By Jane Brown
Do you know how long marriage expert Mort Fertel says you should work on your marriage, once the thought of divorce enters your mind? One year. A full year. Fertel specifies that this should be a year of serious effort: a year of listening to your partner, learning how to fight fairly, finding opportunities for intimacy and joy, and attempting to grow closer together.
We have a very sorry mental picture of relationships in this country. One slip-up and you’re out. One big fight and it’s over. Too many people think that relationships need to be perfect; that you and your partner need to be in sync with each other even without trying, that you’ll never have two conflicting needs or desires, that if a problem comes up that doesn’t have an immediate solution, it’s time to cut the rope and call the whole thing off.
Ladies, that’s not true. Gentlemen, pay attention. In any type of long-term relationship, whether you’re dating or you’re married, something is going to happen that’s going to cause some stress. And maybe you won’t be able to resolve that stress right away. Maybe that stress is going to sit in your relationship for a month or more. That doesn’t mean you should give up on your relationship. In fact, this is the only way you’re going to figure out if your relationship will actually work.
I understand that a lot of us didn’t see good models of relationships and marriages growing up. Maybe our parents divorced, maybe one parent wasn’t in the picture, maybe our family simply nagged at each other and fought all the time. Maybe we don’t want that for ourselves. But that doesn’t mean you quit as soon as things get bad.
Quitting sets a pattern of quitting. Staying sets a pattern of communicating.
Think about that for a minute. You’re angry with your partner. You’re tired of feeling like your needs aren’t heard. And the advice isn’t to leave, it’s to stay. To stay and spend a year trying to get that intimacy and closeness back.
This is good advice to follow not only for your relationship, but for your finances, your family stability, your career, and your entire life. A divorce costs between $15,000 and $20,000. If you have kids, you now have to deal with the double burden of single parenting and shared parenting. You don’t get to stop communicating with the partner you’ve quit on; you now have to communicate even more, as you iron out custody, alimony, and child support. In fact, you’re having all of the conversations and arguments you would have had if you stayed married — how much money to spend, how late your kids’ curfew should be, how you’re going to handle the holidays — except now you’re doing it as two adversaries, not as a team.
It’s so much better to learn how to communicate and work with your current partner or spouse. If you’re not being abused, if it’s not a case of someone stepping out on you, if it’s just that you feel bored or taken for granted or tired of all the nagging: stay. Stay, and learn how to communicate with each other and build a relationship that works.
This type of honest, real communication is one of the hardest skills to learn and also one of the most rewarding. Take a couples or marriage class if you need help getting started. Learn as much as you can about communicating in relationships, including arguing fairly, listening to each other’s needs, and solving problems as a team.
The next time you and your partner experience some relationship stress, don’t give up. Stay, and figure out how to work together to make your relationship even stronger.