Marry Happy, Stay Happy

The Institute for Family Studies has found that, contrary to popular belief, the U.S. marriage and divorce rate is now at an all-time low. The low marriage rate of 33.2% can be explained easily by the pandemic that forced us to cancel so many events. But the divorce rate of 14.9%? That one is hard to explain.

Many of us expected divorce rates to increase nationwide because forcing us to stay at home all day, trying to get work accomplished in the same room with each other, feels like a recipe intended for a pressure cooker! But a study by the American Family Survey reported that, while couples are increasingly stressed, generally speaking, partners have more appreciation of and a deeper commitment to each other during these difficult times.

Are you and your partner one of those couples? If not, consider these five tips we recommend all couples apply to ensure they enjoy a happier relationship, despite these stressful times.

Good News

You probably have heard “communication is key!” many, many times. The good news is that this is not all about having “the talk“ with your partner. There are many different facets to good communication.

According to Psychologist Shelly L. Gable’s 2004 study, partners who gave active-constructive (engaged and supportive) responses to both positive and negative events felt understood, cared for, and validated by their partner. Conversely, partners who express jealousy or anger through negative statements like “That sounds like tons of work!”, or even passive-constructive responses like “That’s nice, honey,” appear to belittle their partner’s good news.

Bottom line? Active-constructive responders have more fun with each other and experience less conflicts because they have social support from each other.

Click here and here for examples of how you, too, can respond better.

Hang Out

“Hanging out” includes date nights, but more importantly, simply doing something together that you both love to do, according to this study. My parents don’t go on a date night every single week. Instead, they found something that they both love to do, gardening and farming. A couple of times a week, my parents will walk around the lawn tending to their precious plants and vegetables. This gives them an opportunity to chat while doing something that they enjoy (and it bears many fruits!).

Here are some activities and hobbies that you and your partner might enjoy for quality time together.

With cities and businesses opening up, it may be impossible to spend the time together at home that you did during lockdown. Perhaps you’ll be on the road more or in the office again. However, what are some activities you did during the pandemic with your partner or family? Maybe you had game/movie nights every Friday or went fishing on Saturday mornings. Keep the consistency but be flexible moving forward so that you accomplish two things: 1) you both or all have something to look forward to, and 2) you demonstrate that you enjoy spending time together.

Therapy and Couples Counseling

There certainly is a stigma against therapy because of the false narrative that if you go to therapy, then there is something wrong with you, that you are crazy, etc. But aren’t you crazy if you think you’re not? (I’m joking! But there is some truth behind this.)

Regardless, consider counseling because, according to this study, relationship discord is associated with depression occurring in at least partner. The same study also found that relationship satisfaction is the most common outcome in more than 200 evaluations of couples in counselling.

By attending counseling together, couples can talk to a trained professional about their personal lives, as well as how their marriage is being affected by stressful life events (like the lockdown.” Because counselors hear similar problems day-after-day, and recommend solutions that work for different clients, they are able to suggest answers that the couple or individual may not have considered.

Overall, counseling strengthens relationships, both individually and together.

Self-Improving

Have you ever thought of just quitting your relationship without trying to improve it? Ever just want to change your partner into someone more compatible, funnier, nicer, more helpful, richer, honest . . . and just better? As you might well imagine, critiquing, targeting, and trying to change your partner does more harm than good.

According to this study, on the other hand, self-improvement benefits your relationships because you ultimately engage in less negative behaviors. The nature of your intimate relationship will be successful when you and your partner are each engaged in self-improving, especially when you share your efforts to improve with each other.

The Masters

A happy and lasting marriage is about the culture of love and intimacy created between two people. According to this popular study about the masters and the disasters, the masters created that culture and the disasters squashed it. Dr. John Gottman explains that:

“There’s a habit of mind that the masters have which is this: They are scanning social environments for things they can appreciate and say ‘thank you’ for. They are building this culture of respect and appreciation very purposefully. Disasters are scanning the social environment for partners’ mistakes.”

Exercise kindness and patience often for a lasting relationship, and pay attention as well to the way you respond to your partner’s kindness and patience. Check out this blog by The Gottman Institute regarding conflict styles that hurt relationships. You can easily appreciate your relationships through this underrated practice.

This may be ironic for a family law firm to publish, but at Open Palm Law, we love to see happy clients and happy relationships! We hope that, as you consider the changes within your life and relationships, you are moving towards a healthier, happier life. We can help with your unique situation with our many areas of practice, like Collaborative Life Planning.

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