Ensuring relationship success in 2012

It’s a New Year, and couples everywhere are looking deeply into each other’s eyes, resolving to do things differently this year. They will not ‘sext’ the hot secretary, max-out the credit cards, blow up in anger, drink too much or ignore or insult one another. They will renew their commitment, regain lost trust, stay on budget, learn to communicate, set aside more family time with the kids, treat each other with respect and spice-up their sex life. This is the year that they will finally be a real family, and become a shining example of happy, healthy couplehood for their children to admire and emulate.

Aww, it’s all so sweet. Too bad it’s usually a total waste of time.

In 2011, most committed relationships (married and common-law) ended in failure, with Alberta boasting the highest divorce rate in Canada. There’s no reason for this statistic to change in 2012. Why not? Because couples aren’t doing anything to change it. They’re big on talk, small on action. The ‘relationship resolution’ is a perfect example.

It typically goes like this: On Jan. 1st, a couple makes a grocery list of things they want to change in their relationship; however, as the month wears on, life takes over and the list gets lost. The couple fails to acquire new skills, attitudes or approaches to make lasting changes. By Feb. 1st, they’ve fallen into the same patterns, fights and bad habits as before.

Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. If you continue to eat the same fatty foods, you won’t lose weight. If you continue to overspend, you won’t be ready for retirement. If you continue to engage in the same destructive, disrespectful and dysfunctional behaviours with your partner, you won’t improve your marriage. But it takes more than good intentions and empty promises to accomplish these goals – it takes a practical action plan, hard work and commitment.

Whether your goal is to save your money or your marriage, it’s the ‘follow through’ that determines outcome. The problem is, the follow-through is grunt work. It takes personal sacrifice and it demands that you start to act, think and feel in ways that you’re not accustomed to. For most of us, that is a monumental challenge and unless we approach it with the preparedness and perseverance of a mountaineer about to scale Mount Everest, we are destined to turn back when the going gets tough.

Another problem with relationship resolutions is that they sap a couple of their hope. When you fail to meet a goal, you lose motivation. When you and your partner resolve to fix your marriage but repeatedly fail, you lose hope. You begin to think that you made a mistake getting married or that you’re not compatible. You feel resentment toward your partner, apathy toward the relationship and frustration toward the entire situation. One of you mentions the word divorce and, before you know it, your children have lost the happy security of having two loving parents in the home.

If you’re struggling in your marriage, I’d like to propose a solution instead of a resolution. Less talk, more action. If you know what needs to be done, do it. If you don’t know, find out by getting marital help today. The average couple spends six years in conflict before seeking professional help. Even then, it’s often a last-minute detour on the way to divorce court.

My approach to relationship help is a practical, skills-based one that appeals to many couples, especially men and those who are uncomfortable with psychology-based counselling. If that isn’t right for you, there are other practitioners out there, each with her or his own approach. Regardless, you don’t have to be Einstein to know that, when it comes to relationship help, the sooner the better.

Unless saving your marriage is your resolution for 2013.

Debra Macleod is a leading relationship expert in Canada and the U.S. Her private practice is in Red Deer. Visit MarriageSOS.com for more information.