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A friend of mine (who also happens to be a couples counselor) said something very wise as we talked about what makes marriages and relationships work or not — don’t let little things become big things.

For instance, disagreements about money or priorities or schedules or responsibilities, can easily get swept under the rug. The trouble is, if these little things don’t get worked out early on, they can pile up under that rug until soon the little things become big things.

The trouble then is that often grudges, resentment, and even anger can be so deeply set at that point, fixing the big thing is much harder than fixing the little thing.

He gave the example of a couple who ended up in his office supposedly because the wife wouldn’t learn how to hook the trailer onto the truck. Now it’s pretty obvious that is not a marriage deal breaker in most people’s minds, and it really wasn’t the deal breaker for them either. It was an example of a little thing that had turned into a big thing. (He helped them see it wasn’t about the trailer, it was about communication.)

Then, he gave an example of a little thing that didn’t turn into a big thing in his own 25 year marriage. When he and his wife were dating, she forgot something at his house and told him she would stop by the next night at 7:30 to pick it up. Well, 7:30 came and went, then 8:30, then 9:30. At 10, after he was in bed, the phone rang. He let the machine get it. Then, for the next three days he was “busy” so she couldn’t seem to reach him. On the fourth day she showed up at his house, profusely apologizing for not showing up a few days before. At that time, he accepted her apology, and asked her to always call if she was not going to meet him as planned in the future because in his relationships, not showing up and not calling was not acceptable. And he said in 25 years, it hasn’t happened since.

Early in a relationship, there is a tendency to not want to rock the boat, to let things slide. But according to him that’s how a lot of couples get into trouble down the road. Next thing they know it’s a few years later and all that bottled up stuff comes bursting out. Fixing things at that point is a lot harder, and sometimes not possible.

He also said he wishes more couples would see a couples therapist for a few sessions at the beginning of a serious relationship to explore the common and usual trigger points, rather than wait until big trouble arises to seek help. That way, little problems don’t become big problems, or if big problems start to emerge, the couple has someone they can turn to for help earlier rather than later.

I thought it was all good advice. Healthy communication, respect, clear expectations, and a little guidance from someone who isn’t emotionally involved all seemed like good baby steps in the right direction toward happily ever after.

Or said another way, when it comes to divorce, an ounce of prevention is worth a million pounds of cure.

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