Tag Archives: preventing divorce

A Children’s Secret Desire: An Unbroken Home

ainsley's prayerMy friend opened her daughter’s prayer necklace on Easter Sunday and found this shred of paper that read “I pray that my family will never fall apart.”

It may surprise you to learn that this child’s parents have a loving marriage and that she has a secure and strong family unit. But her aunt and uncle are going through a divorce, and she sees how traumatic it is for them and for her cousins. Even this glimpse of divorce is enough to make her fear for her own family.

Given the prevalence of divorce today, most children have seen a glimpse (or more) of its sorrow and pain. Due to this eye-opening experience, they may have insecurity about divorce. Your own children may be more insecure than you realize.

Imagine that your child wrote this note (pictured). Would it motivate you to work harder to ensure your marriage is strong and your family is secure? It did motivate me to think about whether I am doing all I can to maintain a strong family. What would you say to the child to reassure her? Do your children need to be reassured? The mother who found it reassured her by telling her that just because her parents argue doesn’t mean they are breaking up and that they made the decision to get married as a “forever” decision.

If you have been thinking about giving up on your marriage, please realize the shock and sorrow that children go through in a family breakup. That sorrow is not a transition that goes away. Children are not as resilient as we give them credit for being.

Choose to love your spouse, even when you don’t feel particularly loving. You will have ups and downs, but over time individuals are happier when they stay together through the rough periods. The odds are better for you to find love and happiness in the marriage you are in than if you look for happiness after a divorce. And children are better off being reared in an intact family—emotionally, physically, financially and educationally.

What is your secret desire for your family? Do you know if your children are secure in their family? Have you asked them?

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.

What is the Happiest Year of Your Marriage?

DSC06526 I sincerely hope that the happiest year of your marriage is THIS year, but a recent British survey* of 2,000 married people suggests that year three was the happiest year in their marriage.

In the study, the first year of marriage followed year three as the next happiest, with the couple basking in the newlywed glow, while year two was spent getting to know one another better. The study suggests year three marks the success of learning to deal with one another’s imperfections, as well as some occasional doubts. By year three, discussions of having children often occur, helping to solidify the relationship.

What was the toughest year in their marriage? According to the study, the fifth year was the most difficult due to feelings of exhaustion, financial worries, stress of caring for children, and conflict over division of work/chores.

The good news is that the couples who continued to work on the marriage found year seven to be the point at which, when obstacles are overcome—such as unbalanced sex drives, different hobbies or social preferences—it paves the way for a long-term and happy marriage. Half of respondents say their wedding day was the happiest day of their life.

All that being said, the data should not be seen as exactly relating to every marriage, but rather a trend. Frequently, it appears, once we settle into marriage and get to know one another, marriage can be blissfully happy (yay!). Then, when differing expectations, family demands and workloads collide with the romantic side of the relationship, it takes some effort to overcome problems and remain committed. Marriage has ups and downs, and often after going through troubled times or crises, couples gain a stronger bond.

For couples who decide they “Married the Wrong Person” and move on to someone new, they may become blissfully happy for another very brief period, but they will end up in the same place a few years down the road with a new person. However, for the majority of couples who get past this stage, marriage can become a long and happy union.

Whatever stage you are in, work to stick together. We may blame our spouse for stress that is external to the relationship. Instead of thinking your spouse has changed, realize your situation may be very different from the days of dating. Work to keep communication open and positive.

So, what was your happiest year of marriage, and what was your toughest period to get through?

*The study was commissioned by Slater & Gordon, a UK-based law firm.
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.

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

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Revise Your Criticism for Better Marriage

If your pattern is to criticize your spouse for any reason, it’s time to break that pattern. A couple of days ago I came across a very helpful Washington Times article advising just how to do this. It’s called “Marriage Mindset:  Presume the best.

I have previously shared how to fight fairly and the four relationship patterns that can doom a marriage: criticism, defensiveness, stonewalling and contempt (including behaviors like eye-rolling). But just knowing it’s a bad pattern isn’t enough. When you have legitimate complaints with your spouse, it’s part of a desire for a healthy marriage to want to address them. How can we do that more productively without damaging the relationship?

 Times author Rebecca Hagelin points out that “good communication never takes aim at the other person.” Instead:

  1. Effective communication sticks to the facts, i.e. “When you didn’t call last tonight to tell me you’d be late…”
  2. Effective communication expresses feelings, i.e. “It made me feel sad and angry.”
  3. Effective communication avoids judgment, i.e. “You’re so inconsiderate.”

Imagine a husband’s reaction when a wife explains she misses the time they used to share on Saturday mornings together rather than complaining, “You never show concern for my needs.” Or, when a husband explains he is feeling overwhelmed with responsibilities, he may get a better reaction than if he criticizes his wife for “not doing enough.”

One problem with the pattern of criticism is that it creates such negative interactions and feelings that each partner begins to lose hope that the relationship can work well. “Pessimism begets more pessimism until divorce seems inevitable,” says Hagelin, adding that those with divorced parents or parents who served as poor marriage role models are especially likely to fall into this trap.

As a reminder, Gottman’s other tips for fighting in a more positive manner include:

  • Bringing up the problem in a soft, not harsh manner
  • Presenting issues with more positive and less negative demeanor
  • Accepting influence from your spouse
  • Repairing the interaction when it becomes negative
  • Being willing to compromise
  • Using humor in problem solving (joking around can relieve tension)

More than just changing the way you criticize your partner, the key is to give your spouse and your marriage more marital optimism. “New research shows that the happiest of marriages reflect an overall positive attitude about the goodness of the other person and the marriage itself—even as the couple works to resolve conflicts,” says Hagelin.

So, for example, when your spouse does something less than agreeable, it means giving them the benefit of the doubt that they still have good motives and believing that your relationship is basically sound even if you’re upset about that action. Yes, it also means being forgiving and loving even in these situations.

It’s interesting to me that when I choose to let something go and believe that my spouse didn’t mean to upset me, I often later can’t remember the reason I was so mad. I just remember that I decided to change my attitude about it, and when needed I address it with him when I’m feeling less angry.

Gottman has stressed that focusing on the positive in our relationship is much more important than hashing out our conflicts, because 69 percent of conflicts in marriage are unresolved, as in personality differences or competing needs. Do what you used to love doing together, focus on your partner’s strengths, build your friendship, be kind and loving (even when you don’t feel like it), foster and make time for intimacy—these are all ways to keep positive feelings for each other and for the relationship growing.

How do you feel when you are on the receiving end of criticism? How would you prefer to receive this kind of information? Do you have any room for improving how you criticize your spouse? Do you focus more on what your spouse does well, or what s/he doesn’t do well?

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How Children of Divorce Can Turn the Tide.

Check out my post, “How Children of Divorce Can Turn the Tide” on the Coalition for Divorce Reform web site. Or check other new posts on the home page.

Recently, I wrote about how being a child of divorce is a risk factor for early death, as reported in the eye-opening book, The Longevity Project. As a child of divorce myself, I was dismayed to learn that children whose parents divorced during childhood died an average of five years earlier than children from intact families. However, some of the children of divorce in the study were resilient enough to avoid this result. Read the rest of the post here to learn the details.

What lessons can we learn from Schwarzenegger, Shriver?

I don’t usually comment on celebrity marriages and breakups unless I feel there is a broader lesson that I can learn from the situation. In the case of Maria Shriver and Arnold Schwarzenegger, there are clear lessons, even if we don’t know the details of their marriage.

The first lesson is that even if we love our spouses, as they profess to love one another, we can’t take for granted that we will be married happily ever after, even after 25 years. We still have to put the time in together and make the daily effort to keep our lives connected emotionally and physically. Their high-profile jobs as California governor and news journalist kept them separated and overcommitted. Although Shriver stepped away from her journalism work, she has remained very active in advocacy work. Being in the public eye and having many public and private responsibilities adds to their time commitments away from one another.

You don’t have to be famous to find your time together becoming more and more limited. In an article advising the couple, family psychologist Dr. Juli Slattery says of the troubled marriage, “We just live in such a fast-paced society and there are so many demands on men and women.” She adds, “Marriage requires constant time together. Even in the best marriage, if you let it go and the couple isn’t communicating and sharing an emotional, physical intimacy for weeks at a time, that marriage will deteriorate.”

This serves as a reminder that we can’t take a strong marriage for granted. We invest and grow, or we deteriorate. There is no maintaining the “status quo.” We may think we are staying still, but we are drifting due to the winds of change and the waves of life. Before we realize it, we’ve become separated and we’re not even sure where the other person is. Don’t take that risk.

The second lesson is that major life stresses and transitions will almost certainly affect the marriage. They have both experienced major upheaval, from recent death of Shriver’s father (with whom she was close) to the changes in both of their careers, including Schwarzenegger leaving his role as governor to return to the big screen. (I guess we should have believed him when he said in his famous accent, “I’ll be back.”) Shriver is trying to find her way personally and professionally, and trying to determine her next professional step. In addition, they are busily raising four children, and we all understand the time commitment and stress that can involve.

In a joint statement, the couple wrote “This has been a time of great personal and professional transition for each of us.”

“Major life transitions, especially career transitions, are stressful, and that stress often bleeds into the marriage, said Branford Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia.

There’s even a risk to overreact during such transitions. I believe it’s wise that the couple is holding off on a divorce at this time, because making such enormous decisions during a time of great upheaval can be very emotional and cause future regrets. Experts say the end of a career can also become a time to reassess relationships and personal goals. Women may try to “find themselves”, and men may be looking for new experiences.

The article “Career change can do a number on many relationships” offers many possibilities of how couples handle transitions. I would suggest it if you are nearing retirement, or if one of you is experiencing career transition.

A broader lesson is to try not to make major marital decisions during a great transition in your life, such as the death of a loved one or a career change or even a relocation. Career changes can be a blow to our ego, which affects how we relate to one another. Grief and sadness can also cloud our decisions. Even a relocation during which we may not be surrounded by an adequate social network can magnify marital problems. A pro-marriage counselor may be needed to help a couple move through difficult life transitions.

I’m hopeful not only for Shriver and Schwarzenegger, but also for their four children, aged 21, 19, 17, and 13, that they can keep their family together, because divorce has been shown to devastate even older children. Slattery explains that for older children who experience a family divorce, “It doesn’t lesson the impact at all,” explaining that the pre-teen, teen and even young adult years are some of the worst times for children to experience a family fracture. Their worldview is forever changed. It’s a mistake to believe children are resilient and will simply bounce back from such an event.

If you’re interested in research about children of divorce, I would recommend Between Two Worlds by Elizabeth Marquardt, or simply talk to someone you know whose parents divorced when they were children.

What lessons do you see in this or similar situations where a long-term marriage that has previously been happy begins to unravel?

Related articles:
Christian counselors advise Schwarzenegger, Shriver on Marriage” at Christianpost.com

Career change can do a number on many relationships” at msnbc.com

Photo: copyright Reuters

Detecting a Virus in Your Marriage

Last weekend, my computer succumbed to a nasty virus picked up at a rogue recipe web site. (That’s what I get for baking.) When the fake security pop-up appeared, I immediately knew I was in trouble, but it was too late. The more I tried to rid myself of it, the worse the problem became, as the virus duplicated itself and became more entrenched. I disconnected the tower and gave it to a professional, because winning the war against the evil virus developers (and they are evil) wasn’t as critical as preserving what was important to me.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we received blatant pop-ups in our lives every time our marriage faced risk? Sometimes one or both partners is sadly unaware of the drifting that is going on in a marriage. One of them is surprised months or years later to be served with divorce papers. The fact is, if we’re not working to improve our marriages, we are all drifting southward.

It might help if warning lights blared over our heads when we were in trouble; for example:

  • When we haven’t made time for a date night in six months, and one or both partners is feeling bored in the marriage.
  • If a wife meets an attractive new coworker for lunch, then doesn’t even share that with her spouse because she felt a spark and doesn’t want her husband to be jealous.
  • When a husband feels neglected because his wife focuses all his or her attention on the children.
  • You argue regularly about money, or the decision-making power that money represents.
  • If one or both partners is feeling sexually dissatisfied, but isn’t willing to discuss the issues honestly, because they doubt things can be improved.
  • A spouse doesn’t feel loved or respected in the marriage (even if the partner thinks he or she is showing love/respect).
  • One partner believes the other isn’t trustworthy. It’s just a feeling.
  • A wife daydreams about an ex, then connects with him on Facebook.
  • Someone your spouse says is “just a friend” seems to be overly friendly to your mate—and not to you.
  • A husband invests all his energy at work then is too tired to engage with his wife.
  • Either partner wonders, “What if I had made another choice?”

If warning signs were going off, would you understand the urgency to disconnect and focus on the problem? Would you turn to a professional if the problem was just getting worse instead of better? Would you be able to communicate the urgency to your partner?

We have to rely on our own instincts (until someone develops an app for identifying marital risk). It seems when things start going south, problems often gain momentum. Maybe one partner starts complaining to family or coworkers. He or she spends more time with friends outside the marriage or on the Internet looking for escape. The spouses go to bed at different times, avoiding even the chance of intimacy. They pour themselves into work or the kids. It’s the virus duplicating itself, becoming more entrenched in the marriage. If you don’t give it your full attention, it can eradicate even the good parts of the marriage.

The best defense is a good offense. Do the regular virus checks, in the form of very open communication. Make time daily to connect with your spouse about topics other than children, chores and errands. Speak up if there’s someone you aren’t comfortable being around your partner or family. Respect your spouse’s feelings on perceived risks, because s/he is your life partner. Invest in having fun and building memories and experiences together—because you have to build something worth protecting.

What are the biggest marital viruses you see? Do you ever see any warning signs? Is it easier to see the warning signs in other people’s marriages?

Photo credit:  ©Aloysius Patrimonio/PhotoXpress.com

Low Conflict Does Not Equate with Great Long-Term Marriage

A three-year study completed at the University of Texas at Austin evaluated 156 newly married couples regarding their conflict levels and marital happiness. They were followed for three years to determine whether low-conflict marriages were the happiest. The answer: yes in the short-term and no in the long-term.

At the beginning of the study, when the couples were still newlyweds, they did indeed equate a happy marriage with low levels of conflict. In other words, couples who argued less were happier. However, after three years, things changed. Those who argued a lot early on reported large increases in marital satisfaction after three years, as they had resolved many of their differences.

On the other hand, many of the couples who had little conflict at the beginning of their marriage missed opportunities to cultivate and grow their relationship. Their desire to avoid conflict kept them from working out problems and reduced their marital satisfaction level, say researchers.

A Times of India article about the study concluded that “disillusionment in the early part of the relationship was a powerful predictor of divorce.”

The well-known recommendation by research John Gottman, PhD, advocating five positive interactions for everyone negative interaction comes to mind. The so-called 5:1 ratio is not only about staying positive with your spouse. It’s also about using the one negative interaction as an opportunity to discuss, negotiate or work through areas that are problematic for the couple—in hopes of moving forward and having more satisfied partners.

Are you using your conflicts in a productive manner, approaching them gently in hopes of moving forward in the relationship? Are you balancing them with plenty of positive interactions?

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We All Married the Wrong Person

Couples in crisis often reach the point where they decide they are just two poorly matched people. This precedes the decision to leave the relationship and go in search of that “right person.” Unfortunately, the odds of a successful marriage go down for each attempt at a new marriage. Psychiatrist and author of The Secrets of Happily Married Men and The Secrets of Happily Married Women and The Secrets of Happy Families, Scott Haltzman, MD, says in truth, they are correct; we all married the wrong person. I found his comments from TV interviews so intriguing that I requested an interview with him to delve into the topic.

Dr. Haltzman says even if we think we know a person well when we marry them, we are temporarily blinded by our love, which tends to minimize or ignore attributes that would make the relationship complicated or downright difficult. In addition, both individuals bring different expectations to the marriage, and we change individually and as a couple over time. No one gets a guarantee of marrying the right person, says Dr. Haltzman, so you should assume you married the wrong person. That doesn’t mean your marriage can’t be successful, however.

“Most of us spend a lot of time filtering through possible mates in hopes that we will end up with the right match. Some people believe it’s an issue of finding a soul mate … the one true partner. Whether or not you enter into marriage believing your partner is THE one, you certainly believe he or she is A right person for you,” says Dr. Haltzman.

He explains that if the success of a marriage were based on making the right choice, then those who carefully chose a good match would continue to sustain positive feelings the majority of the time, and over a long period. The theory would be proven correct that choosing well leads to success.  “But the divorce rate in and of itself stands as a great testament to the fallacy of that theory,” says Dr. Haltzman. Even the couples who remain married don’t describe themselves as completely happy with each other, he adds, but rather committed to one another.

“If we believe we must find the right person to marry, then the course of our marriage becomes a constant test to see if we were correct in that choice,” says Dr. Haltzman, adding that today’s culture does not support standing by our promises. Instead, he says we receive the repeated message, “You deserve the best.” These attitudes contribute to marital dissatisfaction, he says.

Dr.  Haltzman shared some research with me about the negative effects in our consumer society of having too many choices—which may lead to increased expectations and lower satisfaction. A book called The Choice Paradox by Barry Schwartz shares research that flies in the face of conventional wisdom. (I will have another post about this topic soon, because there is much insight to glean.) I’ll cut to the chase and reveal that people are happier with the choices they make when there are relatively few choices from which to choose. With too many choices, we can become overburdened and regretful and constantly question our decision. Today, individuals may feel they have many choices of mates, and fear lost opportunities with potential “right” partners. This may happen even after a person is married, as he or she questions the decision to marry with each bump in the road.

“My basic philosophy is we have to start with the premise when we choose our partner that we aren’t choosing with all the knowledge and information about them,” says Dr. Haltzman. “However, outside of the extreme scenarios of domestic violence, chronic substance abuse, or the inability to remain sexually faithful—which are good arguments for marrying the wrong person on a huge scale, and where it is unhealthy or unsafe to remain married—we need to say, ‘This is the person I chose, and I need to find a way to develop a sense of closeness with this person for who he or she really is and not how I fantasize them to be.’”

That choice to work on the relationship can lead to a more profound, meaningful experience together. Dr. Haltzman offers the following tips to help us reconnect or improve our bond:

  • Respect your mate for his/her positive qualities, even when they have some important negative ones.
  • Be the right person, instead of looking for the right person.
  • Be a loving person, instead of waiting to get love.
  • Be considerate instead of waiting to receive consideration.

To underscore the last couple of points, Dr. Haltzman says many people will put only so much effort into a relationship, then say, “I’ve done enough.” But very few of us will do that with our children. “Instead, we say despite their flaws, we wouldn’t want anyone else; yet, our kids can be much more of a pain in the ass than our spouses.”

Finally, he advises, “Have the attitude that this is the person you are going to spend the rest of your life with, so you must find a way to make it work instead of always looking for the back door.”

For more information on Dr. Haltzman or his books, visit DrScott.com or 365Reasons.com. Many thanks to Dr. Haltzman for sharing his time, wisdom and advice.

Read More on Marrying the Wrong Person. (A new post to continue the discussion and share insights.)

Lori Lowe is the author of First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage.  Find it on Amazon.com or in your favorite e-book format.

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3 Types of Couples Survive Infidelity

Couples who survive an affair can be generally divided into three groups, says Esther Perel, M.A., author of Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence. Perel is a marriage therapist who wondered just how “happily ever after” the couples who survived an affair lived after the reconciliation. She contacted couples whom she had successfully treated years prior for infidelity to determine how they looked back at the event and its impact on their marriage. Their retrospective views were telling.

After completing interviews with the couples, Perel found they fell into three general groups. She writes extensively about her findings along with pieces of case studies for Psychotherapy Networker Magazine in an article called “After the Storm”. It’s well worth the read, particularly if you or your partner has experienced an affair or other type of turmoil during your marriage. The couples were categorized as:

  1. Living in the Past—These couples stay married, but never successfully move past the affair. Forgiveness is not truly given. The offending couple may not take any responsibility for contributing to relationship problems. “The affair has become the narrative of their union,” says Perel, who adds, “It’s a black hole trapping both parties in an endless round of bitterness, revenge, and self-pity.”
  2. The Survivors—These couples revert to a fairly peaceful marriage, similar to what they had before the affair. They stay in the marriage because they honor the values of commitment and loyalty, and they don’t want to break up their families. They may lack passion in their marriage, but they want to do the “right thing.” They see the affair as a painful mistake. They don’t transcend the affair, but they do move beyond it.
  3. The Explorers—These couples use the infidelity as a catalyst for change, transcending the experience to bring their relationship to new heights previously not experienced. They reinvent their relationship, learning from their failures and past hurts, and each take responsibility for their part in the marriage’s deterioration. The infidelity becomes an impetus for a transformative experience.

Perel explains that the most successful couples shifted from talking about “you” and “me” (what you did to me) to reflecting on “our life” or “our crisis”. (Read The Power of “We” in Relationships.)

Don’t’ just overcome adversity; be transformed by it. In an ideal world, we would all look for signs of relationship stress or difficulty before an emergency like infidelity takes hold in the marriage. For those who do experience a deep valley, such as an affair, use the opportunity to change yourself and your partnership for the better. Forgiveness may be a process. Moving on may be a process. But dwelling on past hurts for years afterward is a surefire path to long-term marital unhappiness.

Do these groups sound accurate to you? Why do you think it often takes something drastic to get our attention and bring about positive change in relationships?

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