Every marriage hits some rough times, but knowing this doesn’t make the difficulties any easier to deal with. No matter what situations arise in the course of your marriage, you essentially are faced with three choices: ignore your marital problems; attempt to move through them, or separate and consider divorce. Each works best for some couples in some situations.
Ignore Marital Problems to Avoid Conflict
Experts often caution to take marital problems seriously, but what about just downplaying conflict? According to psychologist John Mordecai Gottman, one way to have a long, healthy marriage is to agree to disagree, then move on. Gottman notes that spouses who use solo jogs — rather than sit-down discussions — to move past tension are not necessarily damning their marriage. These “conflict minimizers” make light of their differences, rather than arguing or even attempting to resolve them. Although this is not right for every couple, it can make for a good marriage.
Move Through Conflict by Communicating
Talking through issues is the classic way of working through rough times between spouses, and is the one preferred in marital therapy. If you want to try it at home, psychologist Susan Heitler, Ph.D., suggests you start by making a list of all issues you have disagreements about, then make it your goal to find mutually agreeable solutions to each. The key is focusing on yourself rather than trying to change your spouse. Leave aside all criticism, complaints, blame, and anger — address your concerns constructively. This opens the door to cooperative agreements.
Increase Loving Gestures in Hard Times
Dr. Heitler also suggests that during difficult moments in the marriage, you radically increase the positive energy you offer your partner. What does that involve? It means you should smile, hug and appreciate each other more, focusing your thoughts on what you like about your spouse rather than on the ways he has let you down. Try to agree more often with statements your spouse makes, praise more often and show more gratitude. Above all, find fun activities to do; laugh, joke and explore together.
Head Out the Door
Some “rough times” are really deal breakers, out-of-bounds in a healthy marriage. Three big ones are extramarital affairs, substance addictions, and excessive anger, according to Dr. Heitler. If your spouse ventures into this territory, separation can be a viable option, and divorce becomes a possibility.
If your spouse abuses you or your children when angry, your focus must be on protecting yourself and your family, not on appeasing his rage. If he’s drinking to excess, using drugs or has gotten involved with somebody else sexually, sitting tight just isn’t healthy. Get yourself to somewhere safe and call your attorney.