- Resilience in a marriage is the ability to bounce back or recover after difficult experiences. This skill can be learned.
- Resilient marriages take work, determination and grit. There are no easy marriages.
- Accountability, problem-solving, forgiveness, and expectation reviews are some of the necessary skills for a resilient marriage.
The three most common reasons people divorce are lack of commitment or drifting apart, infidelity, and conflict/arguing. Resilience in a marriage is the ability to “bounce back” or recover after difficult experiences. There will always be challenges, hurts, misunderstandings, arguments, unmet needs, and mistakes. In a resilient marriage, you will face them and work through them together. Not all marriages can be resilient, but many that move to divorce might have been strengthened with these tips.
Resilient marriages take work and grit. There are no easy marriages. The alternative is to divorce. However, divorce is the permanent solution to what may be a temporary problem. When you made your marriage vows, you intended to work through the hard times. Now those hard times have arrived and you’re overwhelmed, angry, scared, or feeling hopeless. Before you make that call to the lawyer, and before you start Googling “divorce,” consider whether you can fix your relationship. It won’t be easy, but it will save you the heartache and life crisis of divorce.
Please note that these tips apply equally to men, women, and non-binary partners, so to eliminate the awkwardness, I’ve used “they” and “them” even when referring to one person.
1. Don’t let resentments pile up.
Too often we sweep resentments under the rug because it is too scary to face them. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that the problems will just go away or that you will address them at some later time, like after the kids are grown. That strategy never works. Don’t ignore the early warning signs. Small problems take a lot less struggle than a mountain of problems accumulated over months and years.
2. Be accountable for your part in the troubles.
Accept responsibility if the issue is yours. When you are honest and sincere in acknowledging your part in the problems, your spouse will be more likely to face theirs as well. Look within before placing all the blame on your spouse. Be open and transparent about how you are feeling, and if you have regrets or requests, talk about them. Apologize if necessary. Acknowledge misunderstandings and especially those for which you are responsible.
Infidelity can rock the foundation of your marriage. However, marriages can recover with your hard work and commitment. Acknowledge trust issues, if there are any, and talk about how to rebuild trust and how to cultivate mutual respect. With this approach, you are inviting your spouse to work together with you to repair your relationship. You can’t do it alone. You need to collaborate.
3. Review your expectations of the relationship and your spouse.
Are your expectations realistic? What about your spouse’s expectations? Have they changed since you’ve had children, or started your career, or retired? Don’t expect your partner to change much! Accept your spouse for who they are, flaws and all. This means letting your spouse be him or herself unless they are motivated to change something. Recognize the issues that you can’t control. While you can’t force your spouse to change, you can work on your own personal growth and change. For example, you cannot control an alcoholic’s addiction but you can change your enabling behaviors by learning about them in Al-Anon or therapy. Sobriety will be a choice your spouse makes or doesn’t make.
4. Express appreciation for the positive things your spouse brings into your life.
5. Set a time every week for a quiet hour to check in with each other.
Give each other time to talk while you listen attentively and with empathy. To encourage your partner to open up more, ask questions. Listen without planning your rebuttal while they are talking. Show them that you understand what they said by repeating back what you think you have understood. Let your partner feel heard and understood. Only then will they be open to hearing you.
6. Talk about your values and what matters to you in life.
7. Get better at problem-solving together.
Sometimes you may compromise to keep the peace. Pick your battles. Not every issue needs to be fought and won. The important things, like how to manage money, parenting, or career, require good problem-solving skills. More often than not, you may be able to find a win-win solution.
8. Don’t be an injustice collector.
Let go of grudges. Holding on to anger is toxic to you and the relationship. Practice forgiveness and develop a culture of forgiveness in your relationship. (Fred Luskin’s book, Forgive For Love, is an excellent resource.) Ruth Bell Graham said, “A happy marriage is the union of two good forgivers.”
9. Make time for fun.
If you feel you’ve drifted apart, plan some dates, just like you did when you were courting. Do new things together. Set aside time to spend together every week doing something you enjoy.
10. Don’t wait until it’s too late to get professional help.
The sad statistic is that most couples seek marital counseling 6 years too late. Therapy can help you both learn good listening skills and when to take a breath. You can also learn some calming strategies to enable rational discussions and reasonable decision-making.
Some marriages can’t weather the storms, and all of these tools may not be enough to save them. If, after doing everything above, you find that your relationship isn’t salvageable, you’ll know that you left no stone unturned. If divorce is your only option, choose a respectful process such as mediation or Collaborative Divorce.
If you are in an abusive relationship, safety is key. You will need to end the relationship with a safety plan. You may need professional guidance and support. The National Hotline for Domestic Abuse is 1- 800-799-SAFE (7233).
© Ann Gold Buscho, Ph.D. 2021
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