Divorce rates might be lower than they were 15 years ago, but they’re still much higher than back in our grandparents’ day—by about 50 percent. Figuring out how to divorce-proof your marriage can feel more difficult than ever. Of course, we have to take into account the fact that it’s far easier to get divorced if you want or choose to nowadays than ever before, but still, there’s something to say for the fact that 55 percent of first-time marriages end in divorce.
“Falling in love is easy, but staying in love is an entirely different issue,” says relationship coach, Matt Morgan. “It takes a lot of commitment, hard work and planning in order to stay in a happy marriage.”
After working with more than 1,200 engaged couples and more than 3,000 married couples, he’s learned that marriage is like a house—you can build an amazing house, but if you don't have a great foundation it's only a matter of time before that house starts caving in on you. The same, he says, is true for marriage.
Couples can begin creating the foundation long before they walk down the aisle and say their “I dos.” In fact, relationship experts say that taking the necessary steps to build a healthy marriage is the smartest thing you can do for your future spouse and future family.
Here, experts share the best ways to divorce-proof your marriage even before your big day.
Get to know your partner
Of course you know your partner, but do you know almost everything about him or her? This is important and might take deeper conversations than the kind you have over dinner. “Truly getting to know your partner means being observant of his or her verbal and non-verbal behaviors—watching how he or she is around friends and family, how he or she communicate with others besides you, etc.” says Mercedes Coffman, licensed marriage and family therapist in Burbank, California. “You should know these nitty-gritty details before you walk down the aisle.”
Inquire about the “hard” truths
Although most couples choose to refrain from asking the “difficult” questions in the beginning stages of a relationship, Coffman says that it’s an important step in divorce-proofing your marriage. She recommends knowing whether your partner wants children as well as his or her perspective on religion, finances, tradition, etc. “Discussing these issues prior to marriage can help a couple better secure their future together.”
We’re all different creatures with different needs, wants and desires. For this reason, the healthiest couples on the planet are the ones who are able to accept and understand this by stepping into their partner’s shoes—in other words, being empathetic. “Empathy is the ability to trade places with your spouse by understanding intellectually and emotionally where they are coming from,” says Morgan. “Couples who learn this art set themselves up for long term success and happiness.”
Find acceptance for your partner.
Coffman explains that many people set unrealistic expectations on their partners in efforts to stay together in a relationship. However, this only leads to disappointment and resentment. “Although it’s possible for couples to grow together into something greater, we should be mindful of the realities in front of us,” she says. “In most cases of failed relationships, the writing has always been on the wall—the partners just weren’t willing to accept their incompatibility at an earlier time.”
Check in with each other consistently.
Most of the complaints Coffman has heard from couples in long-term relationships is that they lose their desire over time. “It is important for couples, old or new, to realize that, as with any other living thing, the relationship will need consistent nurturing and care,” she says. “Some ways to nurture the relationship include frequent date nights, consistent affection and intimacy and frequent check-ins.” Marriage alone does not make a relationship work, she explains—it takes consistent effort, communication and commitment.
Iron out money issues.
Statistically, finances are the most common topic married couples fight about, but it doesn’t have to be this way. “I’ve found that couples’ decisions around how they handle money directly correlates to their vision around the meaning of marriage,” says Morgan. “For example, if a couple agrees that the meaning of marriage is two lives joining together to become one unit, then their decision for money is 10 times more likely to have a joint account where everything is shared—their actions align with their vision of marriage.” The key when it comes to ironing out money issues in an effort to divorce-proof your marriage is trust. “Trust is the currency of relationship,” he adds. “If you have no trust, you have no relationship.”
Have sex—lots of it.
The couple that has frequent, meaningful sex, stays together. “Most couples who experience long-lasting love and connection also report they have a good sex life,” says Tammy Nelson, Tammy Nelson, Ph.D., relationship expert, sex therapist and author of Getting the Sex You Want. “The misunderstanding that most people have about sex and marriage is that it happens naturally when you communicate, but it is actually the other way around—when you work on your erotic life, everything else will fall into place.”
Consider premarital counseling.
Most newlyweds are happy and in love, so they don’t see the point in going to premarital counseling, but Heidi McBain, licensed marriage and family therapist, says that doing so can divorce-proof your marriage by preventing future issues. “Couples’ counseling can really help you with your communication skills and give you a good foundation for when issues do arise in your relationship,” she says. “It also shows a willingness from both people to work on their relationship.”