A bunch of my friends are celebrating big anniversaries this week…15 years, 20 years, one couple is even celebrating 25 years. I feel a twinge of jealousy, since I’m back at square one on the anniversary clock. Divorce is the final “Do Not Pass Go, Do Not Collect $200” card in the marriage deck. Do over.
While I’m much happier now than I was in my previous marriage, I’m not a proponent of divorce if it can be avoided. By “avoided” I mean that both people can find happiness and satisfaction in the partnership, not that one partner agrees to be miserable in order to stay married. I can say without equivocation that I put more effort into trying to avoid divorce than nearly anything else in my life…but in the end, our marriage couldn’t be saved.
Like most of us, I think back on any number of moments in our marriage, big and small, and wonder how things might have gone differently. After years of reflection and contemplation, I think the answer is this: most of the mistakes were made long before we even got married – and that’s the point of this post. If you want to avoid divorce and increase your odds of being married long enough to make it to one of those big anniversaries, you need to do the right things before you walk down the aisle.
How To Avoid Divorce Before You Get Married
1. Listen to your gut.
This is critical. All too often, young women ignore an uneasy feeling that tells them something isn’t right. Don’t do that. If you’re not comfortable with something he says or does, examine that. Don’t simply brush it aside.
2. Talk through your priorities.
I don’t just mean the biggies like children, I mean all of it: what are your positions on spending and saving? Where do you want to live in 10 years? How do you envision spending the holidays? What’s your definition of work/life balance? I don’t suggest you discuss these things on a first date, but if you’re moving toward marriage, you need to know the answers to these questions.
3. Account for change, but assume there won’t be any.
Do not, I repeat, do not enter into marriage with the assumption that the other party (or you) will change. In order for marriage to be successful, you have to love that person as they are, where they are. Assume that who they are today – warts and all – is who they’ll be tomorrow, and for the next 10 years. The flip side of this is that people can evolve over the course of time. Ideally, they become wiser, more complete versions of themselves. Be certain that your relationship doesn’t rely on each of you occupying very specific roles. As those roles shift, the relationship may suffer. It’s not uncommon to see a relationship that doesn’t survive a woman creating a successful career, or developing greater self-confidence than she had when she began the relationship – her spouse may not be ready or able to make the change from “provider” to “partner.”
4. Don’t ignore “red flags.”
All humans enter into relationships with baggage, you need to determine whether that baggage is compatible. Women are inherently “fixers.” Often, we find ourselves in relationships – romantic or otherwise – where we feel we can be the one to help a person through whatever issues they might have. Sometimes, we can. Other times, we can’t and shouldn’t. I have a friend whose husband was controlling and emotionally abusive from the very early days of their relationship. She was convinced that if she tried harder, things would be better. Obviously, this story doesn’t have a happy ending. Her baggage allowed her to accept that treatment, and his allowed him to feel that this treatment of another human being was okay. She ignored all manner of “red flags.” Some were obvious: he wouldn’t let her spend much time with her friends. Some were more subtle: he had a tendency to blame others when things didn’t go his way. Don’t ignore little things; they are often markers of much bigger things.
5. Travel together.
I don’t know what it is about traveling, but it can bring out the best and worst in people. How does your intended handle a flight delay? A traffic jam? Being in unfamiliar surroundings, sleeping on an unfamiliar pillow has a way of showing you who someone really is. Go somewhere, and take note.
6. Make sure you know who you are.
Someone once gave me the following piece of advice: “A good partner frames your picture, they don’t paint your picture.” I was in high school at the time, so I really didn’t get it at the time. Now, I understand – and it goes both ways. As individuals, we need to have an understanding of our boundaries, our values and a strong sense of where we’re headed in life before we can be good partners. If we don’t, there is a tendency to let someone else make those decisions for us. I was young when I got married, without a good idea of who I was or what I wanted, and as a result, those things were defined for me – which is unfortunate. I encourage my daughters to paint their own picture – to be the masters of their own destinies. Ultimately, defining yourself first will help you to find someone who will support you as you realize those dreams.