You don't have to be a statistic

There’s a famous—or maybe infamous—statistic that 50 percent of all marriages end in divorce. This is actually not true. The actual number is much lower, less than 40 percent overall. Here’s what is true: Of the marriages that do end in divorce, more than half end before the seventh year of marriage. The most popular year? The fourth.

While the seven-year itch gets a lot of airtime, most struggling couples don't even make it there. What's worse, an overwhelming number of struggling couples—about 70 percent, actually—give up on the relationship without ever asking for help.

This is a bad strategy. If your relationship is more "for worse" than "for better," more sickness than health, more bad times than good, the best thing you can do is stay the course. Most couples who make it past the seven year mark report an increase in marital satisfaction and intimacy. There are exceptions, of course, but why should you be one?

My favorite Aesop fable is The Tortoise and the Hare. The enduring message is that “slow and steady wins the race.” It’s a powerful moral, and it can be applied to your marriage. In fact, there are three truths that, if you embrace them, will keep your marriage moving forward, slow and steady, and ensure that you, too, can make it to a happier marriage.

01. The Struggle Is Real

The reason that Year Four is so tough is that it’s typically paired with a handful of major milestones. It’s typically right around the time the couple has their first baby—an extremely traumatic relationship event. The baby steals time and energy away from both partners, and it’s tough to prioritize the marriage.

But even if there’s no baby, most couples in Year Four are still struggling to find their career groove, so finances are a stress. Finally, couples simply don’t know how to grieve the loss of the Honeymoon Phase, which typically only lasts two years. If you’re struggling, that’s a real thing, but remember: Slow and steady wins the race.

02. The Situation Isn’t in Stone

I don’t believe in the one or destiny or inevitability. I believe life is about choice. I believe relationships are about choice. No one is destined to be a statistic. Couples can choose whether to die or to thrive. In my counseling practice, I say many of the same things over and over again. The couples who experience growth and change are the ones who put principles into practice . . . on a daily basis.

You’re not a passive part of the process. You are an agent. You and your partner have the option of investing in one another intentionally. If you’re unhappy, choose happiness. If you’re leaning out, choose to lean in. If you’re questioning, ask questions. If you’re stuck, choose movement. Believe me: your relationship is not set in stone. Move. Slow and steady wins the race.

03. The Solution Is Movement

Couples who stay in motion even, and especially, during the difficult phases of a relationship are the ones who eventually celebrate their fiftieth wedding anniversary with a big party.

Can you see fifty years? What does it look like? Imagine someone standing up at your party and raising a glass to your relationship. They offer a toast . . . what do they say? What do you want them to say? What qualities do you want them to highlight? What victories do you want them to share?

I often imagine a story of “overcoming” or “making it through.” What do you imagine? Whatever it is, I hope it’s a story of putting one foot in front of the other no matter the odds. I see so many couples, too many couples, settle into a place called “stuck.” There’s always a next step.

The reason most divorces occur before the seventh year of marriage is that couples lose sight of the long view. They forget, or never knew, the meaning of their vows. Or they simply didn’t know or didn’t care about what they were signing up for. But there is something profoundly beautiful about a marriage that lasts. One that overcomes. Learn to love your struggle. Learn to move your stones. Learn, yearn, to put one foot in front of the other. The tortoise wins the race through patience and perseverance. You can, too.

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Photo Credit: Xavier Navarro