Real Intimacy: Beat the odds; stay marriedWritten by Lori Hollander | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Some couples ride off into the sunset while others grow apart or fall apart.
Falling in love is easy. But it can be just as easy for those feelings to slip away before you know it, often when you are not looking.
And no matter where you look, there is no way to avoid that overblown, ugly statistic claiming, “Fifty percent of marriages end in divorce.” The nasty implication, of course, is that your relationship’s chances of survival are reduced to the chances of winning a coin toss.
Don’t believe the hype (or the statistic).
Negative prophecies can become self fulfilling prophecies. “What’s the point of working through a relationship crisis if divorce remains a threat no matter what?”
As it turns out, that common 50% divorce statistic is misleading.
In fact, there has been a 27% decline in the number of divorces per 1000 marriages since 1979. Only marriages that occurred in the seventies were ever at the all time high risk of 48% while marriages from subsequent decades have reduced divorces rates, between 30 and 40%. In reality, marital stability has actually been growing with each decade.
Better, you say, but those odds are still not ideal. Agreed.
So how you can increase your chances of beating your (now better) odds?
Let’s start with an analogy. A music student might wonder about her odds of becoming a world class performer.
The difference between musicians who become world class performers and those who became school teachers, as Malcolm Gladwell wrote in Outliers, was the number of hours dedicated to practice. The world class performers each practiced an accumulated 10,000 hours compared to the 3,000 hours devoted by each music teacher.
This fascinating finding unveils the otherwise mysterious force that determines who gets to play on the world stage and who does not. Quite simply, those who practiced (and practiced and practiced) excelled beyond those who just practiced.
And from this pattern we might infer a lesson about the mysteries of lasting love.
Just like the ability to play a complicated concerto on stage (effortlessly!) requires a daily devotion to the music day in and day out, sweet loving feelings are only meaningful if loving actions consistently follow suit.
The common assumption that love is a feeling is a misconception. In fact, love is an action.
After all, thinking about your violin all day won’t advance your professional music career. But devoting yourself to practice will.
By all means, keep expressing your love for your partner like you mean it. But more important, mean it like you say it by acting upon it. Here’s how.
- Make your effort count
Love your partner not in the ways that make you feel loved but in the ways that make your partner feel loved.
For example, Jim said he was already trying to love Judy with his actions by trying snuggle, but he felt she was not receptive. When I asked him what makes him feel most loved, he said, “When Judy snuggles up against me, I love it.”
Doing more of the action he wished she would do for him is the natural inclination, but (unfortunately) it doesn’t work.
The essential question is, “What makes Judy feel most loved?” It turns out she likes when Jim asks about her day and listens well. And once he began doing that, she felt more loved (and more inclined to snuggle with him).
By loving her differently (rather than working harder at what is not working ) he is loving her more.
- Get a 5:1 “magic ratio”
Here is a true statistic: A couple with a 5:1 ratio of positive to negative interactions (five friendly or loving interactions for every critical or hostile one) significantly increases their chances of lasting love.
In long term studies, researchers have identified the 5:1 “magic ratio” as a major difference between “very satisfied” couples who remain married compared to couples who report dissatisfaction and/or divorce.
Sound like a lot of praising for your tastes? If so, take heed. Couples who exceed that ratio report even higher levels of happiness.
In other words, no need to let any statistics dictate your future. Instead, start taking action to fulfill the prophecy that brings you more love.
Lori Hollander, MSW, MBA, is a couples and sex therapist for the Center for Real Intimacy, 3365 Washtenaw Ave, Suite 208, Ann Arbor, MI 48104