Avoiding the Pitfalls of Marriage: Lessons Learned the Hard Way

Tara Blair Ball

MarriagePhoto byDrew CoffmanonUnsplash

If I’d known how awful divorce was going to feel, I wouldn’t have gotten married to my first husband. I absolutely would have ended that relationship before we got married.

I’m married again, and it has been vastly different than my first.

To make a marriage work, there need to be two people willing and able to put the work in. Compromises and concessions made. Lots of love and mutual respect.

While there is no guarantee your marriage will “make” it, there are some great pieces of advice to help you keep divorce at bay.

1. Look for solutions, not scapegoats.

We can all tend to fight badly, and one of those honest-to-God bad ways to do it is to place blame.

When a problem arises, it doesn’t matter who did it because you’re on a team. A team works together to solve problems. If they turn to point fingers at each other, they’re just turning their backs on one another and not moving forward.

The next time you find yourself winding up to remind your partner that they’re the reason why you were late, remind yourself to look for that solution instead of a scapegoat that lets you off the hook (maybe you shouldn’t have taken so long to get dressed too, right?).

2. Be happy instead of right.

I’m stupidly stubborn. If I think it’s your job to apologize to me, I won’t speak to you. Maybe ever again. I’ll spend that whole time miserable, but I will never give in because I will be right.

This is a terrible quality in a marital partner. It’s one I actively have to work to overcome because I know, logically, being happy is so much better than winning. When I win, my partner loses, and so does our marriage.

3. Look at yourself first.

The last time I was miserable at my job, I couldn’t stop getting annoyed with my partner. He kept leaving the toilet seat up and his dishes out. During a normal, “How was your day?” conversation, I actually thought, If he says one more thing, I’ll scream.

This is the man I married because I love the way that he’s always so positive, that he has perfect dimples, that he always wishes me “Good morning!” after I crawl out of bed. My unhappiness had nothing to do with him. It had to do with me and my dissatisfaction with my job.

When you’re having an issue with your partner or how your relationship is going, etc., look at yourself first. Is there something going on with you? What’s your part?

4. Recognize that you can’t change each other.

I married my first husband firmly believing that marriage would change him. He’d suddenly become more supportive, publicly affectionate, gregarious, forthcoming, communicative, and a whole other list of things I felt like he was lacking. That was a huge mistake.

I’ve since seen many new couples do this same thing. They aren’t willing to accept certain things about their partner, and they believe they can help them change those things.

The best thing you can do for yourself when you encounter something you don’t like in your partner is ask yourself, “Can I live with this forever?” This may change how your relationship proceeds, but at least it will be grounded in you accepting your partner instead of believing they’re a project piece you can shape into what you think they should be.

5. Be on the same page about the big stuff.

My friend’s husband doesn’t want another kid, but she does. My friend’s boyfriend desperately wants to marry her, but she doesn’t much like the idea. My friend’s partner wants to move to Spain while my friend lives two blocks away from her elderly parents and has no intention of moving before they’ve passed away.

Couples break up/divorce over disagreements over the big stuff. Where will we live? What will we do for work? Will we have kids? When we will have kids?

Make sure you are on the same page, and if your desires change, communicate that with your partner as soon as they do.

6. Check your money.

Money is one of the most frequently cited reasons why couples divorce. It could be because of how it’s allocated, differences in spending habits/personalities, debt, or control issues.

My husband is anxious about money. He’d love it if he never had to look a bank statement or bill ever again while I check our bank account every day and assess where we need to make adjustments.

Every couple will need to communicate honestly about their feelings around money: anxieties, expectations, hopes, goals, and all else. You may not agree on everything, but you’ll need to come to a consensus. Money doesn’t have to tear apart your relationship if you can practice actively listening and empathy.

7. Don’t let your partner “discover” something bad later.

One of my friends found out after she’d been married nearly ten years that her husband had once dated men. The way she found out? Someone casually mentioned her husband’s ex-boyfriend…a name she’d never heard of before.

While she didn’t have an issue with his past, she did have an issue with the fact that he had hidden an aspect of himself from her, and that she found out from someone other than him. It made her reassess everything through a lens of “I married a liar!” It shook the very foundation of their relationship.

Betrayals — even small ones — can ruin a partner’s trust. Your partner should never have to “find” out something because — think about it — if the roles were reversed, it wouldn’t make you feel very good either.

If there’s anything from your past or present that makes you hesitate to tell your partner, hide it forever and hope they never find out, or go ahead and tell them. Just know the first option will be by far the worst one if they do find out down the line.

If you do get caught, make sure to take responsibility, know that it may take time for your partner to forgive you, and do whatever you can to re-establish that trust.

8. Don’t lose yourself.

A healthy relationship is made up of two whole people. When issues like codependency, addiction, etc. arise, it can make one person subsume themselves into the needs of another. This could happen with a spouse, children, or even elderly parents.

You’ll forget what you used to like and dislike, the last time you did something you enjoyed. You’ll respond to the question, “How are you doing?” with tales of your child’s latest baseball game or your spouse’s most recent foible. You’ll no longer have a you. People who lose themselves end up losing their relationships too.

Keep in touch with you. Draw healthy boundaries around you and your loved ones. Include self-care and time to yourself. Don’t be guilted into social views of what marriage/parenting should be like. Know that you can be a better partner/parent with time to yourself.

9. Communicate — even when you don’t want to.

Feelings are not mushrooms that just popped up after a rain; they always come from somewhere.

I hate communicating, especially about feelings. I would prefer that my husband and I conducted all of our difficult conversations over text or e-mail, but sometimes the quickest way to stop something from escalating is for me to set my hand on his arm. In-person conversations foster intimacy and better understanding since only 30% of communication is done through words alone.

Communicate often, and in person, as much as you can. Don’t just report (“Johnny has a soccer game at 7.”); remember to share feelingstoo (“I’m nervous about seeing Johnny’s mother tonight. I don’t like how she talked to me last time.”).

Set aside 5–10 minutes every day to check in about how things are going. Put down your phones, and turn off the TV. Look into each other’s eyes. Touch each other. Set aside a long stretch of time once a week or month to discuss money, plans, etc.

10. Don’t forget “love” is also a verb.

Loving someone requires action on your part. Figure out their love language. Buy them bubblegum you know they like when you’re buying gas. Do the laundry for them. Tell them their behind looks great. Ask them on a proper date to something they’d enjoy.

Courtship should still be a part of marriage as you keep learning about each other and yourselves. Once we take our partner for granted and resentments crowd in, love starts to die and divorce starts to loom, which is what you definitely don’t want.

None of these are quick or easy fixes, but marriage isn’t either. You make a lifetime commitment when you say those vows, and even though they can be broken, you can help avoid divorce court that by doing your part.

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Tara Blair Ball is a Certified Relationship Coach and author of Grateful in Love: A Daily Gratitude Journal for Couples, A Couples Goals Journal, and Reclaim & Recover: Heal from Toxic Relationships with a 7-Step Guided Journal. She has a Master's from the University of Memphis and is accredited by CTAA. You can find her on Tiktok, Instagram, or YouTube at @tara.relationshipcoach.

Memphis, TN

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