20 tips to save your marriage
You may have survived 'divorce day', but it's still break-up season. Anna Tyzack has some advice on how to keep the flames of love burning bright
January reportedly sees more break-ups than any other month, and Monday marked 'divorce day', when more people were due to initiate divorce proceedings than any other day in 2018. While you may have made it past that, you're not in the clear yet - the next four weeks are peak 'break-up season'.
Yet family law expert Neil Russell believes many couples who find their way to court don't really want to divorce. "If only they would work through the rocky patches, they could have a better life together," he says.
Research by the Marriage Foundation in the UK shows that years five to seven are the most risky in terms of divorce, with the chances decreasing steadily the longer you're married.
"You need to take steps early on to stop the irritations mounting," explains Harry Benson of the foundation, who saw his own marriage almost falter.
"It's all too easy to get into a situation where both people love each other but neither feels loved."
The key, according to Sally Seyfried Herbert, who runs marriage courses to help couples build strong partnerships, is to learn to understand your partner.
"It's a cop-out not to try," she says. "When a marriage is good, and your spouse is passionate about your cause, it can be the making of you as a person." And if the spectre of break-up season is hanging over you, these 20 tips may just help.
Kiss, cuddle and say "I love you"
Brush your teeth first, but every day should begin with a kiss, says Benson. Hold hands, cuddle and put your arm around your loved one's shoulder to let them know you are there and on their side. "A gentle touch or supportive look can say a thousand words," says family counsellor Lulu Luckock. Send your spouse text messages telling them how much you fancy them, adds Seyfried Herbert.
Make time to make love
"We don't have time for sex," is an excuse family law expert Katherine Rayden hears from too many couples. "You've got to prioritise it over everything," she says.
"There is a reason you are a married couple, not best friends or house-mates," adds fellow legal expert Ayesha Vardag. "It's because at some point you really fancied the pants off each other. Losing that intimacy can drain the vitality from your marriage."
Date each other every week
Dinners out are a chance to have concentrated time together - to be a couple. You need to set some rules though, Seyfried Herbert warns: no talking about work or children.
Go away on adventures regularly
Spend the night away from home together regularly and take care not to allow holidays to be a continuation of your daily chores in a foreign setting (particularly if you have young children). It doesn't have to be an expensive trip abroad - try an overnight 'staycation' instead. Stepping outside your comfort zone will almost always be a bonding experience.
Take time to greet your spouse
"When you get home from work, give your spouse an uninterrupted minute of your time - make them feel honoured," says Seyfried Herbert. "If one of you starts being more attentive, the other will soon reciprocate."
Never side with kids or in-laws
Support one another in parenting skills, says Russell. Don't allow children or in-laws to play one of you off against the other. And don't use your children to score points.
Keep hold of who you are...
"When you met your spouse, you were two exciting individuals," says Vardag. "Don't let that go missing now. If you reconnect with yourself, you are more attractive to your partner."
... But remember, you are a TEAM
You don't have unlimited freedom if you're married, particularly if you have children. You've got to earn time away, says Benson: "You'll get more freedom if you give more freedom."
Being nagged? Ask yourself why
A neglected spouse quickly turns to micromanaging - i.e. nagging, says Benson. Don't get irritated, see it as a warning sign: be kind and encourage them to reveal what they really want.
Lose weight, drink less, give up smoking
The healthier you are, the more fun you are to be around, says Russell. "Take care of yourself if you want others to care for you. If you're in better shape, you'll have more energy, be less stressed and have a positive outlook," he says. Try working out as a couple - research shows that those who exercise together stay together.
Compliment each other
"If you want to have sex with your wife at the end of the day, start the day by making her feel valued and loved," says Seyfried Herbert. If complimenting doesn't come naturally, fake it, Benson adds. When his marriage was on the rocks, he stuck a note on his computer reminding himself to compliment his wife. "It soon became automatic," he says.
Get a joint bank account
Money isn't the thing that couples fight about most, Benson says, but it does tend to be at the root of their most intense disputes. "It represents hope, aspiration, success, control, power and trust, and for those reasons it is easy to get into arguments about," he explains. He recommends couples have a joint account and talk openly about their spending habits.
Put your phones away
No more reading work emails or catching up on the headlines when you're together, says Vardag. Luckock suggests banning screens from the bedroom. "It's shocking that we might look at our phones in the morning before we look into the eyes of the one we share our life with."
Bin social media
It's amazing the quality time together you will regain by disconnecting from social platforms, says Luckock. And if you find yourself having intimate online chats with someone who is not your spouse, log off indefinitely. "You're making yourself available," warns Rayden. "Time to make yourself unavailable."
Your mood and energy are inextricably connected to how much sleep you get. If you've got young children and your nights are regularly interrupted, take it in turns to sleep in, says Russell. Be sensitive about turning the light out early if your spouse is tired or has an early start, and if either of you are suffering from insomnia, try to work through it together by exercising, eating earlier or avoiding stressful conversations before bed.
Don't keep score
Try to stop yourself calculating who has done what. We all overestimate how much we contribute compared with other people because we're more aware of what we do, says happiness guru Gretchen Rubin.
Choose your words carefully
Once out of your mouth, words can never be retrieved, warns Luckock. No one likes constant reminders in a barking or whinging tone. If you need to remind your spouse of a job, use few words in a non-accusatory way. Rubin has got it down to "Milk!" or "Petrol!".
Leave work at work
It's not acceptable to be stressed out at weekends and on holiday. Switch off your emails and focus on enjoying quality time with your family. And leave work on time - your spouse matters more than presenteeism.
It won't all be plain sailing
You can't live with someone day in, day out and expect no conflict. "Every couple is struggling in their own world," Seyfried Herbert says. "A great marriage takes a lot of effort."
Never mention the word divorce in an argument - and learn the art of saying sorry
And let your children see you make up after an argument. Conflict resolution is so important, says Seyfried Herbert. "It helps them with their relationship-building. They learn that perfection is not achievable - or even right."