Posts

I don’t know if I can keep doing this (marriage) much longer.” I said this statement at one point in my marriage when things felt like they were falling apart. 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.***

Image from Pexels.com

“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

In The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce: 25 Years of Research, Dr. Judith Wallerstein contends that the major impact of divorce does not occur during childhood or adolescence. Instead, the effects of divorce on children are cumulative. They crescendo in adulthood with the emergence of potentially serious romantic relationships, like when it is time to choose a life mate.

Seventeen years after Wallerstein released her book, Lelia Miller posed a question on social media. She was intrigued by a friend whose parents’ divorce still affected her, even though she is married and has children. So, she asked her Facebook community if anyone would be willing to share about growing up in the shadow of their parents’ divorce.

“Over the course of a few days, more than 100 people said they were willing,” says Miller. “I asked questions such as: What effect has your parents’ divorce had on you, and what is the difference in how you felt about the divorce as a child and how you feel about it as an adult? What do you want to say to people who say children are resilient? What do you want adults in our culture to know about how divorce affects children, and what would you want to say to children?

“Seventy people out of the 100 answered the questions,” Miller says. “Most of them wanted to remain anonymous. The youngest was 22 and the oldest was in her 60s. I was shocked at my ignorance about the complex effects of divorce on children. I never knew that world existed. Their simple yet poignant responses are difficult to read, but not hopeless.”

While Miller does not claim to be a scholar or a researcher, many of the stories in her book, Primal Loss: The Now Adult Children of Divorce Speak, are very similar to what Wallerstein’s research found. Divorce is a life-transforming experience. After divorce, childhood is different. Adolescence is different. Adulthood – with the decision to marry or not and have children or not – is different.

Miller only identifies the storytellers by number. When reading the book, many contributors read someone else’s story thinking it was their own.

“They were shocked to find out that many others had similar issues and circumstances,” Miller says. “One participant in her 50s shared that her parents divorced when she was 9. She said, ‘I still don’t know who I am supposed to be. I am one way with my mom and her side of the family and another way with my father and his side of the family. How do you maintain that?’

“Another shared about being ‘that girl on the soccer field.’ She always had to think about who she would hug first when she came off the field for fear of making someone angry or upset. She recalled a time when she had to get an X-ray after a game. Only one person could go with her. She almost had a panic attack trying to decide who to ask. Her stepmother was offended when she asked her mother to go.”

After reading the book, one lady asked her 35-year-old male friend how he felt about his parents’ divorce. Stunned, he said nobody had ever asked him how he felt about it.

“That was a common theme for most of the respondents,” Miller asserts. “Many were told ‘it was for the best.’ In fact, one woman recalled jumping up and down in the front yard saying, ‘We’re getting a divorce!’ honestly believing it was something good. I was actually shocked at the number of adults who were scared their parents would learn they had participated in the book. Many of the 70 are still in turmoil even after being in a really good marriage for 20 years.”

Miller does not imply that someone should remain in an abusive situation, nor is she saying that if your parents divorced you’re automatically going to have issues. She knows that many who found themselves divorced did not want it and were doing their best to cope. That doesn’t negate the impact on the children, however.

“So many adults desperately want to believe their child will come through a divorce unscathed,” Miller shares. “Nobody who answered my questions was unscathed. They felt like they had to go along with the narrative or be silent. That was the unnerving part.”

Miller’s work is not a scholarly research piece, but it is an honest representation of personal stories from adult children of divorce. Readers will definitely get a sense of divorce’s impact on kids. These men and women have much to say about their experience after years of reflecting on a question no one ever thought to ask them – until now.

***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.***