Articles for Married Couples

Everything listed under: divorce

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    How to Find a Good Marriage Counselor

    In 30-plus years of working with couples and listening to why they have decided to divorce, the reasons include things you would expect to hear such as infidelity, lack of commitment, financial issues, too much conflict, the stress of caring for children with special needs, the impact of the death of a child, substance abuse and physical abuse.*

    Reasons that might catch you off guard are health issues. Sometimes the spouse is too overwhelmed by the health issues of their partner. In other situations, the couple is still very much in love, but the medical bills are draining their life savings. Divorcing makes it possible for them to manage the financial burden. In-laws without boundaries is another reason couples cite for making the decision to divorce.

    Many couples say they just can’t keep living like they have been living and they have done all they know to do. Statistics indicate that only 30% of divorces are due to affairs, addiction or abuse. In 70% of divorces, couples cite disconnectedness even though they love but are not “in love” with their spouse anymore.

    If you find yourself considering divorce, there are some important things for you to think about. Even though you have tried everything you know and nothing has worked to change your relationship, that doesn’t mean you have tried everything. Marriage intensives, one-day experiences specifically designed for couples experiencing distress, and phone coaching are all available and have excellent success rates.

    After trying everything they knew to try and change their relationship, one couple went to tell their pastor they were calling it quits, but he asked them if they would be willing to try just one more thing: a one-day class specifically for couples in distress. They reluctantly agreed, but as a result, they tore up their divorce papers and haven’t looked back. They are now empty-nesters and their marriage is thriving. What they know now is they needed information, tools and a different perspective on how to get out of the ditch they were in. They have no regrets.

    Keep in mind that just because someone has “marriage and family therapist” or “counselor” behind their name does not mean they are for your marriage. Most marital therapists are specifically trained to be nondirective or neutral. The following suggestions can help you choose a counselor whose goal is to keep your marriage intact, if possible:

    • Before setting up the first appointment, ask certain questions to make sure the counselor will help you accomplish your goals of making the marriage mutually fulfilling.
    • Ask to schedule a 10-15 minute phone interview. If the counselor is unwilling to have an initial phone conversation, eliminate that counselor from consideration.
    • During the interview, ask: 
    1. What is your goal for our marriage? (Answer: To help you both achieve marital fulfillment, and save your marriage).
    2. What are your credentials and years of experience in marriage counseling? (Answer: a graduate degree in mental health (Master’s or Doctorate in Psychology or Social Work, with clinical supervision in marriage counseling).
    3. Briefly explain your problem, then ask if they have experience helping couples overcome that problem, and ask for their success rate in dealing with your particular issue. (Answer: Experience helping couples overcome that particular problem with more than 75% success).

    After both spouses speak to a few potential counselors, choose the one you both feel most comfortable with and set up your first appointment.  

    Every marriage goes through challenging seasons. If you are unhappy in your marriage, you might want to pay attention to who you are spending time around and exercise caution in who you allow to speak into your marriage. People can be sincere in what they say, but sincerely wrong in the advice they give. Hanging out with people who are recently divorced, dissatisfied in their marriage or unhappy with life in general can place you at higher risk for becoming more dissatisfied and ultimately lead you to believe divorce is your only/best option when it really isn’t.

    *If abuse is an issue in your marriage, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233 or visit thehotline.org.

    This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on October 25, 2019.


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    What People Are Thinking About Marriage

    What people believe about marriage may surprise you.

    At the 2019 NARME Summit in Nashville, Dr. Scott Stanley shared what people really think about marriage using the latest marriage and cohabitation research.

    If you’ve heard that married couples have a 50% chance of eventually divorcing, did you know that this statistic pertains specifically to Baby Boomers - the most divorcing generation ever in U.S. history? The news is better for those marrying today - their lifetime risk for divorce is only around 38%.

    Before you get too excited about the divorce rate decrease though, it would be important to know that the marriage rate has also decreased. 

    WHAT MARRIAGE LOOKS LIKE TODAY

    According to Stanley, demographers and sociologists wonder whether people are marrying later or if a historic number of younger people just won’t marry. Some think marriage will bounce back, while others think the younger generations are afraid of or disinterested in marriage. 

    This is quite perplexing when research, including the U.S. General Social Survey, indicates that around 95% of people say they are “pretty happy” or “very happy” in their marriage. Stanley says it’s possible that people are happy, but that when things go south, they may do so very quickly.

    The average age of first marriage is currently 30 for men and 28 for women, but many who have young adult children or grandchildren are often puzzled by this delay in marriage. Boomers and Gen Xers reflect on their own young adulthood and realize that not only were they married in their early to mid-20s, but they also had children and jobs.

    So what’s up with the delay? Stanley likens it to people milling around the airport who aren’t all there for the same reason. 

    THREE TYPES OF SINGLES

    1. Seekers: Some are there seeking the one perfect person who will be perfectly attuned to them. Stanley cautions these seekers to examine if they are unrealistically seeking perfection from someone when they aren’t perfect themselves.
    2. Determined Delayers: The “determined delayers” at the airport might eventually be seeking “the one,” but are uninterested in finding them, at least for now. They say they want to get married - but maybe in five years or so. These delayers are either having fun trying out several relationships or are enjoying being uninvolved romantically.
    3. Wanderers: Then there are the wanderers, who aren’t looking for a relationship or preventing one either. If they get into a relationship and it works, they could easily end up married.

    It’s when a seeker starts dating a determined delayer and doesn’t know it that things can get complicated. Stanley says ambiguity can lead one person in the dating relationship to believe that the other is more interested in marriage than they really are.

    THE COMPETITION TO COMMITMENT

    According to Stanley, the number one competitor to commitment in a relationship is how good your alternatives are and your awareness of them. People who carry a lot of relationship experience into marriage tend to think, “I hope this works, but if it doesn’t, there are other fish in the sea.”

    “Marriage for many people has moved from being a cornerstone to your life to a capstone,” Stanley shares. “Instead of being foundational, it is a major achievement as a status symbol.”

    Yet, the 2018 American Family Survey (AFS) indicates that 64 percent of us believe that marriage makes families and children better off financially. A large majority believes that marriage is needed to create strong families, and that society is better off when more people are married. The percentage of people who believe marriage is old-fashioned and outdated hovers in the mid-teens.

    KEY TAKEAWAYS

    • If there is a benefit in delaying marriage, Stanley believes that perhaps people are self-insuring to protect themselves from potential loss. However, the downside of that means they are doubling down on individualism versus interdependence.
    • Friends used to connect their friends to their future mate, but the data shows that more people are meeting online instead. If people wisely use these online systems to look for someone who is a better fit instead of being limited to only the people in their community, this is good news for relationships. Stanley says people need to think about what they are looking for and intentionally surround themselves with people who share their values.
    • People are wrestling with the idea of marriage for various reasons. When the AFS asked what was essential to living a fulfilled life, marriage was the lowest thing on the list. A good living, education and a rewarding job were at the top. It could be that people are thinking if they have those three things, their chances of making marriage work are greater, but no one knows for sure.

    In The Atlantic piece, What You Lose When You Gain a Spouse, Mandy Len Catron contends that marriage is socially isolating, marriage is no longer what many want, there is too much emphasis on marriage and commitment is really the main thing, not marriage.  

    Research does indicate singles are more socially connected than marrieds, and they tend to have a broader community. When people marry, they do tend to invest their time and energy into their marriage. However, couples who know that marriage could become socially isolating can be intentional about building social connectedness and community.

    THREE QUESTIONS TO CLARIFY COMMITMENT IN A RELATIONSHIP OUTSIDE OF MARRIAGE

    For those who align with Mandy Len Catron, Stanley offers three questions that are important to ask.

    1. Have you both agreed to a lifetime of commitment to each other?
    2. Have you publicly declared the depth of your commitment to those who matter most in your lives?
    3. Have you agreed to be faithful to each other for the rest of your lives?

    The answers to these questions can help determine the trajectory of the relationship, for better or for worse.

    This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on August 9, 2019.

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    5 Ways to Help Prevent Gray Divorce

    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.


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    How Family Structure Impacts Loneliness

    For decades, concern has been expressed about how family breakdown impacts children, but the future impact on adults hasn’t received much attention. That's changing.

    In 2018, a Cigna study set off alarms about loneliness and its potential root causes as it indicated loneliness is at epidemic proportions in America. 

    In an article for City Journal, Kay Hymowitz, William E. Simon Fellow at the Manhattan Institute and author of Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men into Boys and The New Brooklyn: How to Bring a City Back, addresses how the rise in the breakdown of the family has created an increase in kinlessness. This phenomenon is impacting older adults in profound ways.

    Hymowitz cites studies, including one by Ashton M. Verdery and Rachel Margolis, that showed a surge in the number of “kinless” older adults. 

    “A jump in the number of never-married and divorced adults is also part of the kinlessness story,” writes Hymowitz. “Baby boomers were the first generation to divorce in large numbers, and they continue to split up even as they amble into their golden years, giving rise to the phenomenon known as “gray divorce.”

    Hymowitz also cites Robert Putnam’s work Bowling Alone, where Putnam raised the caution flag about the decline people were experiencing in social capital, especially the likelihood that boomers would experience a lonelier old age than the greatest generation before them. 

    Divorced people don’t typically have ex-spouses who are willing to take care of them in their old age or illness, nor do stepchildren typically care for stepparents as they would care for their biological parent. Even biological parents who walked away from their children now find themselves navigating old age alone

    Verdery and Margolis summarize their findings: “Evidence is accumulating that the legacy of divorce and remarriage has a long reach straining intergenerational relationships and suppressing the support that divorced parents, stepparents and remarried biological parents might expect from their children later in life.”

    Additionally, Hymowitz mentions cohabitation as a key ingredient in the rise of kinlessness.

    “Superficially, cohabitation looks roughly equivalent to marriage; couples live together as ‘husband and wife,’ sharing a bed, living space, meals and in many cases children, but without the ring and city-hall certificate,” Hymowitz says. She asserts that the increase in couples who are living together has added to the fragility of post-transition relations.

    Consider this: Cohabiting couples break up faster and more often than married couples. Separated, cohabiting fathers are more likely to withdraw from their children’s lives than divorced dads. Cohabiting and single parents have looser ties to their own parents and friends than marrieds. Plus, the Cigna study found that single parents are about the loneliest Americans.

    “Even evolutionary-psychology skeptics, might notice that though marriage has shape-shifted over the centuries and across cultures, it has always defined those people - spouses, parents, children, grandparents, siblings, in-laws - to whom we owe special attention and mutual protection,” Hymowitz says. “Marriage creates kin; cohabitation does not. Some of the most crucial obligations of kinship have always been to tend to the sick and to bury the dead.”

    It is worth noting that even today, the vast majority of unpaid caretaking of the aging in the U.S. is done by relatives, according to Putnam. Hymowitz surmises that a lot of what’s happening is due to a change in our understanding of what the family is and its purpose. Hymowitz points out that kinless elders are often hoarders who hang on to every stray electric bill, used coffee cup or odd bit of broken furniture. They cling to their stuff for lack of meaningful human interaction.

    “Uprootedness uproots everything except the need for roots,” wrote American historian Christopher Lasch. Hymowitz believes one of our greatest challenges is to communicate that need to coming generations before they make decisions that will further fragment their lives and communities.

    In conclusion, Hymowitz reminds us that the policy discussions about the troubles of the American working class and poor center on vocational and technical education, higher-paying and reliable jobs and benefits. These are necessary efforts, but they are not enough to counter the loneliness, kinlessness and despair crushing so many spirits. There must be what Tom Wolfe called a “great relearning” about how to satisfy the human longing for continuity and connection.

    This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on June 14, 2019.

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    The Impact of Divorce and Unwed Childbearing on You

    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.

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    5 Myths About Marriage

    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. Marriage is 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.”

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    Good News About Marriage and the Divorce Rate

    Shaunti Feldhahn, Harvard grad and ground-breaking social researcher, has worked on Capitol Hill and Wall Street. She currently uses her analytical skills to investigate changes impacting family and workplace relationships.

    “For the last eight years, I have been analyzing what the numbers say about marriage, divorce and remarriage in America,” says Feldhahn. “This started by accident as I was working on a newspaper column and wanted to correctly cite the divorce rate. But I found numbers that didn’t match the discouraging conventional wisdom at all. This piqued my curiosity and sent me down a totally different research path.”

    What Feldhahn found was shocking. Although researchers continue to project that half of marriages will end in divorce (relying in part on a government study that primarily focused on a high-risk group), we have never come close to hitting that average for society as a whole.

    Instead, according to the Census Bureau’s 2009 SIPP report, 71 percent of women are still married to their first spouse. The 29 percent who aren’t includes those widowed, not just divorced. Feldhahn estimates that roughly 20-25 percent of first marriages have ended in divorce. Even among baby boomers who have the highest divorce rate, seven in 10 marriages are still intact!

    “This is huge,” Feldhahn says. “We have a culture-wide feeling of futility about marriage because for years all of us - including me - have said that 50 percent of marriages end in divorce. But that sense of discouragement makes it so easy to give up. We have to change the conventional wisdom so people know that most marriages last a lifetime.”

    Additional findings from Feldhahn’s research indicate:

    • Most marriages are happy – on average, 80 percent are happy.

    • The vast majority of remarriages survive.

    • The divorce rate is not the same in the church – among those who attend church regularly, divorce drops by 25-50 percent.

    • Marriage isn’t as complicated as people think – small changes can make a big difference.

    “I’ve done seven nationally representative studies of men, women and marriage. The common denominator in whether a marriage survives or fails is whether the couple has a sense of hope or futility,” Feldhahn says. “Feeling ‘We’re going to make it’ leads to a different outcome than, ‘This is never going to get better.’ So instead of believing it is futile to try, couples need to know that millions of marriages in our country are thriving. And that is the norm.”

    Feldhahn acknowledges that plenty of marriage problems still exist. But her surveys also show that the big ticket items, such as addiction, abuse or affairs, do not cause most marriage problems. Instead, most of the time husbands and wives care about each other and try hard, but in the wrong areas. They end up sabotaging a perfectly good marriage.

    “This means that it is less complicated than people think to get it right; it’s not rocket science,” Feldhahn says. “The most important thing couples can do is commit to making their marriage work, believe the best of their spouse’s intentions toward them, and make sure they have the right tools in their tool belt as they go through their marriage.” 


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    Divorce vs. Conscious Uncoupling

    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, is 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?

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    Does Divorce Lead to Happiness?

    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.”

    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). The couples were interviewed 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 included: a spouse losing their job creating financial strain in the marriage, the challenges of raising children which left 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!


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    Does Marriage Get Better Over Time?

    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 and 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 had been 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 many divorces are not 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, wondering if it’s worth it to stick around, 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.

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    How to Select a Marriage Counselor

    It was an all-too-familiar conversation. Jody went to see a marriage counselor hoping to receive guidance for getting her marriage back on track.

    “After seeing the counselor twice, he told us, ‘You have three choices. You can separate for a period of time, file for divorce or keep on working,’” says Jody. “We were looking for someone to work with us on a specific plan for our marriage. Instead, we got a totally neutral counselor who didn’t seem to care whether or not our marriage survived. We weren’t neutral about wanting to save our marriage. He was."

    According to Dr. Willard Harley, psychologist and author of numerous books including the internationally best-selling book, His Needs, Her Needs, this is not unusual.

    During one woman’s first visit with a therapist, she specifically said that divorce was not an option. However, at the end of the 50 minute-session, the therapist told her he thought she really should consider divorce. There was no violence in the marriage - simply love gone cold.

    “People who seek help from marriage counselors usually assume that the goal of therapy is saving the marriage,” says Harley. "Unfortunately, most marital therapists are specifically trained to be nondirective or neutral. They see themselves as someone couples can talk to, but not someone who will coach them into changes that will ultimately save their marriage.

    “How can a plan possibly achieve its goal when there is no goal?” Harley asks. “It’s no wonder that most marriage counseling is so ineffective.”

    This does not mean that couples should not seek help. In fact, Harley encourages troubled couples to find a marriage counselor to help save their marriage.

    “Couples need to understand that there are times when even the strongest of marriages needs additional support and motivation. Frequently, only a professional marriage counselor or marriage educator can provide that,” Harley says. “An effective marriage counselor or educator will help you avoid or overcome intense emotional trauma associated with a failing marriage, create a plan that will help your marriage, and motivate you to complete that plan.”

    Whether your marriage is in significant distress or just in a tough spot, Harley’s tips can help you pick an effective marriage counselor.

    • Before setting up the first appointment, ask certain questions to make sure the counselor will help you accomplish your goals of making the marriage mutually fulfilling.

    • Ask to schedule a 10-15 minute phone interview. If the counselor is not willing to have an initial phone conversation, eliminate that counselor from consideration.

    • During the interview, ask about the following:

    What is your goal for our marriage? (Answer: To help you both achieve marital fulfillment, and save your marriage).

    What are your credentials and years of experience in marriage counseling? (Answer: a graduate degree in mental health (Master’s or Doctorate in Psychology or Social Work, with clinical supervision in marriage counseling).

    This is our problem (briefly explain). Do you have experience helping couples overcome that problem, and what is your success rate? (Answer: Experience helping couples overcome that particular problem with more than 75% success).

    • After both spouses have a chance to speak to a few potential counselors, Harley suggests choosing the one that answers those questions appropriately. Then set up your first appointment.

    Jody and her husband ultimately decided to divorce. Looking back at the whole scenario, they question if divorce should have even been an option. At the time, they both felt hopeless about their marriage. Without a recovery plan, divorce seemed to be the only answer for them.

    If the counselor had given them a plan to save their marriage, they might be happily married today. They will always wonder if a more encouraging counselor would have helped change the course of their family's life.

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    Money and Stress in Marriage

    It's the one thing most people never get enough of. Many believe it is the key to happiness. People still argue over it, whether they have a lot of it or not enough of it to make ends meet. What is IT? It's MONEY, of course.

    Less than a month into his marriage, Roger Gibson, author of First Comes Love, Then Comes Money, found himself in a very precarious situation. He bought a truck without telling his wife.

    He thought she would love his brand new green truck. But the moment he saw the look on her face as he pulled in the driveway, he knew “love” was not the word to describe her feelings. As he saw his wife speechless for the very first time, he began to realize exactly what he had done.

    He thought to himself, “She is probably thinking, ‘How can anyone go out and buy a brand new truck without first talking with his wife?’” Gibson managed to create a financial situation in a few short minutes that put terrible stress on their relationship. In hindsight, he describes this as one of the most painful and embarrassing moments of his life.

    Money is the number one reason for stress in many marriages. And according to 2013 survey by the Institute for Divorce Financial Analysis, financial issues are also responsible for 22% of all divorces. This makes it the third leading cause of divorce.

    “The money marathon in marriage often takes on the character of a race,” says Gibson. “At times, the pressure can become too intense and many couples want to throw in the towel and quit before the finish line. Many young couples break all the rules ‘to get it all’ in the beginning. Instead of experiencing happiness in their marriage, they find themselves arguing about spending habits, credit card debt and unpaid bills. They overload themselves with debt, which can cause the ‘ties that bind’ to snap and knock you off balance.”

    Just as in a marathon, you can’t start out full blast or you'll never make it. Instead, get a map of the route and learn to pace yourself so you can make it to the finish line.

    Creating a spending plan is key for couples. Spending money is always more fun than saving. A plan’s purpose, however, is to strike a balance between the two.

    Believe it or not, intimacy can be driven by personal finances. Budgeting your money helps you think about your dreams for the future. It's also a reflection of where you want to go. Instead of fighting because you don’t know where you want to go, the plan provides security and brings you together.

    If you want to get a handle on your finances, Gibson suggests that you:

    • Eliminate unnecessary debt.

    • Actively manage your finances.

    • Build an emergency account, a savings fund for short-term needs and a long-term savings plan.

    • Spend less than you make.

    • Stop impulsive spending.

    “Prestige, people, possessions and pleasure: these are the things that drive us because that is how our culture drives us,” Gibson says. “Everything we do is a reflection of these four things. People who are fighting about money don’t have a proper perspective of what money is.

    “Instead of viewing money as a means to accomplish a goal, they see it as a way to satisfy their immediate desires. Usually the result is that finances control us versus us controlling our finances. The way that you gain control is to make a plan and stick to it.”