The recent announcement of the Bill and Melinda Gates divorce may have made you wonder about your own relationship and what will happen to you and your partner. Bill and Melinda looked perfect—powerful, successful entrepreneurs and philanthropists. It looked like they had it all. If they couldn’t make it after 27 years, how are you supposed to safeguard your marriage?
While it’s interesting to note that older adults are more accepting of divorce than they have been in the past (Brown & Wright, 2019), that doesn’t mean you want yours to end.
When you’ve been with someone a long time, built a family with that person, a life, what would it be like to be out on your own? You’d have to figure out house payments, childcare, and what to do in those long evenings alone.
First, there’s the question of logistics. How do you rebuild the practical aspects of your life without the partner you thought would always be there? Can you afford the house? Where else would you go? Would you need to go back to work after many years raising children? How would you manage work and dropping the kids at daycare and all their activities?
Then, there is the even scarier reality of facing the emotional aspects of life without your partner by your side. No one will share the frustrations and joys of watching your children grow and celebrating all the milestones together. You won’t have anyone to hold your hand before a big interview or a surgery.
You don’t want to spend the rest of your life without your partner, but you’re also feeling a like your relationship has begun to lose its closeness. Maybe you’re fighting a lot.
Whatever the symptoms of distress, there are ways to safeguard your marriage and avoid divorce.
What can lead to divorce?
Every person’s reasons for filing for divorce are unique to their circumstances, but there are several overarching issues that tend to lead to divorce. They include:
- Distancing/emotional abandonment
- Workaholic tendencies
- An unsupportive partner at a time of crisis
- Constant fighting
Let’s take a closer look at each of these issues and how they lead to broken relationships.
Distancing and Emotional Abandonment
If one partner no longer makes an effort to connect with the other, relationships become strained. You can’t seem to find the emotionally absent partner. She’s disappeared into her own world. You barely see him and maybe have a few minutes together in the evening before he retreats to his office.
The distance, both physical and emotional, wounds you, the partner who is still trying to make connection. You feel betrayed and abandoned. Alone even when you’re together.
Workaholic tendencies may emerge as a result of distancing, or as a result of a sort of addiction to career, success, or money. The workaholic partner leaves little time, interest, and importance to dedicate to you as their partner. Often, even when physically present, you feel alone and disconnected, like his work is always more important than you.
Any addiction can dominate the mind, actions, and finances of the addicted partner. It might be entire weekends spent gaming while you wait for them to notice you. Or worse, addiction to substances like alcohol or drugs can be dangerous for both your partner’s health and your safety. Your partner is in a relationship with his addiction, and it leaves you feeling unimportant, or like you can’t measure up.
Your partner has turned to gaming, pornography, or alcohol and left you alone and bereft.
Unsupportive Partner at a Time of Crisis
When what you need most in the world is a hug, a squeeze of the hand, a shoulder to cry on, and your partner turns away, it can be traumatic.
You sought the safety and refuge of your partner’s support, and instead found yourself alone with your fear or your burden.
The loneliness and shock of that moment can turn into resentment or distance in the relationship.
Bickering would be a tame description for how you and your partner interact every day. If one of you isn’t huffing around the house, or following you with a yell and an accusation, it isn’t normal.
This kind of constant stress and combativeness wears on you individually and as a couple. But you just can’t seem to stop the fighting, because the truth is there’s something that’s got you each on edge—something you’ll have to deal with together.
Affairs create chaos in a relationship. The betrayal of the affair leads to feelings of hurt, abandonment, and distrust that can fester.
In this case, you will have to find a way to heal the relationship and rebuild trust and security.
What can safeguard your marriage?
Even if you feel like there’s little hope, there are strategies for resolving the conflict in your relationship, and for reinvesting in the two of you as a couple. The following is a list of some proven ways to safeguard your marriage.
Be emotionally present
One of the first steps to healing a relationship is showing each other you’re willing to show up. This doesn’t mean just sitting at the dinner table at the same time (although that might be a good start).
Being emotionally present means you’re listening in a way that shows your partner you hear them. It means holding your partners hand when he needs it. And it means not turning away from hard conversations.
Emotionally connected couples are more resilient and are better able to cope with stress. They have higher self-esteem, and better overall health (Johnson, 2008).
Make your relationship a priority
Plan time for your significant other. Prioritize finding solutions and connection for the health of your relationship. This means you allow time to connect with your partner every day. You cancel your evening meeting in order to be with him at dinner. You leave your phone in another room and give her your full attention after work.
Slow down and analyze your fights
Learn to slow down when you’re in the heat of the moment. You can use the acronym TEMPO to help you each analyze what’s going on inside of you that ramps up these fights. Identify your Triggers and the Emotions those bring up for you.
Every time you’re triggered, you create Meaning, something you tell yourself that keeps you in the cycle of conflict. Then you move into Protection mode and a similar cycle is triggered in your partner (if it wasn’t already).
The “O” in the TEMPO acronym is where you begin to break the cycle by Organizing your thoughts and actions in your mind. You slow down enough to notice what’s going on and how you can stop it.
Safeguard your marriage with couples counseling
Couples counseling is one of the most effective ways to make your relationship a priority and invest in your connection. A professional counselor can guide you and your partner through the difficult analytical work of TEMPO and help you reconnect.
Counseling sessions can also be a dedicated space and time to come together and find solutions.
About Dr. Irena
Dr. Irena is a certified Emotionally Focused Couples therapist offering online therapy for couples in Texas and New York City. She and has helped many couples reconnect and safeguard their marriages. If you’d like to learn more about how Dr. Irena can guide you on your journey to strengthen the bond between you, email Dr. Irena for a free 10-minute video consultation: [email protected] or call (281)-267-1742.
Brown, S. L., & Wright, M. R. (2019). Divorce Attitudes Among Older Adults: Two Decades of Change. Journal of Family Issues, 40(8), 1018–1037. https://doi.org/10.1177/0192513X19832936
Johnson, S. (2008). Hold Me Tight. New York, NY: Little, Brown Spark.