Last week, I talked about Five Marriage Myths shared by Scott Haltzman, M.D., in the Secrets of Happily Married Women. The last myth was the biggee, and I wanted to devote a full post to it. Dr. Haltzman says, “assuming infidelity, violence or addiction are not the problem, marriage myth 5, above all others, is the greatest cause of unhappiness in marriage.
Myth 5: If your marriage makes you unhappy, the best solution is to get out.
Dr. Haltzman says a Centers for Disease Control poll from 2006 showed 44 percent of men and 50 percent of women agreed with the above statement. It seems odd to me (and to many who are committed to marriage) that “get out” would be the best solution to being unhappy when there are so many causes of unhappiness and so many possible solutions. Of course, most couples don’t take divorce lightly, but the point is it’s not seen as a last resort. Don’t look at an “unhappy marriage” as an unchangeable situation.
The good doctor (a psychologist and a marriage therapist with more than twenty years of experience) goes on to report that the top three reasons cited by women who initiate divorce (and let’s face it, women initiate two-thirds of divorces) are 1) gradual growing apart, 2) serious differences in lifestyle and/or values, and 3) not feeling loved or appreciated by my husband.
These seem like big problems on the surface, but Dr. Haltzman and many other marriage experts assert that these are most certainly solvable problems. Taking the first problem first, it’s very likely that we will all have periods where we are closer and periods where we have drifted. That’s the nature of our growth and development as individuals. As one spouse grows in one direction, the other doesn’t necessarily follow the same path or exact course. However, even after drifting apart, a couple who is committed to one another can drift back together with effort.
The second problem (differences in values or lifestyle) can be more severe when the differences relate to drug or alcohol abuse, but he says the majority of couples are not talking about this kind of a severe problem or destructive behavior (which can certainly be justifiable reasons to leave). More often, he says it’s related to how the couple spends money or raises the kids, issues that have many gray areas of disagreement. In these sort of cases, the couple (perhaps with help) may need to listen and learn the basis for one another’s concerns and ideas, see things from one another’s perspectives, learn to compromise more and pick their battles.
On the issue of not feeling loved, “They walk away from marriage because they are no longer feeling happy about the relationship,” says Dr. Haltzman, who adds this category falls under the definition of no-fault divorce. “These feelings are true and honest expressions of personal distress—but…they’re no reason to break the marriage vows,” he says. Instead, it’s often an opportunity to grow and develop with your spouse to create a stronger, happier marriage. There may be a time when a couple needs to focus on the indirect benefits of marriage—such as family security, social comfort, financial advantage, a safe sexual partner, etc., while they work on their marriage. Often, especially when the wife takes the lead, the spark returns while they are both focusing on the positive aspects of their relationship.
Remember our spouse can’t “make us” happy, but we can each take responsibility for creating a positive environment in our marriage and supporting one another as often as possible. Search for something to make you and your spouse feel happy today, then make it a priority. It could be something as simple as a walk together around your own garden, or something as elaborate as a planning a special event or trip for the two of you.
I recently came across a series of articles in Psychology Today by Rachel Clark starting with How I got my ex back—the story of a marriage that reconciled after she read the research on the effects of divorce, followed by part 2 She Blinded Me with Science. Rachel’s experience shows that even after infidelity and divorce occur, there can be hope to reconcile a family. She also conveys why knowledge of the effects of divorce is so important to pass along, since it was strong enough to convince both her and her ex that they had made a huge mistake, but one they worked hard to correct.
Photo courtesy of Stockvault by Boris A. Nesterov