Why Dinner and a Movie Does Not Fix a Troubled Marriage
I recently read that 28% of people retiring have no money saved and as many as 41% have never calculated how much money they will need to retire. As a society we have become lax about many important things. We hope that they will just work out. It is assumed that if we work our whole lives, our 401(k)s will just take care of us like our grandparents pensions. We do not investigate for fear that we will discover a problem we don’t know how to solve. If this rings true for you, please go find a financial planner to help you think through retirement.
The Auto Pilot Marriage
Sadly, there are many other important issues that we leave on auto pilot without ever stopping to assess their health. The Gottman Institute has released research that states that half of all marriages that end in divorce will do so in the first seven years. Gottman’s research also states that 5.6 years after the wedding, many marriages contain the predictors for an early divorce. The auto pilot marriage can therefore expect trouble ahead.
In the first seven years,
half of all marriages end in divorce.
The question must be asked: if there is so much failure in marriage, is it pointless to get married?
The Predictors of Divorce
Never fear! Hope is not lost, but the sooner you begin investing, whether in your retirement or in your marriage, the better. The four predictors for divorce are criticism, defensiveness, contempt and stonewalling. They have been identified from over 20 years of clinical research and have 90% accuracy in predicting relationship failure if not interrupted.
If you can identify all four of these traits in your marriage, I suggest you sit down with a counselor and begin to challenge these patterns before the saturating sense of negativity toward your spouse takes over. We call this negative sentiment override, and it can become the filter by which you see all of your spouses actions. The person who could do no wrong when you were dating has become someone who can no longer do anything right.
Build a Culture of Appreciation
When I see a couple for therapy who are battling this negativity, one of the first interventions I ask them to begin at home is to build a culture of appreciation. This begins with doing things that were natural when you were first seeing each other:
- First, practice turning your body towards your spouse when they are talking to you and maintain eye contact.
- Begin to notice and reign in the critical messages that you deliver to your spouse.
The 5:1 Positivity Ratio
Over time we want to build to a ratio of five positive interactions to one negative. The purpose of 5:1 is not to drown you in math, but to focus your mind and actions on being intentionally pleasant with your spouse. This does does not mean that you were not allowed to bring up problems in your marriage, but it helps to keep you from drowning them in the muck that has become your perception of them.
This is extremely difficult when you have intense negative feelings toward a person. However, if you really do want to redeem your marriage, you should be willing to invest more time to turn the rudder and right the ship.
What Is and Isn’t Intentional Quality Time
Intentional quality time is a necessary vehicle to accomplish achieving the 5 to 1 ratio. You remember quality time when you first got together. You called it dating, and you never took your eyes off of your spouse. Now it’s called Netflix, and you barely speak to each other while you enjoy this quality time. I love Netflix, but what I’m talking about is leaving your house, getting a babysitter, and spending time together.
You can do anything, but I would throw a word of caution: don’t go out to eat and to a movie. Eating dinner with someone who you have trouble speaking kindly to is like watching a train wreck. Why would you set yourself up for disappointment? The movie may be great, but it is functionally no different than sitting on your couch with your spouse watching Amazon Prime. Can you tell that I cut the cord?
Suggested Activities for Intentional Quality Time
So what can you do? I suggest activities that are a blend of interaction with each other and activity. It can be silly like miniature golf or practical like household projects. Or window shopping and dreaming about the future. On occasion take the time to enjoy a night out of town nearby or a long weekend in New Orleans, Birmingham or Memphis. If you can afford to, now that your retirement planning is back on track, plan for vacations every few years. Establish traditions that create enjoyment in your full life. Relationship monotony is akin to the hopelessness that facilitates depression. We fear things will never change. Invest time and money in your spouse and watch your relationship compound overtime. You can then enjoy that nest egg together.
Watershed Counseling has experienced marriage counselors trained in the Gottman Method. If you are committed to working on your marriage, we would love to see you. Please contact us to make a first appointment.