There are surprises you can spring on your spouse, but "Honey I want a divorce" is not the kind of surprise anyone wants. Marie and Hunter had been married for 12 years. They had two boys, ages 7 and 10, who seemed relatively comfortable with their lives. They had good friends, and families who were close. Their marriage didn't seem too different from those of their friends. Marie tended to the children and had a part time job.
Although they struggled financially at the outset, they were finally comfortable; Hunter's skills in computer science had paid off nicely. All seemed quiet when suddenly Marie dropped the bomb, she wanted a divorce. Hunter was dumbfounded. It seemed to come out of the blue. Hunter had never been abusive, nor had he had an affair. And he was not a substance abuser. Sure they had had arguments, but never screaming fights. Hunter asked Marie why, but she refused to talk about it. What's going on here?
Of course, Marie might have secretly fallen in love with someone else, but even that does not usually happen out of the blue. It is very likely that Marie was unhappy about many things. Was Hunter not helping enough with house and yard work? Was he leaving dirty clothes all over the house? Did he have unappealing personal habits? Did he not share enough with childcare? Was he not satisfying Marie sexually? Did she resent not being able to pursue a full-time career? Was Hunter spending too many hours at work or going out with the guys? Did he ignore her when she was sick or upset? Was he failing to build an emotional connection? Did Hunter make Marie feel invisible day after day?
Marie's error, most likely, was not speaking up more assertively for what upset her or about what she wanted. She let resentments build and build until she reached the breaking point and suddenly decided, "I'm outta here."
Hunter undoubtedly made errors of his own, such as not genuinely listening when Marie did complain, and taking little or no action to address her concerns.
Marie and Hunter, one can assume, had one overarching problem in common: the failure to communicate and to resolve conflicts effectively. It's very likely that they didn't listen to one another attentively and that they didn't tune in to each other's strong emotions, or negative body language and work to understand the cause. They faked that all was "okay" even when it was not. They expected one another to read their mind, to just know (!) what was important to them. They didn't resolve even small irritating differences in habits with one another. They never worked out a mutually agreed upon division of household chores and childcare in their relationship, they just fell into a pattern that Marie resented. They didn't take the time to learn about one another sexually and come up with a sexual style that satisfied both. And they didn't nip escalating tensions in the bud.
Marie and Hunter probably didn't know how to treasure one another. How can you do this?
1. In small everyday ways send the message "you're important to me" (send a loving email, cook a special meal, offer help with a project, give a small but meaningful gift).
2. Recognize one another's strengths, and encourage each other to pursue their values
3. Put aside time just for yourselves-to nurture your relationship, either with a shared hobby (e.g., walking, gardening, dancing), love-making, relaxing or enjoying some leisure activity.
4. Use humor and playfulness to make life more fun.
They didn't fully know how to cherish one another. These four treasure-tips are ways to help divorce-proof you relationship, and to express and deepen your love for one another.
Not all conflicts can be resolved successfully-sometimes one partner ends up going in a different direction in life, and the other partner does not want to go there. But many conflicts can be resolved if the right methods are used.
Valuing one another-maintaining that initial sparkle that brought you together-is not innate. It is something that needs to be tended to throughout your relationship, like making a flower garden thrive. Marie and Hunter could have avoided this "surprise-ending" to their relationship had they done the work that marital happiness requires.
To avoid unwanted surprises, never let your relationship go on automatic. Together, learn the communication, conflict resolution, and valuing skills that will help you enjoy years of playfulness, success and emotional intimacy together.
Edwin Locke, PhD, a world-renowned psychologist, and Ellen Kenner, PhD, a clinical psychologist and host of the nationally-syndicated radio talk show, The Rational Basis of Happiness®, have co-authored The Selfish Path to Romance: How to Love with Passion and Reason. Both are experts on Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism. For more information visit www.selfishromance.com.