Thought Catalog

3 Simple Things That Can Make Or Break Your Marriage

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Kelly Sikkema

Have you ever had a “make-or-break” moment in your marriage? As in, whatever decision you make will change things in a big way?

I did a television interview a couple of weeks back that reminded me of one such moment.

Here is the set up: A hospital, a newborn baby, me (still recovering from labor), and my husband (with big news).

Essentially, we were still in the hospital, basking in the glow of becoming new-born parents, when my husband received news of a BIG promotion at work. We were thrilled by this news!

Or, rather, we were thrilled up until the moment when my husband revealed (later) that accepting the position would require both of us to quit our jobs, and move to… Utah.

At first I thought he was joking. But I quickly realized that whatever I said right then, would change things “in a big way.”

To state the obvious for those who know me, I am not a saint! I have a fabulous track record of epic failures and selfish choices in my marriage. However, I am proud to share that this “make-it” or “break-it” episode in my marriage turned into a win in the “make-it” column.

I decided to try out a new skill. In the therapy world, we call this skill “compromise.” Compromise goes really well when you remember three key things.

1. Know your partner

Laying the groundwork for effective compromise, especially in make or break moments, happens long before the moment even begins. Having a detailed Love Map of your partner’s inner world – knowing every nook and cranny of your partner’s heart, desires, dislikes, dreams, and fears – can help you understand what informs their point of view.

2. Meet in the moment, not in the middle

In a real compromise, both parties are bound to be at least a little disappointed. Don’t let that disappointment get in the way of the relationship. Adopt a habit of asking, “what part of my partner’s request can I agree to?” This will help you stay connected while you manage your differences.

3. Focus on what you both want 

If you can identify your core shared dream or goal in a situation, it can take the pressure off of the details and elevate the entire conversation. Even if your shared dream is just to “stay married,” that can help reframe your “non-negotiables.” When you’re clear about shared objectives, you cut through the fog of emotion and difference, and the specifics fall more quickly into place.

Now, back to the story. Here comes the part in where I throw my hands up and say, “I win!”

I had no desire to ever move to Utah. It wasn’t on my radar. I loved my life, our life, right where we were in Seattle.

But I was able to compromise without harboring any resentments by focusing on those three truths.

First, I trusted my husband. I knew him well enough to know he wasn’t chasing prestige or even a paycheck. I also knew that he had my best interests in mind.

Second, I made sure to share my own thoughts and fears without criticizing or getting defensive. I worked hard to stay connected to him even though I wanted badly to put my foot down (which of course wouldn’t have helped).

Finally, I realized that it wasn’t about “my dream” vs. “his dream.” At that very make or break moment, this was an opportunity to create a new “shared dream.”

Being honest with myself and my husband, I knew that moving to Utah would be a tough proposition if there was no real, honest, shared meaning in the move.

I needed to wake up each day, driven and full of purpose to accomplish “our dream.”

So we created it.

Our new dream was to spend more time together as a family and to retire in 10 years. Each day we each make contributions toward this shared dream, and as a result, we are closer now than we ever have been.

In this way, the move to Utah was about something much bigger than geography, or moving just for “a job.” It was about a larger, shared vision of our life together.

Let me encourage you. Learning how to compromise doesn’t require an epic, life-changing decision. But compromise can be essential when an epic, life-changing, make-it-or break it decision does arise.

Compromise is not just about the what, but about the how, and the why, and most important, the who (both of you)!

Whether it’s a question of household chores, or visiting in-laws, or a future job, or whatever, it feels good to “make” the make-or-break moments. I want to hear about where you’ve succeeded through compromise. Share with me your relationship win and how you made it happen. TC mark

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