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How to Avoid Divorce

Get advice from a couple that nearly split after the first year of marriage

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Kelley and Kenric Baker, co-founders of Engaging Discussions, a company that offers online resources and in-person events around the country designed to help engaged couples and newlyweds prepare for marriage, admit they had a terrible time during their first year of marriage. “We loved each other, but we both brought some baggage to the marriage,” says Kelley. “I was critical. He would shut down.” In addition, the couple faced other challenges including the loss of family members, Kenric’s unemployment, Kelley’s new job, and a move to a new place where they didn’t know anyone.

Feeling isolated and alone, the couple soon began to think their marriage was a mistake. After some tears, however, they sought help, first from the pastor who married them and was a long-time family friend, and then from a therapist. They brought in an objective third party, plugged into a community of newlyweds who were facing similar challenges, and eventually became marriage mentors.

Now, they have created Engaging Discussions to help engaged and newly married people to prepare for the work of marriage and all that awaits them after the wedding day. Here is some of their best advice for newlyweds who want to avoid divorce and get through the struggles like they did:

Get Help

Even before you start to have problems, you should be pro-active about seeking support for your marriage. “Everybody can benefit from some type of marriage education,” says Kelley. “It’s a form of insurance.” Read, watch instructional DVDs, talk to your religious leaders and other happily married couples, take marriage training courses, go to seminars, attend pre-marriage counseling sessions – whatever is right for you. Educating yourself about what lies ahead is important. Although Kenric admits it is sometimes more difficult for a man to ask for help, he is happy he and his wife did because it saved their marriage.

Turn the Mirror on Yourself

Instead of pointing fingers at your spouse, think about your responsibility and the role you play. Try to put yourself in your spouse’s shoes – and develop empathy for what he or she might be facing and feeling. Kelley says she saw a vast improvement in their relationship when she finally admitted she was partially to blame for their problems. “I never knew how unconditionally I could be loved,” she says. “[Kenric] had such a good heart, and I was squelching it.” By becoming more aware of her own behavior and what it was doing to her husband, Kelley was able to be less critical and more loving.

Build Up Your Spouse

If you work at meeting your spouse’s needs, he or she will likely do the same for you. Women usually need to feel cherished and loved. Saying the words, being thoughtful (taking out the garbage or washing the dishes), writing love notes, hugging and kissing are all effective ways at demonstrating your devotion. Men, on the other hand, tend to have the need for admiration and respect. Listening to them, carefully considering their opinions, and providing positive reinforcement fulfill that need.

Make Time for One Another

Create the honeymoon habit, defined by Kelley and Kenric as rituals that have you investing in your relationship and getting returns on that investment. Find the time to eat dinner together, cuddle on the couch, or take a walk. You should find shared interests and activities that give you some time to hang out with another, download your day, get reacquainted, and talk openly about your relationship, says Kelley.

Pick Your Battles

Kelley says you have to pick your battles wisely because you’re going to have a lot of them. It’s normal for couples to fight and face challenges. The important thing is how you handle the fights and challenges. You can’t possibly argue over every little difference of opinion you have. Both people have to be willing to compromise. “Give each other a bit of grace and understanding,” says Kelley.

Talk to Other Newlyweds

Young newlyweds are pretty much all fighting about the same things, and they have shared experiences, says Kenric. He suggests getting to know other newlyweds and talking about how you’re all handling marriage. Besides helping you determine the best way for you and your spouse to approach your problems, talking to others in the same boat helps you feel less alone. Many couples struggle in the first couple years of marriage, but if you put in the effort and fight to keep your relationship afloat, you won’t sink.

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