As someone who works with couples who are struggling with infidelity and other serious marriage problems, I often hear people say that their partner's affair or request for separation came "out of the blue" and that they had "no clue" their partner was that unhappy or close to leaving.
Yet when the situation stabilizes a bit and they're able to look back at the marriage with the clarity of hindsight, they usually admit that there were "little cracks" beginning to show. Of course, the reasons for infidelity and other marriage crises are many; however, there are nonetheless 10 proactive steps you can take to limit that chances that the little cracks in your marriage will expand to create a larger break.
1. Don't dismiss or shrug off your partner's complaints.
Yes, even if those complaints are about housework, money, a lack of affection or support, the in-laws or texting. It is even worse to become defensive or argumentative when your partner tries to express the reasons for his or her unhappiness. You don't need to agree with what he or she is saying, but you do need to listen and do your part to improve matters.
2. Don't let sex fall off the radar.
Sex is a big part of marriage. In fact, the ability to have regular sexual intimacy with a person you love is a prevailing reason to get married. Get on the same team with parenting, chores and so on so that you can go to bed at the same time and still have enough energy for a tumble.
3. Put your partner's needs ahead of your own.
Ask yourself every day, "What can I do to make my partner's life happier and easier?" If both partners are doing this, well, that's definitely a form of healthy competition in marriage.
Almost all affairs begin as "innocent friendships," so keep these at bay.
4. Have fun together.
When was the last time you and your partner shared a good belly laugh? When was the last time you couldn't stop smiling? If it's been a while, you need to "lighten up" your relationship. People are naturally drawn toward those who are fun to be around. Boredom can kill a marriage.
5. Appreciate your partner.
Not a day should go by that you don't express appreciation for your partner in words and deed. Feeling unappreciated is a major complaint in almost all troubled marriages.
6. Get off your phone!
Nothing is more irritating than feeling second place to a smartphone... or Facebook... or Twitter... or Snapchat... you get the idea. Also, agree to be transparent when using your personal devices by sharing your passwords and so on. Those who have nothing to hide hide nothing.
7. Talk to your partner like he or she is someone you love.
Be vigilant of your voice tone. Keep contempt, defensiveness and criticism out of your marriage. Also, mind your manners in a larger sense. Keep your spouse's dinner warm. Hold the door open and compliment him or her. Just be nice!
8. Create shared rituals.
Whether it's Walking Dead Sunday nights or Sunday night walks in the park, it is important for couples to have traditions. These give couples a sense of identity and continuity as a couple.
9. Beware opposite-sex friendships.
We all have them; however, opposite-sex friendships that become too close can easily create a rift between an otherwise happy, devoted couple. Almost all affairs begin as "innocent friendships," so keep these at bay and you'll spare yourself a world of grief.
They aren't guarantees, but they're certainly better than doing nothing.
10. Raise your kids together.
Get on the same page with respect to parenting. Present a united front to your kids and share parenting responsibilities. Respect your partner's right to parent his or her children in his or her own way, and praise your partner in front of your kids. Build each other up as parents -- that makes people feel a lot more invested in the family unit.
So there you have it. Ten easy, proactive steps you can take to limit the chance of infidelity or other serious problems destroying the foundation of your marriage and family life. They aren't guarantees, but they're certainly better than doing nothing and just waiting for those cracks to get wider.
Visit Debra's practice at DebraMacleod.com
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