Each year, more than 2 million couples marry in the U.S. While most couples say they are madly in love, some really wonder if they have what it takes to make their marriage last over time.

Whether you’re married now or planning to, you’ll want to know about a Life Innovations survey of 21,501 married couples from every state. It identified not only the top 10 strengths of happy marriages, but also the top 10 problems in marriage.

The top 10 strengths are as follows:

  • Partners are satisfied with communication.

  • Partners handle their differences creatively.

  • They feel very close to each other.

  • Spouses are not controlling.

  • Partners discuss their problems well.

  • They are satisfied with the affection they show and receive.

  • There is a good balance of time alone and together.

  • Family and friends rarely interfere.

  • Partners agree on how to spend money.

  • Partners agree on spiritual beliefs.

Additionally, the research found that the strongest couples have strong communication skills, a clear sense of closeness as a couple, flexibility, personal compatibility and good conflict resolution skills.

Strong marriages have a balance between separateness and togetherness. These couples prioritize togetherness, ask each other for help, enjoy doing things together and spend most of their free time together.

Also, some of the common factors in the relationship roles in strong marriages include both parties:

  • Are equally willing to make necessary adjustments in their roles,

  • Reporting satisfaction with the division of housework,

  • Working hard to have an equal relationship, and

  • Making most decisions jointly.

The happiest couples said they were happy with the way they communicate, it was easy to express their feelings and found their partner to be a good listener. They especially noted that their partner doesn’t use put-downs.

Obviously, conflict management/resolution skills are crucial. In strong marriages, both partners say that their partner understands their positions. They feel free to share their feelings and ideas; they take disagreements seriously and they work cooperatively to resolve conflicts.

According to the survey, the top 10 problems in marriage are:

  • Problems sharing leadership.

  • One partner is too stubborn.

  • Stress created by child-rearing differences.

  • One partner is too negative or critical.

  • Feeling responsible for issues.

  • One partner wishes the other had more time.

  • Avoiding conflict with partner.

  • One partner wishes the other was more willing to share their feelings.

  • Difficulty completing tasks.

  • Differences never get resolved.

For example, some common stumbling blocks are when one person feels most responsible for the problem, avoiding conflict and having serious disputes over minor issues. Sadly, relationships with unresolved differences can get into trouble. As a result, stumbling blocks become walls instead of stepping stones to build up the marriage.

Finally, no matter how in love you feel, bringing two personalities and their families together and learning how to dance can be challenging. So don’t just prepare for your wedding – take time to prepare for your marriage. Learn how to build on your strengths, creatively address differences and work together for the best interests of your marriage. It will probably be the best wedding present you can give to each other.

For more information on becoming a newlywed, get our E-Book, 10 Things Every Newlywed Needs to Know

How Porn Impacts the Brain warns about some of the dangers of porn addiction.

There is no question that pornography impacts the brain. Research says it’s more addictive than cocaine and it’s a habit harder to break than heroin.

The U.S. Justice Department believes that 9 out of 10 children see online porn between the ages of 8 and 16. The porn industry preys on young people, understanding the brain’s power and the challenges of forgetting these images once they seem them.

Many men understand that porn is costing them all they have – in many instances their career and their marriage – but they can’t quit. One man told his counselor he spent $75,000 in one month viewing porn.

Laurie Hall, author of An Affair of the Mind, found herself married to a porn addict. Like many others, she asked herself a million times, “What did I miss? How could I be so stupid? What is wrong with me?

“I knew something wasn’t right, but I couldn’t put my finger on it,” says Hall. “My husband was respected in the community, very intelligent and a hard worker.”

Their marriage did not survive. Now Hall educates others about the impact of pornography

“The idea that porn is victimless is a cruel joke,” Hall says. “Forty percent of professional men who are involved with pornography are going to lose their jobs due to their involvement with porn.

“When you are engaged in fantasy, you lose your ability to connect between action and reaction. You no longer follow cause and effect. The more you fantasize, the more you become disconnected from what I call common sense. It affects your business judgment and it affects your ability to interact properly with other employees. It affects your ability to be intimate with your wife. The reality is most people don’t realize how pornography reaches out and grabs people.”

While anyone can struggle with porn addiction, the overwhelming majority of porn users are men. These questions can help you identify red flags indicating involvement in this highly addictive activity:

  • Is his body language open and does he respond appropriately to questions? Does your husband look you in the eyes when speaking?

  • One lie often leads to another. People may give very complicated answers or different answers to simple questions than the day before.

  • Does your mate have appropriate boundaries or seem to live in constant drama and chaos? He may ask you to do strange things like videotape or take pictures of yourself getting out of the shower or at intimate moments.

  • Does your spouse excessively use inappropriate sexual humor and innuendos in conversation?

  • Is your spouse preoccupied with sexual behaviors or constantly wanting to push the boundaries and experiment sexually in questionable ways?

  • Does he exhibit inappropriate anger that appears to come from nowhere? For example, if you ask him about household cash flow or what time he will be home, he explodes.

  • Has he lost interest in you sexually or has his demand for sexual activity increased, but he is obviously not engaged emotionally during sex? Sex at this point is not about intimacy, but about control, power and what he can get you to do.

  • Do you seem to constantly have money problems regardless of how much money comes in?

If you or someone you love is struggling with a pornography addiction, click here to learn about some resources for the battle.

Looking for more resources? Watch this episode of JulieB TV for an in-depth look on this topic!

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear that someone is monitoring your computer or device, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

Women are more than just sexual objects. Even after the height of the women’s movement, they fight to seen as bright, capable of great accomplishments and worthy of respect. For years, women have taught other females about the difference between a healthy relationship and an unhealthy one.

Now, there’s Fifty Shades of Grey. Married women, college women and even young teen girls are so infatuated with it that they have actually bought more than 30 million copies.

It is the story of Ana, a college student who is pursued by an older guy, Christian Grey. Ana is attracted to Grey when they meet, but she believes the attraction is not mutual. Through a series of events, Grey reveals that he wants to have sex with Ana. However, he requires her to complete paperwork beforehand: a non-disclosure agreement forbidding her to discuss anything they do together. There is also a second contract: one of dominance and submission, with the understanding that there will be no romantic relationship, only a sexual one. Grey is into bondage, discipline and sadomasochism (BDSM).

While Ana finds Grey intriguing, he confuses her. He showers her with gifts and takes her to meet his family. Yet he wants to control what she eats, tell her what to wear and require her to obey him. And, he does not allow her to touch him or look him in the eyes. Grey beats her with a belt when Ana asks him to show her how extreme the BDSM could get.

Why does this novel draw so many women in? Doesn’t it promote women as sexual objects? What is the book’s message about love? Would you want your daughter to date or marry Christian Grey?

“I think women who are intrigued by this book must ask themselves, ‘Why does this guy appeal to me?’” says Pam Johnson, licensed clinical social worker. “Being willing to turn over the keys to your life to someone who wants to dominate and control you has a very high price tag.”

Trust and support, mutual respect, non-threatening behavior, negotiation, healthy boundaries and fairness are the hallmarks of healthy relationships. Contracts forbidding conversation about the relationship or treating one of the people in the relationship as less than the other are not healthy or loving behaviors.

Why would a woman offer herself to a man who makes it perfectly clear he only wants to dominate her and have sex with her?

“In many instances, this ‘Christian Grey’ kind of person attracts women who are looking for safety and security,” Johnson says. “At first it may be very appealing to have someone who will take all the hard decisions away when things feel scary and out of control. However, you cannot mistake control over your life for a real love that is safe and secure.”

Any relationship that dominates, degrades, and fails to nourish and cherish is nothing more than a work of fiction. When a woman learns to first love herself for who she is, there is no room for shades of gray.

Going on a date doesn’t have to be expensive or stressful. Here are a few of our ideas:

  • Go for a hike in the mountains.
  • Watch a funny movie together.
  • Help out in a service organization together.
  • Grab something to eat and take it to the park for a picnic.
  • Go for a walk or jog.
  • Cook a meal together.
  • Go to a park, swing and play.
  • People watch in the mall.
  • Go for a drive and explore new places.
  • Work out together.
  • Learn something new together.
  • Get dressed up and have a candlelight dinner at home.
  • Go to a historic site.
  • Philosophize under the stars. Share your hopes and dreams.
  • Play board games or cards.
  • Learn to play a sport together.
  • Read a book together.
  • Bury a treasure (like a big Hershey’s kiss) and take the other person on treasure hunt to find it.
  • Throw the other person a surprise party for a special occasion.
  • Set up a mystery date.

I was in my late 20s and Jay was 30 when we decided to marry. Both of us are children of divorce. I also had a lot of debt from putting myself through college, and I loved Jay and totally thought he was “the one.” But, I would be lying if I told you I didn’t have some anxiety about what might happen to us in the future. I had heard the statistics about the chances of divorce and felt like we were entering into marriage with the odds stacked against us in some ways.

At the time, I worked in mental health care. I remember asking one of my colleagues if he would consider doing some premarital work with us. With eyebrows raised, he said, “What for? Are you having problems already?” Even Jay looked at me quizzically when I mentioned we should sit down with someone who could help us prepare for the journey.

I didn’t know it then, but although we had risk factors for divorce, we actually had a lot more going for us than against us.

Experts studying marriage and divorce through the years found there are some factors that significantly decrease your chances of divorce. For example:

  • Those who marry after age 18 have a 24 percent reduced risk of divorce.
  • Only 27 percent of college graduates will divorce by middle age.
  • Having still-married parents reduces divorce risk by 14 percent.
  • Having a combined income of $50,000 or more is associated with a 30 percent lower divorce risk.
  • Those with a strong shared faith who attend services regularly are 47 percent less likely to divorce.
  • Couples who participate in premarital preparation are generally up to 30 percent less likely to divorce.
  • Having one’s first child after marriage can reduce one’s divorce risk by 24 to 66 percent.

There are some factors that place couples at higher risk for divorce. For instance:

  • Couples who disagree on whether or not to have children are at considerably higher risk of divorce.
  • Being previously divorced markedly increases one’s risk for divorce.
  • Having divorced parents.

Looking back over our 27 years of marriage, neither one of us would say it has been challenge-free. From raising a precocious, strong-willed child to brain surgery, job transitions, death of parents, financial concerns and more, the struggle is real. But, realizing that we’ve endured all of those things together has made us stronger.

If you asked us how we did it, we would say that the premarital preparation definitely helped us look at our potential areas of risk and talk about them instead of putting our heads in the sand. That was a good thing.

Our faith has certainly played a role. Surrounding ourselves with people who believed in our marriage has been helpful. Honestly, choosing intentionality and commitment to the relationship has also been huge. It gives us freedom to be angry, scared, sad, or hurt, and to know that our married is a safe place where we can be real with each other. That makes all the difference.

This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on January 29, 2017.

A January 2017 60 Minutes and Vanity Fair poll asked Americans about their views about marriage, and what they found may surprise you.

In 1960, 78 percent of American households were married. Compare that to 48 percent of today’s households. Why such a dramatic drop?

These days, many factors contribute to a decreasing marriage rate. Some say the stigma of divorce is not what it used to be. More women are working and are more independent. The number of couples living together outside of marriage has increased by more than 1000 percent. And, 40 percent of 18- to 34-year-old Americans are moving back in with their parents.

Despite all of these factors, this poll shows that marriage remains a goal and a dream for many.

For starters, the majority of respondents say the main purpose of marriage is to mark a commitment between two people in love. Nearly 1 in 4 sees it as providing the best environment for raising children. Interestingly, 1 in 5 does not think marriage has much purpose today.

A U.S. Census Bureau study found that only 6 percent of married couples make it to their 50th wedding anniversary. However, more than 90 percent of Americans say it’s an inspiring accomplishment to stay the course together for more than half a century. Those who reach this milestone cite good communication, supporting each other no matter what, having a sense of humor, and loving, respecting and being kind to each other as the keys to their success.

Threats to Marriage?

One out of 4 says jealousy poses the greatest threat to marriage. Other perceived threats are poverty (19 percent), boredom (18 percent), narcissism (15 percent) and the internet (15 percent).

Does being an adult child of divorce make people more likely to work harder at their marriage?

This poll found that 28 percent of Americans think that children of divorce generally work harder on their own marriages than most other people do. And, only 12 percent felt they tended to not work as hard. But get this – a full 52 percent from every walk of life felt that being a child of divorce makes no real difference when it comes to working on your marriage.

We’ve all heard that sex sells. But only 17 percent those surveyed say they would be more entertained by an affair than by a beautiful love story that ends in marriage.

When it comes to monogamy, 2 out of 3 Americans feel that monogamous relationships are still essential for most of today’s romantic relationships. However, 1 out of 4 believes that monogamy is not realistic.

If you’re considering marriage, respondents definitely have some advice.

Their top three items on the list are to:

  • Make sure you are compatible,
  • Communicate, listen well and be committed to your marriage, and
  • Don’t give up.

Other suggestions are to:

  • Be honest and truthful,
  • Make sure you are ready for marriage,
  • Trust and support each other,
  • Work out your issues,
  • Show your love,
  • Work hard at it,
  • Hope for good luck.

Even though many believe marriage is out of style, it’s interesting to see how many Americans still hope to marry and want to do married well.

This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on February 12, 2017.

In 2009, Brookings Institute scholars Ron Haskins and Isabel Sawhill proposed a successful path into adulthood. Called the “success sequence,” this path is most likely to lead toward economic success and away from poverty.

It includes finishing at minimum a high school education, getting a job, followed by marriage and then having children. Since proposing this path, no real test has been done to see if that approach applies to today’s young adults.

Researchers Brad Wilcox and Wendy Wang decided to measure the impact of the success sequence messaging on millennials. Wilcox is a senior fellow at the Institute for Family Studies. Wang is the director of research at the Institute for Family Studies and former senior researcher at Pew Research Center. Their findings reveal some interesting data about millennial behavior regarding education, employment, marriage and family.

According to the study, a record 55 percent of millennial parents (ages 28-34) have put childbearing before marriage. This indicates that today’s young adults take increasingly divergent paths toward adulthood when it comes to family formation. These divergent pathways are associated with markedly different economic fortunes among millennials.

“We found that 97 percent of millennials who followed the success sequence are not poor and are in the middle income track by age 30,” says Wilcox. “Based on every indicator, from our perspective, the success sequence is still quite relevant and compelling.”

Fully 86 percent of young adults who married first have family incomes in the middle or top third. Compare that to only 53 percent of millennials who put childbearing before marriage. For young, single and childless adults, 73 percent have family incomes in the middle or upper third income distributions.

The pattern holds true for racial and ethnic minorities, as well as young adults in lower income families.

  • 76 percent of African American and 81 percent of Hispanic young adults who married first are in the middle or upper third of the income distribution. With them are 87 percent of whites.
  • 71 percent of millennials who grew up in the bottom third of the income distribution, but married and then had a baby, moved up to the middle or upper third of the distribution as young adults.

“Some have questioned if the success sequence is all about education and work, with marriage being an afterthought,” Wilcox says. “Are education and work the only pieces really driving the story?

“Based on our findings, the link between marriage and economic success among millennials is robust. Compared with the path of having a baby first, marrying before children more than doubles young adults’ odds of being in the middle or top income tiers. This holds true, even after adjusting for education, childhood family income, employment status, race/ethnicity, sex and respondents’ scores on the Armed Forces Qualifying Test (AFQT) which measures intelligence and knowledge of a range of subjects.”

Findings from the study also show:

  • A stunning 97 percent of millennials who follow the success sequence are NOT poor when they reach their prime young adult years (ages 28-34).
  • 31 percent of millennial high school graduates (who didn’t follow the work and marriage steps by their mid-20s) are in poverty during their prime adult years.

According to Wilcox, data that tracks adults across the transition to adulthood indicates good news for following the success sequence. That path is the most likely one to guide people to realize the American Dream. Education, work and marriage are important – even for a generation that has taken increasingly varied routes into adulthood. Considering this, business and civic leaders should promote public policies and cultural changes that esteem this sequence and make it more attainable.

Based on this report, it appears that millennials are beginning to see the value in marriage. They’re also finding out how the timing of their decisions impacts their ability to achieve their long-term goals.

This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on June 18, 2017.

Looking for more resources? Watch this episode of JulieB TV for an in-depth look on this topic!

Knot Yet, a report released in April 2013 by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancies, The Relate Institute and The National Marriage Project at The University of Virginia, explores the positive and negative consequences for 20-something women, men, their children and the entire nation concerning two troublesome trends:

  • The age at which men and women marry, now at historic heights – 27 for women and 29 for men; and
  • The age at which women have children.

Delayed marriage has elevated the socioeconomic status of women. This is especially true more-privileged women, as it allows them to reach their life goals. It has also reduced the odds of divorce for U.S. couples who are now marrying.

But although they are marrying later, women have not put off childbearing at the same pace. The median age at first birth for women, 25.7, falls before the median age of first marriage, 26.5.

  • By age 25, 44 percent of women have had a baby, while only 38 percent have married. Overall, 48 percent of first births are to unmarried women, most of them in their 20s.

This phenomenon, called “the crossover,” happened decades ago for the least-economically privileged. However, for middle class American women (those who have a high school degree or some college), the crossover has been recent and rapid. There has been no crossover for college-educated women, who typically have their first child more than two years after marrying.

The “crossover” is concerning. But why?

  • Children born outside of marriage are much more likely to experience family instability, school failure and emotional problems.
  • Children born to cohabiting couples are three times more likely to see their parents break up than children born to married parents.
  • Middle class and poor Americans and their kids are more likely to pay the cost of delayed marriage in America, and
  • College-educated Americans and their kids are more likely to enjoy the benefits of marriage.

Does Sequence Matter?

Researchers believe that for the sake of today’s 20-somethings and their children, syncing marriage and childbearing would be beneficial. Becoming a parent requires intentionality, and relationships flourish within what Ron Haskins and Isabel Sawhill call “the success sequence”:  Complete at least a high school education, get a job, marry and then have children – in that order.

Marriage is clearly not for everyone, but the decoupling of marriage and parenthood is deeply worrisome. The “crossover’ fuels economic and educational inequality, not to mention instability. Knot Yet proposes a comprehensive approach encompassing economic, educational, civic and cultural initiatives to help 20-somethings find new ways to put the baby carriage after marriage.

The sequence of marriage – then parenthood – is not a guarantee for success. And, going out of sequence is not a recipe for failure. However, there is clearly a growing disconnect between sexual activity, parental intentions and marriage.

Most young adults believe non-marital childbearing is acceptable. They seem unaware of the toll that it can take on their lives and society. Unfortunately, the research shows that when people become parents before having a plan or a partner, children are the ones who stand to lose the most.

This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on August 14, 2013.

More than 2 million marriages take place annually in America.

“Almost all couples anticipate ‘living happily ever after,’” according to Dr. Gary Chapman in his book, Things I Wish I’d Known Before We Got Married. “No one gets married hoping to be miserable or to make their spouse miserable, yet the highest percentage of divorce occurs within the first seven years of marriage.”

When you consider the fact that most people spend more time planning and training for their vocation than they do for their wedding, is it any surprise that the divorce rate is so high?

“What is ironic is that we recognize the need for education in all other pursuits of life and fail to recognize that need when it comes to marriage,” Chapman says. “It should not be surprising that they are more successful in their vocational pursuits than they are in reaching the goal of marital happiness.”

Chapman’s book provides a marriage blueprint for people. It’s also useful for engaged couples or those preparing for marriage.

“As I look back over the early years of my marriage, I wish someone had told me what I am about to tell you,” Chapman says.

The book addresses 12 areas of potential stress for couples, including money, in-laws and personality. Here are a few of the 12.

I wish I had known…

  • Being in love is not an adequate foundation for building a successful marriage. Research indicates that the average life span of the “in love” obsession is two years. Then differences become apparent and people start to question if they married the right person.
  • Romantic love has two stages. Chapman describes the first stage of love as a time when couples expend lots of energy doing things for each other, but they don’t consider it work. The second stage of love is more intentional. It requires work in order to keep emotional love alive.
  • The saying, “like mother, like daughter” and “like father, like son” is not a myth. While Chapman does not suggest that the person you marry will become exactly like their mother or father, parents do greatly influence children.
  • How to solve disagreements without arguing. It never crossed Chapman’s mind that he and his wife would have any major disagreements. No one ever told them that conflicts are a normal part of marriage.
  • That apologizing is a sign of strength. Apologizing is often something people find difficult to do. Some people perceive admitting wrong as a sign of weakness. In reality, it takes a strong person to say “I was wrong, please forgive me.”
  • Mutual sexual fulfillment is not automatic. Many couples never anticipate that this would be a problem area. Dr. Chapman shares that while men focus on sex, women focus on relationship. In a fractured relationship, the wife will have less, and more difficult, interest in sex.

When not discussed beforehand, these issues (and more) can create a marriage filled with conflict, misunderstandings and frustration. Investing time and effort to learn these things in advance could save you a lot of heartache and pain in the long run.

For more information on becoming a Newlywed get our E-Book “10 Things Every Newlywed Needs to Know” Download Here

Check out FTF’s Feature Article on

No one wants to suffer the heartache of a broken relationship, whether it is a divorce or the dissolution of a cohabiting situation. While living together may have short-term advantages, it comes at a high long-term cost.

MYTH: Living together is an easy way to “try out” the relationship before committing to marriage.

Truth: While the idea of “test driving” a car before you buy it is a good idea, it doesn’t apply to marriage. Couples who live together often have attitudes like: “I can leave any time,” and “My money vs. your money” that married couples don’t typically have. Married couples often have a stronger bond to each other because of their vow of permanence. Married couples also tend to have less volatile relationships.

MYTH: Living together will give us a stronger marriage.

Truth: Although many couples think that moving in together can give them a great head start in their marriage, living together can actually harm your marriage. Couples who live together before they marry have a divorce rate that is 50 percent higher than those who don’t.

MYTH: Sharing finances and expenses will make things easier on our relationship.

Truth: While sharing finances and expenses seems like the easy thing to do in the beginning, problems do arise. Just like any couple, disputes often center around money. Couples who live together have more financial issues to resolve. Conflicts arise over who is responsible for which bill, and the rights that one partner has to tell the other how to spend “their” money.

MYTH: Your sex life goes downhill when you get married.

Truth: The level of sexual satisfaction is higher among married couples than for couples who live together. Couples who live together tend to be less faithful to their partners than married couples.

MYTH: Marriage is just a piece of paper.

Truth: Emotionally, physically and spiritually, marriage is so much more than a piece of paper. It is a commitment. Viewing marriage as only a legal arrangement strips it of its meaning and sets the relationship up for failure. If couples do not view marriage as a loving, committed relationship, divorce is almost inevitable.

MYTH: It’s only temporary.

Truth: Many people enter a cohabiting relationship hoping they will be married soon. However, living together isn’t always a stepping-stone to marriage. Statistics report that 60 percent of couples who live together will not go on to get married either because they break up (39 percent) or just continue to live together (21 percent).

MYTH: Living together is best if children are involved.

Truth: The effects of cohabitation on children is significant. Children in these situations are at risk of emotional and social difficulties, performing poorly in school, having early premarital sex and having difficulty forming permanent emotional attachments in adulthood. If the man in the household is not the biological father, children are at greater risk of experiencing physical and sexual abuse.

How to have a healthy, long-lasting relationship

If your goal is to have a stable, healthy and fulfilling relationship, here are some tips.

TIME. This is the only surefire way to find out if a couple is compatible. Time gives you the opportunity to see how your partner handles different situations that life throws at you: the hard stressful times, the joyous and rewarding times, and the humdrum of everyday. If you can survive these life events with someone and still love them then there is an excellent chance your relationship will last.

COMMUNICATION. Relationships aren’t always wine and roses. Know that your partner will disappoint and frustrate you at times. Knowing how to communicate increases your chances of being able to resolve and even prevent conflict.

CONSIDER MARRIAGE. What makes marriage unique from simply living together is a “vow of permanence.” Partners publicly promise they will no longer be alone and no matter what happens down the road someone will be there to take care of you and support you.

PREMARITAL EDUCATION. Couples who attend premarital programs experience a 30 percent increase in marital success over those who do not. They report greater communication, sharpened conflict management skills, a strong dedication to one’s spouse and overall improved relationship quality.

Check out FTF’s Feature Article on

Looking for more resources? Watch this episode of JulieB TV for an in-depth look on this topic!