Category Archives: Divorce

Parental Divorce Negatively Affects Later Parent/Child Relationships

mom and child morgefileWhen children experience parental divorce, they are more likely to have insecure relationships with their parents once they grow into adults. A new 2013 study, published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, reports that insecure parental relationships were most pronounced when the divorce occurred during early childhood. This is the first such study to determine that the timing of the divorce in the first years of life has a greater impact. It is also one of the first to demonstrate a link between the divorce and the parent/child relationship being harmed.

This research contradicts cultural assertions that children are very resilient and that they can easily get over family breakups, particularly if they are too young to really understand what is going on. On the contrary, early childhood is deemed a “sensitive period” during which the child learns how to trust and attach to others. Therefore, divorce during this sensitive period was shown to be more impactful.

There has been some disagreement in previous research about when during childhood the most harmful effects of parental divorce occur. A 1989 study by Allison and Furstenburg found greater distress, delinquency, problem behavior, and academic difficulties in children whose parents separated between infancy and age five. However, a 2005 study by Strohschein suggested older children whose parents divorced were more vulnerable to mental health problems.

This 2013 study by Fraley and Heffernan isolated and tested the sensitive period hypothesis which posited that, if true, the impact of parental divorce on adult attachment styles should be more pronounced if it occurred during early childhood than if it took place later in childhood. The study concluded that the data was in fact consistent with the sensitive period hypothesis. The researchers concluded that “not only is early divorce more consequential than later divorce, but it is also particularly influential when it takes place in the early years of life.”

Psychologists say some experiences, such as parental divorce, can influence our personality development more when they take place during a child’s early development. Why? A 2006 study by Sullivan suggests one possibility is that our nervous system is more malleable or plastic early in life, and so may be impacted to a greater degree during this time. A 2002 study by Fraley adds that early experiences help us set expectations for later experiences. So when a disruption in family relationships occurs very early, it changes the mindset and removes the secure foundation on which other relationships can be compared and built.

Adult Children of Divorce Have More Insecure Relationships with Parents
If you are a parent considering divorce, it is certainly worth noting that the action of divorce and its timing have major consequences for your child and for his or her future relationship with you and your spouse.

Researchers concluded that people who were younger when their parents divorced were more insecure in their relationships with their parents as adults than people who were older when their parents divorced. The first few years of life appear to be the most critical “sensitive period.” However, even when children were older when the divorce occurred, the parental relationships were more likely to be insecure.

Fraley and Heffernan used a fairly large testing group of more than 12,300 participants for this study and replicated the results with a second sample of 7,300. They included people who varied in parental divorce status, age, and age at parental divorce. Participants were mostly from the U.S., the U.K., and Canada.

Custody Affects Parent/Child Relationships
It shouldn’t be surprising that the amount of time the child spends with a parent was shown in this study to be linked with the security of the adult/child relationship as adults. People in the study were more likely to have an insecure relationship with their father if they lived with their mother. However, if they lived with their father, they were less likely to have an insecure relationship with him as an adult. And if they lived with their father, they reported more insecurity in their relationship with their mothers than with their fathers.

Adult children of divorce were more insecure with fathers than with mothers, on average. This is likely due to the fact that more mothers gain full custody. In fact, 74 percent of participants whose parents divorced reported that their mothers had primary custody, while 11 percent lived with their fathers, and the rest lived with a grandparent or other caretakers.

“These findings are valuable because they suggest that something as basic as the amount of time one spends with a parent or one’s living arrangements can have the potential to shape the quality of the attachment relationship that one has with a parent,” say researchers.

To summarize, divorce during the first few years of life affects children the most, and this family breakdown is likely to result in more insecure relationships with one or both parents, with custody being a major factor in relationship security. Is this study consistent with your own personal experience, or the experiences of your friends?

Photo courtesy of morguefile.com.

Lori Lowe is the author of First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage. It tells the inspiring, true stories of couples who used adversity to improve their marriages–from overcoming drug addiction to cancer, infidelity, religious differences, family interference and infertility, among many others. It’s available at Amazon.com and in various e-book formats here.

How Stress Can Help Your Marriage

stress morguefile While it was not a stress-free summer for my marriage, it wasn’t a bad time either. I’ve seen several reports that indicate some stress can actually be good for us and for our marriages, and I have to say I agree in some respects.

In my case, the stressors were outside the marriage, and I think that makes a big difference in staying positive. My husband was in training in another city for several months, meaning date nights were out of the question, and even 15-minute phone calls a day were usually not available. Instead, the kids and I made the best with one or two day visits, or longer when that was possible. I think we viewed it more of a family challenge to handle the circumstances in the best way we could, knowing it would be best for the family in the long run.
Now, three months is much different than an 18-month deployment by a soldier. And unfortunately, a recent RAND Corp. study showed long and frequent deployments hurt military marriages, often leaving them feeling disillusioned. The longer the deployment, the greater the risk of divorce, it said. Often, it had to do with unmet expectations. “Couples who married before 9/11 just didn’t expect that deployments were going to be amped up,” said the study author. Read the study details here. Thankfully, resources are available to help support military marriages, as well as help from family and friends.

Other stressful events that can impact marriages may have to do with traumatic life-events, which 75 percent of us face at one time in our lives. In fact, in a given year, 20 percent of people are likely to experience some kind of a trauma in their life, according to The Greater Good Science Company. So, the odds are not in favor us living free of pain and suffering.

How can we either insulate our marriage from the negative effects of stress, or somehow extract some positive from the experience?

Be a Team
As much as I hate sports analogies, teaming up with your spouse against the problems you face is critical. None of us wants to feel alone, particularly when things are difficult. We went to be heard and have our feelings validated. We want to be encouraged and cheered on. During my husband’s stressful training, we sent him a barrage of encouraging cards and notes to let him know we were behind him. If financial stress is a problem, the couple must work together to attack it bit by bit. “We will get through this together,” is the message that is expressed, whether “this” means a serious illness, a loss of a loved one, a robbery, a job loss, etc.

One couple I interviewed who grew close after being very argumentative early in their marriage describe the shift as moving from opposite sides of the tennis net to playing side by side against an opponent. We as married people have to feel like our spouse is on our side in life.

Even if you can’t physically be together, you can feel like you’re a team, each playing an important family role, and each respected and valued.

Look for Growth Opportunities
“Our success and happiness depend on our ability not just to cope with (stress) but to actually grow because of it,” says Christine Carter from The Greater Good. She explains that the stress we experience as a result of adversity—and how we respond to that stress—tends to predict how much we will benefit from it. The individuals who benefit and grow the most are NOT the ones who are able to avoid the stress. Those who grow the most are the ones who may be shaken up, and then grow as a result.

In my experience, I would agree that people I have known who have overcome cancer or faced dire circumstances often have a unique perspective and wisdom about what is truly important.

And many of the couples I interviewed for First Kiss to Lasting Bliss experienced a great amount of adversity but grew together as a result. That is not to say your spouse must be your only support system in times of stress and need—certainly not. Friends, family, pastors, doctors, neighbors and others in your life often want to help when you are facing a tough time, and they can be part of the learning and growth process when we are ready to make those advances.

It kind of stinks that it takes tough times to truly grow and appreciate the good times, but isn’t that truly the case?

If day-to-day stress is affecting your marriage due to over-scheduling, family conflict, household disorganization, etc., then take action to address the issues. This kind of stress will deplete health reserves and will rarely offer growth opportunities.

What has caused the most growth in your marriage?

Lori Lowe is the author of First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage. It tells the inspiring, true stories of couples who used adversity to improve their marriages–from overcoming drug addiction to cancer, infidelity, religious differences, family interference and infertility, among many others. It’s available at Amazon.com and in various e-book formats here.

Can Marriages Survive Infidelity?

haltzman book coverFollowing up on my last post, Why do affairs happen?, I want to share some responses from psychiatrist, author and marital therapist, Scott Haltzman, M.D, to my questions. He recently released The Secrets of Surviving Infidelity, which has certainly shed light on some new areas.

The short answer to the question, “Can marriages survive infidelity?” is “Yes.” They can, and they do. He estimates half of all marriages stay together after infidelity.

Here are some questions I asked Dr. Haltzman related to the book:
Q: Can you briefly define flame addiction and explain why the brain chemistry affects reasonable decision making?
A: Flame addiction describes the psychological and chemical process by which a person become infatuated with another person who is not his or her spouse. This person is a “flame,” and, like a moth circling a candle, he or she provides an irresistible pull to the married individual. Flame addiction is based on the phenomenology of infatuation, in which excitatory brain chemicals dopamine and norepinephrine are elevated, just as they are when people are abusing drugs like cocaine. It’s further complicated by a dip in brain serotonin. When people have normal levels of serotonin, their brains get messages to relax, but when levels are low, a person can feel restless, unsettled, and have increases in obsessions.

Q: Why is breaking off all contact with the affair partner the hardest step for the offending spouse?
A: A very strong attraction develops between the spouse and the one he or she is having an affair with. This third person might be seen as source of enrichment or excitation for the spouse, there might be powerful feelings that the flame is a soul mate, and the possibility of losing him or her may feel like too great a loss. Or, the person having the affair may simply feel a duty or obligation to the paramour. Often the position of the unfaithful spouses is that the third party didn’t do anything wrong, so they can’t justify hurting feelings by breaking things off.

Q: How can you tell if you’re in a relationship with someone who made a serious—but one-time—mistake versus someone who will hurt you again? Or in other words, how often is “once a cheater, always a cheater” true?
A: There’s no surefire way of predicting who will end the affair, and who will continue to have trysts. Good predictive indicators include individuals who are willing to take a careful look at their behavior, minimize defensiveness and blame, and make sincere efforts to put energy back into the relationship once an affair has been discovered. Those that insist they still need to maintain all of their Facebook friends, or their own private cellphone, are simply asking to hold on to their old ways. That’s not good.

Q: Why do your odds of an affair go up each year you are together?
A: The best reason is that simply the longer you’re married, the more chances you have to cheat. In the first 10 minutes after your wedding vows, there’s about a zero percent chance you can fit an affair in, and in the first day, about the same. But each day you are married is another day you go out into the world and meet possible affair mates. Another reason that the chances may go up is that couples tend to get into ruts, and the excitement of infidelity seems particularly attractive if you are bored in your marriage.

Q: In your experience, you believe half of couples stay together after infidelity. Why is this fact helpful to others? And why do you believe that is the biggest secret for surviving infidelity?
A: Secrecy is the hallmark of infidelity, both during the affair and afterwards, so many people have no idea that their next store neighbors (or their parents even) have had to deal with infidelity. Knowing that you are not alone helps reduce the feelings of shame—and knowing that people can survive infidelity gives you options when the culture may be insisting that you should leave the marriage no matter what.

Q: Is there one piece of advice you have for couples to prevent affairs from occurring, particularly for couples who have been together for more than a decade?
A: Don’t take each other for granted. You should always be working on maintaining a good quality marriage, in which your partner feels like you are making his or her needs a priority. One of the advantages of being with someone more than a decade is you really get to know him or her. You can see that as a negative, as in, “Now that I know my partner, I realize what a pain in the butt he/she is.” But I believe this knowledge can be used to your advantage, as in, “I realize that my partner sees things differently than I do, and I have often assumed I know what he/she needed when I really didn’t know him/her. Now that I know my partner better, I can really see the ways I can improve the quality of our relationship.”

Thanks to Dr. Haltzman for these insights! Leave a comment if you wish to be included in the drawing for a free book.

I feel fortunate that infidelity has not impacted my marriage directly, however, the book is a reminder not to be complacent and to keep proper boundaries in place. I’ll have a followup on these prevention tips from Dr. Haltzman at a later date. For those who have been impacted, pick up a copy for yourself or a loved one.

Lori Lowe is the author of First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage. It tells the inspiring, true stories of couples who used adversity to improve their marriages–from overcoming drug addiction to cancer, infidelity, religious differences, family interference and infertility, among many others. It’s available at Amazon.com and in various e-book formats here.

Why Do Affairs Happen?

shadow couple morguefile
A new book written by Scott Haltzman, M.D., sheds light on The Secrets of Surviving Infidelity. You may remember Dr. Haltzman from one of my most popular posts, “We all married the wrong person.” Dr. Haltzman, a psychiatrist and marital therapist, has written a helpful and hopeful book for couples who have been or may be impacted by infidelity. If you want to learn why people have affairs, why they are so difficult to stop, how to protect your marriage, and how a marriage can recover from it, these are all addressed.

I’m going to give a copy of the book away on the blog this week, so if you’d like to read it, leave a comment below. Today, I want to give just a short intro from the book on why affairs occur. Strangely, Dr. Haltzman says most affairs take place between two people who had absolutely no intention of cheating. That’s why we must be careful about the kinds of interactions we have with people outside of our relationships.

People of course have various reasons for affairs—sex, curiosity, excitement, companionship, an ego-boost, career advancement, or getting even with a spouse are some of the reasons given. But in order for an affair to take place, three elements must be in play: (NOD) Need, Opportunity, and Disinhibition.

Need—As for the needs, Dr. Haltzman says spouses spend too much energy determining which exact needs were not being met when the affair happened. In truth, we all have needs that our partner will not be able to meet. In addition, there may be confusion about needs vs. desires and what we believe our partner should be fulfilling in us.

Opportunity—Not everyone is prone to cheating, but those who are may find an opportunity almost anywhere, from meeting someone at the gym, at PTA meetings, church, bars, work, on Facebook, or any other location we happen to be. “If no one is around to cheat with, cheating simply will not take place,” says Dr. Haltzman.

Disinhibition—In medical terminology, this means the inability to inhibit an instinctual reaction, says Dr. Haltzman. These are people who have been trained or trained themselves that “I want what I want when I want it.” They may be impulsive, unthinking of the consequences of their behavior. Some medical issues may contribute to increased disinhibition, including ADHD, substance abuse, bipolar disorder, brain illnesses, and other psychiatric problems. Others simply justify one choice after another, leading down a slippery slope into an affair.

Dr. Haltzman explains in detail the role of neurotransmitters/brain chemicals that affect our emotional balance, particularly during affairs or potential affairs. The bottom line is that the excitement produced in a new relationship affects our emotions and energy levels, and they make it difficult to make good judgments. Therefore, someone in an affair will conclude that this person is their “soul mate” and believe they “need” them. This is because when they are with this person, the tension that has been developed is relieved, the level of worry and sleeplessness decreases and they feel “complete.” It’s not because the relationship or the person is ideal, it’s because the brain chemistry (low serotonin, high dopamine, high norepinephrine) has been affected. But of course, this state of mind can’t be maintained, because that brain chemistry level can’t be maintained.

The book is definitive on affairs being wrong and bad for the marriage, but it’s also relatively compassionate toward the person having the affair, helping them understand the reasons they find it so difficult to untangle themselves from this other person while insisting on it and explaining the steps. It’s almost half intended for the spouse and half for the person who had the affair, helping couples to both prevent affairs and to recover one. I thought the book was really well thought out, and I would highly recommend it, having read many others on the topic.

Tomorrow, I’m going to share some questions and answers directly from Dr. Haltzman based on my interview with him. Remember, if you would like to be in the drawing for the book, add a brief note below and I’ll put your name in.

You can find Dr. Haltzman at Facebook.com/ScottHaltzman or at secretsofmarriedmen.com. His book, Secrets of Surviving Infidelity is available in bookstores or at Amazon.com.

Lori Lowe is the author of First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage. It tells the inspiring, true stories of couples who used adversity to improve their marriages–from overcoming drug addiction to cancer, infidelity, religious differences, family interference and infertility, among many others. It’s available at Amazon.com and in various e-book formats here.

6 Divorce Trends that May Surprise You

Click on the graphic below to see in a snapshot some of the most prevalent divorce trends in the U.S. today. On MarriageGems, we have shared details on many of these trends, such as grey divorce rising, and overall marriage and divorce rates falling. #4 shows well-known factors that can decrease the likelihood of divorce, including having a college education, having children after marriage, marrying after age 25, having an income over $50K, and having a religious affiliation (though research I have read indicates the couple needs to be practicing the religion to benefit, not just have the affiliation). #6 is also of interest in explaining some of the income effects on children of divorce vs. children with married parents. You can also see in #1 and #5 the gender (women) who initiate the most divorces, as well as how they break down by race and geography in the U.S.

Do any of these trends surprise or concern you? Do you want to learn more about any of these trends? Divorce rates are much lower in higher income and in college educated circles than most people realize. And even among demographics with multiple risk factors for divorce, you can still be successful in marriage. Don’t lose hope that your marriage can be one of the great success stories.

DivorceXS

Image Source: eLocal.com

Don’t be Afraid to Underachieve in Life to Better Achieve in Your Family Life: Lessons from a former Indpls Colt

smith-hunter-01Last week, I attended a talk in Indianapolis given by former NFL punter Hunter Smith and his wife, Jen. One of his biggest messages was this headline. The former Colt advises those who want to be good spouses and parents to not be afraid to underachieve by the world’s standards, in order to make the time to succeed in your family life.

“I’m never going to be all I could be, and I don’t want to be. In America that’s counter-cultural,” says the former Indianapolis Colt. “Achieve in your marriage and with your children, and not in what the world expects of you.”

Other pieces of advice from their talk at Better Together included:

  1. Keep good company—trusted friends who will help keep you from making wrong decisions.
  2. Be who you say you are—live your life well.
  3. Understand that men have the tendency to be lustful and passive, while women have the tendency to be controlling. As men, don’t abdicate leadership in the home.
  4. Be willing to show your true self to your spouse.
  5. Be willing to share each of your needs honestly with one another.
  6. Place your spouse’s needs above yours. If you both practice giving, you will both receive more.

Hunter and Jen have four children, and they aren’t afraid to “miss opportunities” for their kids to develop in sports or other areas. Instead, they focus on the priorities of their family and their faith life.

Hunter shared openly about life in the NFL both with the Colts and with the Washington Redskins. He also expressed how much impact one person can have, using the example of Tony Dungy changing the culture of the Indianapolis Colts team by calling all the players to be authentic men full of strong character.

You can read here in an Indianapolis Star article about how Hunter calls the life of NFL athletes “tragic” with false images and frequent divorces and bankruptcy following the end of their football career. Hunter took a different path and retired to follow his interest in music and singing. His wife shares his love of singing.

Is his advice to underachieve difficult to hear, especially from someone who at one time made a multi-million dollar annual salary and who has a Super Bowl ring? My opinion is that he seems genuinely interested in using his platform to share the lessons he has learned. What are your thoughts on the other suggestions?

My next post will be about how earning more money does not usually make us happier. Instead, working more takes time away from activities that would probably give us more happiness.

Photo credit: Indianolis Colts

Lori Lowe is the author of First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage. It tells the inspiring, true stories of couples who used adversity to improve their marriages–from overcoming drug addiction to cancer, infidelity, religious differences, family interference and infertility, among many others. It’s available at Amazon.com and in various e-book formats here.

The Science of Marital Longevity—Will Your Marriage Succeed?

happy couple morguefileWhile commitment may be the key to staying together in marriage, science has its own explanations. The latest Clark University Poll of Emerging Adults found that 86 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds surveyed said they expected their marriages to last a lifetime. (The balance were presumed to be unlikely to marry.) Yet, statistically, various factors make individuals far more or less likely to stay married.

The American Psychological Association recently compiled factors that are most likely to make love last. I don’t find it helpful to share which races are more likely to divorce, since that is not something we can change. However, we can do a lot to help or hurt our marital success, according to researchers. Here’s a sampling:

  • According to NCHS data, women with at least a bachelor’s degree have a 78 percent shot that their marriages will last 20 years, compared with 41 percent chance among women with a high school diploma. Did you know those with a college degree have a nearly 80 percent chance of success? I guess my Mom was right to encourage me to finish college before considering marriage.
  • Couples whose first child is born after the wedding have a greater likelihood of staying together, while couples who marry in their teens have a lower chance of staying together.
  • Lack of assets cause marital stress for newlyweds, according to the National Marriage Project. Couples with no assets are 70 percent more likely to divorce within three years than couples with $10,000 or more in assets. Consider this fact if you’re about to go into debt over an expensive wedding celebration.
  • Stress can be a major contributor to divorce. In a 2012 study by the University of Texas, researchers found that when one spouse had a stressful day (traffic, difficulties at work, or whatever), they reported more negative behaviors toward their spouse as well as less satisfaction with their relationship. Please keep this in mind if you are going through a stressful time or a major transition, as stress definitely affects how you evaluate your relationships. “Psychologists posit that the energy dedicated toward handling stressful events detracts from the energy needed to maintain a good relationship,” according to the Journal of Family Psychology. Take efforts to reduce or better manage your stress.
  • A strong social support can buffer against the type of chronic stress than can be toxic to a relationship. Examples of a strong social support include military support, church support, family support, neighbor and friends who are supportive. If you don’t have a good support network, help develop one. Social connections are known to help you live longer and healthier as well as to provide marriage and family support.
  • Doing small things often to make your spouse feel special and loved is very predictive of staying together, preventing divorce, and being happy, according to the Early Years Marriage Project. Contrary to popular opinion, men tend to need these affirmations the most, because women frequently affirm one another with hugs or compliments, while it’s uncommon for men to receive these in public.
  • The manner in which couples deal with conflict is important. Couples that are likely to stay together “are kinder, more considerate, and soften the way they raise a complaint” according to the Gottman Institute. Another study (from UCLA) addressing conflict found that couples who as newlyweds had interacted with anger and pessimism when discussing difficult relationship issues were more likely to be divorced 10 years later.
  • Depth of communication is important. “Most couples think they’re communicating with one another, but what they’re really talking about is what I call ‘maintaining the household’ or detailing to-do lists,” says Terry Orbuch, PhD, of the University of Michigan and Oakland University. “The happiest couples also share their hopes, fears and dreams.”
  • Be a lifelong learner in marriage. You may put regular effort into improving your golf game or your home, but marriage also takes a conscious effort to maintain and improve. “If you’re a lawyer, you take continuing education. If you’re an artist, you take workshops. And somehow, there’s this belief that we don’t have to work at learning how to be a couple, it should just come naturally,” says couples therapist Nicholas Kirsch, PhD. “That, to me, is just very backwards.”

For details on these studies, visit APA.org.

In what area do you think your marriage could use attention?

Lori Lowe is the author of First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage. It tells the inspiring, true stories of couples who used adversity to improve their marriages–from overcoming drug addiction to cancer, infidelity, religious differences, family interference and infertility, among many others. It’s available at Amazon.com and in various e-book formats here.