What's the best advice you have regarding successful marriage/ divorce prevention?
May 25, 2009 7:30 AM   Subscribe

What's your best advice for preventing divorce- starting before you even decide to get married?

I am in my mid-20's, female, and for the first time dating someone I might actually consider marrying. But, like many others my age, I'm terrified of divorce . . . especially because it seems like even people who could not be more in love and happy, somehow end up having irreconcilable differences ten years down the road. What happens to these couples? I've read plenty of stats during my obsessive googling: people are less likely to get divorced if they are over 25, if they are highly educated, if their parents aren't divorced. But that isn't all there is to it. Searching 'divorce prevention' on askmefi finds nothing (sad!), but it breaks my heart to see that there are hundreds of posts from people asking for advice on getting through their own divorces. i don't want that to be me in 20 years.

So . . . whats a mid-20's-girl who believes in marriage to do in the face of such harsh reality? I'm asking anon simply because I want general advice- nothing specific to my own life. For those of you who are happily married, what do you think you have that your now-divorced peers lacked? For those that are divorced . . . (well, number one, I'm sorry. I really am.) But secondly, what could have been different- or do you think it was doomed from the start, and you just failed to recognize it? Do people just have an unrealistic concept of what marriage is? Are people just too selfish? Are people just getting married to the wrong people? Do spouses neglect each other once kids come into the picture? Essentially, what advice would you give a stranger to help her ensure that her first marriage is her only one? Or is it ultimately a crapshoot to marry someone you love now and maybe you won't both be completely different in 10 years?

The one small thing about me that I suppose is relevant is that I am not religious. I know that makes a difference for some people. Also, I know that not getting married is a popular option for many, but I'm not ready to write off marriage yet, so please don't tell me to do that (yet. If I change my mind I'll let ya know.) Please don't get snarky at me, I'm not asking you to solve my personal problems, I just want to start a real and hopefully productive conversation on a subject I'm very curious about (and I'm sure I'm not the only one.) If you'd like to share your advice anonymously, throwaway account is throwaway.not.divorcee@gmail.com .

Thanks, hivemind.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (55 answers total) 144 users marked this as a favorite
Don't take each other for granted.
posted by mai at 7:33 AM on May 25, 2009 [7 favorites]

A small, inexpensive wedding. It's probably purely confirmation bias on my part, but I've begun to think of having a quiet, practical-sized ceremony as practically a good-luck charm, as opposed to the hubris of a large one. It won't put stress cracks in a marriage from the very start, at least.
posted by Countess Elena at 7:39 AM on May 25, 2009 [9 favorites]

I'll come right out and say my advice is going to be jaded -- I'm 25 and divorced. I can't pretend that everyone will commit my mistakes. I guess the most important thing I can say from here is that me & my ex were both skeptical about the social purposes of marriage before we even got married (so I won't go in to why we did it).

Do people just have an unrealistic concept of what marriage is? Yes. What's also important is that concepts be the same. I had a friend who married just before me thinking that marriage is about an equal partnership; she's now the proud mommy of a 27-year-old man.

Are people just too selfish? Yes. If you aren't selfish and he's not selfish, it could work. Especially if / when children come along.

Essentially, what advice would you give a stranger to help her ensure that her first marriage is her only one? Well, my first marriage is going to be my only one. Not doing that again. :) Really though, what you need is a LOT of openness, honesty, and willingness to cooperate.

Or is it ultimately a crapshoot to marry someone you love now and maybe you won't both be completely different in 10 years? You will both be completely different in 10 years. The trick is to try and change together in ways that complement the other. That's where honesty about one's changing desires and dreams become important.

Good luck.
posted by motsque at 7:40 AM on May 25, 2009 [2 favorites]

Your non-religious manner is totally OK and you should not feel that being religious or being part of any group will make you strong enough to withstand a loss of commitment. You have to make your partner know that you cannot be lived without. You will compromise and he will compromise but you must show each other that through those compromises, the rewards are limitless and you will enter into the most fulfilling, content relationship.
posted by parmanparman at 7:43 AM on May 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

Radical honesty. Leaving things unsaid because you'd rather not have the fight, or rather allow something difficult to simply go away is (or can be) a recipe for unresolved resentments and a failure of trust. In my experience, if both you and your partner aren't ready to at least try that, be wary of your own (and his) readiness for this sort of commitment.

You and I are similar in some ways (not religious) and different in others (I don't have much faith in the institution, but think rather it's about the commitment of the individuals involved), but I swear by this; as motsque rightly says, you WILL be different people in ten or even five years. Be wary of falling into patterns where you don't talk about something simply because you two never talk about that stuff.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 7:52 AM on May 25, 2009 [5 favorites]

We've been happily married almost 17 years. I'm speaking only for us now. While we were dating my future husband and I discovered our mutual indifference to children, and what a liberating discovery that was! I believe our decision to remain childfree is a major factor in our particular happiness.

And I'll heartily echo what mai said previously: don't take each other for granted. Consider his feelings, and make sure he considers yours. (Don't be a doormat, either!)
Say "please," "thank you" and "you're welcome" the way you would to any fellow guest at a party. Good manners are a great glue.
posted by BostonTerrier at 7:54 AM on May 25, 2009 [2 favorites]

Being perplexed as to how I remain married, one comment somewhere rung home. The folks that did not divorce were aware that their partner cared for them.

So, find a nerd, not a shining prince. That has some mutual interests. Have a kid or two. Try to maintain moral standards but allow for failings. Keep finances reasonable and stable. Don't be mean.
posted by sammyo at 7:57 AM on May 25, 2009 [10 favorites]

No one can say that x will work, because every marriage that is still together might not be together in 10 years. But there are things that appear to better chances around my family and acquaintances.

- Dating for a long time, including living together. Everyone has serious rough patches every 2-5 years - and there is the famous (fake? real?) seven-year itch. If you have been together for 5-7 years before getting married, you have already done a lot of changing and had a lot of crises and will have a better sense of how you get through them together. Also, having lived together, you've worked out how often the dishes will be done. Having children really changes, things again, give yourself several years and you at least have time to talk about how each other feels about having children. In fact, you will have time to talk about everything, and sometimes it might feel like you have nothing new to say to each other... But generally, the successful marriages in my family and friends have been between people who dated for 6-7 years, and the failed marriages have been between those who dated for 1-2 years. I even have friends of the family who had unplanned children together, but decided that was not worth rushing to the alter; when they did marry, their five-year old twin boys carried the rings, and they are still together 15 years later.

- Finding someone who feels as strongly as you do that divorce is either not an option, or at least a very poor and last choice option. I'm not so sure about this last one, but I know that my husband and I, though not religious, have strong feelings against divorce that I'm not sure that all of our aquaintances share, including those who have divorced after what seemed to me situations which could have been worked through had both partners been committed to working through it.
posted by jb at 8:03 AM on May 25, 2009 [2 favorites]

I'm asking anon simply because I want general advice- nothing specific to my own life

You're doing this part wrong, because you're going to get generic advice, some good, some bad, when what you really need is advice about you and your relationship.

Been married for seven years, been with her for 13. One thing I've noticed in my marriage and others is that what works for here, may not work there. What works for us, may not work for someone else. This is seemingly obvious, but it's a fundamental thing, IMO. Too many people try to figure out what is "normal" or what "others are doing" and while that can be helpful, it really doesn't matter if you two don't fit into that mold. You gotta learn about yourself and about your SO and be content with who you both are and how you mesh as unit. Otherwise, you wake up 10 years later in a situation you really don't want to be in and suddenly the grass starts looking greener elsewhere.

That said, here's 15 questions couples should ask or wish they had asked before marrying.

Also, if you have kids, love them fiercely and unconditionally, but don't make them the center of your world. Have dates, have a life, have sex, have a marriage. Marriage is life long, kids eventually move away and form their own life without you.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:09 AM on May 25, 2009 [9 favorites]

Oh - my husband says that I also should point out that apathy is very good for long term relationships.

It's a joke between us, that when we were dating (for 5.5 years, before getting engaged for another 1.5 years) that we wouldn't break up because we were just too apathetic and lazy generally, and breaking up and finding someone new to date was too much work.

So I would say, maybe not apathy, but a shared sense of humour. Because I'm not at all apathetic about him.

Also, he points out that if I left him and shacked up with the pool boy, he wouldn't hesitate to grant me a divorce. But what I meant by saying that you and your partner see divorce as really the last choice is that when things get really tough but neither of you have broken your vows - with money troubles, or even disability or mental illness - you both think that marriage, by virtue of being a solemn committment, is worth fighting for until you really cannot fight any more.
posted by jb at 8:10 AM on May 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

There is research on marriage that is worth looking at.

That said, I think you should at least agree on:

- money
- religion
- kids

Mutual respect and admiration too. Communication and "radical honesty" per above. You can't shy away from expressing your doubts and fears and vulnerabilities, and you should know that your partner will support you in that.
posted by idb at 8:12 AM on May 25, 2009 [3 favorites]

Each having both feet in relationship (pre-marriage already): full time all the time, no excuses. Conflict resolution skills. Full disclosure of physical and psychological health, and full acceptance of all possible related consequencies. Heavy compatibility testing pre-marriage, if you can do better than simply living together (lots of social research so far suggesting it harms rather than helps prospects of successful marriage), do some extreme travelling together, do not avoid trying conditions/situations.

'Love is not enough' attitude. One thing that all my married friends have in common: whoever in the couple 'registers' a problem first, initiates action to resolve it.
posted by Jurate at 8:13 AM on May 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

Two things always come to mind (without writing a book) when I think of marriage. One, you can't have a successful marriage without communication. Two, you should spend much more time preparing for the marriage than you do for the wedding day, which of course goes back to communication.
posted by Silvertree at 8:14 AM on May 25, 2009

Radical honesty. Leaving things unsaid because you'd rather not have the fight, or rather allow something difficult to simply go away is (or can be) a recipe for unresolved resentments and a failure of trust.

I'll partially agree with this, but also, it's REALLY important to let the little things go. You don't have to be "radically honest" and point out every little thing you feel your husband/wife is doing that you don't love.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:15 AM on May 25, 2009 [17 favorites]

Don't be mean.

Seconding this from sammyo. I can't believe some of the things I hear people say to their partners. I would never, ever, no matter how angry tell my wife to "fuck off" or call her a hurtful name. That's death by a thousand cuts for your marriage if you ask me.

I read an article on predictors of potential marriage problems. I can't remember where or I would provide the link.

One of the highest predictors is habitually using past incidents in current arguments. Everyone argues, everyone gets frustrated with other people, especially people who live with them 24/7. But throwing an argument or incident from two years ago in their face when arguing about something today is not a good sign. It is mean, petty, doesn't accomplish anything and can do lasting damage to the core of a relationship.

The other high predictor I remember is arguing all the time about a constant chronic issue. Again, everyone gets frustrated, everyone has arguments. But if you have one issue that keeps coming up time and time again, and you go over the same ground with nothing ever changing, that is not a good sign for a lasting relationship.

Personally, I would say, after the swooning-OMG-I'm-so-in-love phase fades it is really a nice feeling to wake up next to your best friend. Try for that.
posted by pixlboi at 8:18 AM on May 25, 2009 [23 favorites]

File this under "Everything-I-know-about-life-I-learned-from-the-music-biz".

I once asked a good friend of mine who ran a management company what kind of bands he was on the lookout for. His answer: bands that are already doing a good job of managing themselves because they're the only ones who "get it".

It's the same with marriage. Don't commit to someone who is incomplete without you. You cannot save them. You cannot "complete" them. It will end in tears.
posted by philip-random at 8:18 AM on May 25, 2009 [19 favorites]

You are asking this at exactly the right time, before you get involved . I'm a divorced man who still believes in marriage despite his own experience. Here are some things I learned through my experiences, both good and bad.

-Choose your partner wisely, using not just your heart, but your head. All the "in-love"-ness in the world can't make a marriage work if it's not a good match in practical ways. On the other hand, no matter how "logical" a match seems to be, if your heart is not in it, it won't work.

-Work on not just finding the right person, but being the right person.

-A marriage is a partnership where both partners give 150%

-You can't be married alone; both partners have to work at it.

-Understand that sometimes a marriage will be all about the other person. Other times it will be all about you. Sacrificing for each other moves the relationship forward.

-Communication is the cornerstone. Communication is 90% listening, 10% talking. So, don't hint, pout, or expect each other to "just get it" when a change needs to be made, then get resentful when they don't get it. "When you don't follow through on your promises, I feel like you aren't prioritizing us. How can we figure this out?" works better than "You never keep your word! What the hell is wrong with you?"

-On the same lines, learn active listening, and help your partner learn it too. Listen, reflect back what your partner says, then empathize with their point of view, even if you don't agree.

-It takes two to create a destructive vicious cycle, but it only takes one to break it. Even if you are "right," don't be too stubborn to do things differently in order to break a vicious cycle.

-A successful marriage does not happen by trying to control the other person, or change them into something other than what they are. A successful marriage is made of of two autonomous individuals with their own personalities and lives, who decide to share themselves with each other. Each partner needs their own space and activities. This makes both of you well-rounded and gives you things to talk about and support each other in.

-Ultimately, people do what they want to do. You can't control or dictate each others' actions, you can only decide on your own behavior.

-Never stop learning new ways to make your marriage better.

-Sex is communication. It's important enough to learn about, talk about, and treasure. Skip the unrealistic images in popular culture and porn, and learn how it really works for you and your spouse. Sex can help a marriage stay strong and help your bonds to grow. But sex by itself is not enough to save any marriage if the other areas are neglected.

-Don't sacrifice your marriage for your children. Children will take a lot of your time and energy, and you will derive a lot of joy and happiness from them. Don't let that take the place of getting happiness from your marriage. After kids come, be sure to set aside date nights, date lunches, date coffees, and whatever other time you can to connect without the kids. Talk about each other, not just what the kids are up to.

-Love can indeed grow and strengthen over the years. Like a well-tended garden, it can bloom and blossom, more and more each season, but it takes work. Neglect and laziness will kill it before you know what happened.

-Be patient with your partner, without being a martyr.

-Treat your partner as you want to be treated.

-Be nice.
posted by The Deej at 8:28 AM on May 25, 2009 [65 favorites]

Bobby Jindal and his wife entered into a covenant marriage which prohibits no-fault divorce.
posted by wfrgms at 8:39 AM on May 25, 2009 [2 favorites]

Happily married for five years this year, some friends of ours who were married for seven years are just now getting divorced.

One thing I thought about recently is how so many people who cheat seem to do so because they are looking for an escape from their obligations - house, spouse, money, kids, whatever - and I can look at that sort of clinically and understand it. But - there is no escaping your adult obligations once you've made the choice to have them - particularly children - and giving in to that urge is particularly childish and short-sighted.

That's a long way of saying, always try to do the mature thing and take the long view.

What's right for you or anyone in the way of specific advice will be wildly different, but the one thing that is the same is honesty, honesty, honesty. When I started dating my husband I told him, I will pick fights with you that I should not win. If you let me win, over time I will lose respect for you, and then we'll be doomed. It's the way I'm built, and I've done what I can to stop being crazy in that particular fashion, but there you have it: you have to be willing to fight with me to keep me. Everyone has something like that about themselves that isn't attractive or sane. This is what people mean when they say "warts and all."

You can't be afraid to fight and you can't be afraid to make up. There is a fearlessness and a fire that goes along with making a commitment for the rest of your life. You've got to be ready for that. But it's worth it.
posted by Medieval Maven at 8:40 AM on May 25, 2009 [7 favorites]

I've been married a couple times. The first one ended in divorce after we'd lived together three years. My current marriage is still going strong after 16 years. The difference? My current husband is someone whom I'd want as a friend even if we weren't romantically involved. I genuinely like him -- just as another human being -- and any physical attraction is entirely secondary to that. My first husband was/is a nice enough person but, when I really think about it, we never actually had all that much in common. I think that's critical: do you really LIKE the other person? Forget love, lust, and all that. Do you LIKE him?

The other thing I see all the time in failing marriages is that people don't treat one another with the same courtesy that they'd extend to a stranger! They stop saying please and thank you. They stop listening to one another. People have this crazy idea that, when it's family (or spouse), you don't have to observe the social niceties. Quite the contrary, if ANYONE deserves to be treated with courtesy, it's your family, your spouse.

Finally, realize that EVERYONE has annoying habits. You, your spouse, me.. everyone. And when you live with someone, those habits can really start to get under your skin if you let them. When you find yourself becoming annoyed (and you will), before that first critical snipe escapes your lips, ask yourself: How important is this, REALLY? What would happen if I chose to just ignore this thing? Is it REALLY worth it to make an issue out of it? Nine times out of ten, if you've chosen a spouse whom you genuinely like, you will find that it's much more fulfilling to find a way of living with his annoying habits.
posted by rhartong at 8:44 AM on May 25, 2009 [5 favorites]

I can't over emphasize the importance of quality pre-marital counseling, the kind that requires you and your potential spouse to talk through all the key issues of relationships and examine the differing expectations that you bring because of the families you were raised in. When my wife and I got engaged, we went through a pre-marital preparation program with a 33% break-up rate and a 1% divorce rate. One third of the couples who entered the program decided not to marry as a result of what they discovered, but of the couples who married, only 1% had divorced, ten years since the program started. Better, each of the couples who divorced had been advised not to marry. So the divorce rate of "couples who went through the program and were given a green light to get hitched" was actually zero. That's what we wanted.

That particular program was church based, but you could do something similar without the Christian atmosphere. The most important thing was that it used the Prepare inventory, which required us to answer questions honestly and gave the counselors great background information to help us analyze our relationship. I thought it was so useful, that I got the training to be able to administer the inventory myself. If you go to their website, you can find premarital counselors that use it. Just click "find a facilitator" and uncheck the "clergy" box and you get a list of counselors and psychologists in your area.

I think that's the best preparation, but if that doesn't work for you, the next best thing is for you and your partner to go through a do-it-yourself kind of premarital prep. Buy the Getting Ready for Marriage Workbook, and go through it together, taking it seriously. It's not as good as sitting down with a competent premarital counselor, but it'll cover a lot of the same territory, and help you find potential problem areas.

Also, get your finances in order, and get on the same page with money stuff. Financial stress is possibly the most common contributing factor in divorces. Every couple that I marry gets a free copy of Dave Ramsey's Total Money Makeover from me.

Finally, don't rush. While there are some happy couples out there who met and married in six weeks, you are much better off dating for at least a year before marriage. You need to see your SO in all seasons of the year, you need to see how they respond to stressful situations, and you need a chance for the initial euphoria of new love to wear off so that the tint has faded a little on the rose-colored glasses. And you need to be spending time together day in and day out in ways approximating your married routine. By that I mean doing chores, talking about finances, changing the oil, shopping. I know couples who made almost every moment together a fun date before marriage, and after the wedding it was a huge shock to their relationship to have to figure out how to do non-fun things as a couple. If you are a compatible team when it comes to the drudgery of daily routines, there's an excellent chance that you'll stay married for a lifetime.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 8:46 AM on May 25, 2009 [10 favorites]

Same views on money. Same views on money. Same views on money. Money attitudes tend not to change and will color everything in life that follows.

Marry sane, not crazy. Crazy is entertaining for a while, but is crazy making long term.

Marry someone who gets your jokes, preferably someone with whom you can have private jokes. It's you two against the world.

Comfortable conversation. Comfortable silence. By which I do not mean earnest and all night, but which I mean comfortable. You are ideally marrying your best friend.

Spouses you choose for who they are, kids are a gamble, but a gamble that you will (probably) see move out one day, soooo - remember to dance with the one what brung you, because you'll want that one to take you home as well.

Don't assume you will settle into it immediately. Like shoes, it can take a break in period.
posted by IndigoJones at 8:50 AM on May 25, 2009 [3 favorites]

Wow, "communication" rears its ugly head again. Lack of communication is never the actual problem, it's the lack of willingness to communicate. Don't agree? Ask someone who blames their relationship problems on "communication," to tell you what the communication problem is. The other partner is quiet and brooding? Or they're just yelling all the time? Sounds like communicating to me. Just because you won't say/don't like the message doesn't qualify it as a signal-to-noise issue.

Blaming problems on "not communicating" is like pointing a finger at a non-entity 3rd party because neither person is strong enough.

While I agree with above that it would be helpful to know a little more about your situation, I also think a bunch of advice isn't going to help you not get divorced.

You're in the honeymoon phase of your relationship now. At a deeper level that means you and the guy are accommodating one another's anxieties. It feels good, but the steam is going to run out on this mode at about year 3. At that point you have only the foundation you've built and your real self to rely upon when working out arguments.

Keep this in mind. . . There must be compromise in every relationship. Good ones, and crappy ones. If you, or the guy compromise from the strong part of yourselves-- the part that is about knowing what you are willing to negotiate with and knowing what you are actually willing to sacrifice for the other person-- then you'll be fine. When you compromise because of your own anxiety/desire to please the consequence of that will be resentment for yourself (and more often, your partner) in proportion to how much you became a doormat.

My only piece of actual advice would be to tell your prospective guy your reluctance about marriage and hear what he has to say. What are his fears? How would he react?

And/or, tell him you'd like to go for a round brief 8-12 session, pre-marital therapy. His reaction to that might tell you a lot.
posted by No New Diamonds Please at 8:52 AM on May 25, 2009 [8 favorites]

Oh, one more thing. A good friend of mine always says that you should expect your spouse to meet 40% of your emotional needs. They can't be your best friend, your recreational partner, your co-worker, your support group, your parent, your sibling, your intellectual sparring partner, your book club pal, your shopping buddy and your lover. They can be some of those things, to varying degrees, but healthy people have a network of friendships and relationships that go beyond just their marriage. If you expect your spouse to become the only person you need in your whole life, you're setting him up for failure. I think 40% sounds about right. They contribute more to your well-being than any other single person, but even a spouse can't meet the majority of your relationship needs unassisted.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 8:52 AM on May 25, 2009 [40 favorites]

Remember that no one person can meet all your needs. Expecting that from your spouse is unfair and will probably leave you feeling bitter and unfulfilled and blaming your spouse for it. If you have interests that your spouse doesn't share, enjoy them with friends, take classes, etc. Respect those needs and interests that your spouse has and you don't share and that you can't fulfill. Help him or her pursue them.
posted by kitcat at 9:05 AM on May 25, 2009 [2 favorites]

I've been married for 13 years. My advice is to marry your best friend. Make sure you spend lots of time playing together, being silly together.

Also, make sure that your social needs are similar. This is actually an issue (the one major issue) for me and my wife, because I'm an introvert and she's a party girl. Still, we share most of the same friends and both need alone time together. It would be hard if she had a totally different social life from me. We also have the same needs in terms of how much time we want to spend around family. And we like about the same amount of alone time vs. together time. We don't share all the same interests, but we share many. So we always have stuff and people to talk about.

Take your marriage vows seriously. I'm an atheist. So is my wife. But we made a promise to each other. We are both in this for the long term. That means that if things get rocky, we don't look for an out. We work on it. Divorce isn't on the agenda. That doesn't mean that we'd put up with anything. It means that you don't even consider surgery until you've tried out all the less invasive medicines.

Marriage is always work. At best, it is fun work. But you can't think of it as something that's just there for you, that you can take for granted, like a dog you don't have to walk. You have to walk this dog.

I knew I'd found the girl I wanted to marry when I imagined what would happen if she got into a horrible accident and became a quadriplegic. I knew without a doubt that I'd still want to be with her.

A long marriage will probably include at least some of the following issues: infidelity, extreme financial problems (the fault of one partner), bad relationships with family members, changes in religious or political identification, body changes, changes in sexual interest, fetishes, drug addiction, illness... No one expects these things to happen, but people are people. They make mistakes.

Another milestone for me is when I realized how I would feel if my wife had a one-night stand and confessed it to me. I knew I would be really angry. I also knew it wouldn't be a deal-breaker. Assuming she was willing to work with me, I knew we'd be able to overcome it. And I knew she felt the same way about me. In fact, we've discussed it.

If you think any of the issues I brought up would be deal-breakers, don't marry -- or marry and expect divorce. If you think you can weather storms (and have found a partner who can do so, too). If you think you've found someone who is WORTH weathering storms, then go for it.
posted by grumblebee at 9:08 AM on May 25, 2009 [22 favorites]

I came in here to say that, although I've only been married 4 years, and just had our first child a few days ago, that the best marriage advice I think I've been given is not to forget your spouse once you have kids. Or more accurately, not to stop working on your relationship with your spouse once you have kids. Because it seems like a lot of divorce comes after the kids get grown, and suddenly you don't recognize each other anymore because you've only been paying attention to the kids. This is obviously only relevant if you have kids, but you should definitely be on the same page about that in the first place or you're doomed from the start. So seconding (or nthing) the don't sacrifice your marriage for your kids.
posted by dpx.mfx at 9:11 AM on May 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

Pick a really good person to marry. I'm with Idb, there's good research; use it.
posted by theora55 at 9:42 AM on May 25, 2009

My parents will be celebrating their 34th wedding anniversary on Saturday. A statistical anomaly i'm sure, but of the 8 marriages of their generation, my aunts and uncles, all are of at least 25 years standing, with no divorces... deaths, yes, but no divorce. I've only been married for two years, but I'll pass on the advice directly given to me from my aunts and uncles at the time I married, as well as observations of what made each of these relationships work, that i'm trying to integrate into my own marriage.
First, from my Uncle Jimmy, who's been married the longest: " DIVORCE IS ALWAYS ON THE TABLE" I think he meant that as a conflict resolution tool, such that you're never really trapped in a marriage, and that in the end it is really what you want to be doing. If you keep in mind the alternatives, even in the darkest moments, you can more easily see that the marriage itself is what you want and what you'll be fighting/working to keep. At least that's how I interpret it, Uncle Jimmy can be a little opaque sometimes.
From Dad: "Women get into marriage thinking they can change him, but they never can. Men get into marriage thinking she'll never change, but she does." Ignoring the gender stereotypes, I have found this to be quite sound. Neither party is getting married to submit to being moulded by the other person's wishes, and no-one wants to feel chained to the 28 or whateveryearold self they were when they were married. If there is something you feel needs changing in the other, rest assured, you will not be able to change it. And if you do, you probably will not like the results.
This leads nicely to another Aunt's advice: "Love and respect..." Figuring this one out is more observational but it seems to me that one thing that's most obvious to your spouse is your weaknesses. But respecting the person you're married to requires you to ignore or ease the burdens of the weakenesses while pushing up the assets. The easy thing to do is to point out the weaknesses and tell me what I can't do because of them. What I've observed my parents and their siblings doing is avoid picking on that low hanging antagonistic fruit and instead always trying to put the strengths of their spouse on display. You love this person, you want everyone to see them in as favorable a light as possible, you pick the brightest points and show them off.
And finally, from a cereal box: "CONTENTS MAY SETTLE DURING SHIPPING". Priorities will change, drastically, once you're married. Some anxieties will evaporate like mist, others will become the new worry of your adult life. The goods inside are still the same, but don't be too concerned if they get re-arranged along the way.
posted by Cold Lurkey at 9:43 AM on May 25, 2009 [5 favorites]

Also, "I'm terrified of divorce" ? You wrote that in the original post and to me that hints that you have certain issues about marriage that you need to figure out before you take the plunge. As awful as divorce could be, there are legitimate cases for it and it is survivable. Being terrified of it before you're even married could be you making a bigger issue of something than you need to.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:30 AM on May 25, 2009 [5 favorites]

I am divorced. We dated for 4 years and were married for 5. Looking back there are many things I can point to that lead to the relationship not working out. But the bottom line for me is that I hadn't figured out who I was, I didn't like myself. I had such low self-esteem. I didn't think I was very smart, I didn't think I was very pretty, I didn't think I could do much of anything. So, when the warning signs popped up I either ignored them or didn't notice or on occasion I actually acknowledged the problem and thought "but I could never make it on my own so I better make the best of it and stick with the relationship." When I started my career, met new people I developed a little confidence I changed a lot and quickly realized how unhappy I was in my situation.

When my marriage ended I did everything on my own, from rock climbing to saving money to going to grad school. Now, I know I am lovely and amazing and capable of taking on some pretty daunting challenges.

My current relationship works because I am not hiding anything, everything is out in the open and it's much easier to communicate this way. He's my best friend, we can be silly together, we share interests but also have some that are just our own. We support each other through thick and thin. In a little less than 3 years we have endured a masters degree, 3 deaths, loss of a job and the start of a new business. All this has been really stressfull but has helped because I figure if we have survived all this in a short period of time we can make it through what ever life has to throw at us.
posted by sadtomato at 10:35 AM on May 25, 2009 [3 favorites]

I strongly recommend Helen Fisher's book Why We Love: The Nature And Chemistry Of Romantic Love.

You brain has very old and very powerful chemical systems that have the purpose of making you 1) strongly attach to a single partner, 2) have lots of sex with them, and 3) stay together, just long enough for the child to be born and become somewhat less helpless. Divorces cluster around the 4-year mark after marriage.

Fisher did find a few examples of couples who claimed to be still madly in love with each other after many years of being together, and hypothesized that this is because they have lifestyles that result in them frequently having novel and exciting experiences together. Novel and exciting things boost the brain's levels of dopamine, the chemical likely responsible for falling in love.
posted by brain at 10:41 AM on May 25, 2009 [9 favorites]

...especially because it seems like even people who could not be more in love and happy, somehow end up having irreconcilable differences ten years down the road.

Wait, what? You're in your mid-20s, so in order to know of couples that seem in love and happy, yet have irreconcilable differences ten years later means you have to have know these couples since you were 15 and frankly, most 15 year olds don't have a good understanding of what adult love is. I'm not trying to belittle you or your experiences, just pointing out that you seem to have come to certain cynical conclusions that may not be grounded in reality.

The interactions between two people can be complex, to the point where it may take them years to figure it out and the effect of said interactions. Someone viewing that relationship from the outside, particularly a young person who may not have much experience in relationships, may fully understand what happened in that relationship.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:46 AM on May 25, 2009

I've been one half of an odd couple for 20 years, and it's all his fault. I'm impossible to live with, getting less so with age. The real reason we're together is that we want the same things, have similar attitudes towards money (I'm thriftier), home and family, and agree on all sorts of odd things that come up when sharing a life together. The last one used to drive the children nuts as they'd go to dad, then to me, and get the same answer even when we'd never discussed it. Our major disagreement: he always wants to paint everything blue. Oh, and neither of us nags or screams or bangs doors or cheats or belittles or says mean things or buys anything big without consulting the other. We are who we are and accept each other. And we discuss everything, whether it's sending the kids to camp, moving house, buying a hose before we do it. Of course, he's the only man I've ever met who didn't make me want to bang a door every once in a while. Drama doesn't wear well day to day. Odd couple because, when we met, I was the mile-a-minute well dressed one and he was the never-say-a-word schlubby techie. He talks a lot at home and I'm quieter. So, look in places you'd never expect to find a really good guy, one who shares your values and will love you even when you have the flu.
posted by x46 at 11:59 AM on May 25, 2009 [3 favorites]

The wife thinks you're setting yourself up for failure, since you're already thinking of divorce as an option. This is her second marriage and she said divorce shouldn't be thought of until major problems in the marriage aren't getting solved.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:11 PM on May 25, 2009 [2 favorites]

Choose a monetary value that is considered the limit of what you can buy without discussion. For my wife and I, it's things costing more than $20. This can vary based on your income and comfort level.

Don't keep score. Don't bring up past transgressions or mistakes that are irrelevant to a current argument.

Be honest about your responsibilities. Share the chores, and sometimes do the other person's chore when they're not expecting it.
posted by Fleebnork at 12:41 PM on May 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

"Marriage is supposed to be a joint adventure - its not a joint venture".

This was actually said to me by my lawyer when I had told him I was getting married. I think his idea is worth considering in the light of some of the great advice above on how to prepare for a successful marriage. You can reasonably hope to nail down many aspects and eliminate some risks in advance - but never all of them. Therefore try to marry a good fellow adventurer.
posted by rongorongo at 1:17 PM on May 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

I've never been married or engaged, but I wonder if one thing that might be helpful to you and your partner, both in addressing your fears of divorce and in helping you compare/develop personal philosophies about divorce and related issues, is to talk in detail about divorces and marital difficulties depicted in books or movies than you've both read/seen (or read/see for this purpose). You could discuss questions like: What happened? What were the problems? What were the causes of the problems? Which personality traits of each partner were relevant/irrelevant? What portion, if any, of each partner's contribution to the problem didn't seem rooted in his/her personality? What mistakes were made? What, if anything, could have been done to avert those mistakes? Was either partner in the wrong? Which, if any, hurtful actions were legitimate/justified? Which were not legitimate/justified? If you were partner A, what would you say the same or differently to partner B in scene X? How is this book/movie's representation of relationships/married life/people inaccurate, or incomparable to our situation/future situation? And so on. Of course, you could do the same thing with divorces and marital difficulties you're familiar with from life; the advantage of books and movies is that you both have exactly the same information and it's presented to you in exactly the same way.
posted by Mummy of a Lady Named Jemutesonekh at 2:13 PM on May 25, 2009 [2 favorites]

Two things:

Don't be in a hurry to get hitched. PARTICULARLY if you feel unhappy/unsettled/dissatisfied with the rest of your personal life. Even if you're in "love". Your unhappiness is often a sign you haven't really become who you are yet. Take a couple of years, however long it takes, to become someone who feels pretty good--ok, make that REALLY good--about his or life, before settling down with another person. Of course you can date and have fantastic long term relationships during this time! Just be VERY WARY of getting legally bound to someone during a time when your personality and life is in a constant state of existential flux.

And who knows? Maybe marriage isn't really right for you anyways. It's nice to see it as an OPTION as opposed to a thing to check off your todo list. You'll appreciate it more, anyways.

The second thing: find a good person. Of course, "good" is relative, so find someone who shares your values.
posted by The ____ of Justice at 2:24 PM on May 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

That's a big question. Here are few small ideas that have worked for us for nearly 15 years.

The idea of "radical honesty" is important since it means you'll never be feeling that you're hiding something. Then you'll want to agree on some ground rules for arguing so you can deal with the side effects of such radical honesty (for us it's roughly "nothing physical, no nasty names and no family references"). Make sure there are times to talk by yourselves - car trips or other travel can be good for that. Common core values help things greatly.

And if you're blessed with kids come back and ask for the next set of ideas. Good luck!
posted by mdoar at 2:33 PM on May 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

I have no experience, but an interestingly unintuitive learned-the-hard-way one I've heard of was "enter into a pre-nup agreement".
If you get to the point where a party is unsatisfied - or even simply bored - and tempted to wander, a pre-nup spells out how any divorce would go, so you can't end up fancifully imagining (or being prompted by others to imagine) that you'd "win" enough in the divorce to make the grass greener on the other side, and so maybe it's worth trying to keep what you've got. I'd never thought of pre-nups like that before.
posted by -harlequin- at 2:39 PM on May 25, 2009

"I am in my mid-20's, female, and for the first time dating someone I might actually consider marrying. But, like many others my age, I'm terrified of divorce . . . especially because it seems like even people who could not be more in love and happy, somehow end up having irreconcilable differences ten years down the road."

31 year old guy here. When I was in my early to mid 20s, I was much like you. Terrified of the prospect of divorce should I ever get married. I couldn't fathom why anyone would enter into a life-long commitment when so many people were failing at the actual commitment part. I didn't see myself ever getting married, only because I never wanted to divorce.

Then, at the ripe old age of 26, I met The One. The woman who was everything I never knew I wanted, and who I just clicked with. After two years of dating, I knew that if I married her divorce was simply something that could never happen. And so I popped the question, she said yes and on October 3rd this year we're getting married.

So honestly, I see where you're coming from, because I've been there myself but if my experience has taught me anything, when you meet the one you want to marry, all doubts about the possibility of divorce just melt away.

And that's how you avoid divorce. Not by finding the one you think you want to marry, but by finding the one you can't ever see yourself divorcing.
posted by Effigy2000 at 3:13 PM on May 25, 2009 [2 favorites]

Don't be overly influenced by your friends, possessions (theirs and yours) or money.
posted by rr at 5:03 PM on May 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

Agreeing with all above about the virtues of getting along with a mate, but approaching the institution of marriage from a slightly different angle: Love is damage. Bits are lost and bits are gained. People tend to like a particular set of bits, and despise waking up to find something either missing or new. You will change, they will change, the WORLD will change. If it doesn't, bury it. That said, marriage is not a promise to another person. It is an oath to the bond itself. That's why the words in the traditional vows don't once mention the emotional well being of either party. One should not marry because the other person "completes" him or her, but only when the bond completes them. A marriage is not a part of you. You are part of it.
posted by EnsignLunchmeat at 5:59 PM on May 25, 2009 [10 favorites]

I've been married more than 10 years.

Please don't be afraid of divorce. Divorce exists because it's better than the alternative. Think of it like a fuse in an electrical system - When something goes REALLY wrong, it's better to have the fuse pop, than to burn down the house.

There's lots of good advice in this thread - particularly that you should make sure you're marrying someone because you like who they are, rather than thinking you can change them in some way.

A successful relationship requires an ability to reach meaningful compromises when your opinions diverge. Don't be a doormat, but do be prepared to accept that the best thing for your marriage will not always be path you would choose.

Finally, I'll just add one thing from experience. If you're prone to extreme hormonal crankiness, do make sure your partner is aware of this and try to come up with strategies to avoid him wondering why he wants to leave you every ~28 days.
posted by HiroProtagonist at 7:01 PM on May 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

I think 40% sounds about right. They contribute more to your well-being than any other single person, but even a spouse can't meet the majority of your relationship needs unassisted.

I like that. A nice metric for determining an aspect of mental health. More than 40 percent dependent on any single person? You're officially co-dependent.
posted by philip-random at 7:18 PM on May 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

Live together for several years first. Remember, if the relationship is one you're both committed to, then it shouldn't matter if you take years to get married. If you fear you'll break up if you don't get married sooner, then you shouldn't get married.
posted by Nattie at 9:03 PM on May 25, 2009

The three Cs: compatibility, compromise and communication.
posted by deborah at 10:09 PM on May 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

You need to make sure before you get married you are both the same political and religous values and be equally yoked in all other ways, or it is DOOMED!
posted by michaelehline at 10:12 PM on May 26, 2009

Counseling. Individual and Couples.
posted by mynameismandab at 12:23 AM on May 27, 2009

I haven't read every single response in the thread, so I'm not sure if this was mentioned.

One thing to evaluate in a partner is their view on gender roles. Being as close to gender-blind as possible will be positively predictive of marital success, IMHO.

For example, if you're a boorish male that thinks cooking, cleaning and laundry are women's jobs...trouble. If you're a boorish female who thinks taking out the garbage, mowing the lawn, and being the sole wage earner are men's jobs...trouble.

Male chauvinists and radical feminists tend to view many of the tasks that need to be accomplished during the course of a marriage through the filter of gender.

Blur that filter.
posted by teg4rvn at 10:14 AM on May 27, 2009

I am sure this has been brought up already, but I wanted to emphasize it because it is one of the major ways to make sure you stay married: preserve your sex moves. Many young people make the mistake of using all their sex moves within the first year of a relationship, much less a marriage. This is a big mistake. You think your spouse wants to see the same sex moves over and over again for the rest of his or her life? No way. So, here is what you do. Write down a list of your 20 best sex moves. Doesn't have to be in strict order, but generally from your best moves on down. Obviously you have more than 20 sex moves, and the rest you can use as you see fit and where appropriate, but save those top 20 sex moves. Then take your current age and subtract it from 60. You can still have sex after 60, but nobody expects new sex moves after age 60, so it can be greatest hits from there on out. Next divide that number by your 20 sex moves. Okay, that number is how many years you need to wait between introducing new sex moves. Hit your spouse with move number one right away, but only use moves 21 through whatever for that first time period. Then when the prearranged date comes for you to introduce a new sex move (I keep the dates on my Outlook calendar): boom you rock their world with sex move number two. They are like "Whoah I didn't know there were going to be new sex moves! And that is a good one too!" After a couple of intervals have passed your spouse will get the idea that you have some sex moves you haven't divulged and that he or she should keep coming back for more because who knows when you are going to shake things up. This is the kind of thing that a husband or wife really appreciates. It goes without saying that you should not explain that you are doing this deliberately and have planned intervals with which to bring out new sex moves. That would ruin the romance.

I hope that this advice helps and that I have not been too repetitive of what others have said. Good luck!
posted by ND¢ at 1:11 PM on May 27, 2009 [10 favorites]

follow-up from the OP
Hi everyone- thanks so much for all your replies, I love it.

Again, the reason I posted anonymously was so that people would give me broad advice. Isn't part of the purpose of Metafilter- to ask questions that will be useful to other people, too? Of course, some did still infer things from my very short question, so I'll address a couple:

(You're unhappy with your own life.) No . . . I think I may be happier now that I've ever been in my life. I think I've been maturing and growing in a positive way for the last several years, and really enjoying my current relationship, which is how this idea of marriage began tickling at my brain in the first place. It was something I didn't ever think about with my last few boyfriends.
(Fear of divorce makes you a strange and bad person.) Oh, come on. I think it's fair for me to think, hey, divorce seems quite shitty. I don't think there's anything wrong with, uh, not wanting it if it can be avoided. Maybe it can't be avoided, but you can't blame someone for wanting to try. Jeez.
(You're in too big of a hurry.) Nah. The way I see it, if we're meant to be, then there's no need to rush into marriage- because I am not afraid of 'losing' him if he we don't rush into it! In fact, because he is the first person I've really felt like I could be with long-term, I've been taking it slow so as not to mess anything up by going faster than we are comfortable with. (On preview, exactly what Nattie said. I agree 100%.)

I guess I'll try to explain it better. Right now, I FEEL like things are really good. The future looks promising. But . . . theoretically, don't ALL people feel this way when they get married? Or am I overestimating the general public? Do people get married when they don't feel good about it? I worry because it seems like any sane person would enter into things feeling in love and having good intentions, but somewhere along the way this isn't how it works out, for many people. I was trying to figure out what patterns exist regarding which ones last and which don't, because- call me naive, but I like to think at least MOST people go into it feeling in-love, optimistic, etc.

Anyway. On to the good advice. I love the 40% thing, I never really thought of it that way. And I truly believe that is the kind of wise thing that someone who has been married for a while can tell me that I wouldn't have necessarily considered on my own. WHICH IS EXACTLY WHAT I WAS LOOKING FOR WITH THIS QUESTION! So thank you for that.

ND¢, oh my God, I love it. I started reading your reply and it cracked me up to realize I already do that! I've been doing it since the beginning sort of intuitively, it just seemed logical. Although maybe I should slow my pace down in case we do end up together forever. :-)

There's way too much good advice on here to address individually, so thanks to everyone. I hope this thread will prove useful to others as well . . .
posted by jessamyn at 6:34 AM on May 29, 2009

maybe I'm too late, but I liked this thread so much I just wanted to join in. I guess I would have to group myself as one of the 'happily married's but of course, that's only true as long as we stay married. It's an ongoing thing, so you should take any advice from 'happily married's with a grain of salt.... I wish I could give a bigger, broader idea of why I am so happy in my marriage, but the most sweeping thing I can say is that I feel like we are both on the same team. We present a united front and it makes me feel invincible against a world that is sometimes hard to face. That feeling makes all the work that goes *into* the teamwork totally worth it... More specifically though, on the getting married/staying married:

I was with my husband for 11 years before we married. There were a lot of things that 'delayed' our marriage besides this issue but: Initially I had no intention of marrying anyone, although I was pretty sure from our earliest dates, I would spend forever with my now husband. What made me hesitate about marriage in general was the fact that *none* of the marriages in my family have ever ended in divorce....like no cousins, aunts and uncles, everybody just stays married no matter what....i am related to some miserable people. It's as though they have locked themselves in and don't know how to get out. I only realized later that I hesitated to marry because I didn't want to eliminate the escape route, just in case. As earlier posters have said, divorce is not the end of the world, and in the worst case scenario, sometimes it is for the best....

I realize this doesn't quite answer your question about how to best avoid divorce, but who knows? What if someone avoids marriage and loses Their One because they thought they needed an escape hatch the same way I did?
posted by Tandem Affinity at 10:27 PM on May 31, 2009 [1 favorite]

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