more than 200 “marriage masters” interviewed for the book, Project Everlasting. Co-authors Mat Boggs and Jason Miller, bachelors and childhood buddies from Portland, Ore., traveled the country to interview the couples, married 40 or more years, and ask for their best marriage tips.
“Don’t use the D word” was one oft-repeated suggestion for keeping a happy marriage, Boggs says. These marriage masters told him, “You need all your energy to find the solution to a problem and work it out. If you are even giving any consideration to a divorce, you lessen your ability to solve the problem.”
Of course, Boggs says, the marriage masters acknowledged that some situations are deal breakers, such as addiction, adultery, or abuse. But when the problem is less severe, many of the marriage masters told him they create a “ledger of life.” They get out a piece of paper and write down everything they love about their spouse. Eventually, they shift gears and begin to focus on what is right, not what’s wrong.
Marriage Tip No. 2: Replace the 7 deadly habits in a marriage with the 7 caring habits.
Learning the seven bad habits and the seven good ones is the easy part, admit William Glasser, MD, a Los Angeles psychiatrist, and his wife, Carleen Glasser, MA, who co-authored Eight Lessons for a HappierMarriage and include this idea in their book and counseling sessions. Putting them into practice takes effort, of course.
The seven deadly habits are criticizing, blaming, complaining, nagging, threatening, punishing, and bribing.
The seven caring habits include supporting, encouraging, listening, accepting, trusting, respecting, and negotiating your differences.
Marriage Tip No. 3: Take care of yourself.
This marriage tip is short and sweet: “Take care of yourself physically and spiritually,” Brody tells couples.
That way, your stress will be down and your tolerance will be up. You’ll be less likely to get on each other’s nerves — and to squabble. You’re more likely to have a happy marriage.
Marriage Tip No. 4: Discuss outside friendships.
While some married couples consider activities such as workplace friendships with members of the opposite sex acceptable, some relationship experts disagree.
“I’m not big on cross-gender friendships for married people,” Brody says. “It’s playing with fire.” One exception, in his book: If a wife has a friendship with a gay man or a husband has a friendship with a gay woman, he’s fine with that, since the romance potential is nonexistent.
Otherwise, he says, the line is too easy and tempting to cross.
Marriage Tip No. 5: Stop trying to control your partner.
It’s another one of those easier-said-than done marriage tips, of course. But trying to control each other — using a technique psychologists call “external control” — is the main source of marital unhappiness, according to the Glassers. In a happy marriage, partners know they cannot control each other.
You have practiced this “external control” if you have ever told your partner they need to behave the way you want them to or that you know what is right.
Learning not to control a partner can be a long process, but the Glassers offer some tips on educating yourself. “Think first,” Carleen Glasser says. Ask yourself: “If I can only control my own behavior, what can I do to help the marriage?” Then think of what you can change to make the problem better, she suggests.
Marriage Tip No. 6: Honor and respect your partner.
“Be honoring all the time,” says Thomas Merrill. That means no “my old lady” stories, he says. And it also means a wife shouldn’t be flirting with male co-workers or other men.
Respect was also a marriage tip that came up often from the marriage masters, Boggs says. “The No. 1 principle that almost everyone talked about is respect,” he says. “You can have respect without love, but you cannot have love without respect.”
Respect, say those with a happy marriage, means not undermining your partner in front of the children. “And don’t go outside the marriage when you are having a problem,” Boggs says they advised. “Discuss it with your partner.”
Respect also means not criticizing your mate in front of others, Miller and Boggs were often told by the marriage masters. To make this marriage tip easier to practice, consider the input of one marriage master on the topic, Boggs says. “One man told me, ‘Let’s say someone is walking by when you are criticizing your mate. That is the only opinion they have of you.'”
Marriage Tip No. 7: If you’re the wife, lower your expectations. If you’re the husband, step up to the plate.
When Steve Brody and his wife, Cathy Brody, MFT, a marriage and family counselor, toured the country to promote their book, Renew Your Marriage at Midlife, they asked audiences what they wanted from marriage.
“Women expected to be loved, cherished, listened to, cared for, and courted,” Steve Brody says. They had a long list of wants and expectations, he recalls. The men joked that their expectations were more basic: Their typical answers, Brody says: “Bring food and show up naked.”
While the men were half joking, the gaps in expectations are a good lesson. To close the gap, Brody says, women need to lower their expectations — to not expect 24/7 romance, for instance, especially if their mate has just worked an unbelievably long week.
Men need to do some of the things the woman wants, such as prioritize their relationship and listen more, he says. In a nutshell, Brody says, “Men need to do the same things at home that they do at work.” He tells the husbands he counsels to think of it this way: “Your wife is the million-dollar client. If she walks out the door, the business is closed.”