As I get ready to celebrate my 12th wedding anniversary and 17th year with my husband on Monday August 13th, I reflect back upon why we’ve worked so well. In a way, we have done all the wrong things – we have gone to bed angry before (contrary to what is suggested couples do), we have used hurtful words in heated moments, and have rehashed issues long after they were dead.

Sounds like a recipe for UNsuccess. But that could not be further from the truth. What has kept us happily together for almost 20 years, (and I am only 37, WOW), is a deep mutual love, commitment, friendship (and okay, great sex). When I’m not contemplating murder (yup, it happens), I can honestly say I adore the man I wake up next to every morning. He knows me like no one in this world. He comforts me in my darkest hour. He’s my #1 go-to person in this world. And he keeps our family unit together.

I recently read an article in the New York Times, and it stated that if you want marriage advice, don’t ask someone who’s been together 20 years like us– ask a divorced person. Divorced people often have big regrets, and when asked what went wrong, they all speak of similar mistakes. Mistakes which they say they will avoid the next time around.

The research shows that divorced couples share the same five regrets. The New York Times article claims that divorced people have powerful advice to teach us all. Dr. Terri Orbuch, a psychologist, research professor at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research, claims that “it’s marriage advice learned the hard way.”

After Dr. Orbuch’s extensive research, (25 years to be exact), here are her findings.  This is the advice her couples had to share after the towel had been thrown in on their own marriages.

1) Boost your spouse’s mood

Of the divorced people, many said they hadn’t given their spouses enough affection and affirmation- kissing, hand-holding, compliments, saying “I love you.” This is how you build trust. The divorced couples didn’t talk about sex as the problem. It was about how often their spouse made them feel good about the person they are, and valued their ideas and way of doing things.

The shocking finding to me, is that men seem to need nonsexual affirmation even more than women do, Dr. Orbuch says in the New York Times. In her study, “when the husband reported that his wife didn’t show love and affection, the couple was almost twice as likely to divorce as when the man said he felt cared for and appreciated. The reverse didn’t hold true, though. Couples where women felt a lack of affection weren’t more likely to divorce.” (New York Times)

Dr. Orbuch says it’s the little things we should do daily, to show our partner that they are loved and appreciated. Yup, things like taking out the garbage or turning the coffee pot on.

Okay, noted! 😉

2) Talk more about money

Money was the top conflict issue in all marriages (non divorced as well). They included fights over “different spending styles, lies about spending, and one person making more money and trying to control the other.”

Dr. Orbuch said that money is a complex topic, and that the biggest fix is to just talk more often about money. And not just during the stressful money times, but throughout the whole year.

3) Get over the past

Dr. Orbuch said, you must leave the past… IN THE PAST.
She talked about things like, “getting over jealousy of your partner’s past relationships, irritation at how your mother-in-law treats you, something from your own childhood that makes it hard for you to trust, a spat you had with your spouse six months ago.”

She speaks about healthy ways to get over the past– writing in a journal, exercising. To me, these are all ways to clear your mind, so that you can focus on the present, and not get stuck in the past. I don’t think enough people realize the benefits of good nutrition and exercise and the impact it has on their relationships. I speak from experience. Just trust me on this one.

4) Don’t blame

You know the Blame Game? “It’s your fault… You did this… We’re in this mess because of you.” Yup… don’t do it if you want to stay married.
Dr. Orbuch says, if you have to blame, blame in a healthy way.  Say things like “we,” not “you” or “I.” Say, “We are both so tired lately,” not “You are so crabby.” This removes the blame, and makes a solution easier to find.

My take on this is– do you want to win the battle, but lose the war? Remember, you’re both fighting for the same thing- a happy relationship. Spouses often forget that they are both on the same team. That means we all must sometimes compromise and surrender for the sake of the relationship. Yup, maybe not what you want to hear, but true.

5) Reveal more about yourself

Do you know that communication style is the #1 thing the study’s divorced individuals said they would change in the next relationship? Wow.

That means speaking in a calm, and caring voice, not in a loud aggressive tone. It means truly LISTENING to your partner, not rolling your eyes, and reading your Blackberry while your partner is speaking. Dr. Orbuch explained that good communication means revealing more about yourself- so that your partner can truly get to know you better.

Dr. Orbuch suggests a ritual you should do daily. She calls it the 10-minute rule. “Every day, for 10 minutes, the couple should talk alone about something other than work, the family and children, the household, the relationship. No problems. No scheduling. No logistics.”

Marriage takes great deal of work, commitment and mutual respect. If you’ve been on the fence about whether or not to throw the towel in on your marriage, may this serve as a warning sign. It’s Friday- I hope that you rediscover your partner this weekend, and take the time to reconnect, and make each other feel special. I wish that for you.

Do you agree with these tips? What do YOU know is true of marriage? What is YOUR secret to marital bliss? Or, on the flipside, do you struggle in your marriage? Please share your thoughts with our community.