18 Tips to Prevent Divorce Before You Marry

  1. Live Together? - It is completely false that living together prevents divorce! Many people get hurt by this huge cultural myth, one that has no evidence whatsoever. In fact, the lions share of the evidence is in the opposite direction. According to extensive research, cohabiting relationships are more unstable, unhealthy and dangerous. If the couple later marry, divorce is more likely. Only couples who are already planning to get married are safe from the many risks of cohabitation. Take our Cohabitation IQ Test, and see our Dating Tips for the truth about cohabitation (the right column of this page). Read more about cohabitation under dating on our resource page.
  2. Learn About Healthy Marriage – There are extensive benefits to having a healthy marriage that will improve nearly every area of your life. Like physical health, marital health comes from developing relationship intelligence and lifestyle. You can learn the knowledge, attitudes and skills for a healthy marriage. See our resource page to read about the many benefits of healthy marriage.
  3. Prepare for Marriage – Many couples spend more time and effort planning their wedding day than they do having a healthy marriage. Many couples marry with unrealistic expectations, not knowing their partners well enough, and not having agreed upon important life goals. There are pre-marriage inventories and counseling available that couples find very helpful, and these are available through our organization. Prepare for your marriage, not just your wedding.
  4. Improve Your Skills - There are a number of good skill building programs that can help couples get ready for a life together. The most common programs for marriage preparation address communication skills, conflict resolution and money management. See our training programs for details about each of these, or contact us for help to decide which combination will best meet your needs.
  5. Make a Conscious Decision – Many couples slide into marriage, just like they slid into living together. Sliding, not deciding. Marriage is not just the next step after living together. The decision to marry needs careful thought, input, discussion, deliberation, counseling and discernment. Make a good decision – you will live with it for a long time.
  6. Love is More Than a Feeling – Although most people marry because they are in love, marriage itself is a commitment to stay together for better or worse. That’s code for the fact that you aren’t always going to feel in love. There will be suffering and trials in your marriage, as there are in every marriage. Your job will be to face these, and courageously work and grow through them together.  
  7. Buck Up – Almost nobody wants to talk about the process of marriage, the journey itself. We’d rather talk about a lifetime of being in love. Romance is part of it, but hardly the whole story. The truth is – in order to make it, you will need to decide to continue to grow personally. Like an athlete in training, you will need to repeatedly push beyond your personal best. Life pushes all of us to grow up, and marriage helps us finish the job.  
  8. Keep the Goal in Mind – Marriage has the potential to be the ultimate form of human friendship. The big majority of  men and women report that the most important factor in having an emotionally satisfying sexual relationship is the quality of the couple friendship. Make deep friendship your goal – it’s the real BFF.  
  9. Stay Connected – Many couples start out feeling close, but slowly drift apart. To stay close, do the things that brought you together in the first place: fun dates, good times with friends, small acts of kindness, private jokes, signs of affection, special talks. You will need to do these to maintain the bond, feel close, and go the distance. You have to be in the same boat to keep from drifting apart.
  10. Establish Priorities – Many couples get distracted with achieving a lifestyle, rather than having a home life together. It’s easy to be seduced by our consumer culture. If you spend most of your time and energy supporting your things, you are deciding not to have a quality marriage and family life. Don’t feel guilty if two full time incomes are a necessity, but do establish your priorities intentionally.
  11. Use Your Anchor – Don’t hold back your trust, your full effort, or yourself. Invest completely in your marriage, or it won’t make it. Fair weather relationships are blown away when storms come, because they aren’t anchored in commitment. All marriages go through periods of unhappiness. Let your commitment hold you fast through the rough weather.
  12. Become a Team Player – Spouses in healthy marriages do not compete with one another to win or get their needs met. These attitudes come from a consumer model of marriage that says our partners should make us happy. Our throwaway society tells us to replace a product that doesn’t perform well enough. In fact, successful teams are based on collaboration where everyone contributes their best. Understand this – marriage is a team sport.
  13. Become the Change You Want to See – If you want more affirmation, be more affirming. If you want better communication, listen more carefully and speak more kindly. If you want less arguing – stop yourself from fighting. If you want more understanding – be more compassionate. First give what you want to receive, and then you will have earned the right to ask for it.
  14. Practice Positive Spirituality – The positive attitudes and spiritual practices you enact are what will give your marriage the best chance of success. You might not think of marriage as a spiritual endeavor, but it is. Your practice of honesty, respect, generosity, humility, kindness, compassion, forgiveness, commitment and love help define who you are and will determine the quality of your relationship. Practice positive spirituality to develop and maintain a healthy marriage.
  15. Get Help When You Need It – Nobody buys a new car determined they will never take it to a mechanic. Yet only 10% of couples who divorce have gone to marriage counseling. Think of a marriage counselor like you would your doctor, pastor, or mechanic – an expert you go to for specialized help. In Minnesota, about half of divorced people regret they didn’t work harder on their marriage when they had the chance. Get help when you need it.
  16. End a Destructive Relationship – Marriage is not martyrdom. Some relationships are destructive and need to end. There are big problems that can be deal breakers: affairs, addiction and abuse. If these go on before the marriage begins, get counseling help before you marry. These don’t just go away after marriage – without help, they get worse. Test the relationship before you marry to know if you should go forward with it.
  17. Provide for Your Children – Marriage is the center of the family. The strength of your relationship is what your children will rely on for their psychological growth and stability. Your children will take their blueprint for relationships from what they see and experience in your marriage. A healthy marriage is a lasting gift to your child.
  18. Find Out More There is a lot to learn about healthy relationships. See our tips on dating, how to have a great marriage, parenting, conflict resolution, forgiveness, marital sexuality, counseling, and other sections on the right column or this page. See our training programs and resource page for a wealth of information, reading materials and programs that can help you develop the relationship intelligence you will need to have a happy marriage.
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Duane Nelson

Born and raised in the Minneapolis, Duane is a Marriage and Family Therapist who has made his home in Rochester for the last 25 years. Duane has been married for 33 years to his wife, Cathy. The two met while doing music at the same church in Minneapolis. Duane and Cathy have two adult daughters, and the family love to travel and play cribbage together. Duane plays guitar and percussion, and the couple still make music together. Duane enjoys gardening, cookouts, hiking, reading, downhill skiing, and hanging out with friends. Duane holds three graduate degrees, two mental health licenses, and two major counseling certifications. He has worked professionally for 37 years in addiction treatment, mental health, clinical social work, pastoral counseling, and marriage and family therapy. Duane is widely regarded as an expert in marriage and family therapy. Following his retirement from Mayo Clinic, Duane founded Healthy Relationships Rochester. This innovative organization is based on developing the concept of Relationship Intelligence through teaching and disseminating best-practice relationship education and skill training programs in a variety of non-clinical settings.