The Couple’s Survival Guide

Staying together: what every newly-minted couple dreams about, and what many people find more difficult than they imagined. After the wedding buzz subsides and the thank-you notes are mailed, reality can be a shock. Little quirks you considered endearing may grate on your nerves after a long day, or the pressure of making important decisions may reveal surprising personality traits in your mate.

Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention state that about half of first marriages in the U.S. end in divorce. In this climate, creating a relationship that lasts requires effort and sacrifice. As many as a third of today’s couples meet online, and innovations like Twitter, Facebook, texting and instant messaging make it easier to connect but can bring pitfalls to the couples game.

External factors like our limping economy make financial worries likelier for many couples. Since the divorce rate is so high, remarrying and blending families is common; blended families face particular challenges to keeping their relationships afloat. Even couples who have been together for decades may question the stability of a relationship that began when the world was a very different place.

Newlywed couples today confront a struggling economy. Financial planning is especially crucial for these new family units, particularly since statistics prove that money matters are a common source of disagreements among any age couple. Learning to talk about money can be a minefield but it should never be ignored.

Newly married couples should develop a budget and stick to it, establishing long-term goals early on. If you and your spouse have different ideas about money, approach the discussion with a spirit of compromise. Don’t skirt sticky issues like choosing how to fund your children’s schooling. It may be tempting to avoid uncomfortable conversations, but a difference of opinion can be a big problem when you are caught in the whirlwind of childrearing later.

Experts in marriage counseling also offer these tips for couples in their first few years of marriage:

  • Embrace compromise. Your spouse may like to sleep wrapped up like a burrito but you prefer a warm room and a light sheet at night. Find a middle ground on these areas and be considerate of your partner; meet halfway whenever you can.
  • Make a plan. Have an honest discussion about the life you are going to build together. Tackle major goals like how many children to have, who works, who pursues more education and where you live. Healthy couples approach big decisions head-on and form a plan that suits both partners.
  • Keep dating each other. For many, the appeal of marriage is coming home from work and falling into an exhausted daze together in front of the TV. While this comfort is a definite benefit, keep the courting ritual going. Carve out time to do things together, and make yourself attractive to your spouse. Spend these times talking and learning more about each other.
  • Economize wherever possible. If you can live on one income, do so and invest the other. Live within your means; avoid credit card debt. Accept used furniture and drive cars that are paid for. Learn to cook instead of dining out. Rent a lower-priced home or apartment and save a deposit for the house you fall in love with someday.
  • Learn to fight. Couples will disagree, and the couple you know who claims never to fight are probably not communicating. Don’t be afraid of conflict, but always treat your partner respectfully. Negotiate disagreements as a team. In time you will develop a rhythm to solving problems comfortably and quickly.

Blended families are on the rise; statistics show that as many as 1,300 stepfamilies are created every day. Couples entering these marriages should clearly identify shared goals prior to the wedding. Prenuptial agreements are wise, considering that divorce rates for second marriages are around 65% and parents may wish to protect assets for their children. Most importantly, make your relationship a priority. Date night is a sacred institution for many couples in blended families, offering a rare opportunity for quality time together.

Sometimes couples who have been married for many years hit a seemingly insurmountable rough patch. When you have been together for a long time, resist the tendency to take your spouse’s feelings for granted. Be open and honest; acknowledge that people do change over time, but a healthy relationship grows together. Spend time with your friends and develop interests outside of your marriage, but continue to make quality time for the two of you a priority.

All partners should choose your battles. Resist the urge to argue about every disagreement, and learn to forgive mistakes. Remember the little things like a sweet lunchbox note. Always be respectful and courteous; say “please” and “thank you” with sincerity. Carry your weight in the relationship and around the house. Keep a sense of humor and laugh together often, and you may be one of the lucky couples who stay together for the long run.