Married_articles

Articles for Married Couples

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    For the Guys: Tips for Putting Your Wife First (Without Hurting Mom's Feelings)

    When you tie the knot, family relationships change. 

    Your mom was probably your first teacher, encourager and biggest cheerleader. And chances are, she's one of the first people you've gone to for advice since... well, as long as you can remember. 

    But now things are different, and while your mom is still there for you, your wife takes the top spot.

    Think of it this way: You've added an all-star player to your team who wants to be there for you in every way possible, and she is at the top of your priority list.

    Adapting to marriage and navigating the changing road with Mom will take skill and finesse, especially since you don't want to hurt Mom's feelings, but these tips can help.

    • Do your best to speak positively to your mom about your wife. If your mom starts to criticize her, honor your wife in the conversation. And let Mom know that although you value her opinion, you don't want to hear her speak badly of your bride. 

    • When you and your wife make decisions together, present your decisions as a united front. You should be the one to tell your mother about the choice you made. Don't make it sound like it you only went along with it to avoid rocking the boat--that will only create problems.

    • Check with your wife before making plans with your mom. Never, EVER commit to something with your mother (like bringing her to live with you) without completely talking it over as a couple first.

    • Got problems in your marriage? DO NOT talk about them with Mom unless your bride says she's ok with it. (Hint: Make sure she's REALLY ok with it!)

    • Remember, you're no longer single. Turning to your parents for emotional support is not a bad thing, but turning to them BEFORE you reach out to your wife is not the best idea for your marriage. Your wife is now your number one support system - make sure she knows that.

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    5 Myths About Marriage

    Linda Waite and Maggie Gallagher explore five myths about marriage in The Case for Marriage:

    Myth 1

    Divorce is usually the best answer for kids when a marriage becomes unhappy. The authors discovered that the vast majority of “bad marriages” that don’t end up in divorce eventually become good marriages. In a study of people in “bad” marriages who chose to stay together, 86 percent reported five years later that their marriages had turned around and were now happier. In fact, 60 percent said their marriages had become "very happy."

    Myth 2

    Marriage is primarily for the benefit of children. In reality, marriage has significant benefits for children and adults. Marriage is an important social institution that delivers big benefits in virtually every indicator science can measure.

    Myth 3

    Marriage is good for men but bad for women. Waite said a balanced look at the research shows that married men and women both report less anxiety and depression, higher self-esteem, more financial stability, and a much higher level of general happiness. The research is compelling that people do better when they get married and stay married.

    Myth 4

    Promoting marriage puts women at risk for violence. In fact, the opposite is true: marriage seems to protect women from domestic violence and personal violence.  Married people are less likely to be victims of interpersonal violence. In studies of domestic violence between partners, married people are substantially less likely than cohabiting people to say that arguments between them became violent (4 percent married, 13 percent cohabiting).

    Myth 5

    Marriage is a private affair of the heart between two adults. Marriage is actually a public, legally binding, religiously supported promise that two people will stay together and act as a team for their entire lives. “Marriage changes the way they see themselves, and it changes the way other people see them and treat them,” Waite says. “It also strengthens the bonds between children and their father’s side of the family.”

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    Communication Killers

    According to Dr. John Gottman, the "Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse" are hostile forms of communication that put couples at high risk for divorce when these patterns take up permanent residence in the relationship.

    1. Criticism is defined as blaming, faultfinding, or using global and negative labels to attack your spouse's character. For example, "How would you know? You're never home," or "My problem with you is ..." A harsh startup often comes in the form of criticism.

    2. Contempt is a lack of respect for your spouse’s dignity, an attitude of looking down on your spouse as unworthy. Forms of contempt include name-calling, put-downs, sarcasm, cynicism, swearing at each other, rolling of the eyes, mockery or hostile humor. Contempt is demeaning and conveys not just disapproval of your spouse's behavior, but disgust with who your spouse is. While the other three horsemen show up in small amounts in most marriages, contempt is only found in toxic relationships. This horseman also includes belligerence, which is an aggressive and angry provocation or threat.

    3. Defensiveness is a way of turning back a perceived attack. Someone who is defensive denies their spouse’s statements, refuses to admit their role in problems, avoids responsibility for how they impact their spouse, or deflects their spouse’s complaints back onto the other person. Defensiveness is destructive because it escalates tension and creates an adversarial interaction.

    4. Stonewalling usually occurs as a result of escalating criticism, contempt and defensiveness as emotional overload becomes intense. Spouses who stonewall stubbornly refuse to give any verbal or nonverbal feedback that they are listening or attending to what their spouse is saying. Often they just get up and leave the room. It's like talking to a stone wall. Stonewalling is best seen as a containment strategy that spouses use to avoid further escalation of the conflict. The problem is that the stonewaller does not just avoid the fight, but avoids his spouse and the relationship as well. According to John Gottman's research, 85% of stonewallers are men.

    Discussion Questions: Share with your spouse how anger was handled in your childhood home.

    • How do you typically behave when you are angry?

    • Does your behavior get the response you want? If not, what do you think you could do differently?

    • Ask your spouse if he/she is comfortable with how you handle anger.

    • Discuss some options for handling anger in healthy ways in your home, keeping in mind that you are not on opposing teams.

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    Communicating Effectively

    What kind of communicator are you? Would your family describe you as soft-spoken or loud? Do you tend to shy away from conflict or embrace it wholeheartedly? Has anybody ever described you as sarcastic? When you are angry, are you more likely to fly off the handle or wait until you are calm to address the issue?

    The way you communicate with family, friends and co-workers dramatically impacts the quality of your relationships. It has the ability to shut down communication or to encourage it.

    Based on decades of research, Dr. John Gottman has discovered four common communication styles that can really damage relationships.

    1. Harsh startup – Whether at work or at home, a tendency to attack someone verbally while you are upset with them is considered a harsh startup and usually shuts down communication immediately.

    2. Flooding – Have you ever felt your heart race, your blood pressure rise, your muscles tense and your body break into a sweat when trying to communicate with someone? Gottman refers to this as “flooding.” It is impossible to think and react rationally in this state. Consequently, discussion at this time usually escalates uncontrollably with no resolution.

    3. Body Language – Here, Gottman is referring to eye-rolling, heavy sighs and what many call “the look.” Those are things your teen does that get on your last nerve, but they are not things you would typically expect from an adult.

    4. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, which involves:

    • Criticism – Blaming, using negative labels to attack a person’s character, and fault-finding.

    • Contempt - Lack of respect for a person’s dignity, an attitude of superiority, mockery and hostile humor. As a result, communication is condescending and demeaning.

    • Defensiveness – Refuses to take responsibility, will not admit their role in a situation, and deflects complaints back on the other person, as in: “it’s your fault.”

    • Stonewalling – Also known as the silent treatment. Stubbornly refusing to give any verbal or non-verbal feedback that they are listening or attending to what the other person is saying.

    If you are seeking to have healthy communication with the people in your life, try these strategies.

    • Be intentional and specific. Ask for a good, undistracted time to talk. While you may want to discuss many things, choose only one thing and stick to it.

    • Listen without being defensive. After you have shared, listen to their response without planning your defense at the same time. It's impossible for your brain to do two things at once.

    • Avoid mind-reading. Everybody knows the old saying about assumptions. Don’t fall into the trap of believing you can read someone’s mind.

    • Express negative feelings constructively. You can talk about hard topics without being ugly and tearing somebody down. Choose your words and your tone carefully.

    • Don’t withhold the positive. Even in the most difficult circumstances, you can often communicate something positive.

    When it comes to communication, people want emotional safety, whether it is spouse to spouse, parent to child or co-worker to supervisor relationships. It is possible to talk with someone about a very complicated situation without destroying them. So, if your goal is to win, have the last word or prove you are right, you might need to ask yourself exactly what you hope to accomplish.

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    Tips for Strengthening In-Law Relationships

    Whether you are a son or a daughter, mom or dad, relationships change quite a bit when after marriage. These tips can help to strengthen the ties that bind you together as a family.

    How to be a good mother/father-in-law

    • Let your in-law make his/her own decisions without meddling from you.

    • As the relationship between your child and his chosen partner deepens, expect that they will want to spend more and more time alone, together.

    • Make positive comments about your child’s spouse – both in private and in public.

    • See your in-law as an individual. Do not compare him/her to others, and do not become too wrapped up in the stereotype of the “perfect” in-law.

    • Make your in-law feel needed.

    How to be a good son/daughter-in-law

    • Maintain direct contact with your in-laws. Don’t enlist your spouse as an unwilling "go-between."

    • Find a comfortable way of addressing your in-laws. Solicit their help in determining what they would like you to call them.

    • Try to see your in-laws as individuals separate and apart from the role they play.

    • Be real and authentic with your in-laws.

    • If you feel jealous about your spouse’s relationship with his/her parents, talk to your spouse, to better understand each other’s feelings.

    How to be a good child/spouse

    • Encourage your partner and your parents to relate to one another directly. Don’t allow yourself to be put in the middle.

    • Compliment your spouse and your parents in front of each other.

    • Do not tolerate criticism from either one toward the other.

    • Don't make your spouse responsible for the relationship between you and your parents.

    • Do not play your spouse against your parents.

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    How Marriage Affects Poverty

    In 2014, a group of liberals and conservatives began discussing inequality and family breakdown, poring over research and developing solutions to this problem. In December 2015, they released their report on poverty and mobility called Opportunity, Responsibility and Security: A Consensus Plan for Reducing Poverty and Restoring the American Dream. 

    “There are a gazillion reports from various think tanks and interests group on this topic, but this is the first time people from opposite sides discussed the facts about the nature of poverty and mobility today,” says report co-author Kay Hymowitz. “This came at a time when it was very difficult for opposite sides to be talking, yet we met and communicated regularly for more than a year. Through shared values and old-fashioned compromise, we defined the problem and offered a solution.”

    The Problem

    Childhood poverty (21.8 percent) is at almost the exact same level today as it was in 1970. Broken down by race:

    • 12 percent of Caucasian children and 33 percent of Hispanic children lived in poverty in 1970. These rates remain unchanged.

    • 42 percent of African American children lived in poverty in 1970, compared to 38 percent in 2012.

    “Despite living in a richer country than we were in 1970, we have done very little to address child poverty,” Hymowitz says. “One of the major reasons for this number staying so stubbornly high is children are growing up in very different circumstances than in the past.”

    Consider the following information:

    Unwed births increased dramatically between 1970 and 2010.

    • Black: 37.6 percent to 72 percent

    • Caucasian: 5.7 percent to 35.9 percent

    • Hispanic (1990 to 2010): 36.7 percent to 53.4 percent

    While the number of unwed births have somewhat stabilized recently, the rates remain very high. In fact, unmarried mothers under the age of 30 account for almost 50 percent of the births.

    “In 1970, the large majority of women at age 35 were married and living with children,” Hymowitz says. “By 2010, only about 51 percent were married and living with children. In 1970, only 9 percent of women were single mothers at 35. Today, that number is 20.5 percent. This is the number we want to study.”

    According to the Census Bureau, the percentage of poor families with children breaks down like this:

    • Single-parent female-headed families living in poverty: 37.1 percent

    • Married families with children living in poverty:  6.8 percent

    “There is no way to talk about poverty at this point in history without addressing the breakdown of marriage,” says Hymowitz.

    What else causes people to be poor? 

    Low paying jobs and lack of jobs contribute to poverty. When you look at the landscape of the labor force since 1980, some very interesting transitions have taken place.

    • The percentage of men who are working has decreased from 72 percent in 1980 to 64.4 percent in 2012. For African American men, the numbers have gone from 61 percent to 49.6 percent.

    • Women are more likely to be working. That number has gone from 39.9 percent in 1980 to 59.4 percent in 2012.

    • Wages have become stagnant for low-wage and middle-wage men.

    • The percentage of men who have left the workforce has doubled, along with the percentage of men without a college degree.

    • The percentage of men in the labor force is lower in the U.S. than every other country in the industrialized world except Israel.

    • Women are earning more than ever before.

    “These trends affect each other,” Hymowitz says. “Fewer men are working. Those who are working are making less. Women are making more and can manage, even if it’s not very well. Not only are they earning more, they get a lot more in the way of benefits.

    “When you add all the benefits, the official poverty rate comes down significantly from 47.6 percent to 24 percent. The conditions in which people are deciding how to manage their domestic lives has changed significantly. Couples see no reason to marry even if they have children. Children are the ones who pay the price for the breakdown of marriage and stable family life.”

    Can the children escape from poverty?

    Research indicates that 43 percent of children who are born to poor parents will be poor themselves. Both liberals and conservatives are especially concerned about this number.

    Potential Solutions

    “Three areas need to be addressed together: work, education and family,” Hymowitz says. “These three areas of life are what have to work pretty well for you to get ahead. They interconnect. We concluded that the 21st century reality demands that we address all three together at the same time. You can’t pull one out and work solely on that one. This is what set our group apart from other groups who have examined this issue.

    “You can strengthen families, but without an education opportunity, children can’t fully benefit from the additional time and resources that two parents provide. You can improve the workforce, but if the education system fails to provide the needed knowledge and skills to the next generation, then wages will remain low. If the education system dramatically improves, but work opportunities are limited, then knowledge and skill-building will be less effective and less-rewarded. If the education system improves but a greater number of children are growing up in unstable homes, it is highly likely they will struggle with discipline, persistence and achievement – especially so for boys.

    “Growing up in a family where you cannot have the kind of stability that allows you to concentrate on your homework impacts your ability to do well in school. This impacts your ability to find a job, which impacts your ability to provide for a family. Education, work and family lay the foundation and reinforce each other. If you take one of these components away, the entire thing collapses. We organized our thinking about solutions around three values:

    • Opportunity: The group recognized that social and economic changes were combining in new ways that threatened to make it harder for children to achieve the American dream. Each man and woman should be able to attain to the fullest stature to which they are capable. The circumstances into which they were born shouldn't matter.

    • Responsibility: Individuals can’t just wait for opportunity to fall into their laps. It is far better to earn money than to depend on assistance, and better to be responsible parents for children. This is essential to getting ahead.

    • Security: It is important to provide people with a certain amount of security. Life throws curve balls beyond any one person’s responsibility, so we need to provide a certain amount of security for those who are hit hard.

    “As we focused on our three values, we realized that in the U.S. at this time marriage offers the best chance for children to thrive,” Hymowitz says.

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    Divorce vs. Conscious Uncoupling

    Gwyneth Paltrow created shock waves on many levels when she made this announcement on her website:

    It is with hearts full of sadness that we have decided to separate. We have been working hard for well over a year, some of it together, some of it separated, to see what might have been possible between us, and we have come to the conclusion that while we love each other very much we will remain separate. We are, however, and always will be a family, and in many ways we are closer than we have ever been. We are parents first and foremost, to two incredibly wonderful children and we ask for their and our space and privacy to be respected at this difficult time. We have always conducted our relationship privately, and we hope that as we consciously uncouple and co-parent, we will be able to continue in the same manner.

    Love, Gwyneth & Chris

    Apparently conscious uncoupling, developed by a therapist, is designed to help couples divorce without drama.

    Interesting…

    “How many couples do you know who have ‘good divorces?’” says Michele Weiner-Davis, director of the Divorce Busting Center. “Even those with the best of intentions often find themselves struggling as time passes. No matter how you slice it, divorce is not an easy process.

    “In fact, in most divorces that happen in our country, one person wants it and the other desperately does not. Quite frankly, it is hard to imagine a heartbroken person being a willing participant in a program that supposedly honors the marriage and destroys it at the same time.”

    Except for extremely dysfunctional marriages involving violence, chronic affairs and/or substance abuse, research indicates that even if the parents are better off after the divorce, children do not fare better.

    Paltrow stated that even though they were going through the uncoupling process, they would always be a family. And first and foremost, she said they had two incredibly wonderful children.

    “Many couples believe if they divorce well they will still be a family,” Weiner-Davis says. “Based on many years of experience working with couples, I can tell you flat out that is the exception to the rule. Divorce ends marriages and dissolves families. Life will never be the same for your children no matter how hard you try. They will know that you and their dad are not together. Over time other adults will enter the picture which can’t help but make life more complicated for the kids.”

    Many have speculated that even though Paltrow didn’t coin the phrase “conscious uncoupling,” it softens the blow for children. It might sound softer and kinder than the word "divorce," but children have a way of cutting to the chase. Call it what you want, but don’t kid yourself, the children know exactly what is happening.

    If you are considering conscious uncoupling, divorce or separation, think about its long-term impact on you and your family.

    Research indicates that 70 percent of marriages that end in divorce are perfectly good ones. And, with help, those good marriages could get back on track and thrive. Are you making a long-term decision based on a short-term problem?

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    Good News About Marriage and the Divorce Rate

    Shaunti Feldhahn, Harvard grad and ground-breaking social researcher, has worked on Capitol Hill and Wall Street. She currently uses her analytical skills to investigate changes impacting family and workplace relationships.

    “For the last eight years, I have been analyzing what the numbers say about marriage, divorce and remarriage in America,” says Feldhahn. “This started by accident as I was working on a newspaper column and wanted to correctly cite the divorce rate. But I found numbers that didn’t match the discouraging conventional wisdom at all. This piqued my curiosity and sent me down a totally different research path.”

    What Feldhahn found was shocking. Although researchers continue to project that half of marriages will end in divorce (relying in part on a government study that primarily focused on a high-risk group), we have never come close to hitting that average for society as a whole.

    Instead, according to the Census Bureau’s 2009 SIPP report, 71 percent of women are still married to their first spouse. The 29 percent who aren’t includes those widowed, not just divorced. Feldhahn estimates that roughly 20-25 percent of first marriages have ended in divorce. Even among baby boomers who have the highest divorce rate, seven in 10 marriages are still intact!

    “This is huge,” Feldhahn says. “We have a culture-wide feeling of futility about marriage because for years all of us - including me - have said that 50 percent of marriages end in divorce. But that sense of discouragement makes it so easy to give up. We have to change the conventional wisdom so people know that most marriages last a lifetime.”

    Additional findings from Feldhahn’s research indicate:

    • Most marriages are happy – on average, 80 percent are happy.

    • The vast majority of remarriages survive.

    • The divorce rate is not the same in the church – among those who attend church regularly, divorce drops by 25-50 percent.

    • Marriage isn’t as complicated as people think – small changes can make a big difference.

    “I’ve done seven nationally representative studies of men, women and marriage. The common denominator in whether a marriage survives or fails is whether the couple has a sense of hope or futility,” Feldhahn says. “Feeling ‘We’re going to make it’ leads to a different outcome than, ‘This is never going to get better.’ So instead of believing it is futile to try, couples need to know that millions of marriages in our country are thriving. And that is the norm.”

    Feldhahn acknowledges that plenty of marriage problems still exist. But her surveys also show that the big ticket items, such as addiction, abuse or affairs, do not cause most marriage problems. Instead, most of the time husbands and wives care about each other and try hard, but in the wrong areas. They end up sabotaging a perfectly good marriage.

    “This means that it is less complicated than people think to get it right; it’s not rocket science,” Feldhahn says. “The most important thing couples can do is commit to making their marriage work, believe the best of their spouse’s intentions toward them, and make sure they have the right tools in their tool belt as they go through their marriage.” 


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    Does Divorce Lead to Happiness?

    It was a turning point in the fictional marriage of Katie and Ben in the movie The Story of Us, starring Michele Pfeiffer and Bruce Willis. Katie tells Ben that she doesn’t want to end their marriage.

    “…You always know that I’m a little quiet in the morning and compensate accordingly,” she says to him. “That’s a dance you perfect over time. And it’s hard, it’s much harder than I thought it would be, but there’s more good than bad. And you don’t just give up.”

    Many couples in America today find themselves at the same turning point in their marriage. Many who choose to separate often find out that it’s not what it’s cracked up to be. Research has shown that if a person is unhappy, divorce is not necessarily the road to happiness.

    A national study in 2002 of 10,000 couples asked them to rate their marriage from life in hell (1) to heaven on earth (7). The couples were interviewed twice, five years apart. The study found that most people rated their marriage as happy. Eighty-one percent of the couples who rated their marriage as life in hell were still together five years later. Out of that group, the majority said they were very happy after five years.

    Following this study, University of Chicago sociologist Linda Waite wanted to know what makes marriages miserable and discover how they can become happy.

    “We often talk about marriage like a piece of fruit – it went bad, as if it is out of our control,” says Waite. “I was interested in determining if the couples who divorced were happier following the divorce than those who chose to stay together in spite of their unhappiness.”

    Waite examined the couples who rated their marriage as "life in hell." Of the couples who stayed married, 78 percent were happy with life five years later. Only 53 percent of those who chose to separate or divorce said they were happy.

    Waite interviewed couples, asking them to tell their stories about how their bad marriage got better.

    Alcoholism, infidelity, overly-critical spouses, chronic miscommunication, irrational jealousy, and emotional neglect all fit into the equation, but the four most common issues that made marriages unhappy were: bad things happening to good spouses, job reversals, the kids and illness. Examples included: a spouse losing their job creating financial strain in the marriage, the challenges of raising children which left no time to be together as a couple, or a spouse making a poor decision during a weak moment.

    In response to the question, “How did things get better?” couples described what Waite calls the “marital endurance ethic.”

    “Couples shared something like, ‘Mostly we just kept putting one foot in front of the other and things began to get better,’” Waite says. “Many of them were influenced by friends’ advice to hang in there, that they were headed in the right direction.”

    A passage of time often has a positive effect on problems, according to Waite. Just because couples are unhappy now doesn’t mean they will be unhappy forever.

    Katie and Ben understood that fact. “There’s a history and histories don’t happen overnight,” Katie said.

    Katie was able to see past their present moment and look at the big picture. She realized that her husband was a good friend, and good friends are hard to find.

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    A Practical Guide for Empty-Nesters

    You walk through the door after dropping your baby off at college. The silence is deafening. Who knew that one more person could add so much noise to the house?

    Trying to hold back the tears, you wonder what they are up to. Will they miss you? How long will it take them to call? Will they pay attention to a thing you taught them?

    Even if the past few months have been challenging, there is something about an empty nest that jolts you into a new reality. Life will never be the same. Ready or not, the next season of life has arrived.

    Experts say that couples who find themselves “alone again” often find it hard to adjust. For years - schedules, meals, activities - everything - revolved around the kids. This moment in time can feel like an identity crisis, but you never really stop being a parent. You just parent in a different way when they head off to college. Instead of directing, you now move into a supporting role.

    Right now, you may feel like you will never be the parents on television who sadly said goodbye to their college-bound child and then joyfully headed to Disney World.

    Take a deep breath and try some of these suggestions. They might make the transition a bit easier:

    • Acknowledge the change. This time offers you a great opportunity to redefine yourselves and your marriage.

    • Get some rest. Since you aren’t coordinating meals, after-school activities and other things, you can actually go to bed at 8PM if you want. Allow yourself to slow down, settle in and rejuvenate!

    • Allow yourself to grieve. It's common to feel a sense of loss or regret during this time. And, FYI: The empty nest hits men just as hard as women.

    • Resist the temptation to fill up your schedule. While you may feel a huge void in your life, instead of filling up the time and space with new commitments, enjoy your newfound freedom.

    • Ask for help if you need it. If your empty nest marriage is showing signs of withdrawal, alienation or negativity, seek professional counseling. It can help you process all that is going on.

    • Keep your sense of humor. It will definitely help you get through the tough times.

    • Stay connected. Care packages, real cards in the mail, emails and the occasional phone call are great ways to stay connected to your teen without coming across as overbearing, miserable or desperate.

    • Enjoy the silence. Remember the times you would have killed for just five minutes of complete quiet? Instead of fearing the silence, embrace it.

    • Reconnect with your spouse. You can now plan romantic dates, schedule gatherings with friends, take up something new like skydiving; AND, you can even walk around the house naked if you want!

    • Finally, CELEBRATE! 

    Parenting takes a tremendous amount of time and energy. Launching your child into the next phase of life is quite an accomplishment. It is important to acknowledge where you have come from and where you want your relationship to go in the future. This is your time…enjoy!

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    Does Marriage Get Better Over Time?

    Does marriage, like a good bottle of wine, really get better over time? That’s the question Dr. Paul Amato and his co-author, Spencer James, set out to answer. Amato serves as the Arnold and Bette Hoffman Emeritus Professor of Family Sociology and Demography at Pennsylvania State University. 

    There’s lots of evidence that many people are cynical about marriage these days. In fact, many are choosing not to marry because they have seen so many marriages end in bitter divorces and they figure, “What’s the point of putting yourself through that?”

    What if there is something we are missing from the bigger picture? Most would agree that anything worth having usually takes work, grit and a long-term view. So, are people throwing away perfectly good marriages in the earlier years because the going gets tough?

    In a recent conversation with Alysse ElHage, Dr. Amato shared the findings from his research, Changes in Spousal Relationships Over the Marital Life Course.

    Amato’s study was based on a unique 20-year longitudinal sample of 1,617 spouses. The study ran from 1980 to 2000. While not recent, it is the longest-running, most-detailed study of marriage available. According to Amato, there is no reason to assume that trajectories of relationship quality are different today than they were in the 1980s and 1990s.

    In reviewing the data, Amato measured how three common characteristics of marital quality (happiness, shared activities and discord) changed over time. He split the sample in several ways, but the most important one separated the divorced couples from those who remained together. Amato believes this is key, because past studies have led many researchers to conclude that marital quality inevitably deteriorates over time. If you focus on couples who remain together however, which is the majority, then average levels of marital quality do not decline. In reality, marital happiness remains moderately high and marital discord lessens substantially. 

    While plenty of studies have focused on the first five years of marriage, little research exists on couples who have been married for decades. Amato was very interested in focusing on the 205 long-term marriages in the study. It turns out that most of the couples who had been married 40 years or more are happy. 

    One of the biggest takeaways from Amato’s study is that for some deeply-troubled marriages, divorce is the best outcome. But based on previous work, he found that many divorces are not preceded by a serious relationship problem. Sometimes boredom, rather than misery, characterizes many unstable marriages. In these cases, infidelity is often the trigger that leads one partner to leave the union. When couples stick together through difficult times, remain faithful to one another and actively work to resolve problems, positive long-term outcomes are common. 

    Amato’s research shows that positive outcomes for couples in long-term marriages are the norm. And contrary to what many people think, marital quality is not destined to decline. It tends to remain high or even improve over the decades, which should encourage most couples.

    The big question is, how did these couples help their marriages endure over time? Although Amato’s study didn’t measure for relationship education, previous research indicates that couples who use relationship education services tend to have better relationship quality and more stable marriages than do other couples. 

    “What we can say from our study is that being happy, frequently sharing activities with your spouse, and having a peaceful marriage after 20, 30, or 40 years is quite common,” says Amato.

    For couples who find themselves in a lackluster marriage, wondering if it’s worth it to stick around, Amato’s research is good news. It shows that although rough spots happen in relationships, there is hope that in many instances, nurturing a marriage can help things get better as the years go by.

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    Characteristics of Heart Healthy Relationships

    There's a lot of talk about how to keep our hearts healthy. Eat right, exercise, take one aspirin a day, eat foods low in cholesterol, get plenty of rest, and the list goes on. Just as we have information to help us keep our heart healthy, we can also do certain things to keep relationships “heart healthy.”

    Today, people are so busy with work, children, extracurricular activities and who knows what else. As a result of such a busy lifestyle, family relationships can suffer.

    In order to build healthy relationships, you must be intentional and committed.

    Heart healthy relationships have certain characteristics, including:

    • Humor – Appropriate humor can help defuse a potentially volatile situation. People say that laughter is good for the soul, but guess what? It's also good for relationships!

    • Appropriate Expectations – Many people have unrealistic expectations of their mate and their children. Pushing children to excel, stressful jobs, competitive sports and life in general are part of the problem. Learn to keep things in perspective and ask, "What is important in the long run?" The answer can help shed light on what really matters in life. Most would agree that the relationship between child, parent or spouse is much more important than straight A's or a spotless house.

    • Appreciation – Sometimes people are so busy “doing” life that they fail to appreciate the people they care about the most. When is the last time you sent a card to a friend for no reason? Or told your spouse you how much you appreciate all he/she does for your marriage and family - without adding, “I only wish…”? Have you ever let your child know you are honored to be their parent?

    • Respect - Experts suggest that you never second-guess your spouse in front of the children or anyone else. If you want your children to learn how to treat others with respect, model it for them. That means talking to each other appropriately and not talking badly about your spouse to a third party. Try asking, “Does what I am about to do or say build up this person or tear them down?”

    • Spending time wisely – How do you spend it? If you knew you didn’t have much time left, would you start spending your time differently? If the answer to that question is yes, now may be a good time for you to examine your priorities. Heart healthy relationships happen when people spend time together connecting on a consistent basis.

    A line in a Garth Brooks song says, “If tomorrow never comes, will she know how much I loved her?” Do the people in your life know how much you care? Do your children know beyond a shadow of a doubt that you love them – not the grades they bring home?

    If your relationships are not where you want them to be, you can still do something different.

    Having heart healthy relationships is about loving the people in your world - your mate, elderly neighbor, your children, parents, etc. Be intentional. Try practicing one characteristic from the list above today. When you put your head down on the pillow, your heart will probably feel better because you did.

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