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I don’t know if I can keep doing this (marriage) much longer.” I said this statement at one point in my marriage and my wife of sixteen years has said it, too. I’ve also spoken with plenty of couples who have said things like this at some point in their marriage.

There are some commonalities research has shown can help save your marriage when it feels like it is falling apart.

Connect regularly with people who are happily married.

Notice I didn’t say perfectly married. Look for couples who are healthy. Invite them to coffee and dessert. Talk to them. Listen to them. Watch how they interact with each other. Pick their brains. Find people who will hold you accountable, not pick sides. People outside of your marriage often will see things about you that are difficult for you to see about yourselves

And disconnect from people who are not for your marriage.

People that will allow you to continually talk about what’s wrong with your spouse and constantly tell you that you’re better off without your spouse are not going to be helpful in saving your marriage.

Seek help.

There are experiences available for couples facing distress in their marriage. Some places offer classes; others have Intensive Experiences available (DivorceBusting.com, WinShape Intensives, Smalley Institute). First Things First also has free resources to use in the comfort of your own home. Additionally, you may want to find a good marriage counselor to help you walk through your issues. If there is one thing I have learned in my own marriage, it’s the longer you wait to ask for help, the harder it is to ask for help. Put your pride aside and ask for the help you need if you are currently struggling. 

Look at Your Perception of Your Marriage.

New research indicates that how you perceive the relationship and your partner’s commitment to it is the biggest predictor of the quality of your relationship. Think through what you perceive about your spouse and their commitment level. The research says that your perception accounts for nearly 50% of your relationship satisfaction. When we focus on the negative things our spouse does, we train our brain to see the negative

Communication.

Communication has always been the issue married couples say they struggle with the most. It can be frustrating when you feel like you’re never able to address and resolve the real issues because the two of you can’t figure out how to effectively express your thoughts, feelings, and desires. Since many of us marry someone with a different communication style, learning to speak, hear and be heard has proven to be less natural than we expected. I was married 7 years before I learned how to effectively communicate with my wife. It was a skill I had to learn. I had been repeating the same communication mistakes over and over. 

★ These 7 keys to communication really helped my marriage.

Don’t be afraid to lead the dance.

Yes, it takes two people to dance, but one to lead. Michele Weiner-Davis, marriage expert and author of Divorce Busting, tells couples, “If your spouse started paying more attention to you, making suggestions about trips you could go on, new hobbies you could do together, how would you be different in return?” Most say, “I would be nicer.” Then Weiner-Davis asks people to describe the ways in which they would be nicer and encourages them to start doing that immediately. So many spouses stand around waiting for the other person to just do something. If you want things to be different, don’t be afraid to make the first move.  

Don’t wait for your partner to be more likable – you be more likable,” Weiner-Davis says. “Ask yourself in what ways have you pulled back from your relationship. Your partner’s distance might be the result of you pulling away, too.”  

Practice good self-care.

Taking care of yourself can improve your marriage. Be active by pursuing interests like gardening or biking. Read some good books and practice mindfulness. By paying attention to your mental health, your perspective will often improve.

Think about your daily interactions with your spouse.

Dr. John Gottman, researcher and marriage therapist recommends a 5:1 ratio of interactions – meaning for every negative interaction you have with your spouse, you need five positive interactions to balance that one negative interaction. Expressing affection, showing appreciation, and doing small acts of kindness are positive interactions which balance the negative ones. 

Talk to each other about your needs.

When we have needs and expectations that arent being met, resentment builds. Sometimes our partner is left to figure out the expectations because they are left unspoken. Sincere, honest communication about your needs and expectations takes the guesswork out of the marriage. And, it can shed light on expectations that just aren’t realistic at the moment.

Acknowledge what you can’t fix.

Dr. John Gottman’s research has uncovered that 69% of issues in relationships are unresolvable. It’s not necessarily a bad thing. It just is. Some common differences include disciplining children, balance between home and work, and political views. Learning to communicate and manage these differences can provide opportunities for marital growth. Besides, who wants to be married to someone who is exactly like them in every way?

Forgiveness.

It has been said that lack of forgiveness is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. Forgiveness is a gift you give yourself as well as your mate. The act of forgiveness does not mean you condone hurtful actions; it does mean you have made an intentional decision to move on. 

Remember, you are on the same team.

At some point you began to feel like you are adversaries. Instead of attacking one another, attack the issues as two people working together on the same team. The outcome may really surprise you.

★ Saving a marriage that is falling apart is 100% possible. It will take courage, work and intentionality. Rebuilding trust, seeking to understand one another, and cultivating a culture of appreciation is a process accomplished through many small steps over time. 16 years into our marriage, we’d both tell you our feelings of despair early in the marriage were the catalyst for intentionally creating the marriage we want. 

And, we are still working on it today. 

***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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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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Right at the start, I want to offer you hope. I’ve been married for 25 years and we have survived the day-to-day marital difficulties as well as some things considered “Marriage Killers.” Our marriage isn’t perfect—no marriage is—but we have learned that it is possible to go from surviving to thriving. Remember: Marriage is two imperfect people, building an imperfect relationship, striving to fail better every day. Don’t lose hope.

Quarantined in a difficult marriage…

You probably feel like you’re stuck between a rock and a hard place. That’s not an easy position to be in. Quarantine has probably magnified and intensified things that you were already struggling with in your marriage. You’re not alone. Many couples are discovering difficulties with quarantine. You and your spouse’s fuses are shorter now and you are stuck together with more to stress about and get angry about. Understanding that dynamic is important. It really is a rock and a hard place. Don’t draw any conclusions during this time and don’t make any big decisions.

Since we might be inching toward the end of quarantine, let’s think about why your marriage is already difficult.

We are gonna run with the idea of “rocks” and “hard places” for a bit to talk about marriage. Some people expected their marriage to be this easy, fun, delightful walk in the park. Marriage has those moments, but… Every marriage is a rocky road. You will experience everything from a pebble in your shoe to a mountain that you have to scale. The stones on your rocky road come in all shapes and sizes. But there are ways to navigate them all and stay on the road together.

✦ Speaking of stones and rocks, a rock’s hardness is measured on something called Mohs Hardness Scale. For our purposes, this is now the Marriage Hardness Scale.

What is making your marriage difficult? Where are you on the Marriage Hardness Scale?

1. The Little Things (Marital Hardness Level: I Feel Annoyed.)

Examples: Oh, you already know them! (You can just mentally scroll through the list in your head.)

The bottom of Mohs Hardness Scale is talc. We know it as talcum powder. It’s soft, but it can get everywhere. This fine powder is going to work its way into all the unique cracks and crevices of your relationship. You may have married someone who is the complete opposite of you. Those differences can get annoying really fast. You may have married someone who is exactly like you. That too has its own challenges. The bottom line is that no matter what, you are two individuals with unique personalities, needs and habits. Don’t be surprised that your spouse does little talcum things that annoy you. (And don’t forget, you probably have little ways you annoy them too, just sayin’…).

You can do two things with Annoyance Level hardships—you can overlook them or you can address them.

Overlooking them requires you to exercise patience, grace, empathy and humility. Addressing them is going to require conversation. “I feel X when you Y. Could you please Z?” You’ll need to be able to do both along this dusty road. Maybe that takes care of it; maybe it doesn’t. When it doesn’t…

I love this clarifying question: Is this a tension to be managed or a problem to be solved? You’re two different people doing life together. Some issues and annoyances don’t change. That’s normal. You can choose NOT to give things the power to annoy you. You can accept your spouse the way they are, warts and all. Learn to lean on your differences and put them to good use. Learn to laugh about them. (I know that sometimes the “little things” can bother me the most. If you let annoyances accumulate, if you give them power, eventually, they will bump you up a Hardness Level or two.)

2. The Not So Little Things (Marital Hardness Level: I Feel Discouraged.)

Examples: Disagreements about finances, sex, parenting. Constant busyness. Undealt with annoyances. Lack of good communication.

Some things that are difficult in marriage rise above the expected annoyances of living with another person. (And sometimes those annoyances, never dealt with, get aggregated and form a rock that is harder to deal with.) These rocks become “a thing” between you and your spouse. They can twist your ankle and trip you up. These rocks can also be picked up and weaponized—“You always… You never!

Marriage is work.

You’ve heard the saying, “You can work harder or you can work smarter.” Marriage requires BOTH. Yes, it takes effort, but a healthy marriage also requires some skill sets. 

  • How to respond instead of react. (Control your emotions, don’t let them control you. Know when to call “timeout” and cool off.) 
  • How to actively listen. (Body language—look like you’re listening. Put what you heard in your own words. Ask clarifying questions.) 
  • Conflict management skills. (Attack the problem, not the person. Use “I” statements, not “You” statements. Have a plan and rules for how you will handle conflict.)
  • Intentionally staying connected. (Date nights. Learning your partner’s “Love Language” and exploring new ways to love them. Expressing gratitude. Being intentional about doing things that strengthen emotional and physical intimacy.)

When you can navigate the rocks as a strong TEAM, instead of tripping you up or being weapons, they become mile-markers of your growth.

3. The Big Things (Marital Hardness Level: I Feel Exasperated.) 

Examples: Mistrust. Constant conflict. Boundaries being approached or crossed. Resentment.

These are boulders along the rocky road of marriage that can get in your way and make you change direction and get off course. You can become divided as you navigate different paths around the boulders and now you’re not walking together. You can feel the separate lives forming. Plus, you feel like co-owners of a small business named, Family, Inc. and your communication has devolved to a level that has all the romance of a business meeting—“Did you pay the electric bill? Who’s driving to soccer practice? What’s this charge on the statement?” This can make a marriage difficult. And maybe, after a few boulders, you’re just trying to keep it together for the kids.

It is incredibly valuable to have a Marital Mentoring Couple.

I’m talking about a couple that has made it 20+ years and has the war stories and the lessons they learned from them. People that will be honest with you and you can be transparent with them. You might be surprised to find out how normal and expected some of your “unique” problems are. Expectations are everything and finding out that some things are “normal” can take some of the power away from them and encourage you. A mentoring couple can pass on lessons, skills, and maybe more importantly—a new outlook and hope.

The boulders of marriage can unite you, rather than divide you. It’s all in how you approach them.

4. The Hardest Things (Marital Hardness Level: I Feel Hopeless.) 

Examples: Infidelity. Apathy. Emotional Affairs. Contempt. Separate Lives Under One Roof.

You are going to face some problems and issues that seem “irreconcilable” along the rocky road of marriage. This isn’t an annoying pebble in your shoe, or a rock you can twist your ankle on or throw at your spouse; this isn’t even a boulder that has come between you. There are mountains to climb. And the fact is that you can also move up the Hardness Scale very quickly. Situations, issues, problems can escalate from Annoying, Discouraging, Exasperating, to Hopeless quickly if left unchecked and undealt with.

Don’t be afraid to call in the pros at this point. (Or at any point.)

By pros, I mean marriage counselors. We have personal blindspots. We have marital blindspots. A counselor might be able to see what you aren’t seeing, hear what you aren’t hearing, and show you that you’re doing things that you both don’t know you’re doing. (Or NOT doing.) They can help you cultivate the skills that you didn’t even know were available or you were capable of. Don’t be ashamed of getting counseling. You probably already know couples that have benefited from it—you just didn’t know a counselor helped them. Even if your spouse isn’t willing to see someone, that shouldn’t stop you. It only takes one person to change the dance.

Fun (IMPORTANT) Fact: There’s been a lot of “rock” talk here. The hardest stone on Mohs Hardness Scale is the DIAMOND. That’s right. It’s likely that one of you gave a diamond on your wedding day and one of you received it and is wearing it right now. That hardest of stones comes in handy for ALL your marital hardships, especially for the hardest of situations in your difficult marriage. And you already have that stone! You’ve had it the whole time! Remember why you got married in the first place? When you climb the Marital Mountains together, you’ll find an incredible view and a whole new perspective.

Back to hope

This Marital Hardness Level can go from Hopeless to Hopeful. All of them have the potential to bring you closer together instead of driving you apart. Annoying can go to Amazing. Discouraging can go to Encouraging. Exasperating can go to Exhilarating

During this quarantine, remember, you’re between a diamond and a hard place. You can do this.

***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 your computer or device is being monitored, 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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You don’t give in to peer pressure, right? That was so Middle School! Surprisingly, adult you is still rather impressionable. Your chances of divorce just went up!

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If you are 50 or older and have been married for 30 years or more, the latest headlines might have you wondering if your marriage is in trouble and you don’t even know it.

Articles from Pew Research Center, the Wall Street Journal and other publications with titles like, Led by Baby Boomers, Divorce Rates Climb for America’s 50+ Population, and The Divorce Rate is at a 40-Year-Low, Unless You’re 55 or Older, seem to be painting a grim picture. Should people be worried?

Professors Naomi Cahn at the George Washington University Law School and June Carbone at the University of Minnesota Law School, looked at the latest research on this topic. They say the divorce rate is still not all that high for those over the age of 50.

In 1990, five out of every 1,000 married people divorced. In 2010, 10 out of every 1,000 married people divorced. Although the rate has risen more dramatically for those over the age of 50, Cahn and Carbone say it is still half the rate of those younger than 50.

One might older couples are divorcing because children have finally left the nest or that people are living longer and just getting bored in marriage. That doesn’t appear to be the case, however.

According to research from the National Center for Family and Marriage at Bowling Green State University:

  • Couples who own property together and couples with over $250,000 in assets were less likely to divorce.
  • Couples married 40 years or more were the least likely to end up divorced.
  • Gray divorce was almost three times higher for remarried couples compared to first-time married couples.

While property, wealth and the absence of previous marriage may be protective factors, couples can do other things to help their marriage last.

  • Friendship matters. No matter how many years you have been married, continue to grow the friendship between the two of you.
  • Be nice. People often are nicer to those on the outside than the ones they say they care about most. Pay attention to how you treat the one you love.
  • Seek to navigate the tough times together. A job loss, death of a parent or some other transition can be really hard. Instead of trying to navigate it on your own, talking about what you need during a rough patch can help your spouse know the most helpful ways to offer support.
  • Be adventurous. When you’ve been together a long time, it’s easy to find yourselves in a comfortable, yet unfulfilling rut. Look for opportunities to do something out of the ordinary.
  • Keep the conversations going. Some people who have been married for decades complete each other’s sentences and know what the other needs without having to ask. Plenty of research indicates that long-term, happily-married couples know that part of the “happily-married” secret is to keep talking about a variety of topics that interest them.

It is true that more people are throwing in the towel on marriage later in life. However, those who understand that just because you have traveled the road for a long time doesn’t mean you can put it on cruise control or take your hands off the wheel are much more likely to reach the end of their journey together.

This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on July 5, 2019.

***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 your computer or device is being monitored, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

Based on hundreds of peer-reviewed studies, Dr. Warren Farrell, co-author of The Boy Crisis, says that “Dad’s time trumps Dad’s dime.” 

“More than 100 psychologists and researchers got together. They wrote in unanimous consent that the children need their father about equally to their mother in the case of divorce,” says Farrell. 

Farrell explained that for years researchers believed that children did better with an involved father because intact families had more money and lived in better neighborhoods. However, researchers controlled for virtually every variable and found that father involvement plays a vital role in the health of a child. It’s not just about the money he may provide, although that is very important. It is the combination of presence and provision.

“The degree of difference between the health of a child who has both father and mother involvement, who has four things after divorce is so different from the health of the child that doesn’t,” Farrell says. 

Farrell goes on to say that whether babies are born prematurely or full-term, the importance of the father being involved is enormous. 

“Prematurely-born children are more likely to develop their brains better and get out of the hospital sooner and have more psychomotor functioning when the father is visiting the hospital as much as possible, according to research from Yale University,” he says.

“The father breathing on the child when it’s first born helps the bonding process to occur and changes the dad’s brain,” Farrell says “The sooner the father gets involved with the child, a whole nest of neurons in the male brain begins to develop and connect with each other that mimics the mother instinct – overlapping with mother instinct. Oxytocin levels go up, testosterone levels go down. Dads connect emotionally with their children.”

According to Farrell, in the event of an unavoidable divorce, here are four must-dos for your child to have a reasonable chance of doing well.

The first one is ensuring an equal amount of time with mother and father. Being in checks and balance mode with each other never means the father going away and working 80 hours a week and coming back when he is exhausted and the children are in bed. Farrell asserts that children need more than a Disneyland Dad or just a visitor on the weekends. They need time, and plenty of it.

The second must-do is for the mother and father to live within a 20-minute drive time from each other. This gives children greater stability and creates less resentment, because if parents live further away, the kids may have to give up activities or friends in order to see the other parent. 

It’s also important that children are not able to hear or detect bad-mouthing or negativity from one parent about the other. If one parent responds negatively about something concerning the other one, it can affect the child’s intimacy with one or both parents. Bad-mouthing isn’t just by words, it’s also via body language and tone of voice. Farrell says that many parents will swear that their kids did not overhear them saying something negative about the other parent while on the phone, but the child could detect the difference in the tone of voice, even from another room.

Finally, it’s beneficial for the kids if parents spend significant time doing consistent relationship counseling, even if it only happens every few weeks. If parents only seek counsel in an emergency, the chances are you need to solve the problem sooner, and you are more likely to make the other parent wrong and you only see the other parent when you are emergency mode. Therefore, you don’t have the chance to think and feel through with compassion the other parent’s best intent to solve the problem and make decisions.

“Before you make a decision to have a child, do the research on why children need a significant amount of father involvement so that you don’t raise a child on your own and think it is just fine to do so and think that having a stepfather or you doing the father-type of role is going to be enough,” Farrell says. “If you believe your new husband is going to be a better stepfather than the biological father is a father, know that almost always the stepfather perceives himself to be an advisor, and the dynamic between a biological mother and stepfather is one where the biological mother does make the final decision. All of the dad-style parenting that a stepfather could potentially bring to a child’s life, like roughhousing, is likely to be inhibited by a biological mother with a lot more power and potency than she will use with the biological father. There’s a tendency for the stepfather to back out of equal parent engagement and just become a breadwinner.”

Since research consistently shows that both parents are the best parents, Farrell expresses concern for unmarried biological moms who are living with the father. Farrell wants these moms to understand that when Mom is the primary parent, it often leads to the father being uninvolved and feeling that he is not valued. In situations like this, many fathers leave the child’s life within the first three to four years. 

A word of caution here: While there is no question that some parents are unfit when it comes to filling the parent role, careful evaluation may be necessary to discern whether an ex is truly not fit to parent, or if it would “just be easier not to have to deal with them.” If your thought process is more along the lines of, “I made a mistake marrying them. I want to start life over again without them. I don’t like them. I don’t like dealing with them,” it might be wise for you to reconsider your stance.

There’s a big difference between safety and abuse issues and misunderstanding the other parent’s reasoning, thought processes or parenting style. If the goal is for children of divorce to be healthy in adulthood, it is important to follow these 4 must-dos after a divorce when it is possible and safe to do so.

This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on June 7, 2019.

Millennials are causing the U.S. divorce rate to plummet, according to a Bloomberg News report. In fact, divorce is down 18 percent since the Great Recession. On the surface this sounds like great news, but peeling back the layers reveals some good news accompanied by some not-so-good news.

Young couples are looking at marriage differently. They are marrying later in life, waiting until after they have completed their education and have found a job. They are also being pickier about who they marry.

Sociologist Brad Wilcox studies marriage and divorce trends as the director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia. He agrees that there is some news worth celebrating, but there is also a downside.

Based on the data, Wilcox believes marriage is becoming more stable, and the adults who are entering marriage are more intentional about commitment. They don’t want to make the same mistake their parents often made at the height of the divorce revolution.

Wilcox says, “The Great Recession is really the first time we have seen the unwed childbearing trend go down. Many young women and young couples have become more cautious about having children outside of marriage.”

“We will see a stabilization in families for children,” Wilcox says. “We might actually see more children raised in two-parent, married families than in the past decade.”

Now for the bad news.

“Based on the research, we are going to see a decline in marriage for millennials and those coming behind them,” Wilcox says. “They are more cautious. Many of the young men are less accomplished and appealing as potential mates, and both young men and women are more reluctant to commit.”

Census figures show the median age of first marriage in America is now around 30 for men and 28 for women. And while millennials may be holding off on marriage, they are not holding off on living together. More Americans under 25 live with a partner than are married to one.

The second piece of bad news? It’s still true that one in two children born to parents without college degrees will experience family instability. By contrast, only about one-fourth of children born to college-educated parents will see their parents break up. The class divide in American family life seems here to stay, according to Wilcox. There is an interesting caveat to note, however. In looking at the data, Wilcox found that religious attendance is as powerful a predictor of marital stability as is a college education.

“People who regularly attend religious services are more likely to enjoy stable, happy marriages,” Wilcox shares. “This makes me think we need to expand our thinking beyond just the socio-economic factors… One factor that fuels stronger marriage among less educated Americans is an active faith.”

More people are getting married are staying married, but there is a very significant issue going on that cannot be ignored. A large portion of the population is not experiencing the benefits of marriage, and it doesn’t only impact the couples who aren’t marrying; it affects the children and society as a whole.

Click here to read the entire article, which was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on December 2, 2018.

***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 your computer or device is being monitored, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

“How do I get my ex to be consistent with discipline?”

“Sometimes I find it very hard not to talk bad about my ex in front of the children.”

“There is nothing that will make my blood pressure go up faster than when my ex says they will do something and they don’t.”

“I honestly believe my ex does things intentionally to get back at me.”

In the aftermath of a divorce, people often realize that instead of being better off as they hoped, they have traded one set of problems for another. There are a lot of frustrated moms and dads who don’t understand why they can’t agree on anything after the divorce when it comes to parenting.

Life is Different

Even though you have lived with this person for a number of years, you are now learning how to live separate lives while still parenting your children well. There may be things your ex is doing that you totally don’t agree with, but you have to figure out how to work within the boundaries of your new relationship – while always considering what will be in the best interest of your children.

For starters, it is important for you to plan how you will manage as a single parent.

  • Get organized. Make a plan for moving forward. Take time to sort through activities, job demands, a budget, available resources, friends who can provide support and backup, etc. This will help you to be more in control of your situation and to focus on what is important.
  • Focus on family. Set expectations, keep the lines of communication open, establish boundaries and set aside time to be together as a family.
  • Throw perfection out the window. It isn’t about having it all together. It is more about doing the best you can under difficult circumstances.
  • Ask for help. It is not a sign of weakness to ask for help. There are resources available, but you have to make the connection. Neighbors, friends and co-workers are often ready and willing to step up to the plate when you need them.
  • Take one day at a time. After you have put a plan together, don’t get overwhelmed by the big picture.

This transition time can be very challenging. Having a plan in place will help you bring some order into your life and help you keep your cool when things don’t go as planned with your ex.

Keep the Children out of the Middle

An old African proverb says, “When two elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers.”

“Biological parents who fight and refuse to cooperate are trampling on their most prized possession – their children,” says stepfamily expert Ron Deal. “Elephants at war are totally unaware of what is happening to the grass because they are far too consumed with the battle at hand. Little do they know how much damage is being done.”

Parents who want to reduce the negative effects of divorce on their children should strive to be effective co-parents because it reduces between-home conflict and increases cooperation. Taming your tongue, for example, is critical to cooperating. Conflict containment starts with controlling your speech. You cannot be an effective co-parent without doing so.

“Parents have to remember and accept the fact that while they can end a marriage to someone, they will never stop being parents,” Deal says. “While you may be relieved to be out of the marriage, your children have been in a transitional crisis. How well they recover from that crisis has a lot to do with you, the parents. The key to successful co-parenting is separating the dissolution of your marriage from the parental responsibilities that remain.”

According to Deal, children successfully adjust to the ending of their parents’ marriage and can fare reasonably well if:

  • The parents are able to bring their marital relationship to an end without excessive conflict.
  • Children are not put into the middle of whatever conflicts exist.
  • There is a commitment from parents to cooperate on issues of the children’s material, physical, educational and emotional welfare.

Many ex-spouses have great difficulty cooperating about anything, let alone the nurturing and disciplining of their children. That does not absolve you of the responsibility to try. Your children deserve your best effort.

Co-parenting does not mean sharing all decisions about the children or that either home is accountable to the other for their choices, rules or standards. Each household should be autonomous, but share responsibility for the children. It also does not mean that rules or punishment from one home cross over to the other home.

For example, if your child gets in trouble on Thursday and he loses his television privileges, in an ideal world it would be great if your ex were willing to enforce the consequence over the weekend. That may not happen in reality, so the actual consequence would go into effect when your child returns home to you Sunday evening. Telling your ex that he/she has to enforce your consequence usually leads to more conflict between the two of you and more angst for your child.

Deal believes effective co-parenting should look something like this:

  • Work hard to respect the other parent and his or her household.
  • Schedule a monthly “business” meeting to discuss co-parenting matters. Make a list of things that need to be discussed. A word of caution: Do not discuss your personal life or that of your ex. If the conversation drifts away from the children, redirect it toward your children and their activities, schedules, etc.
  • Never ask your children to be spies or tattle-tales on the other home. The goal is to decrease distress, not create more. If you hear information about what happened while they were with their other parent, listen and stay neutral.
  • When children have confusing or angry feelings toward your ex, don’t capitalize on their hurt and berate the other parent.
  • Children should have everything they need in each home. Don’t make them bring basics back and forth.
  • Try to release your hostility toward the other parent so that the children can’t take advantage of your hard feelings. Bitterness, hurt and anger keep you from being the person and the parent your children need.
  • Do not disappoint your children with broken promises or by being unreliable.

In the midst of a complicated and difficult situation, you have the opportunity to show integrity, honor and respect. Even when you don’t like someone anymore or you don’t think they deserve it, you can still find a way to be respectful.

  • Make your custody structure work for your children even if you don’t like the details of the arrangement.
  • If you plan to hire a babysitter for more than four hours while the children are in your home, give the other parent first rights to that time.
  • Suggest that younger children take a favorite toy or game as a transitional object.
  • If you and your ex cannot resolve a problem, change in custody or visitation, agree to problem-solve through mediation rather than litigation.

Moving On

“The reality is many parents who were poor marriage partners are good parents and their children enjoy them very much,” Deal shares. “Give your ex-spouse the opportunity to be wonderful with the children, even if he/she wasn’t wonderful with you.”

You are traveling in uncharted waters. While you probably have friends who have experienced this and are willing to give you advice, it may not be right for your family.

A father once said that it had been six months since his divorce and it was time for his “kid” to get over it. Children of divorce don’t ever “get over it.” They may learn how to cope with it, but every day for the rest of their lives they will have to make decisions that are a result of their parents’ divorce.

As time goes by, you may feel like you are moving on, adjusting and putting this chapter in your life behind you. However, this is not something your children will ever “put behind them.” At every turn your child will gain new insights and more questions. They must understand the divorce was not their fault. Equally as important is being intentional about modeling healthy relationship skills with your children.

Additional Resources:

The Smart Stepfamily: Seven steps to a Healthy Family – Ron Deal

Parenting After Divorce: How to Work Together with Your Ex-Spouse for Happier, Healthier Children – Ron Deal

The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce – Judith Wallerstein, Julia M. Lewis and Sandra Blakesless

What About the Kids?: Raising Your Children Before, During and After Divorce – Judith Wallerstein and Sandra Blakeslee

Smart Stepfamilies

Looking for more? Check out this video by JulieB TV on this topic!

I was 18 when my father announced he was divorcing my mother. My sister and brother were 13 and 20 respectively.

While some might think that the three of us were old enough to grasp what was going on, our lives were honestly in an absolute tailspin. Sure, we had heard our parents fight, but it never seemed like it was anything major.

Never in a million years would I have suspected they were headed down the road to divorce. If you had asked anyone in our community about the likelihood of my parents splitting, they probably would have laughed in your face. The whole thing was a very big shocker.

“What some people don’t take into consideration is the younger you are when your parents divorce, the more childhood you have left to travel between two parents whose lives become more different with each passing year,” says Elizabeth Marquardt, author of Between Two Worlds: The Inner Lives of Children of Divorce and director of the Center for Marriage and Family at the Institute for American Values.

“The older you are when your parents divorce, the more you have to lose. You have a long experience with your ‘whole’ family. You have (for yourself, the teen) a lifetime of memories, experiences, photographs and stories of YOUR FAMILY. All of that comes apart.”

A World Turned Upside Down

Going through the divorce process was an awkward time, not just for my family, but for friends, youth leaders, teachers, and neighbors. People knew what was happening, but seemed to keep their distance as if they weren’t quite sure what to say.

Just recently I was talking with a childhood friend about my parents’ divorce. She said the divorce shocked her so much that she didn’t know what to say – so she never said anything at all.

As a teenager, I had all these thoughts and feelings rumbling around inside my head and no idea where to turn to sort things out. Furious with my parents and the situation in which I found myself, I wondered how I had missed the severity of the situation and if there was any way I could have helped to prevent the divorce.

I had questions:  

  • “Would we have to move?”
  • “How would I afford college?”
  • “Would we see our father and did I even want to see him?”
  • “What will my friends think of me?”
  • “Why me?”

I would lie awake at night praying that this was just a bad dream and that I would eventually wake up and everything would be just fine.

“Divorce is tremendously painful at any age (even if you are grown and have left home when your parents divorce), but especially so in the vulnerable teen years when you are just looking at the world and imagining taking it on, on your own,” Marquardt says. “You are standing on the rock of your family, about to jump off, but needing to know that the rock is there so you can jump back at any time. But before your eyes the rock fractures in two.

“Teens can be more likely than younger children to get drawn into their parents’ needs and to worry about their parents’ vulnerabilities. And this is occurring at precisely the time when, developmentally, they are supposed to be identifying more with peers than parents. It’s not developmentally appropriate for a teen to spend the weekend ‘visiting’ his father or ‘visiting’ his mother. His parents are supposed to just BE THERE, steady, in the background, while the teen is focusing on other things.”

Teens Need a Strong Support System

In many instances, teens don’t feel like they can talk with their parents about the divorce. I suspect there were many people who wanted to be supportive of me as I went through this tough time, but just didn’t know what to say or how to approach me. Honestly, I think just letting me know they were aware and available if I needed to talk would have been helpful.

“Parents can do their teen a great favor by personally speaking with people who are close to their teen such as grandparents, a beloved aunt or uncle, coach, youth leader or close adult friend letting them know they want their teen to feel free to speak openly about how they’re feeling, even if it means sometimes saying something bad or unflattering about their parents,” Marquardt says.

“Clearly, this is not about family members and the teen joining together in badmouthing the parents, but they do want to give ‘permission’ to the teen and family member to speak openly as the TEEN wishes. Parents need to understand that if this person is not someone the teen already has a close relationship with, the teen is likely just to see them as another adult and unlikely to form a trusting bond during that time, unless the person is especially skilled and empathetic.”

Family members, friends or others who have their own feelings they need to process about the divorce should turn to someone besides the teen, cautions Marquardt.

Local clinical psychologist, Susan Hickman encourages caring adults who find themselves in a position to reach out to teens who are experiencing divorce to consider the following:

  • Be immovable. Provide unlimited, unyielding support at a time when everything seems chaotic.
  • Be patient with their behavior. Remember that teens often express their pain through their behavior versus words. Respond to this with positive regard and consistent support for the child providing gentle limits and correction if needed.
  • Listen, listen, listen. Do more listening than talking. Teens experiencing divorce are in pain and confusion. Someone needs to hear them.
  • Validate their feelings even if you do not agree. Emotions aren’t reasonable. They are expressions of exuberance or distress. Acknowledge their emotions and tell them you understand why they might feel that way.
  • Save judgment or criticism for later. This is a time of repair – being there for them in the midst of distress speaks volumes. Teens need to know you care and that they are worth caring about.
  • Find a teen support group. Support groups for teens experiencing divorce allows them to connect with people their own age in similar circumstances.
  • Time is the key. Giving teens the time they need can sometimes be challenging. Just like there are times when we think people ought to be in a certain place in their grieving process after a death, people often assume that after a certain amount of time kids should just be over the divorce. Sometimes it takes a long time for teens to process what they have been through and for healing to take place.

“Teens going through this very hard time should get the help they need. They should also be encouraged that there are so many great ways to learn about having a good and happy marriage,” Marquardt says. “The pain they are going through is something they can use to inspire them to be a great husband/wife and father/mother some day. There are many children of divorce in happy, lasting marriages and that can be them, too.”

They say time heals all wounds, and I suppose to some degree that is true.

I remember talking to one of my college professors before heading home for Christmas break my freshman year. I did not want to go home. After listening to me for a while, he said, “I know you don’t want to do home. I understand that what you are experiencing is miserable, but you have told me that you plan to be a counselor. And while this is not something I would wish on anybody, what you are experiencing now will be helpful to you later on when you are working with people who are dealing with divorce.”

He was right. I am painfully aware that my parents’ divorce left scars on my life. If there is a positive side to the divorce, it would have to be the tenacious passion I have for having a healthy marriage and for helping teens that are experiencing divorce. They need to know somebody out there cares and is willing to walk the road with them. 

For many years social scientists have been warning society about the cost of family fragmentation. There have been ongoing discussions concerning the impact on children and adults emotionally, educationally, economically, physically and in other areas of life. A 2008 report reveals the economic cost of family fragmentation to taxpayers.

According to The Taxpayer Costs of Divorce and Unwed Childbearing, by the Institute for American Values, The Georgia Family Council, The Institute for Marriage and Public Policy and Families Northwest, divorce and unwed childbearing conservatively cost taxpayers $122 billion annually. The costs are due to:

  • Increased taxpayer expenditures for anti-poverty,
  • Criminal justice and education programs, and
  • Lower levels of tax revenue from those negatively affected by family fragmentation and increased childhood poverty.

“In 1970 the number of children residing in two-parent families was 85 percent,” said Dr. Ben Scafidi, principal investigator for the report. “In 2005, only 68.3 percent of children reside in two-parent families. This is a dramatic decrease over a short amount of time. Clearly we are seeing the impact.”

Long-standing research shows the potential risks to children from broken homes include:

  • Poverty,
  • Mental illness,
  • Physical illness,
  • Infant mortality,
  • Lower educational attainment,
  • Juvenile delinquency,
  • Conduct disorders,
  • Adult criminality, and
  • Early unwed parenthood.

“This report isn’t just about the money; we are talking about real people and real suffering,” said Randy Hicks, president of the Georgia Family Council. “The economic and human costs make family fragmentation a legitimate public concern for all of us. Historically, Americans have resisted the impulse to surrender to negative and hurtful trends. We fight problems like racism, poverty and domestic violence because we understand the stakes are high. And while we’ll never eliminate divorce and unwed childbearing entirely, we can certainly be doing more to help marriages and families succeed.”

The 2008 report sponsors say this is not a slam toward divorced people or single parents. It is purely providing information that we have never had before, and it could be an opportunity for communities to take grassroots prevention efforts to the next level.

So what can YOU do?

  • If you have a teen, encourage them to participate in healthy relationship skills class.
  • If you’re engaged, participate in skill-building classes that teach you how to have a healthy, long-lasting marriage.
  • If you’re in a healthy, long-lasting marriage, encourage newlyweds and offer wisdom along their journey.
  • If you belong to a religious organization, look for ways to engage couples and families in ongoing programming that seeks to meet them where they are and give them skills, hope, words of encouragement and a network from which to draw strength in tough times.
  • If you’re in a business setting, make sure your employees know about community resources and encourage them to take advantage what is available.
  • If your marriage is in trouble or distress, seek help.

It has been said that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. The report states that a 1 percent reduction in rates of family fragmentation would save taxpayers $1.1 billion annually. This doesn’t even take into account the heartache and emotional upheaval that could potentially be prevented if this report is seen as a call to action to the people of our country.