If someone were to ask me to, right now, off the top of my head, to list one of the most overlooked causes of divorce, I would definitely have to say that taking your partner for granted is up in the top five. No matter how close you are with your spouse, no matter how long the two of you have been with each other, when you don't take out the time to share how much you value your partner being in your life, it can start to take a toll on their feelings and, eventually the relationship as a whole.
Being the kind of spouse who doesn't succumb to this, let's be real, "potential divorce trap", requires daily effort. But if this is an area where you know you could stand to do better but you're not sure where to start, my hope is that this article can begin to point you into the right direction.
Ask. Don’t Assume.
There's a client I've got who has one of the pushiest wives on the planet. It's gotten to the point where he's kind of at his wit's end. When he asked me what I thought he should do to make her less bossy, I said, "Try and approach her in question form." What I mean by that is, "Would you mind if…?" or "How do you feel about…?" Since one of the greatest causes of the breakdown in marital unions is poor communication, based on a person's personality type (and whether they are a control-freak-in-denial or not), sometimes you have to cautiously approach someone in a way that discourages them from going on the defense—in order to get your point across and also in order to keep the peace (in your home).
Along these same lines, if there's one thing that I hear both men and women say is a HUGE pet peeve when it comes to dealing with their spouse, it's the fact that they assume that they should or will do something rather than simply asking first. Meaning, they hate that their partner acts like it should be a given that just because they want something done or desire something from their partner, that it should automatically happen. Some have even said that since that is how their partner comes at them, they make sure to say "no", even if something isn't that big of a deal, just to make a point.
It's important to remember that, just because you are with someone who pledged sacred vows to have your back, no matter what, that they are still adults with the power of choice. Therefore, they don't have to do anything. When we make it a point to make a request, we are conveying that we are perfectly aware of this fact; that we are grateful for their consideration and even more grateful if/when the request is honored.
Say “Please” and “Thank You”
If you check out the Love Chapter in the Bible (I Corinthians 13:4-8), something that it says is "love is not rude". Yet, as much as a lot of married couples profess to love each other, it's kinda crazy, just how rude they can be towards one another. An example? Do you make it a point and purpose to say "please" when asking your spouse to do something and/or follow it up with a "thank you" once they do? Even though I'm a single woman, I've got to say that, whenever someone approaches me with these three words, I am much more willing to honor their requests than when they don't. There's something about "please" that makes something feel more like a request rather than a demand and, when it's followed up with a "thank you", I feel like the person gets that complying is within my power and my power alone. "Please" and "thank you" always translate that they totally get that, and that's something that I definitely appreciate.
Speaking of appreciation, while on the surface the word means things like gratitude and recognition, a dictionary definition that I totally dig is "the act of estimating the qualities of things and giving them their proper value". Showing your spouse that you not only appreciate what they do for you and bring into your life, but that you appreciate them as individuals, that is a superpower; one that's definitely underrated. Think about it—when's the last time you made time (outside of their birthday, y'all's anniversary or a holiday) that you actually reflected on your partner's qualities and then asked yourself, "What can I do to make them feel like I appreciate their value?"
This is why doing things like speaking their love language is so important. So is doing things for no reason at all like making them their favorite dinner, handwriting them a letter, planning a staycation or a weekend road trip out of the blue, praising them in front of your children, offering to give them a break from their usual household duties, etc. are all very important proactive steps to take. Everyone needs to feel like they are acknowledged for the good that they do and the good that they are. One day soon, I'll pen a piece on how to "divorce-proof" your marriage. Showing appreciation to your partner—as they do the same thing for you—most certainly tops the list.
Acknowledge What They Are Actually Doing Right
Sometimes, while I'm in the middle of a counseling session, I find myself in awe that a spouse has remained even remotely sane with their partner for as long as they have. My awe is due to one thing, in particular. Their spouse nags…and nags…then criticizes…and then nags some more. UGH. Something that you signed up for, when you looked into your partner's eyes and said, "I do" is to love them until death parts you (a great read on this very topic is "Until Death Do Us Part — For Real"). What comes with that is loving someone who is flawed and makes mistakes—just like you are flawed and make mistakes.
But you know what? If all they are in your eyes is their colossal mess-ups, why did you marry them to begin with? (More on that in a sec.) Surely, there are some awesome qualities that they also have. And, if you think really hard, surely there is at least one thing that they did today that is praiseworthy.
No one wants to constantly hear the list of their wrongs or be in the never-ending space of negativity. Grandma used to say that we can catch more flies with honey than vinegar. No what else we can "catch" by praising our partner? Someone who is willing to do even more to make us happy. Beyond that, someone who actually likes coming home to us too.
Remember Why You Married Them in the First Place
An exercise that I typically recommend every couple I work with do is write down a list of the reasons why they decided to marry their partner—and then post it in a place where they both can see it on a daily basis (whether it's a bedroom mirror, the refrigerator, or they blow it up into a piece of art and hang it up someplace in the house). Sometimes, once people settle into the reality of what marriage is really all about (if you're a believer, more than anything, it's about showing you how to love in the way that God loves you; just think about all that HE puts up with—Ephesians 5), it can be easy to forget about why you and yours signed up for something as challenging, as demanding and, if you do it right, radical as marriage. A list like this can help to remind you that no, you're not crazy for being a wife (or fellas, if you're reading this, a husband). Marriage has its difficult times, no doubt about it. But you are with who you're with for some really good reasons, right? Jot down what drew you to their mind, body and spirit. It'll be good for your "love endurance levels" and great for their self-esteem as well.
Treat Each Day As Your First—and ONLY—Day with Your Partner
November 3 of this year marks the 25th anniversary of my late fiancée's passing. I oftentimes share that while there were signs, even in our last conversation (like "One Sweet Day" by Mariah Carey and Boys II Men playing and that one of the last things Damien said to me was, "Death is a part of reality"), I didn't treat our final moment together like it was our last. I assumed that the date that we made for later that day was going to happen. It didn't. He died that night in a very freak car accident, and the last thing I remember saying to him is not "I love you" but "See you later". Anyone who has lost someone close to them before will certainly vouch for the fact that nothing drives home the point that tomorrow is not promised and do not take anyone you love for granted quite like death—especially sudden death—does.
Take it from me, the pain of regret of doing just that never ever fully goes away, so please make a point to wake up, each and every morning, with a spirit of profound gratitude, first to the Most High for continuing to bless you and yours with life and then to your spouse for remaining in this thing called "life" with you, one more day.
'Cause y'all, with what life is like right through here, if having that kind of heart and mindset doesn't prevent you from taking your partner—and your marriage—for granted, I honestly don't know what will. Honor and appreciate your partner. Don't wait. DO. IT. NOW.
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