Avoid typical pitfalls of marriage

By Ann Douglas
Chicago Tribune Jan. 02, 2002

No couple embarks on married life expecting to end up in divorce court, but that's what happens to more than 1 million American couples each year. And when they do the postmortem, they often find their marriage was sabotaged by one of these 10 traps:

1. Taking your partner for granted. That's like having a garden that you're not weeding or fertilizing, says Robert Billingham, professor of human development and family studies at Indiana University. "You can't expect it to continue to thr ive." Let your partner know you appreciate him or her.

2. Forgetting that a good marriage takes work. "People think that having a happy marriage is a magical, mystical occurrence," says marriage and family therapist Leslie Parrott, co-author of When Bad Things Happen to Good Marriages (Zondervan/HarperCollins). "We've accepted the fact that
parenting takes a lot of skill, but we don't want to accept the idea that romantic love takes a great deal of work, too."

3. Not talking through conflict. If you rely on heavy sighs, slammed doors and other non-verbal communication when something is bothering you, you could be playing with fire. As painful as it may be to get the conversation started, you must speak up. "Otherwise, problems start festering and begin to take on a life of their own," explains Sharon Naylor, author of The Unofficial Guide to Divorce (Hungry Minds).

4. Failing to romance your partner. "We all want to be made to feel
special," says psychologist Kate Wachs, author of Relationships for Dummies (Hungry Minds) and Dr. Kate's Love Secrets (Paper Chase Press). "That's why it's so important to set aside at least one night per week for you and your partner and to use this regular 'date night' to share your hopes and dreams."

5. Fighting dirty. The better you know somebody, the easier it is to hurt that person. "No matter how angry you may be about something," Naylor says, "you need to resist the temptation to figure out the one thing that will hurt your partner the most and then use that against him."

6. Fighting over money. A recent study by the Million Dollar Round Table, an international association of life insurance and financial services professionals, found that 43 percent of married couples argue about money. If money is becoming a major source of conflict, you might consider sitting down with a financial planner or some other third party that can help come up with a financial game plan you both can live with.

7. Letting the passion fizzle. "Have sex often - anytime either of you is in the mood," Wachs says. "If you wait until both partners are in the mood, you won't end up having much sex at all and, over time, you'll end up drifting apart."

8. Shutting down sexually when you're angry rather than dealing with
issues. Although withholding affection may seem like the ideal way to punish your partner, you risk seriously damaging your relationship, Wachs says.

9. Failing to understand that marriages have ups and downs. "It's OK to
expect incredible moments in your marriage," Parrott says. "Just don't
expect them to happen every day."

10. Throwing in the towel too easily. "We're so accustomed to the concept of obsolescence that we treat our partners as disposable," says Herb Glieberman, a Chicago divorce attorney and author. Vow to rekindle the flames rather than looking for the closest escape hatch.

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