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Marriage expert and creator of divorcebusting.com, Michele Weiner-Davis, and her husband, Jim, have been married for more than 30 years. Since Weiner-Davis is an expert, you might assume that marriage would be easy.

“Expert or not, marriage is hard work,” says Weiner-Davis. “At times you consider quitting. Creating a lasting marriage is a humbling experience. It is part skill, part luck, elbow grease and blind determination.”

Having devoted her life work to helping couples, Weiner-Davis knows that all marriages go through stages and predictable crises.

“All couples experience hills and valleys, yet predictable transitional periods are often misunderstood, causing overreactions,” Weiner-Davis says. “Those who weather these universal stormy periods usually end up with greater love and commitment to their spouses.”

Though all marriages are unique, most marriages experience five predictable stages.

Passion typically fills the first stage of marriage. Starry-eyed in love with your mate, you finish each other’s sentences and usually overlook annoying things. At no other time in your relationship is your feeling of well-being and physical desire for each other as intense. The newness and excitement of the relationship stimulates production of chemicals in your bodies that increase energy, positive attitudes, heighten sexuality and sensuality.

Joy ultimately gives way to an awakening; marriage isn’t what you expected.

Enter stage two. This is when reality sets in. Little things start to bother you like stinky breath in the morning, toilet seats left up, stuff strewn on the counter and forgetting to pay bills. You argue a lot. Reminding yourself you made a life-long commitment, you start to understand the real meaning of eternity.

“While feeling at odds with your once-kindred spirit, you are faced with making life-altering decisions,” Weiner-Davis shares. “Should we have children, where to live, who will support the family, who pays the bills and who will do the cooking? Spouses often start to feel like members of opposing teams.”

Then comes stage three. At this point, most people believe there are two ways of looking at things, your spouse’s way and your way. Couples battle to get their partner to admit they are wrong. Every disagreement is an opportunity to define the marriage. Both partners dig in their heels.

“Convinced they’ve tried everything, many couples give up, telling themselves they’ve fallen out of love or married the wrong person. Other people resign themselves to the situation and lead separate lives together. Still others decide it’s time to investigate healthier and more satisfying ways of interacting. Requiring a major leap of faith, those who take it are the fortunate ones because the best of marriage is yet to come.”

During stage four, couples realize seeing eye-to-eye on everything is unlikely. They work to live more peaceably. They seek wise counsel from close friends and family, and marriage seminars or counseling. Hardheadedness is easier to forgive as each person recognizes that neither party is exactly easy to live with. When disagreements occur, couples try to put themselves in each other’s shoes more often. They recognize they have to accept the good and the bad. Fights happen less frequently and are not as intense or emotional as before.

Finally, stage five.

“Many couples never get to this stage,” Weiner-Davis states. “No longer struggling to define what the marriage should be, there is more peace and harmony. You start ‘liking’ your spouse again. While both agree marriage hasn’t been easy, there is shared history and you feel proud you’ve weathered the storms. You appreciate your partner’s sense of commitment to making your marriage last. You begin to appreciate differences between you and your spouse. What you don’t appreciate, you find greater acceptance for. You realize you have come full circle.”

This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on February 8, 2015.

***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.***

David H. Olson, founder of Life Innovations and one of the creators of the Prepare/Enrich marriage enrichment tools, has surveyed 21,501 married couples in all 50 states to identify the top ten strengths of happy marriages.

Research shows the strongest couples are those who have strong communication skills, a clear sense of closeness as a couple, flexibility, personal compatibility and good conflict management skills.

In strong marriages, there is a balance between separateness and togetherness. These couples make togetherness a top priority, ask each other for help, like doing things together, and spend most of their free time together.

  1. Partners are satisfied with communication.
  2. Partners handle their differences creatively.
  3. They feel very close to each other.
  4. Spouses are not controlling.
  5. Partners discuss their problems well.
  6. They are satisfied with the affection they show and receive in the marriage.
  7. There is a good balance of time alone and together.
  8. Family and friends rarely interfere.
  9. Partners agree on how to spend money.
  10. Partners agree on spiritual beliefs.

***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.***

Tired of the so-so communication in your marriage? 

Check out this hefty DIGITAL E-BOOK by Marriage Researchers & Therapists

Inside, you’ll find:

  • How and why you and your spouse communicate differently, and what to do about it
  • 5 proven listening techniques that will pump up the intimacy in your relationship
  • 4 ways to start and end difficult conversations well
  • 5 ways you may be hindering communication with your spouse without realizing it
  • AND MORE!

PLUS! Every section has an easy, no-stress discussion guide created for you and your partner to build the communication you want in your marriage.

As people marry later in life, many are bringing long-term opposite-sex friendships into their marriage relationship. While the friendships were great during singlehood, in marriage, it can be hard to know if these opposite-sex friends are ok.

“I think it is OK for married people to have opposite-sex friends,” says Lisa Stewart. “However, I believe out of respect for your spouse that even if you were close friends before the marriage, there ought to be strong boundaries around that relationship.

“For example, I would not be comfortable with my husband meeting a woman for coffee on a regular basis to talk about what is going on in his life. That is a conversation he ought to be having with me.”

“It is possible for married people to have healthy opposite-sex friendships,” says Dr. Todd E. Linaman, founder of Relational Advantage. “However, give special consideration to a number of factors that, if ignored, can potentially threaten your marriage.”

Wondering whether or not a close friendship with someone of the opposite-sex poses a threat to your marriage? If so, Linaman offers 20 questions for you to answer. Here are a few of them:

  • Is your mate unaware of your opposite-sex friendship?
  • Would you behave differently around your friend if your partner were present?
  • Would you feel uncomfortable if your fiancé or spouse had the same quality of friendship with someone of the opposite sex?
  • Do you have a physical and/or emotional attraction to your friend?
  • Do you ever compare your mate to your friend?
  • Have you ever entertained romantic fantasies about your friend?
  • Do you and your friend ever exchange highly personal details about your lives or complain about your relationships to each other?

“If you answered ‘yes’ to one or more of the questions above, your opposite-sex friendship may be a real threat to the quality of your marriage,” Linaman says. “It may even be in the best interest of your marriage to either significantly limit or actually end your close friendship.”

An informal survey shows that both married men and women were uncomfortable with their spouse having close friendships with the opposite sex. Not all opposite-sex friendships are dangerous, but it is important to err on the side of caution. It is helpful to discuss the nature of your friendship on a regular basis with your spouse. If not kept in check, a totally innocent relationship could end up causing unnecessary harm to your marriage.

“I think it is OK to have friendships with the opposite sex. But I don’t share with other women what I haven’t shared with my wife,” says Will Honeycutt. “I think sometimes it is healthy to get input from another female. But on a regular basis I should not be sharing intimate issues with a woman who is not my wife.”

Here are Linaman’s tips to help you manage opposite-sex friendships so they don’t threaten your marriage relationship:

  • Develop and consistently nurture a “best friend” relationship with your mate.
  • Develop and consistently nurture close same-sex friendships.
  • Make sure your spouse knows your friend. Also, be certain your mate is completely comfortable with the type and level of interaction you have with him/her.
  • Honor your spouse’s wishes concerning your friendship – even if it means ending it.
  • Avoid establishing close friendships with opposite-sex singles.
  • Avoid close opposite-sex friendships if you are struggling in your marriage relationship.
  • Address unmet needs and unresolved anger in your marriage with your spouse in an open, honest and timely fashion.

While opposite-sex friendships do have the potential to create problems in a marriage, these friendships can enhance your relationship with your spouse if appropriate boundaries are in place. 

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***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.***

Want to take date night up a notch?

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Cohabitation has been a hot topic of conversation for many years. In the 60s and 70s very few couples lived together before marriage. Today, more than 60 percent of couples cohabit before marrying. Numerous reputable studies, however, find that couples who cohabit prior to marriage significantly increase their risk for divorce.

In April 2012, a New York Times piece addressed the downside of cohabitation. It said that couples who cohabit before marriage (and especially before an engagement or an otherwise clear commitment) tend to have less-satisfying marriages — and are more likely to divorce — than couples who live apart before marriage.

Researchers call these negative outcomes “the cohabitation effect.”

Prior to the NYT piece, the March 2012 Christian Science Monitor touted “new research” that was part of a Centers for Disease Control survey of 22,000 men and women, focusing on marriage and divorce and what makes a good marriage. It suggested that times have changed from when cohabitation before marriage signaled higher chances for divorce later. The study’s lead author, Casey Copen, says that cohabitation plays a smaller role in predicting divorce than it used to.

So does cohabitation harm your chances of marriage? Does it increase the risk of divorce?

“I would tell people to hit the pause button before they run out and encourage friends to start shacking up,” says Glenn Stanton, author of The Ring Makes All the Difference: The Hidden Consequences of Cohabitation and the Strong Benefits of Marriage. “A wealth of data suggests that the significant negative impact of cohabiting has not disappeared into the ozone.”

Stanton points out that the Christian Science Monitor did not cite a study on cohabitation. Instead, it cited a study examining first marriages in the United States.

“This is only one study in a long, impressive and robust body of research showing that cohabitation is generally associated with greater divorce risk in marriage,” Stanton says. “In fact, the study actually acknowledges that it has been well-documented that women and men who cohabit with their future spouse are more likely to divorce compared with the non-cohabiting marrieds.”

Stanton cites a particular study about cohabitation’s negative impact on both marital quality and marital longevity. The negative impact did not wane as cohabitation has gained social acceptance.

But does “social acceptance” mean that living together before marriage is a positive thing?

For example, smoking cigarettes was not only socially acceptable in the past. In fact, it was the cool thing to do for years. Then research revealed that smoking, and even second-hand smoke, causes lung cancer. While not everybody who smokes gets lung cancer, the risk was great enough to make people think twice.

If a lifelong, healthy marriage is your goal, consider the evidence. There is more than enough of it to support that living together before marriage may put your relationship at risk.

Chattanooga Times Free Press originally published this article on May 6, 2012.

Image from Unsplash.com

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Distinguished professor and author Dr. Pat Love challenges each of us to consider our beliefs about the permanence of marriage.

“According to research, 95 percent of young people still want marriage and children as an ideal, but more people are living single than ever before,” says Love. “The median length of marriage today is eight years.

“Three out of four people say that marriage isn’t about family, it’s about me. Twenty-nine percent of married people say they are lonely. Just listening to these statistics can be extremely discouraging. Perhaps we need to change the way we think about marriage. Maybe marriage isn’t for everybody.”

For just a moment, think about the day you said, “I do.” When you were ready to make a commitment, what did you believe about your fiancé, yourself and marriage?

While looking at this research, Love found that there are four beliefs that couples must have that significantly impact the chances of having a long-lasting marriage.

  • You have to believe in the permanence and purpose of your marriage. “One study showed an increasing number of people no longer believed in the permanence of marriage as an ideal,” Love says. “This shocked me. Participants didn’t believe it could or would happen, and didn’t feel a commitment or obligation to make it happen. Another study showed that in 45-plus year marriages, the happiness level is like a U-curve. It bottoms out around the 20th year. If you hang in there, believe, hold the image that it will happen and are committed to making it happen, your happiness quotient then starts going up and keeps going up.” Additionally, Love asserts that you need to have purpose for your marriage. “We make goals for our weight, grades, work, etc. We need goals for marriage too.”
  • You must have romance AND realism in your marriage. “The criteria for dating is different than mating,” Love says. “When you focus more on romance, you miss an important part of marriage. If you focus on the ‘Hollywood love’ you will miss the challenges. Marriage is harder to maintain than ever before due to greater expectations and stressors. Part of the realism is believing in the romance, and the reality that investing in home improvement may not be a new bathroom; it might mean a trip somewhere fun. If the couple isn’t happy, it is unlikely the family will stay together.”
  • You have to believe in health and wealth. “Healthily married people live longer – it doesn’t just feel like it, they do,” Love says. “Married people recover from illness and diseases quicker. You have to believe that a good marriage is part of good mental health and physical healthcare.” And, research shows that money habits predict stability in marriage. How you manage budgets and work together is vital to the health of a marriage.
  • You have to believe in sacrifice and sanctity. When you are selfless and willing to sacrifice at your own cost, you become happier and more committed to your marriage. It’s not enough to have the wealth. There must be generosity also, and a belief that sacrifice is sacred, never to be dishonored.

So, marriage may not be for everybody. Perhaps it is just for those who believe.

***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.***