3 Things All Happily Married Couples Do When Times Get Tough

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happy couple holding hands

In the early years of my marriage, I felt pretty on top of everything — our careers were advancing, our social lives were thriving, and everything was running smoothly at home. Yay us!

That was until ... ALL went to hell when we bought a house and had a baby. And then conversations with my husband started sounding more like this: 

Me: "I need help, I can’t do it all. I'm overwhelmed."

Him: "OK, what do you need?"  

Me: "Well, the baby needs diapers and we are about to run out of milk, the dishes are still sitting in the sink, and did you pay the water bill? Ugh, I'll just make you a list."

Me: Pause

Me: "Wait, ... now I'm the one who has to make a list?"

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Here's the thing — my husband is a great guy! He truly wants to help. If I give him a list, he'll gladly do everything on it. But, I found myself trapped in a vicious cycle … I'd try to do everything myself, get overwhelmed, and then go into meltdown mode. He'd ask for a list and tick those things off. Rinse. Repeat.  

Eventually, this led to us both feeling resentful — I resented the fact that he wasn't tuned into everything that needed to get done — and he resented the fact that I let things build up until I exploded. We finally sat down and figured out a better way to share the responsibilities of the baby and the house before I lost my mind or asked for a divorce, whichever came first.

Turns out, I'm not alone in that thought. Research indicates that while men and women are just as likely to pull the plug while in a "dating relationship," once in marriage, women initiate divorce more often than men and that a new baby in the home tends to make couples downright unhappy.

Why is that? Well, for us ... we started unconsciously defaulting to traditional roles of the man being the breadwinner and the woman at home playing Suzy Homemaker. But, I don't think that was truly the problem. 

After some soul searching, I realized that it wasn't so much that I wanted my husband to literally do exactly half of the chores. Truthfully, I can take care of many of the tasks myself in half the time and I do have more flexibility in my job, so it made the most sense for me to do certain things.

However, it was still necessary for us to sit down and figure out an arrangement that felt more sustainable ... not just in how the tasks got done, but in how we as a couple related to one another while completing them. 

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In my work as a divorce coach, I see marriages fall apart all the time. As a result, I spend a lot of time thinking about what makes some marriages work — and others implode. So many variables factor in, and every couple is different, but what I know is — marriage isn't easy. You have to work at it and you need certain fundamental building blocks in place during periods of transition.

Here are three ways to keep your marriage solid and happy while going through periods of major stress or change

1. Get on team "We." 

Maintain a team mentality. As far as household chores go, researchers at Brigham Young University found that couples are happier when they do them together. The best part? They also found that it isn't the actual division of labor that matters; it's how satisfied the couple is with that division of labor.

So, create an open dialogue about the ongoing chores, divvy them up in a way that works for you both, and then discuss and together, tackle other tasks as they come up.

A team mentality leaves both partners feeling supported, regardless of who is doing what. As a member of a team, you have a loving co-collaborator to consult with and rely upon when needed. You share goals — whether it's tackling the evening dishes or getting your son through college — you simply plan ... together ... how to accomplish them.

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2. Communicate about ... everything. 

"Communicate" does not mean talking about it endlessly. Keep each other in the loop, but don't spend every spare second of your time discussing the minute details of who's doing the laundry or who's taking the cat to the vet. Also, talk about the big stuff, too … hopes and dreams for your kids, who you're voting for in the next election, all the fun things you want to add to your bucket list — give equal time to communicating about the good stuff!

This is key: Stop and take time to articulate your appreciation for your partner and acknowledge the contributions they make to the family. It's really easy to get caught up in the mundane details of running a household and forget to say "thank you."

3. Feed your love with "the little things."

Do something unexpected that shows you care; those small gestures go a long way. Hug for a little longer in the morning, bring home flowers for no reason, compliment his outfit, or bring her a cup of tea … you'll find that actions really do speak louder than words. Those little moments are a saving grace during challenging times. They're another way to say "I love and appreciate you. And I'm by your side in this."

You may not realize how precious and important those small kindnesses are to your partner.

A friend once told me that watching her husband do the dishes were better than foreplay (perhaps, better known as "choreplay"). Now there's a thought!

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SAS for Women™ is a boutique firm that specializes in helping women free themselves from dysfunctional and unhappy relationships.