January is the month when most divorces are filed. But what separates the couples who choose to stay married from those who choose to divorce?
You might think couples who stay together are simply luckier than others. They fight less, or they have more in common, or they’re happier. But that isn’t it. Every marriage is filled with conflict. Your conflicts won’t be my conflicts, but yours are no better and no worse than mine.
What separates those who choose to stay married from those who don’t is attitude. Your attitude is the single most important determiner of your success in life, be it a job or a relationship. Life will throw you a thousand curve balls. So will marriage. But it isn’t the curve balls that matter—it’s what you do with those curve balls. And what you do stems from how you think.
For example, rather than focusing on what you don’t like about your spouse, focus on what you do like. Rather than think about what’s missing in your marriage, focus on what’s there. Hone in on what is rather than on what ifs. Also, never compare your marriage to someone else’s—that’s a recipe for disaster. Your neighbor’s marriage is just as flawed as yours. You just can’t see this from where you’re sitting.
So before you contact a divorce lawyer, try changing the way you think about marriage. Below are three hugely helpful and positive narratives to help you in your journey:
Marriage Isn’t Designed to Make You Happy
Too many people think of happiness as something over which they have no control, but that isn’t true. Ironically, it’s people’s definition of and expectations for happiness that undermine their own.
The best shot anyone has of being happy—in any domain, but especially in marriage—is to have no expectations. Not high, low, or medium expectations. None. Rather, go with what you get, or with what you’ve already chosen, and create a happy life from that. “The psychological immune system works best when we are totally stuck, when we are trapped,” writes Dan Gilbert, author of “Stumbling On Happiness.”
That may sound counterintuitive, but it follows the same logic as that put forth by Martha Washington: “The greater part of our misery or circumstances depends on our dispositions and not on our circumstances.” It’s what Abraham Lincoln noted: “People are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.”
Mentally Remove the Option to Divorce
Couples who choose to stay together share a committed to marriage as an institution. This value is forefront in their minds. They accept that problems are inevitable, and that being unhappy at times is inevitable. That is a feeling, not a permanent state. Thus, it is fleeting.
“Happy couples have stresses in their marriage; they have disagreements; they have pet peeves about each other; they get angry and depressed; they disappoint each other. They start with the same raw ingredients the rest of us have,” writes relationship expert Susan Page. “But they don’t let these potential roadblocks to happiness dominate their whole relationship. They are always aware of the bigger picture: their desire to be happy, their belief they can be happy, and their unswerving commitment to each other.”
Indeed, the way a couple handles conflict when they assume they’ll be together “‘til death do us part” is very different from the way a couple approaches conflict when they assume they can always leave. Technically, divorce is an option. The trick is to pretend it isn’t.
“The very option of being allowed to change our minds seems to increase the chances we will change our minds. When we can change our minds about decisions, we are less satisfied with them,” writes Barry Schwartz in “The Paradox of Choice.”
Avoid the Green Grass Syndrome
All couples struggle with wanting more than they have. Something that separates those who choose to stay married from those who don’t is the former know they can never get everything they want all wrapped up in one person. No matter who we end up with, there will always be something missing. Always.
“Research has shown that every happy, successful couple has approximately ten areas of ‘incompatibility’ or disagreement that they will never resolve.… If we switch partners, we’ll just get ten new areas of disagreement,” writes Diane Sollee of SmartMarriages.com.
In other words, couples who choose to stay together know they’re going to be dissatisfied to some degree, no matter whom they marry. As a result, they avoid the Green Grass Syndrome, or the propensity to believe there’s someone better “out there” for them.
Constantly asking yourself whether your spouse is right for you, or whether you’d be better off with someone else, is disruptive to your marriage. It’s like trying to have a conversation with another adult when a toddler is in the room. The distraction undermines the goal.