Back before Thanksgiving, you gave yourself an ultimatum: I’m just going to get through the holidays, and then I’m telling him it’s over. Now here we are in the new year, and it’s your moment of truth. You have to make the final call: Should you leave your husband?
This is one of the most wrenching decisions a woman can face. As you consider ending your marriage, know that you’re far from alone. Women are thought to initiate between 70 percent and 80 percent of divorces.
Some of those marriages, of course, are irretrievably broken. Others, though, could be saved. Without counseling you in person, I can’t know which category your own marriage falls into. But what can I do is give you some final questions to consider before you leave so that you can be at peace with your decision, whatever it turns out to be.
Did You Ask For What You Need?
I’m not talking about complaining. That’s all too common among women in unhappy relationships. And at some point, husbands just check out and stop hearing them. What works instead is speaking up clearly and kindly for what you need. Maybe that means negotiating a shift in the domestic workload. Or it could mean learning to be more clear about what you expect from your husband.
Did You Address the Serious Issues?
If you are leaving your husband because his addiction, abuse or mental impairment, have the two of you sought help for these specific issues? If you haven’t, is he willing to? (Please, please keep your own safety front and center as you consider this question.)
What Have You Learned?
Whether you decide to leave your husband or stay and work on your marriage, it’s important to understand what went wrong in your relationship, and the role that both of you have played in creating the current situation. It may seem like everything is all his fault, but most relationships are more complex than that. Working to better understand yourself, your husband and how you relate to each other could save your marriage. But even if go through with leaving your husband, you still need to do this difficult inner work. If you don’t, you could be setting yourself up for another failed relationship.
Your answers to these questions might affirm that divorce is right choice for you, or they could encourage you to give your marriage another shot. If you opt to stay for now, I encourage you to seek relationship counseling. You and your husband can also use the practical strategies in my book Strong Women, Strong Loveto start to repair your relationship.
Did this year fly by for you, too? If you’ve missed any of the marriage advice articles from 2018, here’s your chance to catch up with the most popular posts. These are the five articles that resonated most with readers of the Strong Women, Strong Love blog and newsletter this year. To read each article, just click on its title. I’ve also included some suggestions for further reading so that you can continue to explore the topics that are most relevant to your marriage.
I’m not surprised that this article was so widely read, since this is a very common situation among couples. The key takeaways here are: 1) Talk openly about household responsibilities so that everything doesn’t fall on your shoulders. 2) Take couple time to maintain your intimate friendship with your husband. 3) Be aware of the pressures on parents to do everything “right.” Let go of perfectionism.
Even during the holiday season, there’s still a lot of negativity pervading our lives — from news headlines to colleagues who love to complain to rude people we encounter on the road and in stores. All of that can take a toll on your marriage if the two of you aren’t deliberate about building a “fortress of optimism” together. Taking good care of yourself also helps shift your mindset.
This article further reinforces the importance of positivity in marriage. In longtime happy couples, there’s reduced activity in the part of the brain that skews negative, researchers have discovered. Another fascinating finding: The brains of happy couples show more activity linked to empathy and emotional self-control.
I really love the video of older women looking back at their lives that’s featured in this article, and many of you responded to it as well. What can we learn from them? As I wrote previously: “Amid all the doing, take time for simply being. Right here. Right now. As the women in the video remind us, the years will pass quickly. And you don’t get a second chance to recapture the moments you lost.”
It’s a sobering reality that divorce can spread through a social circle. But the good news is that you can build your “immunity.” Put the time and energy into nurturing yourself and your marriage. And remember that what you do in even the smallest moments can either strengthen your relationship or tear it down.
Thank you so much for reading this blog in 2018! I hope that you’ve found insights here that have made your marriage happier and more fulfilling. I’ll be back in January with more articles that will help you keep your relationship strong amid the stress and busyness of everyday life. Until then, enjoy the rest of this festive season!
P.S. As you shop for gifts, consider picking up a present that you and your husband can share: a copy of my book Strong Women, Strong Love. I’m very grateful to be celebrating the fifth anniversary of this book, and I’m so happy that it’s made practical, down-to-earth marriage advice accessible to more couples.
Sometimes looking at your social media feeds can give you an inferiority complex about your relationship. Other couples seem to be taking more romantic trips, giving more beautiful gifts, posting more effusive birthday tributes to each other, living in fancier houses and even looking more in love in their photos.
It’s time for a reality check: 1) You don’t know what’s truly going on with other people. 2) The things I described above don’t actually have a lot to do with how good a marriage is.
Instead of comparing yourself with other couples, there’s a better way to gauge the health of your relationship. Take a look at the list below. If statements like these describe your marriage, then you and your husband are doing awesome — even if your life doesn’t seem very Instagram-able sometimes.
You Fight Fair
Having a great marriage doesn’t mean that you never disagree. How often you fight matters less than how you fight. For example, if you can argue without attacking each other’s overall personality or character, that points to a strong relationship. For more on arguing in a healthy way, check out my article “The Right Way to Fight With Your Husband.”
You Manage Ongoing Issues
Whether it’s your hypercritical mom or his needy ex-wife, some things will always be a source of tension. That doesn’t mean your marriage is bad. According to leading marriage researcher John Gottman, almost 70 percent of disagreements in marriage are recurring. The key thing is learning to manage the issues you can’t resolve.
Your Sex Life Is Right For You
Do you have a friend (or even a celebrity you follow on social media) who claims that she and her husband are going at it all the time? Your own marriage might feel less sizzling by comparison. But the truth is that frequency of sex varies a lot among happy couples. The important things is that both of you are satisfied with the amount of sex you are having.
You Have Your Own Lives
There’s a romantic ideal in our culture that your spouse should be this magical person who fulfills all of your needs and whom you never want to be away from. But couples who believe this are actually putting a lot of pressure on their marriage — and making it boring. Each of you needs strong friendships outside of your marriage to get all of your emotional needs met. You also both need space to pursue your own hobbies and interests. When you cultivate yourself, you change the whole energy you bring to your marriage.
You Know How to Apologize
Nobody’s perfect in marriage. You’re going to make mistakes, and so will your husband. What keeps your marriage on track is knowing how to apologize and recover from mistakes.
You Own Your Stuff
Great relationships don’t just happen to people who had happy childhoods and parents who modeled what a healthy marriage should be. If one or both of you came into your relationship with emotional baggage, you can still have very satisfying marriage — if you work together on your issues. I talk more about this idea in my article “How Attachment Styles Affect Your Marriage.”
You Speak Up
Some people don’t want to make a big deal out of anything — even if it is a big deal! They think that a good partner should have infinite patience. But this can backfire. Little things can spiral into big issues if you don’t deal with them. In healthy marriages, each partner feels comfortable raising concerns and can talk about them in a way that isn’t hurtful to the other partner.
You Respect Each Other
Romance gets all the attention, but respect is what keeps marriages together. If you’re in a period where passion is low (for example, after the birth of a child) and you still treat each other respectfully, that’s a great indicator that your relationship is still strong — and that you’ll eventually rekindle your passion.
Your Lifestyle Supports Your Marriage
We all get lots of messages about the things we’re “supposed” to be doing, having or achieving. Successful couples know what’s important to them, and they know that their relationship has to be among their priorities. They’re not afraid to say no to what they don’t value.
You Know It Takes Work
There’s a misconception that true love should be effortless, but happy couples know that’s not true. They realize that, like everything else, a marriage needs maintenance to stay functional. That’s why they’re deliberate every day about noticing positives, showing appreciation and giving their spouse moments of focused attention.
I hope that this list has highlighted all the things that are going right in your marriage and that you take a moment to appreciate all you and your husband have created together. To keep your relationship going strong, and work on any trouble spots, check out my book Strong Women, Strong Love.
The health of your relationship can depend on how things are going in bed. And I’m not talking about sex!
When you don’t get enough sleep, or your sleep schedules are out of synch, it’s a lot harder to have a happy, connected marriage. So today I hope to convince you that catching some ZZZ’s together is one of the most romantic things you can do.
What’s Causing Your Sleep Problems?
For working parents, a great night’s sleep can seem like the impossible dream. Lots of factors can come together to keep you from getting the rest you need. They include:
Stress and anxiety. You wake up at 3 A.M. and an endless loop starts playing in your mind: Will there be layoffs at work? Will your son pull up his grades? Is your mom showing signs of dementia? What’s going to happen next in this crazy world? More than two-thirds of Americans report that they lose sleep because they’re worried about something.
Your jobs. Different work shifts can put the two of you on different sleep schedules. Sleep also gets disrupted if either of you feels compelled to keep checking work email late into the night.
Technology. Even if you aren’t using your devices for work at bedtime, having them in your bedroom still makes it harder to sleep because they keep your brain alert and disrupt your natural sleep rhythms.
Packed schedules. Our busy days don’t leave us time to wind down and process the day. So we end up staying up later just to get the mental space we need.
Your kids. If you have young children — or even older kids who still wake up at night — your own sleep can suffer.
Each other. When a night owl marries an early bird, they can cost each other sleep. And when one partner has a sleep disorder — such as snoring or insomnia — the other often loses rest too.
The Sleep-Deprived Marriage
Have you ever noticed that even when people complain about a lack of sleep that they seem almost proud of it? It’s as if they’re “humble bragging” to the world that they can still do it all even when they’re exhausted.
But the truth is that skimping on sleep can profoundly damage our health, our work and our relationships. It keeps us from being at our best and from being there for others in the ways we want to be.
When you’re not in a healthy sleep routine, you may notice negative effects like these on your marriage:
Weaker connection. If the two of you are on different sleep schedules, you miss out on pre-sleep talking, cuddling and sex. The same is true if you go to bed at the same time but spend the moments before sleep on your phones. Marriage is all about maintaining connection, and missing these intimate moments can contribute to the two of you drifting apart.
Less interest in sex. A lack of sleep lowers libido for both men and women.
Nastier arguments. Being sleep deprived doesn’t just lead to more conflicts. It also changes the tone of those conflicts. Couples who get enough sleep are more likely to stay constructive and keep their sense of humor when they argue. On the other hand, couples who lack sleep get more hostile and negative. This is important because how often you argue is less important than the way that you argue.
A lack of gratitude.Appreciation is one of the key ingredients to a happy marriage. But when you aren’t sleeping enough, you feel less grateful for you partner.
Sleep Your Way to a Happier Marriage
You know now that you need more sleep. But you also know that your crazy schedules and all the things causing you anxiety aren’t going away. So what can you do to get the rest and the nightly connection you need to keep your marriage strong?
Create work boundaries. For some tips to help keep your job out of your bedroom, see my recent article on workaholism.
Curb technology. Ideally, you should keep your devices out of your bedroom before sleep. But if that’s not possible, start putting them away earlier to give yourself more time to wind down and to connect with each other.
Create a “good night” ritual. If the two of you don’t go to bed at the same time, you can still share some moments of connection at the end of the day. Take a few minutes to cuddle and talk even if one of you gets back up afterward.
Take care of yourselves. If you’re prone to middle-of-the-night worry sessions, look for at least one way you can start better managing stress, whether that’s exercising more or planning some time to talk with a friend.
Give yourself some breathing room. You might need to create some space in your schedule for more downtime and sleep. That’s especially true this time of year, when traveling, socializing and even wrapping presents can keep you up late.
It’s easy to let sleep fall to the bottom of your list of priorities. But when you take steps to get the rest you need, you’ll see the benefits quickly in your marriage and in other areas. For more advice on maintaining a happy marriage, check out my book Strong Women, Strong Love.
Does your husband roll his eyes when you mention particular friends of yours? Does he try to get out of activities where he knows they’ll be present? This might not seem like a big deal, but it could turn into a trouble spot in your marriage.
Researchers have found that conflicts over friends can raise the risk of divorce, especially when a husband does not like his wife’s friends.
So what are you supposed to do with this information? After all, you love both your husband and your friends.
Let’s get one thing out of the way first. You need friends! Having a variety of nurturing relationships makes your marriage stronger. If your husband doesn’t like you spending any time with friends, there’s a deeper problem.
Assuming, though, that his animosity seems limited to a certain friend or friends of yours, let’s take a closer look at what might be going on.
Does He Not Get Your Friendships?
First, if you know he has issues with a friend of yours, don’t let his dislike of your friend become the “elephant in the room.” Try to create a space to talk openly about what’s happening. For example, maybe he worries that the just-divorced friend you’re hanging out with a lot is filling your head with ideas about leaving him. But, in reality, you and your friend actually spend most of your time talking about work or the kids.
Another possibility is that you have different ideas about friendship. Let’s say your husband’s family lives by the famous quote: “you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” Your family, on the other hand, emphasizes loyalty above else. So it makes sense that he’s not too happy you’re sticking by your aimless friend from high school. And it makes sense that you wouldn’t dream of distancing yourself from her even though she drives you a little nuts. When each of you understands where the other is coming from, you can find a way through the tension.
Is He Jealous?
Your husband might also be jealous of the bond you have with your friend(s). It’s a challenge for any of us to maintain a healthy support system amid all the demands on our time. But men are even more likely than women to rely on their partner to meet all of their emotional needs. Your husband may feel that your friends are crowding out couple time. In this case, it could be helpful to encourage him to build up his own friendships and pursue his own interests. You can also make sure the two of you are actually setting time aside to spend together on a regular basis.
Is He Right About Your Friends?
Finally, consider that your husband may be on to something. Does he dislike your friends because he’s noticed they drain all your energy and leave you irritable? Has he seen a pattern of your giving more than your friends? Do you and your friends say means things about your husbands under the guise of “teasing” or “venting”? That last question is especially important. Research has shown us that contempt is lethal to marriages. So you don’t want to do anything to cultivate it.
Everyone needs friends, but the way to balance friendships and marriage is unique to every couple. You can learn more about how both you and your husband can build and maintain a healthy support system in my book Strong Women, Strong Love.