Statistics tell us that between one-third and one-half of marriages in the United States are likely to fail. Once a social stigma, divorce is now becoming an accepted part of the American lifestyle. The media continues to trivialize holy matrimony, placing all the emphasis on the wedding, just one day, as opposed to the marriage, which is meant to be a lifelong partnership. We are constantly bombarded with the scandalous affairs of celebrities and politicians; people get married on reality TV shows, and commercials make light of spouses lying to each other. In this environment, it’s little wonder that the divorce rate is so high.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Once identified, most marital problems can be resolved. Here are five common mistakes that can turn marriages into divorce, and how you and your spouse can avoid them.
5. Unrealistic Expectations
A romantic courtship, engagement, the build up to a wedding, all the planning and excitement of the big day, that’s all very enjoyable. It does not mean the marriage itself will be smooth. Many brides face a reality check when the festivities are over and they’re no longer the center of attention. Disillusion can set in very quickly for both parties. Men may become distant and less attentive, which leads to insecurity and all the ensuing problems. One spouse may be demanding, the other withdrawn and aloof. If one partner has created an unrealistic image of the other, and they are not living up to these expectations, then disappointment is inevitable. Many people marry someone they don’t really know, and become resentful when they find they have little in common. There is a widely held belief that marrying the man or woman of our dreams will magically make us happy. But marriage is hard work, a lifelong commitment that demands cooperation, respect and compromise. Only as a team will couples survive the tough times. That’s why we take vows, such as “in sickness and in health,” “for richer, for poorer,” and “for better, for worse.”
4. Failing to Define Roles
Some couples will literally spend months planning their wedding, but they don’t spend 10 minutes planning their life after the big day. Before taking any vows, couples should make sure they’re both comfortable with their roles and recognize situations can drastically change over the years. If your intended wants to be waited on hand and foot, don’t marry him or her unless you’re happy to fulfill such a role. Who will be the main breadwinner? If the wife makes more money, would the husband be OK with this? For career-oriented women, would they be willing to give up their job for whatever reason, be it relocation or childbirth? Marriage is all about compromise. Discuss roles before making a commitment. This kind of planning will avoid power struggles down the road, which can be devastating to relationships. Be prepared as a couple and be supportive of each other. Again, when we marry we take vows, promising to stick by our spouse through good and bad. There may come a time when one person has to take charge and be the strong one in a crisis, whether because of job loss, illness, or another crisis. We must be prepared and willing to adapt to new roles.
3. Lack of Financial Planning
Money issues cause many problems in relationships and can often lead to bitter fights and divorce if not properly addressed. Most of us worry about our finances, especially in tough economic times. The best way to deal with money is to talk openly about it, make a budget and stick to it. It helps if one person is assigned the role of household bookkeeper and keeps detailed records of expenditures to avoid any spending discrepancies. Lying about money is not advisable and it’s never a good idea to hide expensive purchases. A bad night at a casino, a costly dress, two pairs of designer shoes you just couldn’t resist … everything must be accounted for, and complete honesty is critical. Little lies can become huge problems and cause pain and mistrust. Plan your finances and make sure you know what you can and can’t afford.
2. Lack of Communication
This doesn’t mean calling your spouse because you’re running late. Many couples just don’t know how to talk to each other properly and find it even harder to listen. Here’s a familiar scenario. A wife asks her sad-looking husband, “What’s wrong, honey?” Husband answers in a sulky voice, “Nothing, why?” Then the wife says, “Fine, don’t talk to me then,” and storms off in a huff. Obviously something’s wrong, but one partner is unwilling to discuss it, and the others’ feelings are hurt. Experts agree that the best way to build trust in a marriage is through honest and open communication. A good relationship should also be able to survive tough verbal battles. Many harsh words are spoken in the heat of an argument, but it’s not a cause for divorce. If a partner is big enough to apologize, forgive them first, then explore why they said those things. Was there some truth there? It’s best to bring any issues out into the open. And of course after a tiff, you can always resort to that age-old proverb, kiss and make up.
Always stick to a policy of truth. Whatever it is that you need to confess, tell your beloved and deal with the consequences. Lying will destroy a relationship and is a leading factor in many divorces. Don’t lie to the person you intend to grow old with. Whether it’s infidelity, gambling, drug addiction, or a drinking problem, just fess up. Without trust, a true and real relationship is not possible. Even if there’s infidelity, it’s not necessarily the end of the marriage. A strong partnership and friendship will survive anything. Sometimes it’s difficult to contemplate leaving someone, especially after many years together. In such cases it might be easier to forgive and it can bring a couple closer, opening up a dialogue that may not have been possible before. We all make mistakes. But deception saps your energy and is a heavy burden to bear. Life is much easier and lighter when you stick to the truth.
Marriage isn’t always easy and we all have to overcome obstacles that test our relationships. Success depends on how we face these challenges as a unit, a partnership, a team.
Alison Hill is not a marriage counselor, but she has been married almost 20 years.