Should I Take a Chance on Marriage?

By Terry Gaspard, MSW, LICSW

Do you fear that if you tie the knot, your marriage will end in divorce like your parents did? If you are worried about the future of your relationship, you are not alone. Americans have a strong tradition of divorce. The divorce epidemic reached its peak in the late 1970’s. Since then, couples tend to see marriage as disposable and the divorce rate has remained high – over 40% of first marriages end in divorce.

In the twenty-first century, many people see divorce as a viable option to the inevitable hard times of marriage. Stable and healthy marriages seem to be in short supply. You may view marriage as voluntary and not as essential to your life goals. Adult children of divorce have good reason to feel that their marriages are doomed to fail.  According to sociologist Paul Amato, experiencing parental divorce approximately doubles ones chances of seeing their own marriage end in divorce. You might be surprised to learn that daughters of divorce are even more divorce prone than sons, and that women initiate and file for divorce 2/3 of the time.

It is important for you, as an adult child of divorce, to keep your partnerships in perspective. The truth is that all relationships end, either through breakup or death. But many people raised in divorced homes are preoccupied with the fear of a relationship ending. They fear that no matter what they do, their marriage will suffer the same fate as their parents did. Even if they do decide to marry, they may go into marriage with a lingering thought in the back of their heads that tells them it won’t work out.

This skeptical attitude can contribute to the high divorce rate. Don’t let fear stop you from achieving the true intimacy that comes with commitment. Many people hedge their bets against failure and avoid making a full commitment to a romantic partner. By doing this, they miss out on the level of intimacy that comes with making a complete commitment to their partner.

Certainly, children raised in divorced homes learn the hard way that marriage is not a sure thing. They didn’t grow up with healthy templates for long lasting love. These factors put them at a much higher risk for divorce compared to counterparts from intact homes. On the other hand, most adult children of divorce have a healthy respect for commitment and are determined not to repeat their parents’ mistakes. But repeating the past can be second nature if, as a child, you were exposed to unhealthy intimate relationships and then divorce.

Examining your attitudes about love and commitment can help you to explore options that are right for you. As you let go of fears of your relationship failing, you’ll gain confidence in your ability to love fully and make a long-term commitment.         

Let’s look at Alexis, whose parents divorced when she was sixteen after many years of intense conflict and unhappiness. She is a prime example of a young woman who hedges her bets against failure by withholding a commitment to marriage. Brushing her thick hair from her brow, she says “My relationships are usually short lived, a couple of months, and I take long breaks between relationships. I want a healthy relationship, but I have a tendency to go for the guy who I know isn’t right for me.”

In contrast, Tonya’s parents divorced when she was eight years old, and she has a tendency to fear abandonment – so she clings to relationships even when her needs aren’t being met.  Tonya blamed herself when Keith was unfaithful, saying, “Is there something wrong with me?” She wonders out loud, “Am I flawed in some way – not woman enough, sexy enough?” Tonya is a successful, educated woman, but relationships have been her Achilles heel. Her craving for a failsafe relationship will always be unsatisfied, because such a relationship doesn’t exist. Even people from intact homes are faced with this reality – relationships, even marriages, provide no guarantees.

Is it possible to overcome fear of relationship failure? Elizabeth provides a good example of a young woman who endured her parents’ adversarial divorce and has restored her faith in love. Happily married for the past five years, she understands the fragility of marriage and went into her marriage to Zane with her eyes wide open. Elizabeth examined her parents’ divorce from an adult perspective and realized that her parents had irreconcilable differences.  She says, “I guess my parents weren’t meant to be together, their marriage motivates me to make my marriage a priority.”

Elizabeth spent several years in therapy and worked on visualizing the type of relationship that she needed to thrive. Living together was not an acceptable option for her because she wanted to have children and believed that they would benefit from married parents. Research studies show that children raised by parents who live together without a legal agreement see their parents breaking up at an alarming rate – even higher that the divorce rate for married parents.

With passion in her voice Elizabeth says, “I do have fears, but most of all I remind myself that Zane is my soul mate. He is my best friend and I remind myself that I don’t worry about my friends leaving. Also, I think that if someday we part ways it will be horrible, if it happens. But why waste our time together – our happiness – worrying about something in the future that may or may not happen. I make sure that I tell him every day that I love him. I make sure to be interested in the things he cares about, because I love his happiness as much as mine.”

With cohabitation on the rise, marriage seems to be less of a necessity. Living together without a legal commitment has become more acceptable in our culture. Yet many people continue to see marriage as desirable and believe that it is a worthy goal. Studies show that marriage is good for us – promoting better sleep, and both physical and mental health. Understandably, an unhealthy marriage can work against one’s well-being.

The task then, is to learn from your parents’ failed marriage and your own past – creating loving relationships that are healthy and lasting.  The following tips may help you on your journey for love:

  • Go slowly and allow your relationship to develop over time. Expect rough patches and practice the art of patience and forgiveness.

  • Avoid making a long-term commitment before the age of twenty-five. You’ll enhance your chances of finding lasting love if you know yourself and have established a solid identity.

  • Attempt to pick a partner with a similar background and interests. Couples who have vast differences in these two areas have an increased risk of divorce.  

  • Stick with a committed relationship for at least ten years. Most marriages dissolve in the first ten years – especially the first five years. Hang in there unless your partner is abusive.

Remember that you can’t establish intimacy without vulnerability. Learning to trust and honestly share concerns and feelings with your partner will help to foster healthy communication. With greater awareness, you can enhance the probability of experiencing long-lasting partnerships.  If you recognize the forces that shape you, and visualize the type of relationship that helps you to flourish, you’ll be on your way to creating a new story for your life.

Terry Gaspard, MSW, LICSW and Tracy Clifford, BA

Do you worry that you are doomed to divorce? We’d love to read your comments on this page. Be sure to order our new book “Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy, Long-Lasting Relationship.”

 

 



6 Signs Your Partner is Good Marriage Material

By Terry Gaspard MSW, LICSW

Who we choose to marry is one of the most important and costliest decisions a person will make, yet it’s not uncommon for lovers to make errors in judgment. Why does this happen? One reason is that most of us aren’t raised with a healthy template of marriage to follow. We also lack self-awareness and may be afraid of ending up alone.

Another factor is unrealistic expectations of marriage because we grew up in the first generation for whom divorce continues to be accepted and common. According to author Pamela Paul, lots of marriages seem to be trial marriages and people tie the knot with the notion of “If it doesn’t make me happy, I’ll just move on.” Since more and more individuals grow up in divorced homes where they witness divorce being the solution to marital problems, they may not approach marriage with a thoughtful mindset.

Unfortunately, many of us marry without obtaining critical information about our partners. For instance, we may not know that our father-in-law is a substance abuser or that our mother-in-law has a family history of mental illness. Sadly, we may put our faith in someone who we fall in love with blindly and fail to ask some of these crucial questions.

5 questions to ask potential marital partners:

1. Who are their parents? Include questions about marital history, mental illness and substance abuse, etc.. Don’t shy away from asking questions now that may blindside you later. It’s better to be forewarned because some qualities have a genetic component.
2. What is their typical way of dealing with conflict? Don’t assume that your partner has good anger management skills. Does he/she usually take responsibility for his/her actions or blame someone else? Do they tend to stonewall or withdraw from conflict or see it as an opportunity for growth?
3. How does your partner feel about having children? How many children do they consider the best number if they want them? Do they believe that couples should share chores and childcare responsibilities?
4. What are their values and beliefs about infidelity?
5. What is their view of divorce? What would they consider a good solution to a period when your marriage is rocky?

Perhaps the first step in deciding whether a person is a good risk for marriage is to get clarity around “deal breakers” and “deal makers.” It’s crucial to know those things that are important to you from the list above (or other questions) and to not compromise too many of your values and beliefs.

There is no such thing as a perfect partner. You might want to ask yourself this question: Is there something about the way that he/she treats me that makes me a bigger and better person? If the answer is no, ask yourself: Am I settling for less than I deserve in the relationship?

Looking to the experts can help you gain clarity about marrying the best person for you. In particular, Mira Kirshenbaum’s book “Is He Mr. Right?“ offers a valuable model for looking at compatibility. One of the central premises of her groundbreaking book is that chemistry is the best way to figure out if someone is right for you. Surprisingly, she’s not just talking about sexual chemistry but also the feeling that you enjoy being around your partner and have fun together.

5 Dimensions of Chemistry according to Mira Kirshenbaum:

1. You feel comfortable with each other and it’s easy to get close. In other words, you feel that you can be yourself.
2. You feel safe in the relationship. Your partner can take care of him/herself, and you feel comfortable being vulnerable and honest with your partner.
3. It’s fun to be together. Kirshenbaum writes, “Couples who have this dimension of chemistry going for them have a shortcut to intimacy and a buffer against the stressful times we all face.”
4. You have real affection and passion for each other. This is where sexual chemistry comes in and it should go hand and hand with affection.
5. You feel there’s real mutual respect. You accept, admire and respect each other for who you are. Kirshenbaum posits that if you don’t have respect for your partner, it will eat away at chemistry until you have nothing left.

Are you wondering if you are wasting your time with the wrong person? It’s understandable that you’d have a need for certainty before continuing to pursue the commitment of marriage. However, don’t panic and jump into a commitment because you believe that the clock is ticking or most of your friends are married.

6 signs your partner is good marriage material:

1. You admire your partner for who they are as a person. You like and respect who he/she is and how they carry themselves through the world. If you can’t respect the way a person lives their life, let alone admire them, it’s hard to keep any relationship going.
2. Your partner is trustworthy because they keep agreements. Their actions are consistent with their words. When you share something personal you trust they will keep it to themselves.
3. He/she makes time for you on a regular basis. They make you a priority because they value your relationship. Even when he/she is swamped, they make time to spend with you. This includes regular text messages or phone calls to show that they’re thinking of you.
4. Your partner is comfortable talking about the things that interest you and asks you questions about your hobbies, friends and family. They appreciate you for who you are right now and aren’t trying to change you.
5. He/she makes you feel good about yourself. A partner who truly cares about you is a boost to your self-esteem. He/she values you and gives you compliments and praise.
6. You share a vision. Sharing a dream for your life together can help you gain a healthy perspective. When couples possess a shared vision, the inevitable ups and downs of marriage are less bothersome. Creating a larger context of meaning in life, can help couples to avoid focusing on the small stuff that happens and to keep their eyes on the big picture.

If you feel that your partner is the right person for you but you still fear commitment, you might want to consider the following: Know that no relationship is conflict free, but you are worthy of having a relationship that makes you happy. If you aren’t there yet, embrace where you are now. What is it that holds you back from achieving a satisfying relationship? And once you have it, what will you do when you get there?

The best partner will compliment you and bring out your very best. When you are with him or her, you will begin to see untapped possibilities within yourself and in the world. In any relationship, you will face ups and downs and your love will be tested. However, where admiration and respect are found, love will be sustained. But where these things are absent, love will die. Finding a partner who likes and respects you as much as you do him/her will give you the best chance of finding long-lasting love.

Follow Terry Gaspard on Facebook, Twitter and movingpastdivorce.com where you can order her book Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy, Long-lasting Relationship.

Terry’s new book, The Remarriage Manual: How to Make Everything Work Better the Second Time Around, was published by Sounds True in February of 2020 and can be ordered here.

This blog appeared previously on HuffingtonPost.com



Should I Take a Chance on Love and Make a Commitment?

By Terry Gaspard, MSW, LICSW

Are young adults abandoning commitment all together? No exactly but over the last fifty years, there has been a quiet shift in the landscape of family life in America. Approximately 50 percent of adults over age eighteen marry; this number is compared to 72% in 1960, according to The Pew Research Center. The medium age at first marriage has never been higher for brides (26.5 years) and grooms (28.7years) according to this report.

In Not Quite Adults  authors Richard Settersten, Ph.D. and Barbara E. Ray speculate that many people harbor misconceptions about a recent trend to delay marriage, believing that young adults are afraid of commitment and are abandoning marriage.  They write, “Marriage is on hold for this generation, but it is delayed, not abandoned. The majority of young people eventually marry. They are just getting their ducks in a row before they do.”

A recent survey found that 84% of women and 82% of men crave commitment and report that being married someday is “very” or “somewhat” important to them. That being said, many people seek lasting commitment, often in the form of marriage. This can be a healthy desire if we bring realistic expectations to it. But many adults don’t have a healthy template of marriage to follow when it comes to nurturing and sustaining a committed relationship, making it difficult to know where to start. Perhaps the first step is reevaluating your view of relationships and adjusting your expectations.

Some think this decline is because the progression of individualism has made it more difficult for couples to achieve satisfying and stable relationships.  Others believe that changes, such as increasing acceptance of singlehood and cohabitation, have made our lives richer because we have more opportunities for personal growth.

According to Scott Stanley, co-director of the Center for Marital and Family Studies at the University of Denver, “Ambiguity is now the norm as opposed to clarity.” Author Jessica Massa, who interviewed hundreds of singles and couples for her book, “The Gaggle: How to Find Love in the Post-Dating World” informs us that many couples claim exclusivity but won’t call it a relationship.

Most observers agree that ambiguity in romantic relationships is on the increase in the past decade and options range from friends with benefits to indecision about permanent commitment.  Perhaps one the most compelling reasons is cultural since  the first generation of children to grow up witnessing mass divorce are now  making their own decisions about love and commitment.

In fact, fear of relationship failure plagues many of us who grew up in a culture of divorce, even if our parents stayed together. It makes sense that people in their 20’s and 30’s might hedge their bets and see relationships as risky if they watched their parents’ marriage fail or even relatives and friends parents’ marriage collapse.

Fear of failure can hold us back and prevent us from being our best self. It limits us by causing anxiety and fostering a pessimistic attitude about the future. Divorce expert Paul Amato posits that many adult children of divorce (ACODS) fear relationship failure. They fear that when they open themselves up to other people, they will get hurt, and will lose out on love.

For example, many daughters of divorce, like Suzanne, have a fear of commitment because they saw their parents’ marriage crumble. As a result, they’re waiting for the other shoe to drop. Suzanne just can’t see a relationship working out, but she desperately wants one. Although she says she doesn’t believe in love, Suzanne wants someone who will be a true match for her. “I think I can have a happy, long-lasting relationship, but I change my mind a lot, she says. “If it’s the right guy, if we’re compatible, I’ll be optimistic. But it’s going to take a lot to prove it to me because I want it to be foolproof.” Suzanne’s craving for a failsafe relationship will always be unsatisfied because such relationships don’t exist.

If you fear commitment like many people, you might want to consider the following: Know that no relationship is conflict free, but you are worthy of having a relationship that makes you happy. If you aren’t there yet, embrace where you are now. What is it that holds you back from achieving a satisfying relationship? And once you have it, what will you do when you get there?

6 Tips to Overcoming Your Fear of Commitment:

  1.  Gain self-awareness about your past and face your fear of commitment. If you still have baggage that is unresolved do your best to seek counseling or attend a support group.
  2. Don’t let your “What Ifs” get in your way. This might range from “What if I get hurt” to “What if this relationship ends in divorce.” Challenge your thinking and don’t give in to self-sabotaging thoughts.
  3. Remember that life is more rewarding when you take risks and make a commitment to someone who seems to be a good match for you and is trustworthy.  If you wait for the perfect partner or soul mate you may never find love. This doesn’t mean that you should settle for less than you deserve.
  4. Take your time dating someone and make sure you’ve known them for at least two years to reduce your chance of divorce. What’s the rush? Give yourself the chance to really get to know a new partner gradually so you can develop a true friendship.
  5. Make sure that you have common values with individuals who you date. If you marry someone with drastically different values, you will face complex issues that could put you more at risk for divorce.
  6. Learn to trust your judgment and be consistent with your commitment. Commitment to someone you love and consider your best friend and partner is not an on-again, off-again proposition.

Although it may be hard for you to trust your own judgment when it comes to making a commitment, it’s important to understand there are no guarantees in any relationship. Some work out and some don’t but approaching relationships with fear or doubt almost guarantees a negative outcome. Therefore, it’s key to embrace the notion that a lifetime commitment has to be made when there is some degree of uncertainty. If you wait to make a commitment when you are free of doubts, it will never happen.

Follow Terry Gaspard on Twitter, Facebook, and movingpastdivorce.com. Her book Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy, Long-Lasting Relationship is available on her website.

Terry’s new book, The Remarriage Manual: How to Make Everything Work Better the Second Time Around, will be published by Sounds True in February of 2020 and can be pre-ordered here.

 



Marriage Counseling: Can It Save A Marriage On The Brink?

By Terry Gaspard, MSW, LICSW

Dear Terry,

Rick and I have been married for eight years and things are going downhill. I’ve tried everything to make things work but nothing seems to be helping. There were a lot of red flags when we were dating but I ignored them because we have such good chemistry. But after all these years, it’s becoming more obvious that we’re just not compatible. We argue over little things and our five-year old daughter, Megan, is starting to show signs of distress like crying a lot or hiding in her room.

Before Megan was born, we already had problems but things started getting worse because we don’t spend time together and I have a stressful new teaching job. Rick comes from a very traditional background and thinks that I should do most of the household chores, plus discipline and take care of Megan. It’s getting to the point where I feel resentful and don’t even want to have sex with him anymore. I know plenty of couples who both work full-time and share responsibilities.

I was raised by a single mom so I’m very independent but it doesn’t feel fair that I can barely relax or even go to the gym because I’m so busy. Don’t get me wrong, I love spending time with Megan and she is a loving child, but our marriage seems totally one-sided! To make matters worse, Rick always wins when we have an argument – he’s a lawyer and very logical and I tend to give in because I’m a people pleaser. It’s true that Rick works more hours than I do outside the home, but I’d still like to see him more involved in chores and spending time with Megan.

Rick’s also an introvert and I’m very outgoing so we don’t share many common interests. He prefers to hang out at home and watch movies or go on-line, whereas I like to go to the park, shopping, or out to eat. I’d love to entertain, but don’t relish the idea of doing all of the work because Rick’s usually not up for it. We can’t even seem to plan a family vacation the last few years because we disagree about where to go.

Is it possible for opposites like us to work things out? We share the same values and beliefs about how to raise Megan and I still love Rick, but we’re polar opposites in most ways. I brought up going to counseling to Rick but he thinks that it won’t help us. What do you think?

Sincerely,

Kristin

 

Dear Kristin,

Yours is a common problem. What makes for a happy, fulfilled relationship? While this is a complex question that doesn’t lend itself to a quick answer, there are aspects of successful and lasting relationships that have been studied by experts and many approaches to pick from. The good news is you are looking for solutions and there are some simple things you can do – positive behaviors – that can make your relationship better if you and Rick are motivated to make some changes.

One of the main factors that can determine the effectiveness of marriage counseling is the motivation level of both partners. For some couples, marriage counseling is really divorce counseling because they’ve already thrown in the towel. For instance, one or both partners may have already decided to end the marriage and he/she uses the counseling as a way to announce this to their partner. Sometimes, the problems in a marriage can be too ingrained and longstanding for the counseling to be effective. For others, they haven’t taken the time to choose a therapist who is a good fit for them. Hopefully, these issues do not pertain to your situation.

All relationships have ups and downs and work stress can have a negative impact on a marriage. You mention that you’re more stressed recently due to your new job and this could be putting more stain on your relationship. Since you just started a new job, this may not be the best time to make a decision about ending your marriage.

You also mentioned that you’d like Rick to do more chores and spend time with Megan. Recent research on working fathers indicates that they’re the ones experiencing the most pressure in a family. Since you grew up in a single parent family, it’s possible that you’re naturally self-reliant and he’s not aware that your current arrangement is causing you so much stress – especially with your new teaching position. Perhaps if you discuss your work hours and responsibilities, you can come up with an arrangement that seems fair for both of you.

Let’s review what the experts say about whether polar opposites can stay together. In the Huffington Post article ‘Opposites Attract’ Or Birds Of A Feather,’ Karl A. Pillemer, Ph.D. posits that while opposites often have an intense attraction, these matches don’t always last. Since Pillemer’s landmark study is comprised of over 500 people married over 40 years, his findings are worthy of note. He writes, “The research findings are quite clear: marriages that are homogenous in terms of economic background, religion, and closeness in age are the most stable and tend to be happier. Sharing core values has also been found to promote marital stability and happiness.”

In my opinion, the take away from Pillemer’s research is that you don’t necessarily have to avoid marrying someone who appears to be your opposite.  But you need to recognize that if you marry someone with drastically different values, you will face complex issues that could put you more at risk for divorce. In your case, you said that you and Rick share similar beliefs and values about child rearing and you have good chemistry.  This is a good sign and indicates that you have a chance to work things out and that counseling could help if you are both motivated.

Author Sandy Weiner explains that chemistry is essential for a relationship to last, because without it, you have a nice friendship. However, Weiner concludes that it’s important to have both chemistry and compatibility. She writes, “This is about common values and life goals, whether you feel comfortable with each other, have fun together, share common experiences, and pretty much “get” each other.  Compatibility is essential for a relationship to last.”

Unsurprisingly, when couples have vastly different core values and life goals this can make for a lot of friction in a relationship. But what about couples that share core values and life goals but simply have polar opposite personalities and interests? My advice is to weather the storms and use your differences to add spark to the relationship. In other words, since you’re outgoing and Rick is more introverted, try to use those differences to bring out each other’s strengths. Dr Pillemer notes that some differences can spice up a relationship. In other words, differences don’t necessarily have to tear you apart as long as you accept them, share core values, and maintain mutual respect.

The key is taking responsibility for your own behavior and honest communication with your partner. Renowned relationship expert Dr. John Gottman reminds us that friendship is the glue that can hold a marriage together: “Couples who “know each other intimately [and] are well versed in each other’s likes, dislikes, personality quirks, hopes, and dreams” are couples who make it.”

Here are tips that can help you deal with differences between you and your partner:

  • Don’t give up the things you love to do such as hobbies or interest. This will only breed resentment.
  • Support one another’s passions. Accept that you won’t always share the same interests. Respect your partner’s need for space if they want to go on a vacation without you, etc.
  • Resolve conflicts skillfully. Don’t put aside resentments that can destroy a relationship. Experiencing conflict is inevitable and couples who strive to avoid it are at the risk of developing stagnant relationships, according to author Kate McNulty.
  • Avoid the “blame game.” The next time you feel upset at your partner, check out what’s going on inside yourself and pause and reflect before you place the blame on them.

Keep in mind Dr. John Gottman’s guiding principle of adding more positive interactions – a five-to-one ratio. In other words, for every negative interaction with Rick, add five positive ones. Don’t take love for granted and adopt a mindset that differences can spark passion and interest. Ultimately, you are responsible for your own happiness.

After years of research, Gottman has revealed seven principles that will prevent a marriage from breaking up. After reviewing his book The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, I’ll highlight four principles that I’ve seen change the dynamic of a marriage in a positive way.

  1. Nurture fondness and admiration: Remind yourself of your partner’s positive qualities – even as you grapple with their flaws – and express your positive feelings out loud several times each day.
  2. Let your partner influence you: Search for common ground rather than insisting on getting your way when you have a disagreement. Listen to their point of view and avoid the blame game.
  3. Overcome a gridlock: Often perpetual conflicts go unresolved when we get stuck in negative patterns of relating such as the distance-pursuer pattern – a tug-of-war where one person actively tries to change the other person, and the other resists it.
  4. Create shared meaning together: Dr. Gottman found that couples who have an intentional sense of shared purpose, meaning, values; and customs for family life – such as rituals for holidays – are generally happier.

Married couples go through several stages in their relationship and you and Rick seem to be having difficulty integrating recent changes which can increase the conflict in your relationship. In his best -selling book The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, John M. Gottman, Ph.D., describes “marital masters” as “folks who are so good at handling conflict that they make marital squabbles look like fun.”  Gottman has published groundbreaking studies showing measurable differences between couples whose marriages were happy and those headed for misery and/or divorce court. In his book The Relationship Cure, he writes: “It’s not that these couples don’t get mad or disagree. It’s that when they disagree, they’re able to stay connected and engaged with each other. Rather than becoming defensive and hurtful, they pepper their disputes with flashes of affection, intense interest, and mutual respect.”

Further, Gottman coins the phrase “turning toward “one another to describe how  couples can learn to react in a positive way to another’s bids for attention rather than “turning away” – which generally involves ignoring a partner’s bid, or acting preoccupied. He writes, “turning toward one another is a kind of secret weapon against elements such as contempt, criticism, defensiveness, and stonewalling – factors that can destroy any relationship.”

How can marriage counseling help couples?

  • A motivated couple can begin to explore their problems from a new perspective.
  • They can learn new ways to recognize and resolve conflicts as a result of the tools provided by the therapist.
  • Partners can improve communication that may have eroded the quality of their interactions. It’s common for couples to reach an impasse and lose the ability to be vulnerable and trusting of one another.
  • It can provide “neutral territory” to help couples work through tough issues or to put aside “baggage” that prevents the couple from moving on.
  • Couples can decide to rebuild their marriage and make a renewed commitment, or clarify the reasons why they need to separate or end the marriage.

In closing, focusing on developing shared experiences could help you and Rick rev up the love and passion in your marriage. For marriage counseling to be effective, you both need to be willing to take responsibility for your part in the problems, to accept each other’s faults, and be motivated to repair your relationship. It’s important for you to have realistic expectations because it takes more than a few sessions to shed light on the dynamics and to begin the process of change.

Follow Terry Gaspard on Twitter and Facebook.  She is pleased to announce the publication of Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy, Long-lasting Relationship (Sourcebooks).

Terry’s new book, The Remarriage Manual: How to Make Everything Work Better the Second Time Around, will be published by Sounds True in February of 2020 and can be pre-ordered here.


Six Ways for Daughters of Divorce to Succeed at Marriage

By Terry Gaspard, MSW, LICSW

Marriage is under intense scrutiny in the media in recent years. As fewer individuals are getting married, it becomes meaningful to ask why marriage is becoming such risky business. Currently, slightly over 50% percent of Americans are married, down from 70% in 1970. Social scientists cite many reasons for the drop in the marriage rate but the culture of divorce is commonly discussed. Previously, we’ve written about how difficult it is to accurately measure the current divorce rate. However, with the divorce rate hovering around 50%, it makes since that many individuals fear that if they tie the knot, their marriage will end in divorce. Daughters of divorce are particularly prone to this mindset as they know firsthand how fragile marriage can be.  

Is it possible to overcome fear of relationship failure? Many skeptical people feel marriage is a dying institution and there’s not much we can do to save it. It’s almost as if we are totally powerless against divorce – as if it’s a force too strong to control. Perhaps a healthier perspective would be to examine our own attitudes about love and commitment. This makes perfect sense, especially if you are a daughter of divorce since your risk for divorce is 59% greater than that of a woman raised in an intact home. That being said, let’s take a closer look at how to improve marital success.   

Although there aren’t any guarantees, there are some practical suggestions that can increase your probability of having a successful marriage. Keep in mind that you have much more control over the fate of your marriage – if you choose to marry – than you do over many other situations in your life. But adopting a more optimistic view of marriage may be a challenge since the media promotes a disposable view of marriage. In recent years, a phenomenon known as “the starter marriage” has been popularized by the media. This mindset is based on the premise that a marriage like a good meal should always be enjoyable and not come with its share of hard times. Actually, Pamela Paul, in her book The Starter Marriage states that most marriages end in the first ten years – particularly the first five years.  

Since divorce is so deeply entrenched in our culture, it’s wise to examine your attitudes about love and marriage. Doing so can help you to develop a healthy respect for commitment. The following are six ways that experts say will stack the odds of a having a successful marriage in your favor:  

  • Take things slowly when you are dating. Date a new partner for at least two years before getting married. Being cautious is a good thing and will give you time to assess how many common interests, beliefs, and values you share with a partner.

  • Wait until at least your mid-20’s to make a life-long commitment. Marrying young will increase your chances of getting a divorce. 

  • Be aware of how being raised in a divorced home can impact you and/or your partner’s expectations and interactions. Reading and enlisting the help of a skilled therapist can reduce your risks of divorce.

  • Don’t live together with the idea of a test drive. Although the research is mixed on this topic, co-habitation may increase your risks for divorce unless you share the same goals and expectations.

  • Stick with a committed relationship for at least ten years.

  • Be patient and practice persistence. The willingness to work through rough patches and not considering divorce as an option (unless the relationship is abusive) are linked to higher marital success.  

Finally, practicing forgiveness and having a sense of humor can go a long way to promoting marital success. Learn to laugh at each other’s shortcomings (we all have them) and to forgive one another. A wise friend of mine, Betsy, who has been happily married for over four decades, shared a great strategy with me recently.  “When all else fails and you can’t resolve a dispute with your husband, she said, simply agree to “blame the dog.”  The truth is there is no secret to a great marriage but it certainly helps to know what you’re up against and to get help from people who have been there.  

I’d love to hear your fears, concerns, and successes regarding commitment and marriage. Be sure to order my new book “Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy, Long-Lasting Relationship.”

Terry Gaspard, MSW, LICSW 

 



7 Signs Your Relationship is Healthy

By Terry Gaspard, MSW, LICSW

I have often heard it said that the best partner will compliment you and bring out your finer qualities. When you are with him or her, you will begin to see untapped possibilities within yourself and in the world. However, in any relationship, you will face difficulties and your love will be tested.

That said, if your expectations are for an effortless relationship, you might be at risk for throwing in the towel at the earliest sign of any discord. Think of how many good relationships have been discarded before they matured, dismissing a life partner while searching for a soul mate.

The idea of a soul mate is romantic but also damaging because healthy relationships are developed and don’t just appear. Author Lisa Arends explains: “A fulfilling relationship occurs when both partners are open and vulnerable, creating an environment of mutual understanding, and intimacy. It takes time – often lots of time – and effort to reach this point.”

In Hold me Tight, Dr. Sue Johnson, explains that we all have raw spots (in our emotional skin) that are tender to the touch and deeply painful. Sue Johnson explains: “A responsive partner helps us work through our painful feelings.” It is natural to feel exposed as we allow ourselves to fall in love and it takes determination to work through each partner’s vulnerabilities and wounds.

Jena and Trevor, in their mid-thirties, have navigated many challenges together such as Jena’s trust issues and emotional baggage leftover from her ex-husband’s infidelity.

Jena put it like this: “I didn’t realize how fearful I was until I was with Trevor. Because he was worth me working on myself and being aware of my mistrustful feelings. Thankfully he has been very patient, the only patient person I have dealt with. And he’s helped me to be more trusting.”

Jena and Trevor’s successful ten-year marriage illustrates how a supportive partner can help you deal with the unpredictable, ever changing aspects of life as your vulnerabilities are exposed and you face challenges or disagree.

What is the secret of finding a healthy relationship? In his book The Relationship Cure, distinguished observer of marital relations, Dr. John Gottman writes: “It’s not that these couples don’t get mad or disagree. It’s that when they disagree, they’re able to stay connected and engaged with each other. Rather than becoming defensive and hurtful, they pepper their disputes with flashes of affection, intense interest, and mutual respect.”

After all, there is no such thing as a perfect partner. Nonetheless, you might want to ask yourself this question: Is there something about the way that he or she treats me that makes me a bigger and better person? If the answer is no, ask yourself: Am I settling for less than I deserve in my relationship?

Mira Kirshenbaum’s book “Is He Mr. Right?” offers a valuable model for looking at compatibility. One of the central premises of her groundbreaking book is that chemistry is the best way to figure out if someone is right for you. Surprisingly, she’s not just talking about sexual chemistry but also the feeling that you enjoy being around your partner and have fun together.

5 Dimensions of Chemistry according to Mira Kirshenbaum:

  1. You feel comfortable with each other and it’s easy to get close. In other words, you feel that you can be yourself.
  2. You feel safe in the relationship. This means that your partner doesn’t have significant mental health issues, can take care of him/herself, and you feel free to express your thoughts, feelings, and desires openly. You are comfortable being vulnerable and honest with your partner.
  3. It’s fun to be togetherKirshenbaum writes, “Couples who do have this dimension of chemistry going for them have a shortcut to intimacy and a buffer against the stressful times we all face.”
  4. You have real affection and passion for each other. This is where sexual chemistry comes in and it should go hand and hand with affection.
  5.  You feel there’s real mutual respect. You accept, admire, and respect each other for who you are. According to Kirshenbaum, if you don’t have respect for your partner, it will eat away at chemistry until you have nothing left.

Are you wondering if you are wasting your time in a relationship that is wrong for you? Here are seven signs that can help you decide if your relationship is worth pursuing.

7 signs your relationship is healthy:

  • You admire your partner for who he or she is as a person. You like and respect who they are and how they carry themselves through the world. If you can’t respect the way a person lives their life, let alone admire them, it’s hard to keep any relationship going.
  • Your partner is trustworthy. He or she calls when they say they will and follows through on promises. It’s impossible to build trust in someone who does not keep their agreements.
  • Your partner makes time for you on a regular basis. He/she makes you a priority because they value your relationship. Even when he/she is swamped, they stay in touch. This includes regular communication to show they’re thinking of you.
  • Your partner accepts you for who you are, doesn’t try to change you, and accepts responsibility for their actions. Life is messy at times. While it’s natural to assign blame when things go wrong, in a healthy relationship partners take responsibility for things they do to hurt each other, apologize, and make amends.
  • Your partner is your cheerleader and listens to you. He or she listens more than they speak. Your partner asks you questions about your hobbies, friends, and family. He/she doesn’t make you feel badly for being in a bad mood or having a tough day.
  • Your partner is affectionate. They’re comfortable holding hands and showing other signs of physical affection in private and in public.
  • Your partner talks about your future together so you can create a shared vision of your relationship. Don’t waste your time on someone who doesn’t include you in his or her future plans. Author Howard J. Markman Ph.D. writes: “Couples can choose to protect their relationship by setting aside time to enjoy each other, renewing their sense of closeness and togetherness.”

 Foster Admiration and Friendship with Your Partner

There is recent evidence that happy, lasting relationships rely on a lot more than a marriage certificate and that the secret ingredient is friendship. Look for qualities you admire in your partner and remind yourself of these admirable qualities regularly.

When it comes to matters of the heart, where admiration and respect are found, love will be sustained. But where these things are absent, love will die.  Finding a partner who likes and respects you as much as you do him or her will give you the best chance of finding lasting love.

Follow Terry on Facebook, Twitter, and movingpastdivorce.com. Terry’s award winning book Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parent’s Breakup and Enjoy a Happy Relationship was published by Sourcebooks.

Terry’s new book, The Remarriage Manual: How to Make Everything Work Better the Second Time Around, will be published by Sounds True in February of 2020 and can be pre-ordered here.

This blog appeared previously on HuffingtonPost.com

 



Do You Admire Your Partner?

What does it take to make a relationship last? Love? Respect? Passion? An ability to forgive? Kindness? Certainly these are key ingredients for a healthy relationship. But even when these qualities are present, some relationships still end. When I talk to women who are in happy relationships, most of them start out with how great their husband or boyfriend treats them. Almost universally, “He treats me well” is the first thing out of a woman’s mouth, especially in a new relationship. And that’s great. The person you’re in a relationship with should treat you well, and you should expect nothing less. But there needs to be more.

So often in love, women focus on how their partner makes them feel. When you think of the person you love, you probably focus on how he acts around you. Maybe he’s thoughtful and surprises you with flowers, or rubs your feet after you’ve had a long day. Maybe it’s something as simple as calling when he says he’s going to call, or taking the time to listen to you. But many women fail to focus on how their partner acts outside of their relationship. Who is he as a human being?

When I read Nathaniel Branden’s book, The Psychology of Romantic Love, I felt like I was hit by a lightning bolt. Branden suggests that admiration is the most powerful foundation for a relationship. If you admire your partner, not just for how he acts with you, but for how he operates in the world as a whole, it helps strengthen your love when it is inevitably prone to falter.

“To ask, “Do I admire my partner?” is to risk discovering that I may be bound to him or her more through dependency than admiration, more through immaturity or fear or “convenience” than genuine esteem,” writes Branden.

It’s an interesting concept, and one I must admit I never examined in my own relationships until I read Branden’s work. It’s fascinating how self-centered love can be sometimes. We focus more on how our partners treat us, how they make us feel, than on who they are as people on a whole. I once spoke with a woman who told me her boyfriend treated her better than any man before ever had, but outside of their relationship, I knew him to be rude and disrespectful. It’s no wonder their relationship had problems. If you don’t admire the core of who a person is, it’s hard to sustain a relationship.

If you’re currently in a relationship, I encourage you to make a list of everything you admire in your partner. If you’re currently single, write the same list for a partner you would like to be with. Remember, you are not writing down his actions. You are writing down his basic, fundamental, human qualities. So you wouldn’t write, “he always remembers to take the trash out,” or “he always pays the bills on time.” You would write, “he’s thoughtful, he’s hardworking.”  

If you’re in a relationship, does your list come up short in any areas? Do you admire your partner for the person he is? Do you wish he was different? It’s important to remember that maintaining admiration for your partner does not mean you put him on pedestal. But it does mean that you like and respect who he is and how he carries himself through the world. When I reflect on long term relationships of my own that have ended, it wasn’t because the spark faded. It was that I no longer respected my partner. If you can’t respect the way a person lives their life, let alone admire them, it’s hard to keep any relationship going.

Mutual admiration is a hallmark of mature love. It is something not simply arrived on by chance, but actively cultivated. It’s important to focus on what we admire in the people we love on a daily basis.  If we neglect what matters most, we may lose sight of the foundation of our love. I’ve often found that what I most admire in my partner is what I most lack. While I have a tendency to worry and overthink situations, I admire my partner’s ability to take life as it comes and approach problems with acceptance and an easygoing nature.  His strengths counteract my weaknesses, and vice versa.

The best partner will complement you and bring out your very best. When you are with him, you will begin to see untapped possibilities within yourself and in the world. In any relationship, you will face inevitable hard times and your love will be tested. Reflect on any relationship of your own that has ended, and you will know the following to be true: where admiration is found, love will be sustained. But where it is absent, love will die. For each and every one of you, I wish for love to be sustained in your lives, and for admiration to flourish.

Tracy Clifford

I’d love to read your comments on this page. Be sure to order our new book “Daughters of Divorce: Overcome The Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy, Long-Lasting Relationship.”

Terry’s new book, The Remarriage Manual: How to Make Everything Work Better the Second Time Around, will be published by Sounds True in February of 2020 and can be pre-ordered here.

This blog was previously published on this website



3 Signs You’re Ready For A Divorce – Especially If You’re A Parent!

Divorce is usually riddled in drama. It’s not an easy decision to make, and it comes with a multitude of challenges. This is especially so if you’re a parent. We can all agree that   divorce should be avoided whenever possible. It’s not a solution to marital problems. In many cases it’s more like an escape hatch – with no guarantee of a happy ending.

If you don’t learn the art of fair fighting … if you don’t use effective communication skills … and don’t show empathy and compassion for the needs of your partner … divorce is not likely to be of value in your life. Chances are you’ll move on to another toxic relationship, bringing with you the same unresolved baggage and issues. And that, sadly, is destined to lead to new discord with your new partner.

There are signals, however, that divorce might be the best option for a couple. These include:

  • Irreconcilable Disrespect: If one or both partners reach a point of disrespect for their spouse there is little that can repair that damage. Sound relationships are based on respect. With awareness and work, relationship problems can be healed. But once the glue of mutual respect is gone there is little that can make a marriage work. And staying in a marriage in which you are feeling disrespected – a marriage in which your children are seeing that behavior modeled around them – is poor parenting, to say the least.
  • Dramatic Parenting Conflicts: No two parents are in agreement at all times. However, constant fighting and discord around parenting issues hurts everyone in the family, especially the children. In many cases, the family dynamics work more smoothly when there are two parental homes for the children — and reduced conflict around them. So first seek out professional guidance from an experienced therapist or coach. Find one who can help you master conflict management skills and better ways to express your frustrations and disappointment. Try an online anger management program that offers usable techniques for making better choices. If counseling doesn’t work out, divorce may be a better option. Children exposed to continuous conflict are negatively affected emotionally and psychologically – damage you don’t want to inflict on the children you love.
  • Emotional, Verbal or Physical Abuse: Abusive treatment on any level is a signal that the marriage is not serving or supporting your psychological needs. Put downs, threats, sarcasm, fear tactics, control strategies and other behaviors are all signs of abuse. Don’t wait for things to escalate to a physical level. Leave as quickly as you can. Or reach out for professional help immediately and create a plan of action for changing your environment and protecting your children from experiencing or watching marital or parental abuse.

You owe it to yourself and your spouse to do everything you can to resolve marital conflict before deciding to divorce. Seeking out professional support is always smart. An objective professional can provide insights that can inject new life into a marriage. However, that’s only IF both parties are on board to give it a chance. Once you’ve explored all avenues, then you can close the door on your marriage knowing there is no unfinished business left behind.

Of course, if you’re a parent, divorce does not end the relationship with your spouse. And, except in rare cases, it never should. For the sake of your children, it is important to make every effort to co-parent effectively and give your children the gift of love from both parents whenever possible.

That too takes skill. It also demands a commitment to put your child’s best interest first, even when you’re angry or hurt by your co-parent’s behavior. There are numerous online Co-Parenting courses available, which address better ways to handle parenting conflict and other challenges regarding divorce and successful co-parenting. Visit the Child-Centered Divorce Network for a free Post-Divorce Parenting ebook and many other valuable resources divorcing parents need.

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Rosalind Sedacca, CDC is a Divorce and Parenting Coach, founder of the Child-Centered Divorce Network and author of How Do I Tell the Kids about the Divorce? A Create-a-Storybook Guide To Preparing Your Children — With Love! To get her free ebook on Post-Divorce Parenting: Success Strategies for Getting It Right!, learn about her coaching services and other valuable resources for parents facing, moving through or transitioning after divorce, visit: www.childcentereddivorce.com.

 

© Rosalind Sedacca   All rights reserved.

 



5 Ways Dating is Different for a Divorced Parent

By Rosalind Sedacca, CDC

When you’re a divorced parent, dating again takes on new challenges. Here are five areas that should be of major concern to you when making any decisions about finding a new love partner. Keeping this advice in mind will steer you in the direction of a healthier, more fulfilling relationship ahead.

  1. You have children: mention them early on.

As a divorced parent, you come into dating as a package with your children. Never lie about or keep that a secret. And don’t be apologetic about that fact either. It’s part of who you are and what you offer to your new relationship. You want a partner who will like and hopefully come to love your kids. So don’t start a dating relationship by pretending they don’t exist. The first few dates are not the time to talk excessively about your children. But always be forthright about them and their ages so there are no surprises in your budding new relationship. Never look at your kids as baggage; they’re an instant family for the right lucky person!

      2. Be authentic about your needs and expectations.

Don’t pretend to be who you’re not. It’s tempting when you start dating to pretend to be someone different – to act more “polished” and sophisticated or interested in sports or other topics when you really aren’t. That’s a form of “bait and switch” — teasing your partner into thinking they are with someone who isn’t you. Instead be real, share your authentic self and be proud of who you are — warts and all. They’re going to show up anyway, so why pretend to be different? You’d resent your partner if they did the same thing to you. Dating is a form of qualifying prospects for a future romance. If you don’t reveal the true you, you can’t attract a good fit for a meaningful relationship. Don’t waste your time or theirs. Be REAL!

  1. Be aware of unresolved baggage from your past – and theirs.

Divorce can take its toll on you. And unresolved issues from your past can easily sabotage a new relationship from both perspectives. So identify when you’re experiencing feelings of anger, hurt, pain, guilt, or disillusionment and accept these feelings as lessons learned. It then becomes easier to move on. Work on forgiveness issues, both with your ex and with yourself for having come from a “failed” marriage. Don’t stay stuck in the past. You can never move forward successfully if you’re looking or thinking backward. And you don’t want to choose a partner who isn’t fully focused on you, either!

  1. Trust your intuition and red-flag warning signs.

Intuition is that part of you with knowledge vital to your well-being. This internal antenna continually sends you messages and if anything or anyone makes you feel uneasy don’t ignore it. In the past, you may have dismissed those inner warnings, but now you need to learn from your life experiences and not repeat old mistakes. So being cautious is okay. Just don’t be so hyper-fearful that you avoid good partner material and become afraid of commitment. At the same time, notice any uncomfortable behaviors that would be a sign of impending abuse.  Jealously, too quick attachment, mood swings, anger issues, verbal threats or distorted accusations are the “red flags” that spell caution.

  1. Be sure your expectations are realistic.

Are your demands about weight, age, height, financial success and other factors limiting your ability to find the right partner who will love and appreciate you?  Now that you have true “life” experience, consider the importance of being flexible, objective and fair in your expectations. That way you won’t set yourself up for pain and disappointment next time around. You also won’t overlook great potential partners by putting more superficial qualities (looks, height, weight) ahead of the much more important ones (shared values, integrity, honesty, compassion, wisdom, mutual respect). Don’t look for Mr. or Miss Perfect. He or she doesn’t exist. Seek your Mr. or Miss Right and give him a chance to show you why he’s “the one!”

Rosalind Sedacca, CDC is a Dating & Relationship Coach, Divorce & Co-Parenting Coach and Founder of the Child-Centered Divorce Network for parents. She is also the author of several books on divorce and parenting and dating after divorce. In addition, Rosalind is co-creator of the DatingRescue eCourse and Create Your Ideal Relationship Kit for women. Her free ebook on dating for single women is available at www.womendatingafter40.com. Author: How Do I Tell the Kids about the Divorce?

www.childcentereddivorce.com

www.childcentereddivorce.com/kids

Host: Divorce, Dating & Empowered Living Radio Show & Podcast

 

 



After Divorce: Choose Pro-Active vs. Reactive Parenting

By Rosalind Sedacca, CDC

Parenting is never easy. The challenges are enormous. Decisions are rarely black and white. How much should you indulge your children? When do you step in on sibling or friend-related battles? How much can you trust other parents watching your child for sleepovers and play dates? How tolerant should you be regarding food and eating issues? When should you step in with discipline? When are you crossing the line with punishment? The questions and decisions are infinite, emotionally challenging and hard to resolve.

All of this is life as usual for parents in a traditional marriage. When you add the component of divorce to the mix, the waters are considerably more muddied. And many divorced parents find themselves in the position of questioning their true motives when faced with parenting decisions.

What about you? Are your behaviors influenced by your feelings about your former spouse? Are you responding based on your child’s best interest – or reacting based on revenge, spite, anger or other “I’ll show them …” validations for “getting even”?

When your child’s well-being is at stake, these are questions you need to reflect upon. Your answers can have serious consequences.

Pro-Active Parenting means you make decisions based on the circumstances and how they will directly influence your child. Is this a good parenting decision? Is it protecting my child, supporting their growth, allowing them to learn valuable life lessons without endangering them in the process?

Reactive Parenting comes into play when you make decisions based on reacting to your former spouse instead of acting in the best interest of your child. You are playing “tit for tat” rather than being a pro-active parent. A good question to ask yourself before making any parenting decisions is: Would I have made this same decision on behalf of my child if we were still married?

If you would, then chances are good that you are coming from a place of clarity. If you are being influenced by hurting your ex, getting back at them, creating obstacles for them in accessing or influencing their child, you are likely being a Reactive Parent. Your motives come into question because the best interest of your child often is secondary to competing with or getting revenge against your ex. Sadly, your child is the one most harmed in the process.

When faced with making decisions about holiday activities, summer vacation, attending the school concert or neighborhood soccer game, are you thinking first about how your child would like things to be? Are you seeing the world from their perspective for a while? Are you basing your decision on creating a win-win outcome for your “family” – or trying to wield power over your ex to keep them out of the equation? It’s often easy to justify being rude or uncooperative, too tired or too busy to share the kids with their other parent. But are you remembering who is really being hurt by your behavior?

By practicing Pro-Active rather than Reactive Parenting after your divorce, you are giving your children the best hope for a happier and more positive future. It’s worth the time, the consideration and the awareness about choices you make. You’ll be a better parent in the end. And your child will thank you when they are grown!

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Rosalind Sedacca, CDC is a Divorce & Parenting Coach, Founder of the Child-Centered Divorce Network and author How Do I Tell the Kids about the Divorce? A Create-a-Storybook Guide to Preparing Your Children — with Love. For her free ebook on Post-Divorce Parenting: Success Strategies for Getting It Right! and other valuable resources on divorce and parenting issues,  go to: www.childcentereddivorce.com.

© Rosalind Sedacca   All rights reserved.