Thinking about splitting up after a decade together? You could be making a BIG mistake.
Two years ago, during his acceptance speech for Best Picture at the Oscars, Ben Affleck thanked his wife, Jennifer Garner, and commented on their then eight year marriage. "It’s good, it's work, but it’s the best kind of work, and there’s no one I’d rather work with," he said.
Two years later, a day after their 10th anniversary, they decided to get divorced. While this decision was made "after much thought and careful consideration," according to the couple, the media can only speculate as to the cause of their relationship’s demise.
Affleck acknowledged that marriage is hard work. That awareness is more than most couples have and should indicate a certain level of commitment to make it work.
Why do couples who recognize the reality that marriage is hard work still split?
A recent study conducted by Brigham Young University found that, in most marriages, happiness and communication between partners decline from the start and never get any better. However, the study (which examined more than 2,000 women over 35 years) claims that after 10 years of marriage, the problems are at their worst. They hypothesize that it's because women become dissatisfied with having to bear the brunt of household chores as well as child care. The good news is that if the couple waits another five years, conflict drops off and continues to decline for another 20 years.
This study is rather interesting in the light of Jennifer Garner’s own comments about her marriage. In a 2014 interview with InStyle, Garner remarked that their relationship was no longer in the "courtship" phase, but that she was fine with it, "You can't expect to be courted all the time, and I don't want to court him right now — I don't have the energy!"
In her early 40s with three kids aging from three to nine-years-old, it makes sense that she doesn't have the energy. With the blessing of kids comes a relationship change. Instead of being a couple, they become a family. Realistically, that means more responsibilities and less time for each other. It often means changing roles for the woman. This may explain that, while acknowledging that marriage "is work and it’s the best kind of work," it feels like too much work.
My wife and I experienced our own transition when we first became parents. It definitely changed our relationship and prompted us to do serious work on our marriage. We also had our own 10 year itch but have seen it subside as we reach year 14 this summer (despite having three kids in that four year stretch). The 10 year mark was a scary time for us. The silver lining: a total transformation for our relationship and a new commitment to working together to help other couples who are struggling.
I'm sad for this celebrity couple because I know how challenging it is with a young family at the 10 year mark. I have also seen how, with a little work and patience, it's possible to make it to the other side.
Here are three things you can do to make sure your marriage survives the 10-year itch:
1. Make Time For Your Marriage
Many couples are so exhausted by the end of the day that they don’t have any energy left for each other. Create a sacred time for your marriage. Even if you can’t leave the house, have a date at home. When you plan for date night, you prevent distractions. Put your phone away and look into each other’s eyes! How long has it been since you truly looked at each other? This gaze alone can ground your relationship, remind you of what once was, and give you the encouragement that your connection is still there.
2. Laugh ... A Lot
Laughter increases intimacy. In fact, studies show that a belly laugh produces the same connection one feels during physical intimacy. Couples can get so stressed that they feel like they could either laugh or cry. Choose the former. Laugh at yourselves. Laugh about your kids. Your home may feel like a mad house at times, especially around the kid’s bedtime. Make light of it, and you’ll find that those tense moments will become opportunities to connect with your spouse.
3. Roll With The Punches
There's no greater skill to have as a parent and spouse than flexibility. Expect the unexpected and learn how to manage it. Feeling upset is often the result of having expectations. If you learn to roll with the punches, you’ll enjoy life much more and feel less stressed out at home.
Why do couples split even after working hard on their marriage? Because sometimes marriage feels too difficult. Yes, many expect hard work, but many don’t realize that the 10 year itch will pass if they stick it out and continue infusing their relationship with flexibility, laughter and moments of connection.
Rabbi Shlomo Slatkin is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor, Certified Imago Relationship Therapist (Advanced Clinician), and an ordained Rabbi. For more information, visit his website themarriagerestorationproject.com and download our free book, "The 5 Step Action Plan to a Happy & Healthy Marriage."
This article was originally published at Hitched Magazine. Reprinted with permission from the author.