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Suppose you’ve been married a few years or even a few months. In that case, you may have noticed that there’s a subtle emotional seesaw present. Resentment toward your spouse sits on one side and compassion sits on the other. Don’t worry; it’s in all marriages, although many of us may not even recognize it. The thing is, we often don’t notice until the resentment side gets a little too heavy. 

“Resentment is the persistent feeling that you’re being treated unfairly — not getting due respect, appreciation, affection, help, apology, consideration, praise, or reward,” says clinical psychologist Steven Stosny. 

Resentment tends to arise in a marriage when one spouse takes advantage of their partner or takes them for granted. Often resentment can arise from minor issues that compound with time. 

Common issues that lead to resentment are:

  • Habitual selfish behaviors
  • Prioritizing a job over the relationship
  • Not being fully present when you’re with your spouse
  • Expecting too much of your spouse
  • Failing to celebrate your spouse

If resentment builds, it can lead to withdrawal or contempt, and we don’t want either of those present in our marriage. So, let’s try to reduce our resentment before it becomes contempt.

Reducing resentment starts with you. You may have resentment toward your spouse, and they may not even be aware of the cause. Resentment is a self-destructive habit. Your spouse may have hurt or wronged you, but the resentment has grown within you. And it feels awful.



So to reduce resentment in your marriage, let’s look in the mirror and start there.

1. Your feelings are real, so don’t deny your feelings.

You don’t have to deny that you were hurt in some way. But keeping it to yourself or burying your feelings doesn’t help you overcome them. Identify them and seek to understand where those feelings are coming from. Once you have an idea of what’s causing you to feel the way you feel, express it to your partner. 

2. Write it down: how you feel, why you feel that way, your grudges, and their source.

This exercise of self-reflection can help you get to the source of your resentment. You may find that your resentment stems from an unrealistic expectation or from your perception. Now, write down why you should forgive your spouse so you can let it go.

3. Focus on your partner’s good qualities.

Remember, you married them, so there are lots of good qualities. Don’t let the mistakes that led to your resentment overshadow the positive. Choose to focus on the positive. Give grace. Don’t assume that they have hurt you intentionally. Think the best of your spouse. 

4. Build a habit of compassion.

As compassion increases, resentment declines. If resentment is a habit, the only way to break it is to replace the habit with something opposite. Exercise compassion toward yourself and then toward your spouse. Have empathy; it’s where compassion begins. Empathy is trying to see a situation from another person’s point of view. Remember, there are always two sides to every story.

5. Get help from a professional (if you need it).

A counselor or therapist can help you get to the root of your resentment. If you are habitually resentful, you can reignite the compassion in your marriage with just a little help.

Choose Compassion Instead

It may not be easy, but the more compassion you have in your marriage, the less room resentment has to live. Compassion can be contagious, so the more understanding you show your spouse, the more they may offer you. Healthy relationships start with compassion, genuine care, and concern for the wellbeing of each person. If you want to reduce resentment in your marriage and help your relationship thrive, choose compassion and grace instead of resentment.

Related blogs:

Why Compassion is One of the Most Important Qualities in a Healthy Marriage

How to Be More Compassionate to Your Spouse

Practical Ways to Practice Generosity in Marriage

Sources:

In Marriage, It’s Compassion or Resentment

Dealing with Resentment in Your Marriage

How to Stop Resentment from Ruining Your Marriage

Why Compassion is One of the Most Important Qualities in a Healthy Marriage

You won't believe how it benefits you, your spouse, and your relationship!

Compassion is important in marriage! 

Did you know that there’s a whole science behind compassion in relationships? Seriously! Ok, bear with me, even if you’re not a researchy-geek like me (I promise I won’t make this sound like your high school chemistry book.) Because compassion is majorly important in marriages, even more so than you might think. And research has a lot to say about it. 

Just like anything sciency, it’s essential to define terms well. And sometimes compassion, empathy, and sympathy get mixed up. Let’s untangle that. 

Sympathy = You share the same feelings or experiences with someone else. They hurt, you hurt. You can sympathize. 

Empathy = You don’t share the same feelings or experiences, but you choose to imagine what it might be like. They hurt; you don’t but can put yourself in their shoes. You can empathize. 

And then we come to compassion. This is when you empathize/sympathize with someone (say, your spouse), and you’re prompted to show kindness in their situation. 

They hurt. You empathize/sympathize. You say something to lift their spirits. Compassion! 

So, sympathy/empathy are only the beginning of compassion. One study even suggests being empathetic is good to a point, but it can actually affect you negatively unless it’s followed up by compassion.1  

So compassion is more than a feeling. (Classic rock fans, anyone?) Or maybe it’s more accurate to say, compassion isn’t really beneficial unless it’s put into action. One researcher describes compassionate acts as “caregiving that is freely given.”

Think about this in your marriage. 

No matter what your spouse experiences, good days or bad, you can: 

  • Sympathize with them, or…
  • Choose to empathize with them, and then…
  • Feel compassion toward them, which…
  • Prompts compassionate action


Y’all…we should be doing this all the time in our marriage! 

Why? (Here we go with the science again…) Research3 tells us compassion is good for you, your spouse, and your marriage!

  • Compassion toward a spouse predicts higher levels of daily relationship and life satisfaction for both people. (Don’t miss this: happiness in marriage goes up on a daily basis! Who doesn’t want that?)  
  • Compassionate acts benefit the emotional and mental well-being of the person receiving them (in this case, your spouse). 
  • The person who is acting compassionately toward their spouse also experiences a positive effect on their well-being, even if the spouse doesn’t necessarily recognize the compassionate act! 

Bottom line: Compassionate acts do a marriage good. 

It makes you a better spouse. It makes your spouse a better person. And it makes your marriage more loving, intimate, and strong. 

Let’s consider one more reason why compassion might be one of the most important qualities in marriage. No matter who you are, most of us would agree that the world could always use a little more compassion. What if the real power of compassion in our world begins with compassionate action in our marriages and families? We know kindness is contagious.4 As they say: as families go, so goes the world. 

So, inject some compassionate action into your marriage — for your spouse, for you, for the world. 

Sources:

1 Functional Neural Plasticity and Associated Changes in Positive Affect After Compassion Training

2Compassionate Love: A Framework For Research

3Compassionate Acts and Everyday Emotional Well-being Among Newlyweds

4Social Contagion Theory: Examining Dynamic Social Networks and Human Behavior

MOST POPULAR LINKS ON TOPIC:

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30 Ways to Be a More Compassionate Spouse

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Help! Our Intimacy is Gone

Rekindling the passion may be easier than you think.

You expect a campfire to burn hot and then turn into ashes. But you didn’t expect the fire to die down in your marriage, did you? Love… sex… connection… You expected them to go through ruts, maybe. Highs and lows? Sure. But nobody expects to wake up one day and realize the intimacy is gone.

And we’re not just talking about sex. Intimacy is way more than sex. It happens when you and your spouse fully know and experience each other—sexually, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. 

If your intimacy is gone, there are some things you can do to understand why—and find ways to reignite the flames. These questions and “fire starters” may heat things up a bit.

Has your marriage become child-centered? 

Before kids, the backseat was for… you know. (Oh, don’t act like I’m the only one!) But maybe now the backseat is full of car seats. Does your marriage feel like it’s taken a backseat to the kids?

Children can be exhausting. (I know. I’ve got seven of them!) They keep you awake, and they require a lot of energy. It’s hard for parents to be intimate. It can be different, though!

Fire Starter Tips:

  1. Schedule kid-free time.
  2. Give kids a bedtime that allows you to be friends and lovers.
  3. Schedule a good babysitter for date nights.
  4. Teach your kids to do some things on their own.
  5. Intentionally put the married back in married parents.

Where’s your focus? 

It may seem logical to you that if intimacy is gone, more sex will help—but it doesn’t work that way. I said this earlier, but it’s worth repeating: Intimacy is about so much more than sex! In fact, there are 5 different types of intimacy in marriage. (If you want to learn what they are and how you can grow them, check out this toolkit.) When intimacy is gone in your marriage, focusing on emotional intimacy is a great place to start rekindling the flame.

Fire Starter Tip: 

Schedule 15-20 minutes daily to learn about each other’s thoughts, dreams, hopes, fears, emotions, etc. 

No technology. No kids. And no interruptions. 

This consistency will reignite and deepen your intimacy. If you’re too busy, cutting something out of your schedule to focus on each other will help. (Try these marriage conversation starters.)

Are you holding back? 

Being vulnerable is hard. I get it. Especially if there’s been hurt, distrust, or betrayal. But hiding parts of yourself from your spouse (or feeling unsafe) can smother the fire of intimacy. Without transparency and vulnerability, the disconnection grows and blocks the airflow.

Fire Starter Tips:

  1. Breathe life into your relationship by identifying why you may be holding back.
  2. Discuss why it’s hard to open up. A good marriage counselor can help.

Are you both at your best? 

I feel like I’m a better husband when I’m:

Esther Perel, author and marital intimacy expert, says we can offer our best when we are most connected. Different seasons of marriage—having a new baby, caring for a loved one, or working an intense schedule—call for different responses. Being sensitive to extra stress your spouse may be experiencing can increase intimacy.

Fire Starter Tips:

  1. Look at your schedule together and prioritize your marriage. 
  2. Talk about how you can help each other.

What do you expect? 

The early stages of marriage can make you think intimacy is natural. There’s a 2-year honeymoon phase when your body naturally produces chemicals that drive your passion. After that, your body stops producing those chemicals, so it may feel like the natural intimacy is gone. It can hit you unexpectedly. You wonder if you married the right person or if you’re just not in love anymore. More than likely, you’re just moving to a different season of marriage. Perel tells us that our desire for our spouse increases as we see them in their element. It reminds us why we fell in love and increases our curiosity about them. 

Fire Starter Tips:

  1. Don’t look at what you’ve lost; look at who you’re missing. 
  2. Acknowledge and appreciate what your spouse does well. 
  3. Stay curious. 
  4. Do something different.

Intimacy dies when we stop exploring each other (in all the ways) or put up walls. But sometimes, fresh eyes or fresh adventures can get that flame burning high and hot once again. Don’t give up!

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear that someone is monitoring your computer or device, call the hotline 24/7 at 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

I’m Trying to Save My Marriage, but My Spouse Isn’t

You can still make a difference in your marriage.

Each new year, people examine things they want to change or improve. Some people want to work on their marriage. That’s a worthy goal, but what if you’re one of those people who’s trying to save their marriage, and you feel like your spouse isn’t trying? That can be painful, for sure.

Marriage is two people who choose daily to walk together through life. It’s probably a good idea to find out whether you’re having a marriage problem or if you or your spouse are having individual issues that are impacting your marriage. A good marriage counselor can help with that. In either case, these steps can help you move forward. 

Take time for self-reflection.

Inventory your thoughts, feelings, frustrations, challenges, areas for growth, etc.

Ask questions like:

  • Why do I feel like I’m the only one trying?
  • What’s making me feel dissatisfied?
  • How do I want my marriage to be? 
  • Am I trying to change my spouse or trying to add value to my marriage?
  • What can I do differently?
  • How am I putting forth my best effort?

Walk a Mile in Your Spouse’s Shoes (Empathy).

Now that you’ve examined things from your perspective, put on your spouse’s shoes. Look at your marriage from their perspective. Ask them what they’re thinking and feeling. When you’re open and curious, they may be willing to share. Maybe they don’t want to add anything to your plate. Seeing through your spouse’s eyes may show you that they’re trying more than you realize.

Change the Dance (It Only Takes One).

Even though “It takes two to tango,” you can change the dance! It may be challenging, and you may be tired of taking the first step, but don’t give up! Marriage therapists say that if just one person is working to improve the marriage, there’s hope. There are many great resources out there to help. And who knows? Before you know it, you may not be dancing by yourself at all.  

Connect More by Criticizing Less.

Sometimes we think we’re “helping” when we point out our spouse’s mistakes or missteps. Sure, we have good intentions, but our spouse hears criticism. They may think who they are (or their effort) isn’t good enough, so they just give up. Criticism hinders connecting. I want to challenge you to say 5 positive things for every negative thing you say. Experts say this makes a massive difference in your relationship. (Check out 30 Days of Gratitude and Love here.)

Be The Change You Want To See.

The key to being the change is your attitude/perspective. Changing may require that you do things without expecting anything in return. Or just listen. Or just put one foot in front of the other. What kind of change do you want to see? Are you connecting in a meaningful way with your spouse and creating space for things your spouse enjoys?

Mark Gungor, marriage speaker, says we should try to “outdo the dog.” Think about how your dog greets you when you come home. Your fur baby shows you they’re excited to see you and spend time with you. What if you tried this with your spouse? What could it hurt? 

Nobody wants their marriage to go through changes and hard times, but it’s normal. If you’re in a challenging stage, your willingness to keep trying to save your marriage may help pave the way for your spouse to try, too. 

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear someone is monitoring your computer or device, call the hotline 24/7 at 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

I don’t know if I can keep doing this (marriage) much longer.” I said this statement at one point in my marriage when things felt like they were falling apart. And my wife of sixteen years has said it, too. I’ve also spoken with plenty of couples who have said things like this at some point in their marriage.

There are some commonalities research has shown can help save your marriage when it feels like it is falling apart.

Connect regularly with people who are happily married.

Notice I didn’t say perfectly married. Look for couples who are healthy. Invite them to coffee and dessert. Talk to them. Listen to them. Watch how they interact with each other. Pick their brains. Find people who will hold you accountable, not pick sides. People outside of your marriage often will see things about you that are difficult for you to see about yourselves

And disconnect from people who are not for your marriage.

People that will allow you to continually talk about what’s wrong with your spouse and constantly tell you that you’re better off without your spouse are not going to be helpful in saving your marriage.

Seek help.

There are experiences available for couples facing distress in their marriage. Some places offer classes; others have Intensive Experiences available (DivorceBusting.com, WinShape Intensives, Smalley Institute). First Things First also has free resources to use in the comfort of your own home. Additionally, you may want to find a good marriage counselor to help you walk through your issues. If there is one thing I have learned in my own marriage, it’s the longer you wait to ask for help, the harder it is to ask for help. Put your pride aside and ask for the help you need if you are currently struggling. 

Look at Your Perception of Your Marriage.

New research indicates that how you perceive the relationship and your partner’s commitment to it is the biggest predictor of the quality of your relationship. Think through what you perceive about your spouse and their commitment level. The research says that your perception accounts for nearly 50% of your relationship satisfaction. When we focus on the negative things our spouse does, we train our brain to see the negative

Communication.

Communication has always been the issue married couples say they struggle with the most. It can be frustrating when you feel like you’re never able to address and resolve the real issues because the two of you can’t figure out how to effectively express your thoughts, feelings, and desires. Since many of us marry someone with a different communication style, learning to speak, hear and be heard has proven to be less natural than we expected. I was married 7 years before I learned how to effectively communicate with my wife. It was a skill I had to learn. I had been repeating the same communication mistakes over and over. 

★ These 7 keys to communication really helped my marriage.

Don’t be afraid to lead the dance.

Yes, it takes two people to dance, but one to lead. Michele Weiner-Davis, marriage expert and author of Divorce Busting, tells couples, “If your spouse started paying more attention to you, making suggestions about trips you could go on, new hobbies you could do together, how would you be different in return?” Most say, “I would be nicer.” Then Weiner-Davis asks people to describe the ways in which they would be nicer and encourages them to start doing that immediately. So many spouses stand around waiting for the other person to just do something. If you want things to be different, don’t be afraid to make the first move.  

Don’t wait for your partner to be more likable – you be more likable,” Weiner-Davis says. “Ask yourself in what ways have you pulled back from your relationship. Your partner’s distance might be the result of you pulling away, too.”  

Practice good self-care.

Taking care of yourself can improve your marriage. Be active by pursuing interests like gardening or biking. Read some good books and practice mindfulness. By paying attention to your mental health, your perspective will often improve.

Think about your daily interactions with your spouse.

Dr. John Gottman, researcher and marriage therapist recommends a 5:1 ratio of interactions – meaning for every negative interaction you have with your spouse, you need five positive interactions to balance that one negative interaction. Expressing affection, showing appreciation, and doing small acts of kindness are positive interactions which balance the negative ones. 

Talk to each other about your needs.

When we have needs and expectations that arent being met, resentment builds. Sometimes our partner is left to figure out the expectations because they are left unspoken. Sincere, honest communication about your needs and expectations takes the guesswork out of the marriage. And, it can shed light on expectations that just aren’t realistic at the moment.

Acknowledge what you can’t fix.

Dr. John Gottman’s research has uncovered that 69% of issues in relationships are unresolvable. It’s not necessarily a bad thing. It just is. Some common differences include disciplining children, balance between home and work, and political views. Learning to communicate and manage these differences can provide opportunities for marital growth. Besides, who wants to be married to someone who is exactly like them in every way?

Forgiveness.

It has been said that lack of forgiveness is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. Forgiveness is a gift you give yourself as well as your mate. The act of forgiveness does not mean you condone hurtful actions; it does mean you have made an intentional decision to move on. 

Remember, you are on the same team.

At some point you began to feel like you are adversaries. Instead of attacking one another, attack the issues as two people working together on the same team. The outcome may really surprise you.

★ Saving a marriage that is falling apart is 100% possible. It will take courage, work and intentionality. Rebuilding trust, seeking to understand one another, and cultivating a culture of appreciation is a process accomplished through many small steps over time. 16 years into our marriage, we’d both tell you our feelings of despair early in the marriage were the catalyst for intentionally creating the marriage we want. 

And, we are still working on it today. 

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear that someone is monitoring your computer or device, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

Image from Pexels.com

How to Rebuild Trust in Marriage

While there are no guarantees, there are things you can do to try.

When trust is broken within a marriage, rebuilding it cannot automatically be assumed. Many times you can rebuild trust if both parties are willing to do the work necessary to restore it, though. David Horsager, author of The Trust Edge says, “(trust) is a confident belief in someone or something. It’s the confident belief in an entity to do what’s right and to deliver on what is promised and to be the same every time, whatever the circumstances.” Whether it’s due to infidelity, lies, withholding information, or betrayal, the ability to believe the offender will genuinely act in the best interest of the marriage is severely compromised.

🔎 While there are no guarantees the trust may be rebuilt, there are some things you can do to rebuild it. 

For The Person Who Has Broken The Trust:

Here are some principles which may help to restore your partner’s trust.

1. Listen without being defensive.

Broken trust is more than just the act that was committed. Your spouse has invested time, emotion, and their own vulnerability into believing something about you, but now they’re not sure who you are. Their image of you has been tarnished. There is uncertainty and even a fear that you will emotionally hurt or betray them if it means getting what you want. It’s not simply that you hid money, lied, or had an affair. It causes one to question their own choice to emotionally invest in the relationship. Don’t minimize or oversimplify the act. Lean in to listen. Ask questions to understand the pain as fully as possible. It may hurt to hear. You will probably want to defend yourself—don’t. 

Avoid statements like, “That wasn’t my intention.” or “I didn’t mean to hurt you.” 

2. Own your actions.

Don’t attempt to justify your actions. Be honest about what you said or did. Answer your spouse’s questions honestly. You can’t worry about trying to make it not look as bad as it may seem

Avoid statements like, “All I did was…” or “It wasn’t a big deal.” 

3. Accept the emotional impact on your spouse.

You cannot control how the betrayal impacts your spouse. You also cannot foresee the gravity of its impact. Betrayal affects people in different ways due to personality, experiences, relationship history, length of relationship, etc. It is painful to know that you have caused your spouse such anger, hurt, or sadness. Trying to lessen or minimize the pain caused is more about you not wanting the guilt and less about understanding the impact of rebuilding the trust

The emotional impact is there. Respect it. Learn from it. 

Avoid statements like, “You’re taking this too seriously,” or “I didn’t think it would affect you this much.”

4. Give space for expressions of grief.

Being a safe space for your spouse to share their emotions is crucial if you want to rebuild trust. Your spouse needs the opportunity to find the words to communicate what they are thinking and feeling. (You may need to seek a qualified marriage counselor.) She may need to talk to friends. He may need to share his pain with you as he gains more and more understanding. This should never include abusive expressions

5. Apologize.

You may need to apologize more than once. You may apologize for the act itself because that’s all you understand initially. Some time later you may apologize for the real hurt it caused as you understand it or see it more.You may apologize for the way it has changed the relationship when you recognize the tension and difficulty your spouse has functioning within the marriage. Instead, be specific about what you are apologizing for. As much as you desire to be forgiven by your spouse, direct your energy toward expressing your remorse for what you’ve done. 🔎 There must be genuine remorse for the action and its effects. 

Avoid statements like, “I’ve already apologized. Isn’t that good enough?” or “I’m sorry you feel that way.” 

6. Make necessary changes.

This may mean sharing passwords for social media, phones, or bank accounts. It may mean more communication about what’s happening at work. It may mean changing who you interact with and how (friends or co-workers). Being stubborn about making changes to decrease the likelihood of a repeat situation sends the message that you don’t understand the betrayal and insecurity that you’ve caused. Often, these changes can be talked through so that they are realistic changes. 

Avoid statements like, “I’ll just make sure I don’t do it again.” or “I just messed up this time. I’ve got it under control now.” 

7. Patience.

You can’t rush the process of rebuilding trust. You must respect the process. Understand that different people respond differently to betrayal. At times it may appear the relationship isn’t making any progress. Other times, it may seem as though the relationship is back to normal even though it really isn’t. Your spouse needs time to build an image of you that they can believe will genuinely try to act in the best interest of the relationship even when it’s difficult. You’re not entitled to being trusted again. Your spouse does not owe you their trust once it’s broken. With humility and compassion, take the time to earn it, and more importantly, to simply be trustworthy.

Avoid statements like, “Don’t you think it’s been long enough?” or “Are you going to hold this against me forever?



For The Person Whose Trust Was Betrayed:

What can you do to trust again?

1. Understand the difference between forgiving versus forgetting.

Forgiveness does not mean to forget or to act like it never happened. You may never forget what was done, how it made you feel, and how it affected you or your relationship. Forgiveness focuses on letting go of your feelings so that they don’t control your future actions. It’s a process. You can be fully aware and not ever have forgotten the betrayal while at the same time you may have forgiven the offender by not treating them based on the emotions the act itself caused.

Just because you forgive does not mean that you have to trust your spouse again. Kristina Coop Gordon, co-author of Getting Past the Affair says, “Forgiveness is very freeing. Just because you forgive, it doesn’t necessarily mean immediate reconciliation.” Your spouse may prove to not be trustworthy. To trust them again, you will need to forgive them, but don’t think that just because you forgive them means you have to trust them just yet. (Check out this blog about the process of forgiving your spouse.)

2. Don’t withhold your feelings.

Hiding or suppressing your feelings can lead to a host of unhealthy and negative emotions. Taking time to identify and understand the myriad of emotions you’re experiencing is good for your mental health. Don’t underestimate the value of positive friends in giving you the space to express yourself emotionally. You may need a good cry, a good scream, a good journal entry, a good venting session, etc. (A professional counselor can help you recognize and deal with your emotions in a healthy way.)

3. Don’t allow yourself to be rushed.

When trust is broken, your image of the offender is completely changed. The process of rebuilding that image and believing that the offender will genuinely attempt to always act in the best interest of the relationship is different for everyone. Rushing the process can lead to resentment or feeling manipulated. And while it’s not helpful to drag a person along just because you have leverage or power, it’s also not helpful to be told by others that you should just let it go and go back to the way it was. 

4. Communicate.

I’d love to give you a fancy term here, but sometimes simple is best. Give your spouse feedback regarding what is helpful and what is not. As you’re understanding yourself better, share this with your spouse. Talk to one another about trust, commitment, and what you believe a healthy relationship looks like. 

5. Explore.

Do not take responsibility for someone’s else’s actions. At the same time, explore what (if anything) in the relationship may have led to the betrayal. There may be changes or improvements within the marriage that can improve relationship quality

Rebuilding trust takes a commitment from both people in the relationship. Betrayal does not have to end the relationship, but the relationship may be able to improve through time, communication and understanding. There are many relationships where betrayal proved to be a catalyst for the couple to address issues in their relationship, ultimately making them stronger.

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear your computer or device is being monitored, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

Image from Unsplash.com

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Can You Really Prevent Divorce?

Put these protective measures in place.

Whether you are thinking about getting married or you have already jumped in with both feet, you may be wondering if it’s really possible to prevent divorce. Or, to put it another way, is it just wishful thinking to believe this is forever?

  • If you have lived through your parents’ divorce, you might be wondering if you have what it takes to prevent a divorce in your own marriage.
  • If you have ever heard the statistic that half of all first time marriages end in divorce, you might be questioning whether or not you will make it is just luck of the draw.
  • Perhaps you have read about or know couples who have been married for 50 years, and you might be asking, “What’s their secret?”

Regardless of your responses, I’m going to give you some good news, straight up. The answer (based on research) is YES! You really can prevent divorce, and the even better news is, it isn’t rocket science.

First, the reasons people cite for wanting to get a divorce:

The National Fatherhood Initiative conducted a national survey on Marriage in America and found that the most common reason couples gave for divorce was “lack of commitment” (73% said this was a major reason). Other significant reasons included too much arguing (56%), infidelity (55%), marrying too young (46%), unrealistic expectations (45%), lack of equality in the relationship (44%), lack of preparation for marriage (41%), and abuse (29%). (People often give more than one reason, so the percentages add up to more than 100%.) Other more recent surveys of adults have come up with similar findings.

Keys to Prevent Divorce

Clearly, there are some valid reasons people divorce. However, a huge percentage of couples are divorcing for reasons that are preventable with some intentional focus. So, if you are considering marriage or you’re already married and you want it to last forever, here are some things you can do to increase your chances of staying together:

1. Communicate!

Keep in mind that just because you love someone doesn’t mean you communicate well with each other. Be intentional about making time to talk with each other not just about intense things, but life in general. Pay attention to how you listen—or actually don’t listen. So often, people are more interested in what they have to say than what their partner has to say. As a result, they only halfway listen because they are preparing for what they want to say next. Practice being in the moment and really listening to your partner. This seems to come easier when you are dating than after you get married.

2. Pay attention to how you handle conflict.

Every great relationship has conflict, but it’s the way people engage each other in the midst of it that matters. If the win for either of you is to get the last word or to be right, your relationship loses. The goal with conflict is to actually increase intimacy in your relationship, not create disconnect between the two of you.

3. Commit.

This might be the super secret sauce for marriages. If you enter into marriage with the idea that if the going gets tough you can always leave, it will be hard to build a strong relationship over time because in the back of your mind you are always entertaining the notion of leaving. The thing about marriage is that it is challenging at times. It’s impossible to bring two people together and not experience some strenuous moments. However, healthy marriages aren’t challenging all the time and they take advantage of the challenges to bring them closer—as in, “Look what we just came through/survived together!” This makes you stronger as a team and also builds confidence that whatever the next challenge is, you can work together to get to the other side.

*To be clear, if you are experiencing abuse, addiction or affairs in your marriage, this is different and you need to seek professional help to determine your best next steps. These are unhealthy and potentially dangerous behaviors. You can be committed to your marriage and love your spouse and also know the relationship cannot continue along the same path with these unhealthy behaviors.

4. Be intentional about connecting.

When couples talk about lack of commitment, a lot of this centers around feeling disconnected. They are committed to the relationship, but slowly over time, children come along, careers get more intense, parents struggle with illness—all things that require your time, energy and emotional bandwidth. Before you know it, instead of feeling like a team, you feel distant from one another. When one or both people in a marriage start feeling disconnected, they consciously or unconsciously begin to look for connection elsewhere. And you know, the grass is always greener in the yard that gets attention. Take inventory of your activities. Every couple should have activities they do together and apart, but if you find you are doing more activities separately from your spouse, you may want to evaluate the impact it is having on your relationship connectedness.

5. Make time to play together.

Being playful together releases dopamine—the feel-good hormone. When you do things with your spouse that make you feel good, you create powerful positive memories and you associate those feelings with being with your spouse. The University of Denver’s Center for Marital and Family Studies research finds that the amount of fun couples have together is the strongest factor in understanding overall marital happiness.

6. Train your brain.

It is true that we teach our brains to think a certain way. If you start feeling negative toward your spouse and you avoid letting them know how you feel, you will probably start to notice the things they do that bother you even more often. Before long, you have built your case for why they are no longer the right person for you. On the other hand, if you look for the good in your spouse, it’s not that you never see their faults, you just don’t let them take up residence in your brain and impact how you see the one you love.

7. Look to the future.

Dream about things you want to do or accomplish together. Write them down and revisit them annually to see if there are things you want to add or delete. This gives you a future focus together. It also provides a focal point for when you face challenging times and need something to keep you motivated and forward-facing in your marriage. It’s kind of a reminder that in the midst of hard, it’s not always going to be like this. Kids get potty trained and sleep through the night. Teens eventually become adults. Illnesses go away or you learn how to manage them.

No marriage is 100% risk-free of divorce. However, there are definitely protective measures you can put in place to significantly decrease your risk for divorce, both before and after marriage. Guard against putting your marriage on auto-pilot. Be intentional about the choices you make on a daily basis. Avoid comparing your marriage to someone else’s, as you never know what’s going on behind closed doors. Think of your marriage as a never ending adventure. It’s going to have some insanely crazy times you don’t wish to repeat and some wildly exhilarating moments that you won’t want to end. But consider this—if you quit in the middle of a perfectly good marriage, you will have no idea what you missed out on.

Other blogs you might find helpful:

7 Ways to Reduce Your Risk for Divorce

Couples Who Play Together

10 Things Every Married Couple Needs to Know About Sex

Help! My Spouse Hates to Talk About Boundaries!

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear that someone is monitoring your computer or device, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

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You don’t give in to peer pressure, right? That was so Middle School! Surprisingly, adult you is still rather impressionable. Your chances of divorce just went up!

A study from researchers at Brown University, UC-San Diego, and Yale University has found that having a divorced friend can increase your own risk of a breakup by 75%. Similarly, more recent studies have found that being friends with someone who gets divorced makes someone 147% more likely to get divorced themselves. A person who has a sibling who gets divorced is 22% more likely to also split from his or her spouse. Similar findings related to infidelity have been discovered, too. (Infidelity is one of the leading causes of divorce, after all.) What’s going on here?

Let’s try to understand why this happens and then think about how to avoid it. (And maybe even how to use this dynamic for good!)

This is known as “behavioral” or “social contagion.” It’s like an idea or lifestyle virus. The general concept is that one person introduces a new social norm into a group (divorce, infidelity) which reduces the social constraints against it or takes away some of the pressure to avoid it. They even make it seem more normal. The other members of the group then begin to look at themselves and their marriages differently.

They hear the benefits of divorce or infidelity from the person that introduced the “virus” and then reevaluate their own happiness. They look at their spouses and partners in a new, perhaps, unflattering light. Then the next person in the group takes the plunge, reducing social constraints even further and making divorce even more normal, which makes it even easier for the next person, and so on.

I’ve seen it spread in a social group with divorce and infidelity in about a year.

The tighter-knit the group is, the easier and quicker the virus can be passed around. It doesn’t take someone saying, “You know, you should really consider divorce, sweetie…” and applying what we would call direct peer pressure. It can all happen on a level that we are not even directly conscious of.

The study, “Breaking Up is Hard to Do, Unless Everyone Else is Doing it Too: Social Network Effects on Divorce in a Longitudinal Sample” did discover something extremely hopeful.Interestingly, only outside support from friends and family predicted marital success in the time period examined.” Did you catch that?

Even as they proved the validity of the “social virus,” they also discovered the cure. Being tightly connected and supported by friends and family that are FOR your marriage “inoculates” you against the “social virus” and reduces your susceptibility.

To carry the analogy further, having friends and family that believe in and are committed to their marriages and faithfulness helps build up our “immunities” to divorce and infidelity. The same social dynamic can work in a positive way, too!

None of this is to say you should run away shrieking in terror from anyone who gets a divorce. Maybe they were the victim of domestic violence and need your support. On the other hand, it is a great reminder that none of us are above being influenced. Keeping toxic, negative people that don’t share our family values close to us may influence us much more than we care to acknowledge.

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear your computer or device is being monitored, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

Looking for more resources for your marriage? Click here!

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