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Meroo Seth
Relationships

5 Surefire Signs Your Marriage Is Going To Make It

Even in this time of extreme COVID-19-related stress and uncertainty.

Getting married is the easy part — it’s staying married, through all of life’s ups and downs, that can turn your “I do” into “Do I?” Yet even in this time of extreme stress and uncertainty due to COVID-19, many couples will get through the rough patch with their relationship still intact, or even stronger. How do you know if you’re one of the lucky ones whose marriage is built to last, even in a crisis? Here are a few clues.

You do the little things.
Big romantic gestures tend to be few and far between at this stage of life, particularly when you’re trying to juggle the kids’ homeschooling schedules, all the housekeeping and — oh, yeah — your jobs. Instead, says Dana McNeil, a licensed marriage and family therapist in San Diego, it’s about making small daily deposits in your relationship’s emotional bank account. “Do I give you a kiss or a hug at the end of the day? Do I say thank you when you do something nice?” she says. It may be impossible, in the midst of this crisis, to treat yourselves to a romantic date night out, but “it could be something as small as making coffee for your spouse in the morning before they get up.”

You recognize each other’s olive branches.
How many times has this happened: You get into an argument with your spouse and then one of you tries to defuse the situation, maybe by making a joke or just trying to make the other smile. These are called “bids for attention,” says McNeil, “or nonverbal, loving gestures to pull the other person in and try to soothe them.” What’s important is how you respond. Do you acknowledge the effort or do you push your partner even further away? “The average couple has at least one conflict per week, according to Gottman’s research,” she says. McNeil practices the Gottman Method, an approach to couples' therapy that's based on the research of psychologist John M. Gottman. “We all view the world differently, we grow up in different families, different cultures, and so it’s normal to have conflict.” Part of healthy disagreement means not letting arguments spiral out of control, and knowing how to come back together again.

You focus on your feelings, not your partner’s flaws.
When you criticize your partner, deep down it’s often about your own unmet needs, says McNeil. Strong couples understand this, and instead of simply blasting their partner’s behavior, they will talk about how they feel, what they need from their partner, and why it’s important to them. “Saying ‘You’re such a slob. Why don’t you ever clean?’ is much different than saying ‘I feel overwhelmed when I see dishes on the coffee table. It would mean a lot to me if you would put the dishes in the dishwasher. Is that something you’re willing to do?’” says McNeil. Try to treat what your partner does for you as a gift, not a requirement.

You check in with one another.
Stressful situations are piling up these days, whether it’s the terror of infection or sudden job insecurity or trying to convince your parents to stop grocery shopping. McNeil says it’s smart to take 10 minutes each day to talk about the things that are making you feel anxious. Then let your partner do the same for 10 minutes. Don’t try to solve problems or interrupt. Just listen and offer your support. “Couples who weather stress successfully often get into the habit of seeing the world through their partner’s eyes, acknowledging their feelings, and showing them that they’re not alone,” says McNeil. “This makes it clear: I’m here for you. We’re in this together.”

You have a cute meet-cute story.
When couples first come to see McNeil, she typically starts by asking them, “So how did you two get together?” “Asking about clients’ narrative is part of what we do in the first session because it can say a lot,” says McNeil. If you’re looking at one another and smiling, or if you have a story that’s layered and detailed, it shows that you still feel fondly toward each other, she says.

How are you and your partner surviving and even thriving in this new normal? Let us know by emailing thegirlfriend@aarp.org and putting "relationship" in the subject line. We'd love to hear how you are doing.

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