Have these words ever crossed your mind or come out of your mouth: “I just can’t take it anymore!” “We’ve grown apart;” “I love you like a friend, but I’m not in love with you anymore;” “You aren’t the man/woman I married;” “Things change”?

The crazy thing is, many happily married people will tell you that they too have experienced some of these feelings. Sometimes you feel like you can’t take it anymore. Other times you may feel distant to your spouse. Over time mates do change. Do all these things have to shake the very foundation of your marriage? The answer is no. What makes it possible for half of all first time marriages to survive? Marriage experts have found that couples that make their marriage work make a decision up front that divorce is not an option. Although many couples who end up divorcing have challenges, the reality is, their marriage probably could have been saved and in the long run been a happy one. Their fatal error in the relationship was making the mistake of leaving their options open. If the going gets too tough, in their mind, divorce is always a way out. It might surprise you to know that research shows that divorce does not make people happier. Does Divorce Make People Happy? Findings from a Study of Unhappy Marriages conducted by the Institute for American Values found that:

Unhappily married adults who divorce or separated were no happier, on average, than unhappily married adults who stayed married.

Unhappy marriages were less common than unhappy spouses. ? Staying married did not typically trap unhappy spouses in violent relationships.

Two out of three unhappily married adults who avoided divorce or separation ended up happily married five years later.The bottom line is, you have to make a decision to stay at the table and be committed to making the marriage work. There are some things you can do to keep the vow you made?until death do us part.

Learn skills to help you keep your marriage on track. Research continues to show that couples who learn how to talk to each other, resolve conflict, manage their money, have appropriate expectations of the marriage, and build intimacy are significantly more likely to keep their marriage on track over time.

Understand that the grass may look greener on the other side, but you still have to mow it. On the surface someone may look better than the one you are with, but the reality is even beautiful sod eventually has onions, crabgrass and clover if it isn’t properly cared for. In most cases, people who have jumped the fence will testify that the grass is not greener, just different.

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Learn how to resolve conflict without threatening to leave the marriage. All couples have spats. Some yell, others talk things through. The common denominator for couples who keep their marriage on track is learning how to disagree with the best of them, but leaving the marriage is never an option.

Stop using divorce as a crutch. Instead of throwing in the towel when the going gets tough, consider it a challenge to learn as much as you can about your mate and how you can effectively deal with adversity. Make an intentional decision to love the one you are with.

Keep the big picture perspective. Sometimes it is hard to see the forest for the trees. One woman described her 65-year marriage to a group of young people. She shared about 7 years throughout the 65-year span that were really bad due to work conditions, children, no time together, the husband working out of town for a couple of years, etc. In the end she asked herself the question, “Would I really want to trade 58 good years for 7 bad years?” The answer was a resounding No! All marriages experience trials and tough moments. Don’t trade years of history for a couple of bad months or tough years.

Make a plan for your marriage. Going into marriage without a plan is like playing a football game without memorizing the playbook. If you are going to win, you have to have team meetings, set goals, learn and relearn skills, learn how to lead and follow, and share responsibilities. You both need a copy of the playbook. If you want a “til death do us part” marriage you have to learn the plays so you can execute them correctly. That takes time. You have to learn to adapt the plays when situations change. You know there will be times when you will have a few setbacks, but you continue to move toward your goal line and even score a few touchdowns. You can’t do it by yourself. It takes your teammate to block for you, throw the ball to you, help you up when you fall down and encourage you when the going gets tough.

It has been said that individuals win games, teamwork wins championships. Make it your goal to have a championship marriage.

Copyright © 2005 by Julie Baumgardner, used with permission

Julie Baumgardner is the Executive Director of FirstThings.org, an organization dedicated to strengthening marriages and families through education, collaboration and mobilization.