This is the first in a series on pornography and its impact on marriages, families and communities.

Numerous studies indicate that porn is a very significant problem in the U.S. In fact, the Justice Department estimates that 9 out of 10 children between 8 and 16 have seen online porn.

Furthermore, at an American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers meeting, two-thirds of the attendees said excessive interest in online pornography contributed to more than half their divorce caseload. A leading Fortune 500 company study found that men spent 62 percent of their computer time on cybersex sites.

Here are additional statistics:j

  • More than 25 million Americans visit cybersex sites weekly and 60 percent of all website visits are sexual in nature, according to the Sexual Recovery Institute of Los Angeles.

  • According to a May 2004 Internet traffic study by InternetWeek.com, people visit porn sites three times more often than Google, Yahoo! and MSN Search combined.

  • About 3 to 6 percent of Americans (20 million people) are sexual addicts, according to Dr. Patrick Carnes at the International Institute for Trauma and Addiction Professionals.

“Rarely does someone’s participation remain at just looking at porn,” says Dr. Mark Laaser, author of The Pornography Trap. “They begin with looking at porn, then they move to self-stimulation and then onto pursuing the things they are looking at. There is definitely a progression from soft porn to harder porn.

“While some believe soft porn has a disinhibiting effect and could be helpful in relationships, I have never seen a case where pornography has been helpful to a marriage,” he says. “It always winds up negatively. Porn is designed to make you dissatisfied. It is not designed to help you feel content with your marriage partner.”

Many have joined the fight against pornography, including an organization called Fight the New Drug. Fight the New Drug is a non-religious and non-legislative organization that exists to provide individuals the opportunity to make an informed decision regarding pornography by raising awareness on its harmful effects using only science, facts and personal accounts.

Laaser says research shows that the endorphins released in the brain while looking at pornography are 200 times more potent than morphine and more addictive than cocaine. Researchers believe porn addiction may be harder to break than a heroin addiction. Why? It’s because the brain stores images and can recall them at any moment.

According to Fight the New Drug, porn physically changes the brain over time. When one looks at porn, there is a surge of the chemical dopamine that feels really good. Dopamine helps create new brain pathways that essentially lead the user back to the behavior that triggered the chemical release. Porn users can quickly build up a tolerance as their brains adapt to the high levels of dopamine released by viewing porn. Even though porn is still releasing dopamine into the brain, the user can’t feel its effects as much.

“It is as though we have devised a form of heroin – usable in the privacy of one’s own home and injected directly to the brain through the eyes,” says Dr. Jeffrey Satinover of Princeton University, describing porn’s effect to a U.S. Senate committee.

In porn, everything from the way people look to how and why they have sex is not real. Unfortunately, porn addicts often obsess over chasing some fantasy so much that they miss out on actual relationships. Porn kills love.

Click here to learn more about warning signs and where to find help.

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.***

If your marriage was in trouble, who would you turn to help you out? Would it be a spiritual leader, female friend or a co-worker? Or maybe a male friend or a family member?

“Results from our online survey indicate that people are most likely to confide in a female friend, followed by a family member, male friend and co-worker,” says Dr. Bill Doherty, professor at the University of Minnesota and developer of the Marital First Responders training. “This is important information because we know from experience that friends and family can be helpful. But, they can also throw gasoline on the fire by taking sides, giving pointed advice or criticizing the other spouse.”

After years of working in the field of marriage and family and seeing this happen, Doherty and his daughter, Elizabeth Doherty Thomas, took action. They came up with the concept of Marital First Responders.

“How many times have friends or family members confided in you that their marriage was in trouble, and you honestly had no idea what to say?” asks Doherty. “I think it is very important for people to be able to find support from those who love them and truly have their best interests at heart.

“A couple of years ago, I found a journal article about Mental Health First Aid Training in Australia. It was started by a couple who was dealing with mental health issues. Within 10 years, 1 percent of the entire adult population in Australia had gone through this training. It has now gone worldwide. I thought, ‘If they can do this for mental health, surely we can do it for marriage.’

“One woman shared that, after she learned of her husband’s affair, she kicked him out and went straight to a divorce lawyer,” Doherty says. “In the midst of the chaos, she confided in a longtime friend about what had happened. The friend shared that 25 years ago she’d had an affair. But instead of divorcing, she and her husband talked about it, got help and worked things out. The woman admired her friend and thought, ‘If they can figure out a way to make it work, I should at least try to make our marriage work.’ Both couples are together today as a result of the helpful words from a trusted friend.”

While marriage may not remedy all social ills, the research is solid that a healthy marriage benefits society at large. Whether you are married or not, you can help your married friends by being a good friend to their marriage.

Also, celebrate and take care of your own marriage and the marriages around you.

***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.***

According to Michael and Amy Smalley, they could not have been more in love than they were when they walked down the aisle. Their relationship was passionate and romantic. They say that chemistry completely blinded them.

“I was her knight in shining armor,” says Michael. “We had been friends for a very long time. It was only after a horrible breakup with another guy that we realized there might be something between us. We quickly fell head over heels in love. So you can imagine we were pretty shocked to find ourselves 18 hours into our marriage not speaking to each other. Both of us were thinking we had made a horrible mistake.”

Amy and Michael dated each other for five months before tying the knot. Their parents were very excited about the marriage, but nobody mentioned that the couple might not be ready.

“So many couples, including us, mistakenly believe that chemistry and compatibility are what builds a successful marriage,” Michael says. “We know based on research that chemistry has zero to do with long-term success in marriage. Chemistry goes up and down. Many couples actually base their commitment level in their marriage on how happy they are in the relationship. That is dangerous.”

Many years and three beautiful children later, the Smalleys say that their marriage would not still be around if it were all about compatibility.

“To this day, our compatibility quotient is pretty low,” Michael says. “Our cleaning styles, leisure activities and personalities are very different. However, six months into our marriage, we attended a workshop that taught us the skills that have been foundational to making the difference in our marriage.”

So many couples justify not being able to make their marriage work by saying, “We just aren’t compatible.”

“Not being compatible does not mean you have to be miserable,” he says. “My ability to love well has little to do with compatibility. It has everything to do with making a choice to love well. You make the decision to be happy.”

He clarifies that he is not referring to abusive marriages, but about the vast majority of marriages that end because people say they are disconnected and incompatible.

The Smalleys now spend their time helping couples learn how to get past issues of unhappiness and incompatibility.

“Most divorces occur because one spouse looks at the other and says, ‘You are the problem,'” Michael says. “The truth is, all of us are selfish. In many instances, we focus on the other person. Instead, we really need to look in the mirror and determine how we are contributing to the current condition of the marriage.”

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.***

In this culture of throw-away everything, many young people are shocked to meet a couple who has been married for more than 20 years. They often claim to have never met someone who has been married that long. Then they ask, “How did you do that, and why?”

What helps couples experience long-term marriage?

Lead researcher Dr. Robert Levenson at the University of California, Berkeley, along with Drs. John Gottman and Laura Carstensen, launched a longitudinal study of 156 middle-aged and older couples to gain a better understanding of the emotional quality of long-term marriages. Every five years, the couples came to the Berkeley campus to talk about their marriage. They specifically focused on areas of conflict in their relationship.

Twenty-five years later, Levenson believes the research shows some significant findings.

  • The first 15 years of marriage can be challenging. But, the next stage of marriage gets better. Couples stop trying to do extreme makeovers on each other. They take pride in each other’s accomplishments. And, they learn to value and genuinely respect each other.
  • Many couples believe the absence of conflict is a positive thing for marriage. However, the research showed the best indicator of enjoying a long marriage isn’t the absence of conflict, but the way couples handle it.
  • Believe it or not, the wife’s ability to calm down quickly after an intense argument positively impacted the long-term happiness of the couple. Interestingly, the husband calming down quickly did not have the same impact. The research revealed that couples who say “we” stand a greater chance of resolving conflict.

In case you’re wondering about the major sources of conflict in marriage, the research demonstrated that communication or lack thereof often is the culprit. Husbands believe their wives don’t think they can do anything right and wives often feel emotionally alone. The other big bone of contention is children.

Couples typically spend a lot of time taking childbirth classes and preparing the nursery. But, they usually spend little time preparing their marriage for parenthood. Issues arise concerning how to raise the child, division of the home workload and the husband feeling neglected.

Here’s another interesting find: Some portion of happy marriage has to do with our DNA.

A gene that helps to regulate serotonin can predict how much our emotions affect our relationships. All humans inherit a copy of this gene variant. Some have a long version and others have a short version. Those with the short variant were more prone to unhappiness in marriage when negativity was present and happier when more positive emotions were present. Conversely, marital satisfaction of those with the long variant was less impacted by the emotional state of their marriage.

The findings of this study give great information for couples. It’s useful whether you’re preparing for marriage, already in the midst of the first 15 or leaping into the second half of marriage. Even though people can’t change their DNA, everyone can learn communication and conflict management skills. With that said, the key to building a healthy long-term marriage is committing to be a lifelong learner.

***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.***

Remarrying with children often creates a complex dynamic. Expectations may not be clear and people aren’t sure how to behave. Ex-spouses and their new spouse impact what happens in your household. Is it any surprise that all of this creates stress and conflict in relationships?

“Most couples enter into remarriage with a tremendous amount of expectation and hope,” says Ron Deal, author of The Smart Stepfamily: Seven Steps to a Healthy Family. “They are filled with hope, expecting positive things and are well-intentioned, yet in most instances, they are naïve about the trip they are about to take.”

Believe it or not, transitioning into a stepfamily requires some prep work. If you are embarking on this journey, Deal’s recommendations can help you out.

  • Nurture your marriage and learn to communicate well. According to a study of more than 50,000 stepfamily couples, maintaining fun in marriage is the number five predictor of a high-quality stepcouple relationship. Good communication and conflict resolution skills were the number two and three predictors of successful remarriages.
  • Keep perspective. This is new for everyone, so expect to feel lost. Seek understanding and don’t force people to blend, because it takes time. It may even take years for your family to really unite, but it’s better than causing a lot of frustration by moving too quickly. Be patient with the process and have a “slow-cooker” mentality.
  • Talk with others. Before you begin, you might want to educate yourself about stepfamily living. Also, ask other stepfamilies about their experiences and the things that caught them by surprise. Find out how they handled the early days.
  • Help the kids. When appropriate, encourage biological parents to consistently spend one-on-one time with each child. Since this is also foreign territory for children, prepare them to expect a variety of feelings and encourage them to talk about it. Discuss what to call one another (e.g., stepdad or “George”) and decide how to introduce one another in public. Understand that kids may have different names/terms for stepfamily members depending on who’s in the room. For example, they may call a stepfather “Daddy” unless their biological dad is physically present until relationships stabilize. Don’t pressure kids to use labels that make you comfortable; try to follow their lead.
  • Traditions matter. For sure, keep some old ones (for the kids), but also create a new one in your first year. If you want to help form the missing family identity in your home, put intentional thought and effort into creating that new family tradition. Traditions tell us who we are and where we belong.
  • Be a team. It’s helpful if parents and stepparents can seek consensus in household rules and how to cooperate. Have lots of parenting meetings. In the first year, it’s a great idea for stepparents to focus on building relationships with the children. Be sure to move at their pace, not yours.
  • Anticipate bumps in the road. Stepfamily life can be challenging, so don’t expect perfection. Try not to overreact.
  • Keep your visitation schedule predictable. Give children continued access to the other home. Forcing kids to lose time with the other household will inadvertently invite kids to resent your relationship. Stepparents need to communicate a “no threat” message to the other biological parent. They need to know that you understand your role as a new person in their life who will never try to replace them. This message helps the other parent not to feel intimidated by your involvement with their children. Hopefully, it will also increase their openness to your role as stepparent.
  • Stay connected. Try to maintain old friendships and social connections. If necessary, reconnect to a family of faith. Find a mentor to help you through your first year or join a group where you can find tools and encouragement.
  • Take the Couple Checkup. The checkup provides an accurate view of your relationship and gives suggestions for strengthening your marriage. It not only tells you where you are and helps you decide where you want to go, but it gives you directions to get there. You can access the Couple Checkup and other resources at Smart Stepfamilies.

For more insight on parenting, download our E-book “10 Tips for Blended Families.” Download Here

Did you know that 1.4 million married couples in the United States not only live together, but they work together, too?

Robin and Michael McKenna ran the family business together for 10 years in Savannah, Georgia.

“My husband was working in corporate America,” says Mrs. McKenna. “We realized that we could either move around with his job or move to Savannah and help his father run the family business. We decided it would be fun to work together and it would allow our children to grow up close to at least one set of grandparents.”

You may think, “I could never do that,” or “Don’t you get tired of being around each other so much?” or “How do you work together without killing each other?” The McKennas actually enjoyed working together.

“At one point, we moved into office space where my husband and I each had our own office,” McKenna says. “One of our employees said, ‘I don’t know why you all have separate offices. You are always together.’ We laughed, but that’s the way we work. It wasn’t complicated for us to figure out how to work well together. I think we might be the exception to the rule; we actually like hanging wallpaper together.”

Working together taught the McKennas some valuable lessons that actually strengthened their marriage.

“It definitely takes teamwork,” McKenna says. “We listed everything that needed to be done and got busy checking things off the list. There is no place for ‘that’s not my responsibility,’ when you are running a business together. We did not take each other for granted and I think that is huge.

“Don’t sweat the small stuff. We learned early on that you can’t always be the one that is right and it was important to value each other’s opinion. Even though we spent a lot of time together during the day, it was still important to spend time together as a family in the evening. We ate dinner as a family every night and when the kids were old enough, they worked with us in the store.”

They sold the family business, but after more than 40 years of marriage, they still work on projects together.

“We are best friends and we have fun together,” McKenna says. “We entered into marriage committed to a lifetime together so we spent our time and energy focused on making our relationship work. Learning how to be together all the time and running a business together brought us closer as a team. Even though things didn’t always go the way I or we wanted them to, that’s life. We got over it and moved on.”

The McKennas have great memories from their decade of working together. Most importantly, they discovered how to appreciate what each individual brings to their “team.” This realization, tempered with patience, love and understanding, keeps couples together and builds a stronger marriage foundation.

***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.***

Perhaps you have seen the video It’s Not about the Nail that has millions of views on YouTube.

As a couple sits on the couch, the female describes relentless pressure and pain in her head that won’t go away. While she vocalizes her frustration, the scene expands enough for the viewer to see a nail in her forehead.

The male says to her, “You do have a nail in your head.”

Her response? “It is not about the nail.”

An argument ensues. She accuses him of not listening and of always trying to fix things when what she really wants is for him to listen. She continues to talk about how much pain she is in, how she is not sleeping well and that every sweater she has is snagged.

He looks at her and says, “That sounds really hard.” Her facial expression softens and she reaches out to touch his hand as she realizes he feels her pain. She leans forward to kiss him, only to hit the nail in her head. Once more, he tells her she just needs to get the nail out of her head, and off to the races they go…again.

Men are notorious for wanting to fix the problem, but women just want men to listen.

Sound familiar? There probably isn’t a couple on the planet that can’t relate to this scenario.

If you have something so obvious like a nail in your head and you aren’t willing to listen to your spouse that is a problem, BUT not everything is that simple. Sometimes, not everything sticks out like a nail in the head, but guys try to fix it anyway. And, there are many instances when guys really do need to just listen.

Did you know there are ways to bridge this communication divide? Here are some tips to help you communicate with the opposite sex.

  • Stop trying to change each other. Men tend to communicate with purpose to solve a problem. Women spend a lot of time communicating to bond and build relationship. Neither way is wrong.
  • Before starting a conversation with your husband, tell him what you want. Do you want him to just listen or do you want him to help solve the problem? Doing this could spare both of you a lot of agony.
  • In general, men tend to think things through before they talk. Instead of saying nothing is wrong because you aren’t ready to talk about it, tell her you aren’t ready to talk and give her a time when you will give her the download. Women, this is your cue to back off.
  • If you want to keep your husband’s attention, cut to the chase and be direct.
  • Learn to listen. Listening does not come naturally. It takes effort to focus on what someone is saying.
  • Avoid mindreading. Assuming you know what someone else is thinking can create a lot of unnecessary drama.

Men, learn to look past the proverbial nail in the head. And ladies, don’t be so quick to dismiss a potential solution to your problem.

Instead of getting irritated because your spouse doesn’t communicate just like you, take it as a challenge to learn how to engage and understand each other’s point of view.

Tired of the so-so communication in your marriage? 

Check out this hefty DIGITAL E-BOOK by Marriage Researchers & Therapists

Inside, you’ll find:

  • How and why you and your spouse communicate differently, and what to do about it
  • 5 proven listening techniques that will pump up the intimacy in your relationship
  • 4 ways to start and end difficult conversations well
  • 5 ways you may be hindering communication with your spouse without realizing it
  • AND MORE!

PLUS! Every section has an easy, no-stress discussion guide created for you and your partner to build the communication you want in your marriage.

***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.***

When the kids leave the nest and are almost off the payroll, that second half of marriage is within sight. You finally have time to breathe. But suddenly you have questions…

  • What in the heck will we do with the second half of our marriage?
  • How will we handle the challenges of aging parents, crises with the children or unexpected medical issues?
  • What about retirement, finances and the like?

While some couples look forward to the years ahead, others feel trapped. They’re unhappy in a marriage that is less than fulfilling, and they wonder if this is all there is. For them, the idea of the second half is quite scary.

So… what does a thriving marriage look like in the later years? 

Gary Chapman and Harold Myra interviewed “second half” couples for their book, Married and Still Loving It: The Joys and Challenges of the Second Half. They found few couples who had escaped the unexpected challenges of life. However, some traits appeared to be significant between marriages that flourish in the second half and those that don’t. Laughter and acceptance, resilience and faith seemed to make the difference.

Whether the second half is just around the corner or you find yourself dreaming about it, you can prepare for it now. Chapman and Myra quote Swiss psychiatrist Paul Tournier’s book, The Adventure of Living:

“To make a success of one’s marriage, one must treat it as an adventure, with all the riches and difficulties that are involved in an adventure shared with another person.”

Even if your marriage is stuck in a rut, you can intentionally turn it into an adventure.

After years of marriage, it’s easy to focus on the differences between you and your spouse. But these differences aren’t necessarily a bad thing. The key is to figure out how to make your differences an asset instead of a liability.

Chapman writes, “While differences can be deadly, they can also be delightful.” Thriving couples learned to accept their spouse and were even able to laugh about their differences. This goes a long way in finding fulfillment in your marriage.

What about the kids?

While many couples have terrific relationships with their adult children, others encounter one crisis after another. Chapman and Myra encourage these parents to maintain a balance between self-preservation and self-sacrifice. Many marriages suffer when they become so focused on helping the children that they lose themselves. Don’t be afraid to seek professional help to overcome these challenges together.

Despite encountering unexpected job loss, illness, family crises and difficulty adjusting to retirement, thriving second half couples kept putting one foot in front of the other. Their commitment to marriage enabled them to stand together through life’s ups and downs.

And finally, these thriving couples said their faith was central to it all. That includes working through personality differences and all of the other challenges they have faced.

Although you might be anxious about what the future holds in the second half of marriage, Chapman and Myra encourage couples to embrace the challenge and to enter this season with great anticipation.

This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on November 6, 2016.

Looking for more? Check out this episode of JulieB TV 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.***