When  people get married, it’s with the belief, the intention, and the hope that their marriage will last forever.  And yet stuff happens to cause some couples to abandon that belief, intention, and hope.  Others stay together because they’ve held onto the belief, intention, and hope, and their marriages thrive.  So, what makes those couples different?  How do some couples make marriage last?

Experts talk about commitment, and I agree.  It’s fairly obvious that one of the secrets to a long-term marriage is the commitment each party has made to the union.  That being said, sometimes we’re better off letting go of the commitment instead of staying together in an unfulfilling relationship strictly for the commitment’s sake,

As a Mediator, I can’t help but look at this from a neutral, compromising point of view, which prompts me to ask the question that’s the title of this article:  Can You Negotiate Staying Together? My answer is 100% !!

As we grow and evolve as individuals, often our priorities and interests shift.  What was important when we were newlyweds very likely won’t matter as much while we’re raising kids.  And what we valued as parents of youngsters may not be relevant when we become grandparents.  Relationships are organic, flexible, living and breathing entities.  So it makes sense to re-evaluate with an eye towards figuring out what still works, and what needs improvement.

Although my livelihood is primarily based on divorce mediation, let me be clear that I’m not happy when people decide to end their relationships.  (Full disclosure:  I am happy that they choose mediation as a respectful option.)  So, it’s not hypocritical for me to make a suggestion or two, from a professional point of view, in order to negotiate staying together.

If you haven’t picked up on the hints above, let me spell it out for you in four steps.

STEP 1:  Agree to meet once a year to discuss the state of your union.

STEP 2:  During that meeting, first talk about what’s going well.  Emphasizing the good stuff  will put you in a positive and productive frame of mind.

STEP 3:  Then talk about what needs improvement.  Notice I didn’t suggest that you talk about what’s not working.  Leading the conversation in the direction of what can be better will leave less room for defensive, excuse-laden feedback.

STEP 4:  Write it down.  Make a two-columned list of what’s working and what could be better.  Do your best to keep the list balanced and relevant.  Then agree to use your best efforts for the next month to work on improvement.  Giving the to-do list a one month trial period is, hopefully, doable.  After the month is up, if you need to renegotiate one or more of the terms, go for it.

Staying together takes negotiation.  Your commitment to each other needs re-commitment.  If you relax and forget about it, you may wind up in my office.  Don’t take this the wrong way, but I hope I won’t be seeing you.