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Whether you are thinking about getting married or you have already jumped in with both feet, you may be wondering if it’s really possible to prevent divorce. Or, to put it another way, is it just wishful thinking to believe this is forever?

  • If you have lived through your parents’ divorce, you might be wondering if you have what it takes to prevent a divorce in your own marriage.
  • If you have ever heard the statistic that half of all first time marriages end in divorce, you might be questioning whether or not you will make it is just luck of the draw.
  • Perhaps you have read about or know couples who have been married for 50 years, and you might be asking, “What’s their secret?”

Regardless of your responses, I’m going to give you some good news, straight up. The answer (based on research) is YES! You really can prevent divorce, and the even better news is, it isn’t rocket science.

First, the reasons people cite for wanting to get a divorce:

The National Fatherhood Initiative conducted a national survey on Marriage in America and found that the most common reason couples gave for divorce was “lack of commitment” (73% said this was a major reason). Other significant reasons included too much arguing (56%), infidelity (55%), marrying too young (46%), unrealistic expectations (45%), lack of equality in the relationship (44%), lack of preparation for marriage (41%), and abuse (29%). (People often give more than one reason, so the percentages add up to more than 100%.) Other more recent surveys of adults have come up with similar findings.

Keys to Prevent Divorce

Clearly, there are some valid reasons people divorce. However, a huge percentage of couples are divorcing for reasons that are preventable with some intentional focus. So, if you are considering marriage or you’re already married and you want it to last forever, here are some things you can do to increase your chances of staying together:

1. Communicate!

Keep in mind that just because you love someone doesn’t mean you communicate well with each other. Be intentional about making time to talk with each other not just about intense things, but life in general. Pay attention to how you listen—or actually don’t listen. So often, people are more interested in what they have to say than what their partner has to say. As a result, they only halfway listen because they are preparing for what they want to say next. Practice being in the moment and really listening to your partner. This seems to come easier when you are dating than after you get married.

2. Pay attention to how you handle conflict.

Every great relationship has conflict, but it’s the way people engage each other in the midst of it that matters. If the win for either of you is to get the last word or to be right, your relationship loses. The goal with conflict is to actually increase intimacy in your relationship, not create disconnect between the two of you.

3. Commit.

This might be the super secret sauce for marriages. If you enter into marriage with the idea that if the going gets tough you can always leave, it will be hard to build a strong relationship over time because in the back of your mind you are always entertaining the notion of leaving. The thing about marriage is that it is challenging at times. It’s impossible to bring two people together and not experience some strenuous moments. However, healthy marriages aren’t challenging all the time and they take advantage of the challenges to bring them closer—as in, “Look what we just came through/survived together!” This makes you stronger as a team and also builds confidence that whatever the next challenge is, you can work together to get to the other side.

*To be clear, if you are experiencing abuse, addiction or affairs in your marriage, this is different and you need to seek professional help to determine your best next steps. These are unhealthy and potentially dangerous behaviors. You can be committed to your marriage and love your spouse and also know the relationship cannot continue along the same path with these unhealthy behaviors.

4. Be intentional about connecting.

When couples talk about lack of commitment, a lot of this centers around feeling disconnected. They are committed to the relationship, but slowly over time, children come along, careers get more intense, parents struggle with illness—all things that require your time, energy and emotional bandwidth. Before you know it, instead of feeling like a team, you feel distant from one another. When one or both people in a marriage start feeling disconnected, they consciously or unconsciously begin to look for connection elsewhere. And you know, the grass is always greener in the yard that gets attention. Take inventory of your activities. Every couple should have activities they do together and apart, but if you find you are doing more activities separately from your spouse, you may want to evaluate the impact it is having on your relationship connectedness.

5. Make time to play together.

Being playful together releases dopamine—the feel-good hormone. When you do things with your spouse that make you feel good, you create powerful positive memories and you associate those feelings with being with your spouse. The University of Denver’s Center for Marital and Family Studies research finds that the amount of fun couples have together is the strongest factor in understanding overall marital happiness.

6. Train your brain.

It is true that we teach our brains to think a certain way. If you start feeling negative toward your spouse and you avoid letting them know how you feel, you will probably start to notice the things they do that bother you even more often. Before long, you have built your case for why they are no longer the right person for you. On the other hand, if you look for the good in your spouse, it’s not that you never see their faults, you just don’t let them take up residence in your brain and impact how you see the one you love.

7. Look to the future.

Dream about things you want to do or accomplish together. Write them down and revisit them annually to see if there are things you want to add or delete. This gives you a future focus together. It also provides a focal point for when you face challenging times and need something to keep you motivated and forward-facing in your marriage. It’s kind of a reminder that in the midst of hard, it’s not always going to be like this. Kids get potty trained and sleep through the night. Teens eventually become adults. Illnesses go away or you learn how to manage them.

No marriage is 100% risk-free of divorce. However, there are definitely protective measures you can put in place to significantly decrease your risk for divorce, both before and after marriage. Guard against putting your marriage on auto-pilot. Be intentional about the choices you make on a daily basis. Avoid comparing your marriage to someone else’s, as you never know what’s going on behind closed doors. Think of your marriage as a never ending adventure. It’s going to have some insanely crazy times you don’t wish to repeat and some wildly exhilarating moments that you won’t want to end. But consider this—if you quit in the middle of a perfectly good marriage, you will have no idea what you missed out on.

Other blogs you might find helpful:

7 Ways to Reduce Your Risk for Divorce

Couples Who Play Together

10 Things Every Married Couple Needs to Know About Sex

Help! My Spouse Hates to Talk About Boundaries!

***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.***

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We are four months into the Coronavirus Pandemic. When it first began, we were so shocked by the shelter-in-place rules that we decided to embrace this interruption in our “normal” lives. We were intentional about dinners as a family, spending quality time with each other and we even began family projects. Now, our teens have had enough “togetherness.” They either want to enter the world again or they may be withdrawn. For us, we so enjoyed our time with our teens that we don’t want it to stop. 

How can you deepen your connection with your teen?

1. Let them know their friends are welcome.

I mean, who’s not up for a party? Be up for a friend gathering for s’mores, a cookout, or an outdoor movie. Let your house be the place they want to hang out and don’t let money get in the way. If you can’t afford to supply all the food yourself, have everyone bring something. The key is to set the wheels in motion. As an added bonus, you’ll get to know their friends, too. Make sure that you get the “thumbs-up” from parents and are aware of social distancing and mask recommendations in your community. 

2. Disconnect to connect.

Multi-tasking is a major conversation-killer. For example, if your teen hates it when you talk on the phone when they are in the car, they may have a valid point. Who wants to feel excluded from a conversation? So, try to intentionally avoid talking when you are riding together. You know that little button that lets people know you’re driving? Use it, and make the time together in the car count. You have a captive audience and precious time in the car, so use it wisely. This goes for the dinner table and the living room, too.

3. Respect their space. 

It is key that you respect your teen’s space if you want to deepen your connection with your teen. If you have no reason to question their safety, please allow them some room to have their own thoughts, dreams, and goals. Give them the time and space to be a young adult. The more that you crowd them, the less likely they will be to share with you or even spend time with you.

4. Listen to them, even when it’s difficult to just listen.

When our teens hurt, we hurt. It may be easy to go into “Protective Mode” or “Fix-It Mode.” What they need from you is to listen and help them process—not take over, freak out, ask a million questions, or launch into a lecture. 

5. Find out what they like to do and join (apps like Snapchat, TikTok, read the same book and discuss, re-decorate a room together, etc.)

This may not be second nature to you. You may find that liking a post or trying to keep a Snap Streak alive shows that you care (and if you mess up the streak, they’ll let you know, which shows that they care, too). Allow them to teach you a new popular dance, then dance with them in a crazy TikTok video. 

6. Get into their world, even if you don’t understand it. 

You may not be a big fan of video gaming, sports, or animé. You may even dismiss its usefulness in your teen’s life. However, they have meaning to your teen. Getting involved with things that are important to them demonstrates that you value their interests and so, value them. It may open the door for you to invite them to join you in things you do. They may actually shock you by saying “yes.” 

7. If you bake it, they will come (and maybe even talk).

I have NEVER had my teens turn me down for a little one-on-one time if there is food or dessert involved. You may actually get more than a one-word answer to a question. This may look a little different depending on which child I’m wooing, for sure. It can be as simple as warming a pecan pie for my high schooler or as involved as cooking hamburgers on the grill for my college graduate. Once you find what works, it’s a win. 

These are jus a few ways for parents to increase their quality time with their teens. It’s important to make the most of the time that you have left with them at home. Before you know it, they will be off to college, military, or the work world.  

Here are some other blogs that may help you deepen your connection with your teen:

HOW DO I GET MY TEEN TO TALK TO ME?

HOW DO I KNOW IF MY TEEN IS DEPRESSED?

I THINK COVID-19 HAS MADE MY TEEN HATE ME

HOW DO I STOP FIGHTING WITH MY TEEN?

PARENTING THROUGH FORTNITE

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All of us are beginning to realize that life as we have known it has dramatically changed. We are at war against an invisible enemy that is wreaking havoc on our lives. Playdates for our children, lunch with friends, a steady income, worship, exercise classes, school, sports, graduations and even shopping are either non-existent, cancelled, postponed or look very different at this moment in time. Our lives have been interrupted in a huge way.

Even for the most spontaneous person, our dramatically different way of living has many of us on edge. 

“During times of trauma and uncertainty, we are stressed, weary and overwhelmed,” says Dr. Gary Oliver, clinical psychologist. “Our typical response is to ‘react’ in the moment, which often makes things worse. This is our emotional brain hijacking our thinking.”

Especially during these times, Oliver says we need to be intentional about “responding” instead of “reacting.” 

 “In life there are only three kinds of situations: things I can control, things I can’t control but can influence, which is a larger group, but the degree of influence probably isn’t as great as we think, and things that are totally out of our control,” Oliver says. “We can’t control the COVID-19 outbreak. But we can be sure to wash our hands and distance ourselves from others. If you are a person of faith, you can pray. We can exercise to stay healthy, we can be kind and help others who are more susceptible to catching the virus.”

Oliver believes this focus on what we can control and influence will help us thrive as we work to reach the other side of this crisis. For each decision that you face during this time, Oliver recommends that you think of the situation as a blinking yellow caution light. We all need to slow down and proceed with caution. Why? Because we are at risk of acting in ways that will only complicate the situation or possibly make things worse.

Here are some specific actions Oliver recommends to help us deal with the days ahead:

Sit down and make a list of all the things you can totally “control.” In all likelihood, this is a very short list. 

Then make a list of the things you believe you can influence. 

Finally, list the things you can do nothing about – and this is probably an endless list. Oliver says most of the time people are kind of shocked by how few things they can actually control. Some studies suggest that approximately two-thirds of what we worry about are things totally beyond our control.

Now, rank the list of things you can actually influence from one to 10, with 10 being the highest. The things at the bottom of the list are the things you actually have the least influence over. Then look at the things you scored five and above. Ask yourself, “What are some specific things I can do in these areas?” Your answers may be something like this: I can stay aware of the latest updates or I can practice good self-care. 

Speaking of practicing good self-care, Oliver points out that we are only as good for our spouse, children, extended family and friends as we are for ourselves. If you don’t take care of yourself, you can really be unhelpful to others. You can love yourself and others by eating well, resting, utilizing spiritual resources if you are a person of faith and getting exercise. 

Count your blessings. In challenging times, it is easy to focus on the negative instead of what you actually have. Make a list of your blessings. Do you have food? Is there a roof over your head? Can you walk, talk, see and hear? Do you have people who love you and are checking in on you? Do you have electricity, running water and access to the internet? Visually seeing your list is empowering. 

Support others. Ask yourself, “How can I encourage, express appreciation, support or pray for others?”

Find ways to connect face to face through Skype, Google Hangouts, FaceTime or something else. Although we have social distancing, we still need relationships. Texting and Facebook are ok, but there is no substitute for face-to-face contact. Seeing someone’s face and hearing their voice is comforting and psychologically, physiologically and emotionally nurturing. We all need that, especially at this moment in time. Isolation is good for not spreading the virus, but relationship isolation is not healthy.

Pay attention to your pets. Brain science now tells us that interactions with our pets can be life-giving, especially in times of crisis. 

When people feel like they can’t do anything, anxiety, fear, discouragement and depression creep in. People become overwhelmed with a sense of helplessness and hopelessness. 

These suggestions may seem small in the scheme of things, but they are not insignificant. Instead, these recommendations can help you grow smarter and make wiser decisions. Look for the opportunity to encourage others, because it’s not just about your own survival.

Ask yourself, “What is going to be my next healthy step?”

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Wondering how you can connect with your kiddos? Here’s a list to get you started!

  • Plan a regular time for Daddy/Child date to do something fun and adventurous.
  • Write a short message to them on a stick-it note and hide it in their lunch.
  • Let your child help you wash the car or fix something.
  • Play a game with them – one that they want to play.
  • If you like to cook, let them help you.
  • Take them to the park.
  • Teach your child how to do something like build a kite, a soapbox derby car, a paper airplane, etc.
  • Tell them what life was like when you were their age.
  • Listen to them – learn about their favorite things, who their friends are, their favorite game, etc.

In the movie Overboard, a man tricks a woman with amnesia into thinking she is a wife and the mother of four. Annie (the mother) gets fed up with the father for not spending time with his children. His response to her? He says he is a pal to his kids, and that he “brings home the paycheck, which is what the man of the house is supposed to do.”

Annie’s response? “Your children have pals. What they need is a father.”

For many years, experts told fathers that bringing home a paycheck and leaving the parenting to Mom was the most important example they could set for their family.

Now, research shows that having a loving and nurturing father is as valuable as having a loving and nurturing mother for a child’s happiness, well-being and social and academic success. It isn’t just about bringing home the bacon.

Looking back, Scotty Probasco, Jr. recognizes that his dad did a whole lot more than just bring home a paycheck. As a result, his influence is still present in his life today. He set an example that helped his children understand what it means to experience life to the fullest.

“My dad and I were as different as night and day,” Probasco says. “He served in both World Wars and was a very stern man, yet he was a nurturing presence in my life. He showed me what it meant to be a loving husband and father by working hard, yet making sure that he spent time with our family. My dad believed that work was honorable and fun. He taught me that I ought to try to do things that would make the world a little bit better. Throughout my life, I have tried to live out the lessons my father taught me.”

Mr. Probasco, Sr. set an example for his son that not only taught him about taking care of his family, it taught him about the greater good: Understanding that it is not all about you. He knew that some of the greatest blessings people receive are from giving to others.

There is no doubt that involved dads do make a difference in the lives of their children. However, some fathers struggle with how to engage their children so they can provide a nurturing example.

If you really want to connect with your children, try these tips from the experts.

  • Respect your child’s mother. If you are married, keep your marriage relationship strong. If you are not married to your child’s mother, it is still important to respect and support her. Parents who respect each other are better able to provide a secure environment for their children.
  • Spend time with your children. Treasuring children often means sacrificing other things, but spending time with your kids is essential. You lose missed opportunities forever.
  • Talk to your children. Too frequently, dads only speak with their kids when they have done something wrong. Take time to listen to their ideas and problems with they are young. If you do that, they will still want to talk with you when they get older.
  • Discipline with love. Children need guidance and discipline, not as punishment, but to set reasonable limits. When you discipline in a calm and fair manner, you show love for your child.
  • Be a role model. A girl who spends time with a loving father grows up knowing she deserves for boys to treat her with respect, and she knows what to look for in a husband. Fathers can teach sons what is important in life by demonstrating honesty and responsibility.
  • Be a teacher. Teaching your kids about right and wrong encourages them to do their best, and you will likely see them make good choices. Use everyday examples to help your children learn the basic lessons of life.
  • Show affection. Children need the security that comes from knowing their family wants, accepts and loves them. Show appropriate affection every day -it’s the best way to let your children know that you love them.

And finally, don’t underestimate your significant role in your child’s life.

Many men find themselves trying to father from a distance due to work, divorce or military deployment. Fathering from a distance can be especially trying with celebrations, plays and concerts often occurring during the week. How can dads stay connected while they are away and not feel like a third wheel upon their return?

Brian Vander Werf travels almost every week for work. Even though his girls have never known a time when their dad was home all week, it is important to him to stay connected and in the loop while he is away.

“Before I leave, I make it a point to get with each of my girls to find out what is on their calendars for the week,” says Vander Werf. “I want to know about tests, ballgames, concerts or other events that are happening. I share with them where I will be and what is happening in my world that week, and I want them to know that even though I am away, they are important to me and I care about what is happening in their world. Also, I make sure I get my hugs in before I hit the road!”

When he travels, Vander Werf stays connected via texting and evening phone calls.

“There is no question that staying connected while I am on the road can be complicated,” Vander Werf says. “My girls are older and texting seems to be one of the best solutions at the moment. I have really struggled with it because that is not my thing and not my idea of a great way to connect, but it is definitely a big part of their world so I find myself texting back and forth a lot with the two of them.”

Do his girls know they can contact him throughout the day if they needed him? “Most definitely!” he says. “They know I am in tune and paying attention. I would want to know if something was up.”

Technologically, dads have lots of options for staying connected to their children. Here are some ways you can connect:

  • Let your child pick out a book for you to read together at a designated time each evening.
  • If you won’t be able to talk while you are away, create a video before you leave for them to watch while you are away. You could even hide it and leave clues behind so they have to search for the surprise.
  • Record yourself reading a book and leave it under your child’s pillow.
  • Write and hide messages in places you know they will be found throughout the week.
  • Write letters to your children and include something fun or crazy in the letter.
  • If they have a special event, arrange for flowers, pizza or a card to be delivered that day.

“Staying connected isn’t always easy,” Vander Werf says. “However, it is absolutely worth it! Even though I am out of town, my girls know I love and care about them.”