Category Archives: Domestic violence

Conflict Levels Mostly Unchanged During Marriage

The amount of conflict you have in your marriage today is not likely to change during the course of your marriage, says a brand new study that followed 1,000 couples over 20 years. This level of stability is positive for the 16 percent of couples who have low levels of conflict, and perhaps not bad news for the 60 percent of couples who have moderate levels of conflict. However, 22 percent of couples had high conflict levels, with lots of fighting and arguing, and that wasn’t likely to change over the years.

Claire Kamp Dush, assistant professor of human development and family science at Ohio State University was the lead author of the study. “There wasn’t much change in conflict over time,” she said.

Many of the couples were interviewed five times during the duration of the study from 1980 to 2000. Conflict was measured based on how often respondents said they disagreed with their spouse.

Learn to make decisions jointly

One tip learned from the low-conflict couples is that they were more likely than the moderate- or high-conflict couples to say they shared decision-making with their spouses. “That’s interesting because you might think that making decisions jointly would create more opportunities for conflict, but that’s not what we found,” said Kamp Dush.  “It may be that if both spouses have a say in decision making, they are more satisfied with their relationship and less likely to fight.”

Researchers also found the low-conflict couples were more likely than others to say they believed in traditional, lifelong marriage. Because of this belief, they may be more apt to let disagreements go, say researchers.

The healthiest marriage types were those in which spouses validated one another, were engaged with one another and were happy. About 54 percent of couples had lower conflict levels, equal decision making and high and middle levels of conflict. They had low levels of divorce.

Less healthy types were those who were in avoider marriages; 6 percent of couples studied included this type in which husbands were not involved in housework. They had traditional gender roles, and avoided conflict because of their belief in lifelong marriage. And 20 percent were in volatile marriages. Those in hostile marriages were most likely to divorce.  For more details on the study, read the article provided by Ohio State University at

If your marriage has high levels of conflict or hostility, you may need professional help to change these patterns, which are clearly very difficult to break.

Photo courtesty of

Cohabitation Rates Outpace Divorce Rates

More children in the U.S. are living with unmarried parents than divorced parents, says a new report from the National Marriage Project, written by 18 family scholars from leading institutions. Unfortunately, cohabiting households with children are linked to increased family instability and negative outcomes for children.

While Gen-Xers like me grew up during a doubling of the divorce rate, today’s children have different issues that are contributing to less stable families. Perhaps many of these children of divorce have fears about marrying and choose to cohabit and have children without marriage.

While divorce rates have come down considerably, family instability is on the rise because of the dramatic rise in cohabitation.  The number of Americans who have children and live together without marriage has increased twelvefold since 1970.

Cohabiting parents are twice as likely to split as parents who are married. Twenty-four percent of children born to married parents will see their parents divorce or separate by age 12, whereas 42 percent of children will experience parental cohabitation by age 12.

Compared to children from intact, married families, children in cohabiting homes are more likely to experience social and emotional problems, including drug use, depression and dropping out of high school. The report cites studies that show children in cohabiting families tend to perform worse in school and tend to be less psychologically healthy than children with married parents.

Children in unmarried households also have higher rates of abuse. A New York Times article that describes the report says it cited a 2010 report on child abuse by the federal Department of Health and Human Services. The department concluded children living with two married biological parents had the lowest rates of harm—6.8 per 1,000 children—compared to children living with one parent and an unmarried partner (who was not a parent), at 57.2 per 1,000 children (the highest rates of abuse).

Once again, the report shows a divide in America based on education or class. Americans with only a high school diploma are far more likely to cohabit than are college graduates. “The educated and affluent enjoy relatively strong, stable families. Everyone else is more likely to be consigned to unstable, unworkable ones,” says W. Bradford Cox, director of the National Marriage Project.

Visit United Press International for details.

Do you think public education should be provided about the benefits for children who live with  married parents versus cohabiting parents? Why do you think cohabiting parents are twice as likely to split up as married parents? Do you think increased cohabitation will be a continuing trend or one that will rise and fall with different generations as divorce rates have done?

GenX Marriages: Divorce is out, marriage is in–interesting article with helpful marriage advice

Photo courtesty of by Edwin Loyola

New Divorce Reform Initiative Launched

Some (like the Huffington Post) are calling it The Most Pioneering Divorce Reform Effort in 40 Years. I agree, and I’m happy to be involved in this initiative. If you support marriage, please read and follow the links, and share your thoughts with me.

Why Divorce Reform?
Those who advocate divorce reform have one goal in mind: to reduce the number of unnecessary divorces in the United States. Since two-thirds of our nation’s divorces are from low-conflict marriages, there are many marriages that can and should be saved.

Many of you may ask, “Why we should put our noses in other people’s business?” The most important reason is that we know from decades of research that divorce is very harmful to children, and unnecessary divorces unnecessarily harms them in the short- and long-term. During the 70s, when no-fault divorce was enacted, experts believed children would be resilient if their parents followed their hearts and divided the family. We now know even “good” divorces negatively affect children’s physical, psychological and social health for their lifetime. The negative effects are longer and stronger than anyone predicted, and our society is paying a heavy price.

The second reason is financial. Each year tens of billions of taxpayer dollars are spent on the divorce-associated fallout, not including the millions spent on individual legal fees to obtain divorces. That’s money we can’t afford as a society to waste. (This pdf offers an overview by Georgia Family Council and the American for Family Values on the financial costs of family breakdown.)

The final reason I’ll bring up today is that we deserve much better. As adults, we deserve higher quality relationships and a stronger understanding of the benefits a committed marriage brings to us as individuals and to the greater society. Heartbreak and anguish can be assuaged if marriages can be improved and divorces are no longer needed for us as individuals and couples to feel whole and fulfilled. We can be better parents and better spouses by learning how to strengthen marriages and families.

What is the Coalition for Divorce Reform?
The Coalition for Divorce Reform (CDR) is a non-partisan coalition of divorce reform leaders, marriage educators, domestic violence experts, scholars and concerned citizens dedicated to efforts to reduce unnecessary divorce and promote healthy marriages. It was initiated by Chris Gersten, a former high ranking official in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services responsible for launching the Federal government’s Healthy Marriage Initiative.

Chris worked with divorce attorneys, domestic violence experts and victims of divorce to craft the Parental Divorce Reduction Act (“PDRA”). After the Act was drafted, Chris formed a 17-member advisory board that includes the nation’s leading marriage educators, scholars, attorneys, political leaders and other concerned citizens. It’s bi-partisan and includes people from left to right. The coalition has also reached out to hundreds of community activists and state leaders. Divorce Reform Advisory Committee Chair, Beverly Willett, announced the formation of the coalition as well as its new web site, at Huffington Post yesterday and interviews Chris about its chances for success. The article also provides some reasons on why this initiative is different from other divorce reform efforts of the recent past.

You can find out exactly what the act involves by following this link but in brief, the act applies only to married parents of minor children and exempts victims of domestic violence, spouses of felons and sex offenders, spouses who have been abandoned for 18 months, and spouses of alcoholics and drug addicts who refuse rehabilitation. The act’s purpose is to reduce unnecessary divorce, decrease parental conflict and litigation surrounding divorce, and educate parents regarding the impact of divorce on families. Research shows at least one-third of couples planning to divorce are open to reconciliation. The act would require some educational sessions and an eight-month waiting period prior to filing for divorce. (As a comparison, couples in Britain or France who want a no-fault divorce that is opposed by a spouse must live apart for five or six years, respectively, allowing time for reconciliation. The U.S. has no-fault divorce in every state with no waiting period.)

How You Can Support Divorce Reform
Nine bloggers initially launched the Divorce Reform web site that supports the coalition. I was honored to be a part of this initiative as one of its first bloggers. The blog offers an honest look at the effects of divorce as well as possible solutions. We invite your participation in the dialogue.

Hop on over to the blog and read some insightful posts. For example, read “Confessions of an unabashed marriage saver” by Michele Weiner-Davis; “Why is America’s divorce rate the highest in the world?” by Mike McManus;  “Denial: the price of our children’s best interests” by Kevin Senich. You can also read my post among others and learn why being a child of divorce is a risk for early death.

Please share the blog with your friends and family, with pro-marriage organizations and bloggers, and with anyone who cares about marriage and family.

What do you think about the potential for this kind of legislation? What are your thoughts about the impact of divorce on adults and children? What suggestions do you have? If you live outside the U.S., how does divorce compare in your country?

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The Brain Sees Physical and Emotional Pain Similarly

We’ve all heard of people dying of a broken heart. We’ve all felt physically hurt by something a friend or loved one said or did. It turns out our brains also view physical and emotional pain in a similar manner. Both physical and social pain share some of the same neural circuitry in our brains. The words we say to our loved ones have even more power than we may have realized, especially the power to cause real pain.

Rather than being a rare occurrence, University of Kentucky psychologist Nathan DeWall says we may each feel the emotional wounding of social exclusion an average of once per day. Because of the frequency of occurrence, scientists think our brains have evolved to use the same circuit that had been used for only physical pain to also handle emotional pain.

Brain scans were used to demonstrate the shared circuitry. A new study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reported that two regions of the brain that were previously believed to process only physical pain were activated when a study participant viewed photos of a former lover and thought about the rejection they felt from him or her.

This dual circuitry may help us to understand why the pain of relationships can be so debilitating, and why depression or emotional distress can cause us so much physical and even long-term harm. It’s also a reminder that the words and behaviors that we show to our spouse and to others around us are critically important to their wellbeing. We cannot excuse harsh words or hurtful behavior any more than we can excuse physically hurting others, because their brain is accepting both as deeply harmful.

Brain experiments done at the University of Kentucky and reported in Physical Science in 2009 show a different kind of link between social and physical pain. One experiment found participants who took a daily dose of the painkiller acetaminophen were less sensitive to daily social slights than those who took a placebo. A second experiment involved participants who were repeatedly excluded from a game. Again, those who took the over-the-counter painkiller showed less brain activation to pain than the other participants who did not take the painkiller, although both said they were hurt by the exclusion. Researchers say taking painkillers is not the answer to dealing with feelings of hurt. Rather, the study demonstrates the brain responds similarly to both types of pain.  

University of Toronto researchers say they have also shown the body responds similarly to physical and emotional pain. In both cases, subjects report being numb immediately following an “injury” (physical or emotional). For several minutes they are desensitized. (Even those with major physical injuries can briefly walk and talk, as can those who are seriously wounded emotionally.) Then, the sensation of physical pain or feelings of hurt set in and can be described. Researchers say the lingering hurt may be a way for us to evaluate what happened and to question what we may have done differently for a better outcome.  

It’s clear that the emotional rollercoaster of our relationships can have a real and lasting impact on our wellbeing. Perhaps that’s why the immortal words of Def Leppard come to mind, “Love bites, love bleeds, it’s bringing me to my knees.” It’s not love that bites, but rather our failure to show love to those we say we care about.

You can read the full story here, Heartache or headache, pain process is similar, studies find from LA Times.

Photo: courtesy of

Do Spouses Become More Alike Over Time?

We’ve all seen the pictures of married couples who, like owners and their dogs, begin to look alike over the years. Scary isn’t it? There’s even a prevalent theory out there that if you live with your mate for long enough, you’ll start to act alike and share more common traits. Is this theory true? Not exactly. It seems we tend to pair up with others who have similar fundamental personality traits, but we don’t grow more alike over time.

Psychologists at Michigan State University and the University of Minnesota studied 1,296 couples who were married for an average of 19.8 years. They found that couples who were married as long as 39 years were “no more alike in fundamental personality traits than newlyweds.” For couples who were similar, it was likely due to traits they sought out during courtship, not something that developed over time. Read the study details as reported by ABC News.

The study, published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, focused on 198 factors and personality traits: extroversion/introversion, social disposition, and other aspects, which, unlike hobbies, tend to remain the same during one’s life.

Researchers were surprised at how similar couples were in fundamental personality traits. They surmise that rather than attracting opposites, many of us look for partners who are similar to us. Most couples in the study shared some traits. Regardless of how long a couple was married, researchers didn’t find the similarities diminished or grew over the years—with the exception of one trait, aggression. One partner’s aggressive responses are likely to lead to aggression in the other partner.

So if you are worried about looking and acting more like your spouse every day, fear not, except that aggressive behavior leads to more of the same. While marriage does mean joining two people together, each person gets to retain their individual personality, even after many decades together. The jury is still out, however, on whether you will begin to look more like your dog.

Do you and your partner share many personality traits, or are you rather dissimilar? Read Oh no, I married an extrovert! for my take on personality differences.

Photo ©Cheri/

Celebrate Independence Day for Your Marriage

Last summer, I met an older couple who had been married many years. I asked them their secret to happiness together. The husband replied, “I did my thing; she did hers. It’s important to have independence.” As we prepare to celebrate the independence of our United States, it seemed an appropriate time to analyze the role of togetherness versus independence in a marriage.

Here’s the thing: there’s no right answer to this balancing act. It’s one of those areas where some couples like a lot of closeness. Maybe they eat breakfast together, work all day together, then spend their evenings golfing or eating out with friends. The constant togetherness doesn’t seem to bother them in the least. Others of you shudder to think of that much time with your spouse and fear the day you both decide to retire.

The best road is probably somewhere in the middle. But then again, I’ve met very happy couples on both ends of the spectrum. My marriage seems to live in each extreme, with my husband home for sometimes two or three weeks at a time while I work at home, eating three meals a day together, then him traveling for a week or so at a time. When he’s home for too long, we both begin to think it may be time for him to go on a short trip! Distance does foster appreciation for one another.

I think the bigger risk is not spending enough time together, allowing one another to have divergent activities, friends, hobbies, interests—and even separate vacations. Experiencing new activities and places together helps keep you bonded and interesting to one another. (Read Boredom can Kill a Marriage.)

When independence is completely missing from a relationship, however, we might start to dream of what it would be like to spend the day alone doing what WE want instead of what THEY want to do. If you are dreaming of independence, you probably need a day to yourself. Alone. (This is true especially if you’re an introvert—see Oh No, I married an Extrovert!) Allowing yourself a day or two to rejuvenate will hopefully prevent you from eventually dreaming of becoming fully independent of your marriage responsibilities. I’ve been so thankful for the occasional day of freedom my husband gives me to do what I need or want to do without interruption. Enjoying that freedom reminds me that I freely chose to enter my marriage and have children. It puts me in a grateful mindset rather than a grumpy one.

A marriage in which one person feels controlled or stifled is an unhealthy one. If your spouse controls where you can go, what you can eat, or whom you can speak with, seek help. If your spouse is merely unhappy whenever you spend time apart, it may be time to explain your need for a bit of independence. If you want much more freedom in your marriage to go out with who you want, when you want, and you resist accountability to your partner, you’ve crossed the line of healthy independence within marriage.

Do you have outside hobbies and interests? Do you read new and different books or magazines, or listen to stimulating music? Keeping your mind growing and active gives you new things to discuss with your partner. This Fourth of July, discuss the best balance in your relationship. Share in the comments where you are on the independence/togetherness spectrum.

Have a safe and happy Fourth of July celebration.

Two Dozen Experts Share Keys to Lifelong Marriage

More than 15 relationship experts have teamed up to share their personal and professional advice for marriage in Creating a Marriage You’ll Love: Secrets for Building a Rich and Full Life Together. Some of the contributors, such as John Gray, PhD, are rather well known, and others have been researching marriage behind the scenes for decades to determine what works in real life. The book’s royalties will be donated to organizations dedicated to helping domestic violence victims.

With marriage failure rates between 45 and 50 percent, and when one out of every three children in this country can expect their parents to divorce, such compilations of best research and advice can be helpful to couples serious about success. The advice is presented in an easy-to-understand manner, along with personal illustrations, some from the researchers’ own marriages. Following are just a few nuggets I appreciated:

Terri Orbuch, PhD, writes about how today’s economy is forcing couples to spend more time making ends meet and concerned about jobs, health and children—and less time focused on each other. She followed 373 couples for 22 years and developed recommendations from her research.

Orbuch says it’s the small annoyances and irritations—rather than the big events and problems in life—that often lead to unhappiness and instability in a marriage. In fact, the larger events, such as unemployment or a death in the family, often cause a couple to rely on one another for support and love. Tough times can bring us closer together, while failure to listen to and acknowledge your spouse on a day-to-day basis can be deadly to a relationship.

She also offers the great advice for couples going through a rough patch to focus on what is working well in the marriage instead of dissecting what is wrong with the marriage and trying to fix it. “I have found that the most effective way to boost happiness, commitment, harmony, fun, and passion in a marriage that is basically sound is to add new elements to the marriage, and to focus on how to support and strengthen what’s already working well,” says Orbuch.

She adds that in her long-term study, loving couples shared four characteristics: having realistic expectations, regularly reconnecting with one’s spouse (i.e. taking a bike ride or sharing some laughs), sharing trust, and affirming and validating each other (especially important for men).

One piece of advice from Gray: “To fully open our hearts together and enjoy a lifetime of love, the most important skill of all is forgiveness.” This means forgiving your partner as well as yourself for not being perfect, allowing you to give and receive love again. Anyone who has been married more than a few years will acknowledge the importance of forgiveness in being able to reestablish true intimacy after a conflict.

Creating a Marriage You’ll Love offers many other studies and insights you may find valuable. (I receive no compensation for reviewing the book or for resulting sales.)

If you have a satisfying marriage, what do you think is the secret to your success? Or, if you struggle in your relationship, what is the one thing you desire most? Do you agree with the above advice from Orbuch and Gray?

Top Reasons Americans Give for Their Divorce

After today we’ll get away from the stats. For the data-seekers, here are some top reasons Americans say they divorce (they could select more than one reason). Po Bronson’s web site has much more analysis on family issues, divorce rates and marriage trends, as well as international divorce rates. The info is a little out of date but Bronson gives real insight. I was surprised at the high rate of physical abuse toward women. Top reasons why American women said they’d gotten divorced:
           communication problems (69.7 percent)
           unhappiness (59.9 percent)
           incompatible with spouse (56.4 percent)
           emotional abuse (55.5 percent)
           financial problems (32.9 percent)
           sexual problems (32.1 percent)
           spouse’s alcohol abuse (30 percent)
           spouse’s infidelity (25.2 percent)
           physical abuse (21.7 percent)*

Top reasons why American men said they’d gotten divorced:
communication problems (59.3 percent)
incompatible with spouse (44.7 percent)
unhappiness (46.9 percent)
emotional abuse (24.7 percent)
financial problems (28.7 percent)
sexual problems (30.2 percent) *


In a U.S. study, more than 25 percent of the women said that their husbands’ unfaithfulness was a factor in their divorce. Less than half as many men (10.5 percent) said it was their wives’ infidelity which was a cause of their divorce. In fact, more men said that their wives’ in-laws were a reason for the divorce (11.6 percent) than said it was because their wives had had an affair.

Sources from

* According to a 1985 study. Totals do not add up to 100 percent because respondents could select every reason that was applicable. Margaret Guminski Cleek and T. Allan Pearson, “Perceived Causes of Divorce: An Analysis of Interrelationships,” Journal of Marriage and the Family (February 1985) p. 179, 181.



*Margaret Guminski Cleek and T. Allan Pearson, “Perceived Causes of Divorce: An Analysis of Interrelationships,” Journal of Marriage and the Family (February 1985) p. 179, 181. 


How do Bullies and Abusers Relate to Others?

In a recent post I presented the importance of empathy in marriage and the physiological studies that have proven this. However, all people do not empathize in the same manner. Bullies are one group whose brains differ in how they relate to the emotions and pain of others.

Researchers at the University of Chicago studied empathy in bullies. They performed functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) scans of boys’ brains aged 16 to 18 while showing the boys videos of people getting accidentally hurt. A control group was tested, along with a group of boys who had been abusive and had been diagnosed with conduct disorders.

Prior to these studies, many surmised that bullies lacked empathic skills and couldn’t connect to the pain they were causing. I’ve heard that said about psychopaths. At least in the case of bullies, the reality is worse than the prediction. According to this study, bullies do not lack empathy; they feel pleasure when others experience pain.

When the bullies’ brains were scanned, “the brains signaled empathy towards the pain, but their brain wiring associated that pain empathy with pleasure, in the reward centers of the brain,” says professor Jane Decety. “Bullies associate the pain of their victims as a positive feeling. These results suggest that the abusive behavior of bullies feeds their brains with a feeling of reward.”

These tests were done on older boys, so it remains to be seen if the results would be the same in adult perpetrators of domestic abuse. If that is how abusers think, it is one more reason why victims should not stick around to try to persuade the abuser to change their ways. Brains that are wired to receive pleasure from causing pain may just be on the lookout for the next person to provide that reward.

If someone you know is in an abusive situation, refer them to the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence and share these safety tips.