The first rule to follow if you want to "divorce-proof" your marriage? Stop thinking it's even possible.
As comforting as it may be to believe you can shield yourself from a split, experts say the phrase "divorce-proof" sends the wrong message to married couples.
"The advice is as misguided as it is ignorant. It's simply not realistic to ever offer a lifelong assurance on anything to anyone -- especially a guarantee that a marriage will last," said marriage therapist Becky Whetstone.
"Ultimately, a couple contains two people; no matter how dedicated and attentive one mate is, if the other partner wants to end the marriage, it will end," she said. "Unfortunately, it happens all the time. You simply cannot control what your spouse thinks, feels, believes or does over time."
Micki McWade, a psychotherapist and collaborative divorce coach, has seen the same dynamic play out in her work with couples and their divorce attorneys over the last 15 years.
"There is no guarantee of permanence or divorce-proofing in a marriage," she said. "Human beings are not that reliable and there's so much that can undermine a relationship -- everything from a poor work-life-balance to kids slowly shifting attention away from the marriage."
As unnerving as it may be to realize that the fate of your marriage is firmly in both spouse's hands, it's ultimately for the best, said Christina Pesoli, a family law attorney and the author of Break Free from the Divortex: Power Through Your Divorce and Launch Your New Life.
"You can only control yourself but that's a good thing," she said. "A marriage that is about control is not a healthy marriage. You just have to have faith in your partner and keep in mind that the goal isn't just to be married for life, it's to have a healthy, fulfilling marriage that goes the distance."
So what can you and your partner do to create a strong, fulfilling marriage? Read the experts' best advice below.
1. Realize that a good marriage is an intentional one.
In other words, do unto your spouse as you would have done unto you, said Pesoli.
"Be kind, trustworthy, honest, supportive, forgiving, loving, kind and open to trying new things," she said. "You need to do all those things; so often we become so focused on where we think our partner is falling short that we forget to focus on where we're falling short. If you put consistent effort into being the kind of spouse you would want for yourself, the relationship will be constantly nurtured and have a better chance of staying healthy."
And don't let it go unnoticed when you see your spouse putting extra effort into the marriage, said McWade.
"Simply acknowledging and appreciating when your partner does something nice or what you've asked for will go along way," she said. "Validating a partner will bring more of the same."
2. Make time for sex.
No one said the hot-and-heavy honeymoon stage was going to last forever. That doesn't mean you should allow sex to be put on the back burner, though.
"As a couple, you need to maintain intimacy and have sex regularly, even if you have to carve out time for it," McWade said. "Sex is like glue for a committed relationship. When a couple has sex, they bond and relax."
3. Accept that your spouse will change.
You're living in a dream if you believe your partner won't grow and evolve, said Whetstone.
"In my own case, I'm not even remotely the same person I was at 20 now that I'm 50. I’ve even grown tremendously since my 40s and I continue to change," she said. "A spouse who wants to hold onto a marriage must recognize that change like that is inevitable."
4. Refrain from unnecessary criticism and nitpicking.
Avoid uttering any sentence that begins "you never...." or "you always..." Instead, keep your criticism on the constructive side.
"Make a conscious effort to understand and be supportive," McWade advised. "And don't be closed off to getting outside help if necessary."
5. View your spouse through a soft focus lens.
Those Elizabeth Taylor White Diamonds perfume commercials from the '90s were on to something, said Pesoli: Everyone -- your spouse included -- looks better through a soft focus lens.
"Most people clean up nicely, but when you live with someone, you'll see them at their best and worst -- and that has to be OK with you," she said. "In a relationship, you need permission to not be at your best. Sometimes a spouse will be happy-go-lucky and other times he'll be stressed about work. Give him his time to rant. Choose to focus on the best and let the less flattering characteristics blur and fall to the wayside."
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