Follow this seven-step formula for marital bliss and avoid becoming a divorce statistic.
Whenever a well-known celebrity goes through a public breakup or divorce, I'm often asked for comments as a relationship expert. While I don't necessarily comment on the specifics of the personal lives of the actual celebrities, these events DO offer us teachable moments. That's why, back when Kim Kardashian's second marriage infamously ended after only 72 days, I created this very useful tool.
Ideally, I suggest you work these issues out before you walk down the aisle. However, if you're already married, the sooner you resolve these issues, the better! If you discover any big disconnects after this process, consider hiring a coach trained trained in conflict resolution to help bridge the gap.
My method is called The A.L.L.W.A.Y.S. Formula.
If you want a divorce-proof marriage that stands the test of time and lasts forever, the key is to remember "A.L.L.W.A.Y.S." I created this unique acronym in order to give couples a specific formula to consider that is more memorable, actionable and achievable. Before we get into specifics, it's important to remember that the most important quality you'll need in a potential partner is character, so choose wisely.
This framework gives you a set of guidelines to determine if your highest and most important values, beliefs and ideals are in alignment. It is these characteristics that fortify a long-lasting union, making it divorce-proof. As you do this exercise, remember that you don't need a partner that is identical, you simply need one who is complementary. With those key factors in mind, let's get started with the acronym.
- Aspirations and dreams. The first question to consider with your partner is: "What do you aspire to create in your life?" It's critical that your hopes and expectations match up because seeds of discontent will find fertile ground. Basically, any time your expectations don't match your results, the end result is pain. That's why couples split up and go their separate ways. That is simply not sustainable over the long-term.
In doing this process, be sure to explore the following topics: Where do you want to live? What type of home do you want? Are you an entrepreneurial spirit or do you prefer the certainty of a predictable salary? Do you see yourself traveling the world or are you basically a homebody? Basically, if you're dreams aren't aligned and complementary, within a short period of time, you'll find yourselves in a nightmare.
- Links to family. Family dynamics are often a highly-charged and emotional topic so it's critical to align with your partner in this area. A person from a large extended family used to gathering every week for Sunday dinner (a la the Bravermans in Parenthood) may have very different expectations than a partner estranged from their family or whose family lives far away. Of course, if they love your family and fit right in, that's a great match ... but what if that's not the case?
Another critical topic nowadays is your beliefs about taking care of elderly family members needing assistance later in life? Do you share an open door policy and both appreciate a frequently booked guest bedroom—or do you prefer your privacy? Can you see how some huge and fundamental disconnects occur between couples when family ties start to bind ... or perhaps come undone?
- Lifestyle and health. Your attitudes about health and wellness—not to mention any current health issues—are also important factors to consider in any aspiring partnership. This area is too important to not be fully authentic or fail to disclose any information or family history you may already know about. However, beyond the state of your general health, again, you must have your values aligned as well. What role does diet and exercise play in your life?
If you're a practicing vegan and gym junkie, you're probably going to fall out of step with a partner who's simply a couch potato and junk food junkie. Questions to ask: Is it important to you to have a regular gym ritual with your partner or would you prefer a solitary run at dawn—or do they both sound equally repulsive and ridiculous to you? What bothers you more— missing your favorite TV show— or a workout? Can you see how critical your health habits and rituals are in a relationship?
- Wealth and finance. It's been said that money issues are the number one stressor in relationships, and there's nothing that will bring out more conflict, stress and resentment than two people on totally different financial pages. If you're a scrimper and saver and your partner has maxed-out credit cards, that's pretty much a deal breaker no matter how much you love your partner. It's just not sustainable because those mindsets are worlds apart.
By the same token, if you prefer to worry about retirement "later" and your partner is maxing out their retirement account contributions, that's going to cause a huge disconnect, as well. Bottom line; if you're not on a similar page in your money mindset, there are a lot of issues that just won't add up in your favor.
- Always faithful. How important do you think it is to have the same values and expectations when it comes to monogamy and infidelity? For some people, the idea of only one partner for the rest of their life may sound like a life sentence with no chance for parole. For some, it is the most cut-and-dried deal-breaker in the world. What happens if these two people marry?
Would you ever consider an open relationship or bringing in additional partners? Whatever you believe, this category isn't so much about morality. It's more about values — and what you can both comfortably live with 'til death do you part.
- Youth and children. Have you discussed your expectations around family planning? That's a pretty critical distinction to make. Some people know for sure that kids are not in their future while others believe it's simply a matter of "the bigger, the better." Of course, that's just the beginning.
If you drill down, there are a lot more questions to ask. What is your timeline for having kids? Do you want to start trying immediately or is that a decision for much later? How do you feel about in vitro fertilization if it became necessary? Would you consider an adoption? What kind of disciplinarian are you? Are you a strict, no-nonsense type or more laid-back and flexible? What about public school versus private? As you can see, many important factors require mutually-agreed upon decisions in just this one area.
- Spirituality and religious beliefs. In this last category, it literally comes down to what you believe. In other words, how important to you is spirituality or faith? Do you consider yourself devoutly religious or an absolute atheist? Do you practice holiday traditions or religious rituals? How do you feel about baptizing your kids or other religious rights of passage? Would you send your children to religious schools or worship regularly as a family?
Even if you think you're both on the same page initially, remember that people's beliefs tend to shift and evolve over the course of a lifetime. Essentially, if you don't work out these types of issues, you don't have a prayer of succeeding over the long term.
There is much to address and resolve before you can settle down successfully (and happily). Even though I've created this checklist based on my expertise and experience, keep in mind that I don't have all the answers here. The right answers are the ones that you and your partner can arrive at through discussion, negotiation and agreement. The bottom line is if you want a divorce-proof marriage, it starts with a commitment to staying together A.L.L.W.A.Y.S.
Check out the TV interview on Fox TV.