If you feel your relationship may be in peril, try this strategy: Fall back in love. It can be done. In fact, 64 percent of couples who were verging on breaking up but who stuck with their marriages found their way back to conjugal happiness within a few years, according to an Institute of American Values study.
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The route to marital happiness may not be as hard to find as you think, but you first have to identify why your relationship is off course. We surveyed experts to find out which types of strains challenge couples the most, and how you can make happily last ever after.
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In times of stress, we look to our relationships to help us through. This may be why traffic to online dating sites spikes when the Dow falls, says Gian Gonzaga, Ph.D., a senior research scientist at eHarmony Labs and an affiliate faculty member at UCLA. But while singles start new relationships in times of stress, people who are already coupled up may find that stress damages their couplehood. “Stress has a tendency to get under the skin of a relationship,” Gonzaga says.
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It does this, in part, by eating away at your self-control and weakening the resources that usually stop you from, say, dropping sarcastic wisecracks on your spouse. “Self-control functions like a muscle,” says Eli Finkel, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at Northwestern University. “If you’ve been implementing a lot of self-control in other domains, you’ll have less left over for your relationship.” So after you spend a day at the office trying not to say or do anything that will cost you your job, you may not have the resources left to handle even the smallest argument with your wife.
When partners who generally have good relationship skills are under extreme work stress, they have trouble using their communication and relationship tools, says Lisa Neff, Ph.D., an assistant professor of human development and family studies at the University of Texas at Austin. She recommends taking time to unwind after you arrive home by doing what you want to do, instead of diving right into dinner. If you tell your wife that dinner conversation is much more enjoyable after you’ve shed the day’s stress by shooting some baskets or tinkering in the garage, she’ll be more likely to understand where you’re coming from, Neff says. This will give her a chance to cool off as well: Neff has found that husbands of stressed-out wives are especially unhappy.