David Olson, in his exhaustive research on marriage, has found that marriages fall into one of five types.
The Five Types
Partners in these marriages tend to agree on most things and have excellent communication and conflict resolution skills (the two skills without which couples cannot adequately address other problems in the relationship). They report being very satisfied in marriage.
Partners agree on many things and have good communication and conflict resolution skills, but have slight problems in other areas such as parenting, sex, financial issues, etc. They report being quite satisfied in marriage. Interestingly their divorce rates tend to still be quite high. They seem to have higher (often unrealistic) expectations for marriage to begin with and often do not deal well with the reduction in marriage satisfaction that nearly always presents itself in the first few years.
Keeping a marriage healthy isn’t that difficult. Counselors get paid a lot of money to help you do this, but there are many things couples can do for free or very low cost that will make a big difference. Here are my top three.
1. Buy John Gottman’s book, The Seven Principles for Making Your Marriage Work. Gottman is one of the most respected and credible authorities on marriage in the country. This book contains a lot of fun and healthy things you can do together that will deepen your connection. If your spouse is resistant to working through it, you can easily find creative ways to approach the activities. Don’t make it bookish!
2. Spend five minutes together every day talking (gently) about what you each liked and didn’t like in the relationship that day. If you prioritize a brief conversation about the relationship every day it will defuse the bomb that always goes off when one of you tells the other, “We need to talk.”
3. Find at least one way to compliment and one way to serve your partner every day.
If you do these things it will go a long way towards maintaining your positive perceptions of, and feelings about, one another. As long as you feel positive about each other and perceive each other in positive ways, neither of you will be interested in splitting up or engaging in the kinds of behaviors that often make things worse.
I was on NBC 25 News this morning doing a segment about signs that you may be dangerously close to divorce. My remarks were based substantially on the work of Dr. John Gottman, who has probably done more research on marriage than any other person in the country. I highly recommend his books.
If your marriage is in bad shape, I want to encourage you to divorce your spouse. Immediately. Don’t wait until you get home. Just divorce. It’s too hard carrying around the frustration and resentment you feel. It’s too exhausting dealing with your spouse’s insecurities and worries. It’s too constraining having someone else’s problems to carry around. So do the divorce thing. Just do it.
But whatever you do, do not leave your marriage (unless you are being physically abused, constantly deceived, or cheated on). Divorce your spouse, but do not leave your marriage. You might wonder how this is possible.