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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. It’s 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.”

***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.***

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, originally 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?

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

Arielle Kuperberg, a sociologist at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro, claims that her findings on premarital cohabitation debunk 30 years of research. Kuperberg believes her study shows that couples who cohabit before marrying are no more likely to divorce than anyone else.

Since the 1960s, there has been a 900 percent global increase in cohabitation. Many people believe that not living together before marriage is a huge mistake. However, there is still no clear evidence that cohabitation helps to create family stability.

It is a huge deal to claim you have debunked decades worth of study with one piece of research.

The University of Denver’s Dr. Scott Stanley, and others, have conducted research on this issue for years. In his blog, slidingvsdeciding.com, Stanley breaks down many of the myths surrounding cohabitation and marriage.

“At the heart of it, Kuperberg asserts that scores of researchers have had it wrong for decades, and that maybe there never has been an association between cohabiting and marriage and divorce,” Stanley writes in a recent post. “She asserts that what was misunderstood all these years is that cohabiters are more likely to divorce, not because they cohabited, but because they tended to start living together when they were too young to either be making a wise choice in a mate or to take on the roles of marriage. This logic is akin to the well-replicated, robust finding that marrying young is associated with greater odds of divorce. Given that, why wouldn’t moving in together at a young age also be a problem?”

Great question.

Kuperberg’s study does not show that living together before marriage decreases divorce. At best, it may show that cohabiting before marriage does not increase the risk of divorce for some couples.

Stanley’s blog describes some of the issues with premarital cohabitation. These matters can cause difficulty forming lasting love in marriage.

If you’re considering living together, you just might want to think about them:

  • Serial cohabitation is associated with greater risk for divorce. Cohabiting with more than just your future spouse is linked to poorer marital outcomes.
  • Cohabiting with your eventual mate before having clear, mutual plans for marriage correlates to lower marital satisfaction and higher divorce risk. Couples who currently live together and have clear plans for marriage have stronger relationships.
  • Cohabiting without a mutual and clear intention to marry is on the rise. Unmarried, cohabiting women have greater rates of unplanned pregnancies than married women.
  • Living together often creates constraints that make it harder to break up. Yet, the kind of dedication most strongly associated with happy, strong relationships levels off.

You can read Stanley’s entire blog post here.

If this topic is relevant to you, don’t buy Kuperberg’s research hook, line and sinker. Learn more about all the research related to cohabitation. Then, consider how it might impact your life and the ones you love.

Image from Unsplash.com

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.”

Does Divorce Lead to Happiness?

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). Researchers interviewed the couples 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: a spouse losing their job—creating financial strain in the marriage, the challenges of raising children—leaving 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.

Looking for more? Check out this episode of JulieB TV on this topic!

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear 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.***

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. 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 stayed 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 divorces don’t have to be 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, 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.

***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 can you make visitation count? Many divorced parents face the reality of divided time with their children. Arrangements vary from weekend visitation to splitting time with each parent right down the middle. This often creates problems between the two homes: sometimes one parent is strict and the other is lenient, one parent may try to fill both parental roles, or perhaps one parent’s home is like a vacation spot.

Occasionally, parents refuse to work together for the good of the children out of spite for each other. This sets up an environment of competition, guilt and resentment, according to stepfamily expert, Elizabeth Einstein.

How can you work together for the best interest of your child?

First, you must put your issues aside. It is helpful if both of you:

  • Complete a joint-parenting plan and agree on expectations and limits so that your child can’t manipulate you;
  • Work as a team to provide consistency for the children;
  • Agree not to degrade or talk negatively about each other even though you might still have unresolved issues and anger;
  • Allow the children to talk about their feelings while listening and comforting them, as they also are going through a very difficult time; and
  • Try to make home as normal a place as possible.

Each of you should have a plan in place for how to spend your time with the children.

  • Remember to make sure it is not necessarily all fun and games, but give them the freedom to learn and get to know you better, just as they would if they lived with you all the time. It is important that the parent-child relationship does not only become one of playmate, peer or buddy when visitation time comes, but one of bonding.
  • Mentally prepare yourself for the visitation, and do not expect your kids to be cheerful and happy all the time. They are going through adjustments that will affect them for the rest of their lives.
  • Remember, no one is perfect. Do the best you know how to do. Work with your children to establish new traditions. Stick to the agreements in the joint-parenting plan, and above all, be consistent during the special times you have with your children.

“When I go out with a woman I can always tell on the first date if she’s from a divorced family,” says a young man. “The women from divorced families are over-anxious, eager to please. They’re exhausting.” (The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce)

“My parents have been married thirty-five years and I want a long marriage like they’ve had. I love my boyfriend, but he’s from a divorced family and, I don’t know, it just seems like he had to be a lot more independent growing up than I ever was. Frankly, it worries me.” (Between Two Worlds)

As a researcher and an adult child of divorce, Elizabeth Marquardt is all too familiar with statements like these.

“I will never forget a conversation I had with my ex-stepfather about the possibility of marrying the man I was dating at the time,” says Marquardt. “He suggested that because of my parents’ track record on marriage, that I might not make great marriage material. I was devastated, angry and scared.”

Ask a group of people what their chances are of making it in a lasting marriage.

Practically everyone will say they have a 50/50 chance of making it. Additionally, many have heard that coming from a divorced home puts you at an even higher risk for divorce.

“For a new generation of children of divorce leaving home and looking for love, I know the anxieties are there,” Marquardt says. “It is really hard to do a dance you have never seen before. But I don’t think it is totally fair to look at adult children of divorce as ‘damaged goods.’ I am 14 years into marriage with two happy kids. I have definitely had to learn some things about building a healthy relationship, including the fact that some days the way you make your marriage successful is by putting one foot in front of the other.”

Marquardt agrees that divorce on average makes life much harder for kids and for the adults that they become. She cautions people, however, against making the children bear the burdens of their parents’ decisions.

She contends that:

  • Many adult children of divorce want to work extra hard at making a marriage work. They don’t want to go through what their parents went through.
  • Despite what you may hear in the media, 80-90 percent of Americans say they want to marry at some point.
  • There are approximately 40 percent of adult children of divorce ages 18-40. Research shows they can learn skills to help them be great marriage partners.

“To those who have married parents, hear this: We children of divorce value marriage because we know what life is like when it’s gone,” Marquardt says. “We grew up fast and we know how to take care of ourselves. Many of us are, frankly, quite wonderful. Marry us.”

Image from Unsplash.com

Creating smooth transitions into co-parenting can seem nearly impossible. When Catherine* and her husband separated, their children were 3, 7 and 9.

The couple’s separation and divorce was amicable. They were friendly, worked well together, and took turns if one of them needed child care. Catherine often thought that if they could have gotten along that well when married, they would have never divorced.

After about nine months, however, the relationship became ugly. The parents couldn’t be in the same room without arguing or fighting horribly.

“I will never forget the time my youngest was clinging to me and crying, saying he didn’t want to go,” Catherine says. “I had to peel him from my body, hand him to his daddy, turn around and go in the house and throw up. Sometime later he said, ‘I don’t want to go, but if I cry it doesn’t matter.’ I told him that was right. It nearly ripped my heart out.”

People often think that if they are reasonable the ex will be reasonable, but that’s not always the case. Smooth transitions and difficult ex-spouses don’t tend to go together. The challenge for co-parents is to set aside personal issues and focus on the parental issues at hand. The goal is to make transition times as smooth as possible. In some instances you just have to be decent.

“I frequently remind people that some of what happens during a transition is up to you and some is not,” says Ron Deal, author of The Smart Stepfamily and the web book, Parenting After Divorce at successfulstepfamilies.com. “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 possessions – their children.”

Here are Deal’s suggestions for diminishing conflict in co-parenting through transitions:

  • Write down your goal for the parental task at hand on a 3×5 card. Whether it is making a phone call to determine drop-off arrangements or talking in person about an issue at school, script out what you want to say. This will help you stick to the topic and hopefully achieve your goal.
  • Keep the conversation civil and nonreactive. Maybe you are calling about visitation arrangements and the other parent brings up something else. Instead of changing topics, perhaps you could respond with, “I know that is a problem -what time should I pick him up?”
  • Avoid putting your child in a position to choose between one home or the other.
  • Schedule a monthly “business” meeting to discuss co-parenting matters.
  • Be reliable. Don’t disappoint your children with broken promises.
  • Make your custody structure work for your children even if you don’t like the details of the arrangement.

“It is common for couples to move in and out of higher levels of cooperation,” Deal says. “Things are usually worse right after the divorce. Your goal is to create a strong boundary between old marital issues and the current parental relationship.”

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

*Name was changed.