SMART START – New Year’s resolutions specifically for your marriage. . .
It is the time of year when many of us have made New Year’s resolutions. The most popular include things like losing weight or getting fit, getting the finances in order, organizing our life, an effort to quit smoking and reduce or stop drinking and even try to have more fun. I even read that fifty-percent of Americans say their New Year’s resolution is to spend more time with family and friends.
But what about a New Year’s resolutions specifically for your marriage?
Half of marriages end in divorce. Research has found that only half of those who stay married actually carry the moniker of “happily married.” So, this year, make a resolution to prioritize your marriage. Couples that invest in their marriages have more satisfying, pleasurable interactions with each other because great marriages do not just happen. It’s time we all make some New Year’s resolutions together and focus on our relationships.
When you think about resolutions, you can’t get any better than strengthening your marriage.
Step one is to sit down with your spouse, grab a pen and paper, a glass of wine or cup of tea-this exercise is supposed to be relaxed and enjoyable-and brainstorm together some New Year’s resolutions for your marriage.
- Start with the positives. What do you both like and appreciate about your relationship? How can you enhance and highlight the positives?
Spending time alone together is essential for your relationship health. Commit to a monthly or weekly date night. If you have children, brainstorm about childcare. Besides hiring babysitters, you may be able to trade play dates or sleepovers with family or friends. Do not be complacent. Make a commitment or resolutions to have date nights in 2012. No more excuses!
If your romantic and passionate life used to be positive, but now has been neglected, pay more attention. Research by Barry McCarthy has found that if you are both happy enough with your sex life, it only accounts for 15 percent of marital satisfaction. However, if either of you is unhappy with your sex life, it can account for 85 percent of marital satisfaction. Commit to prioritizing your sex life. Set aside time for sex dates, read some fun sex self-help books together and commit to being more affectionate and passionate in 2012.
When you were first together as a dating couple, you likely had new, fun and interesting experiences together. Commit to trying some new activities, hobbies or outings together in the New Year.
2. Remove the barriers. What gets in the way of marital satisfaction?
How do you handle conflict? Remember that conflict is inevitable in a marriage. Do not avoid conflict, but find productive ways to deal with differences. Are either of you guilty of using criticism, contempt, stonewalling or defensiveness? If so, how about a New Year’s resolution to eliminate these hostile interactions that are predictive of divorce?
Is work or technology interfering with prioritizing time together? If either of you has a hard time with the work/life balance or relies too heavily on technology, social media, TV or video games, you might take a look at this issue together. How about setting some mutual agreements? Amazingly, 70 percent of families are now reporting using phones, computers or watching TV during meal times together. How about a resolution to have technology-free meals and technology-free evenings during your weeknights?
Mind games can be complicated, and they can ruin good communication patterns. If your spouse seems to be implying two contradictory things at once, you may need some outside help to get your relationship back on track.
First, give your spouse the benefit of the doubt. If the issue at hand isn’t urgent, then let it go. Maybe your spouse is going through a rough spot in life, and his communication became unusually mixed-up. Allow some time to pass before confronting your spouse on the issue again. Chances are, given time, the mind games will disappear and you can move forward normally.
But if they don’t, don’t despair. You are not going crazy, and this is not your fault. Believe in your own sanity and seek outside help. Do you have a friend you can trust to be fair? Ask her opinion. Can someone else talk to your spouse about the issue? Try that. Gentle, non-combative ways of confronting your spouse are possible. Let him know that you don’t understand, and you don’t appreciate the mixed messages.
Mind games can seriously frustrate a good relationship, but relationships are worth working on. Take it slow, and wisely move forward to untangle the knots.
Divorce is stressful. There is a lot on your plate between maintaining your job, dividing all the assets, figuring out living situations, and determining custody agreements. Even if you were the one that asked for the divorce, there is some sadness too. It’s a major chapter of your life coming to an end. It’s easy to forget how much your child’s life is changing too. While doing your best to keep all the sadness and hurt from them, trying to keep their schedule as normal as possible, and never bad mouthing the other parent, your kids are still stressed too.
Even if your kids knew everything wasn’t happy in your marriage they still won’t understand why it’s happening. They will internalize it. They will spend a fair amount of time wondering if they could have stopped it. It is so important to keep the lines of communication open with them. What details you reveal are at your discretion, but some form of, “mommy and daddy grew in different directions, and while we don’t love each other anymore, we both still love you very much,” is important. Kids need that reassurance, and often.
Little kids can sometimes hold very unrealistic expectations; such as asking if you can all still live together. Their entire world is often centered on us and how we behave. Keep that in mind always. The way you talk to your soon to be ex in front of them, and how you talk about each other to them, will be remembered. As much as you want the divorce to be over or as angry as you may be, the kids don’t need to see it, not now. When they are older, late teens to adults, they are more capable of having a conversation about how you felt, but now they not only can’t understand, but they will internalize.
Divorce for kids means their entire way of life has ended. Consider (if possible) a civil friendship with your ex until the kids are older. If your kids play sports, are in band, or anything other event you go watch, if you and your ex can’t sit together your kids will have to choose who to run to first. That kind of decision can be crushing for them. Their time with their parents is now limited. They will have different rules and expectations at both houses. They will have a lot of their own emotions tied in as well. As hard as this is for you, it is just as hard on them. Make sure you acknowledge that to them, and try to help them through it too.
Your kids will survive your divorce, but they will need your help to do it. Don’t minimize their suffering (by accident or by choice) because they are young, and don’t compare it to yours.