By Dan Blair Marriage Counselor and Family Therapist
Why do people divorce and can you stop divorce?
Aside from abuse, affairs, or addictions, the disintegration of relationships can often be understood in terms of attachment research, which studies both insecure and secure attachment patterns. Insecure attachment patterns develop when painful relational experiences cause both withdrawing and pursuing patterns to avoid the pain of abandonment or rejection in the present.
A withdrawing relationship pattern can be marked by a partner feeling uncomfortable or inadequate when talking about emotion or conflict in the relationship. Withdrawers also may feel criticized. Their initial reaction beyond defensiveness may be irritation or anger. Expressing emotion also may make them feel not good enough, or vulnerable. They view significant other’s needs as overwhelming and have been taught to solve problems on their own, and would rather just be appreciated for what they are doing. Withdrawers may feel that they cannot make the other person happy. They would not necessarily look forward to marriage counseling for these reasons. Since relationships do not regularly bring them comfort or relief, they usually do not even think of asking for help. Spouses of withdrawers may feel ignored.
Pursuers run on anxiety or anger as fuel. Parents may have been described as overprotective, or critical. In both cases, a primary focus on the other develops often to the exclusion of one’s own needs. The pursuer is dismayed when a significant other withdraws. The pursuer may continue the pursuit, but in critical ways. The withdrawer may become hurt, and tired of the pattern, even when the pleaser is trying to connect.
A third pattern combines both pursuit and withdrawal. Seeking connection and excitement in the relationship a pursuer may be disappointed or even hurt time and time again. The pursuer may then feel empty and lonely. A withdrawing pattern may begin, and if a negative view of their partner is practiced, then ideas about being more appreciated by someone else may enter the picture. This pattern may be repeated with others. When pursuing, the partner is valued; when the pursuing is disappointing or hurtful, the partner is to blame.
To stop the wish for divorce, an interest in another person has to have not taken root, and a willingness to change these patterns has to be present. Otherwise these patterns tend to be repeated.
Many that divorce are happier, but not that much happier. Over half regret it. Is it worth the long-lasting turmoil for you and the kids?
Good books can be found on rebuilding marriages and changing attachment patterns by Milan and Kay Yerkovich or Susan Johnson.
By Dan Blair, a marriage counselor and family counselor.
This classic song from the Clash resonates with everyone at some point in their lives. It is especially poignant and painful after infidelity. Many who have experienced the dark world of cheating may initially say goodbye, but actually most change their mind and decide to make it work. This is a tough decision to make.
Affairs start in the mind and do not necessarily end in bed. They do often break hearts. There are subtle signs that lead to both an affair and recovery. Signs of cheating should be all taken into account before making an accusation. Unless you have proof in hand, it is better to address the already evident: less investment in the relationship and a much greater investment in other activities, personal changes to increase one’s own attractiveness, and evasiveness about spending time or money.
Cheating is sensational. It is guaranteed to sell the news. It is something that everyone can identify with but is easily judged as betrayal. What is not so easily judged is the small ways that we betray our partners. Gottman says in his book “What Makes Love Last?” that “Betrayal is the secret that lies at the heart of every failing relationship.” Not being there, not following through, putting the kids or career ahead of the marriage are examples.
John Gottman, a leading marital researcher, describes the deterioration of the marriage leading to an absorbing state of negativity called negative sentiment override. This is the stage in a relationship where one partner cannot do enough to make things right. Even positive attempts fall short or are interpreted negatively. He compares it to a roach motel, where once you check in, it is hard to check out.
Add this to another critical element in the demise of a marriage: comparing your spouse unfavorably to others, even comparing to imaginary spouses that are better than your spouse. These are like nails in a coffin. These are usually kept to oneself, along with crossing boundaries. First comes secret-keeping, then comes cheating.
Deciding whether to stay or go depends on the ability to rebuild trust with someone who becomes trustworthy. Signs of someone who is changing a character trait is complete honesty (minus the brutal details which cause obsessions) with nothing to hide. Next, recovery depends on an ability to step outside the self and one’s own pain, and enter into your partner’s pain (without beating yourself up). It is the ability to feel what your partner is feeling, and on that basis fully regret your actions and betrayal. It involves making personal and relational changes that benefit both partners that stand the test of time. These changes are determined by essential relational skills: empathy instead of defensiveness, asking for what is needed instead of criticizing, and setting personal boundaries on what you are not willing to do, and at the same time what you are willing to do for your partner. Deciding whether or not your partner is being honest depends on these criteria, along with your own instinct about what your partner is like when he or she if faithful, and what he or she is like when she is not. Although this may be a confusing process, it can be used to decide if he or she is an acceptable risk. Verification of honesty may be required. Finally, there may be need for a clear consequence to future betrayals.
Is this painful process worth it? Are you able to overcome negative sentiment override? One idea involves writing down as many positive traits of your partner. Look back over your story. Is there regularity to the energy put into making the other feel loved? Are there examples of admiration for each other? Is it marked by “we” decisions or “me” decisions? Is that enough to overcome the pain of recovery? Most people also consider the pain and effect of divorce, and realize that there is no guarantee that the next relationship will end up in a better place, and decide that because of shared history and children that it is better to stay together. Some researchers find that over time when all things are considered, the next relationship is not a huge jump in happiness. If trust is unable to be rebuilt though, there is little to sustain a relationship.
By Dan Blair, a marriage counselor and family counselor.
As a marriage and family therapist I have learned techniques to help marriages and family relationships work. The one that works best by far is the use of unconditional love. How that works out in the marriage is my next question.
One thing I’ve noticed is that when I would have an argument with my wife, we would have spirited discussions about the same old topics. Often for us, it was about the use of time. We have lots of kids and a lot of work falls on her. We also have lots of bills and that weight falls on me. For you, you might argue about something that happened that you are having a hard time forgiving.
Unconditional love is impossible without humility. My relationship with my wife started by being selfish, thinking about how the qualities of my wife would benefit me. Then I gained my wife’s love by impressing her. However, this is not unconditional love. I cannot depend on a love that depends on my ability to impress. Certainly, it is not the kind of love that can last.
Turning toward our own ability to love someone, have you felt, as I have, that there are moments where you just do not feel like you have love to give? Often when I feel this way I criticize my wife and defend myself, or I act like a victim and run away. Then I dwell on what is right and wrong in order to think of a way to get my needs met. Then I present my argument to my wife, but it seems to have the same impact as if I am saying to her, “I don’t love you.” I am not saying that, but I wonder how if this is what she feels when I argue with her.
I remember the time my wife was telling me about the frustrations of her day and I was tired but attempting to be empathetic. I recall an instant turn in my emotions when she unexpectedly added, “And if you were around, this would not have happened.” It ignited anger in me, so I retorted, “Do you really want this to blow up?” Luckily I came to my senses enough to walk away. “Empty” is the word that came to mind as I retreated. “I’ve got nothing more to give.”
Greg Baer in his book Real Love compares arguments to feeling attacked while drowning. When someone is drowning they lash out. In fear, someone drowning may hit you or grab onto you and pull you under, resulting in two victims. When we are arguing, we are drowning and lashing out. Research shows that similar events are occurring in our brain when we argue as when we are drowning.
When I realize that I feel like I am drowning when I do not feel loved, and I am feeling empty and alone, how can I respond with unconditional love?
First, I remember that my wife may also be drowning, feeling empty and alone. If I view my wife who at times lashes out at me as drowning, my anger at her is reduced. I feel less interested in criticizing her and defending myself, but I still feel like a victim and want to run away. I am drowning and need to get back on solid ground myself.
My wife nor I may be able to unconditionally love at any moment. If someone was overwhelmed and upset, or stressed, or maybe has had a lifetime of not feeling loved, there will be times that person will not be able to love. Unconditional love means I am accepted with my faults, struggles, and weaknesses. So it falls on me to search myself and speak the truth about myself to someone, (not the opposite sex of course) that will accept me for who I am. Then I may have the energy to improve myself.
So I reflected on my own emptiness and thought about ways I can restore my energy for unconditional love. This may involve self-care, for which we are responsible, and seeking care from others. I thought of this acronym, “ACES” to remind me of ways to restore energy for unconditional love.
“A” stands for a sense of accomplishment.
“C” stands for the connection I have to God, family, and friends, that I need to seek out to feel loved enough to love my spouse.
“E” stands for enjoyment, the “small” parts of life, often overlooked, that I need to remember in gratitude.
“S” stands for self-care, sleep, diet, exercise and other needs for which I am responsible to meet.
Most importantly, I needed to confess to someone my struggle and feel their acceptance. If I am loved for what I do for others, what is that? That is a performance-based love. That is how we got married in the first place. But I need the kind of love where someone who sees me for who I am and then accepts me. I need this kind of love in order to love others.
I may have seek this out on a regular basis. It takes courage. Who wants to talk about their struggles and faults? I would rather talk to someone and they tell me I am in the right. But that is back to performance-based love. So I turned to my “ACES,” and turned to a friend to whom I can admit my faults. He still liked me, and accepted me as I am. With time I was ready to understand and give to my wife.
What are some ways I can unconditionally love my spouse? Here are common needs for men and women, as highlighted in Shaunti and Jeff Feldhahn’s research-based books on relationships, For Men Only and For Women Only.
Women need to be pursued. They are wired for relationship. Women feel it when something is missing here. They write, “Pursuit is likely to make you a great husband in her eyes.” Relationships need energy like anything else of value. A little time can yield big dividends. Perhaps consider “The Five Love Languages” by Gary Chapman.
In the movie, Parent Trap, Nick asks his ex-wife. Elizabeth, how their relationship died. He said, “It ended so fast. So about the day you packed, why’d you do it?” She replied, “Oh, Nick. We were so young. We both had tempers, we said stupid things, and so I packed. Got on my first 747, and… you didn’t come after me.” After a period of dead silence, Nick admitted, “I didn’t know that you wanted me to.”
A common need for a man is to feel their spouses’ respect. They are wired for accomplishment. Men feel it when something is missing here. The authors write, “What is at stake isn’t his pride as much as his secret feelings of inadequacy as a man.” Many unmarried men described feeling inadequate as a major barrier to getting married in the first place. They do not want to feel inadequate the rest of their lives.
Let me conclude by asking if love is the goal in marriage, and unconditional love is what makes marriage work, then what does unconditional love look like for you? Everybody may have a different definition. For some, unconditional love may mean that they set boundaries so that harm does not occur in a relationship. For others, love is characterized as giving without getting. Immediately, when I hear this definition, I think, “But what about me? What about my needs?” I guess the better question is, what is the best way to meet my needs? If I am angry or disappointed in my partner, I am thinking of myself and my needs. I may be feeling empty, overwhelmed or drowning. Here’s a lifeline: confession. It is speaking truth to someone who accepts and loves us as we are, faults and all. I think that is better than finding someone who agrees with you that you are in the right. I do not know about you, but being right has not inspired me to be more loving. Feeling loved has inspired me to be more loving.
By Dan Blair, a marriage counselor and family counselor.
At times people think about how problems would be solved if they were married to someone else. Some problems may be solved this way, but it also is true that we carry our response to problems from relationship to relationship. John Gottman, a leading marital researcher, gives this example:
Paul married Alice and Alice gets loud at parties and Paul, who is shy, hates that. But if Paul had married Susan, he and Susan would have gotten into a fight before they even got to the party. That’s because Paul is always late and Susan hates to be kept waiting. She would feel taken for granted, which she is very sensitive about. Paul would see her complaining about this as her attempt to dominate him, which he is very sensitive about. If Paul had married Gail, they wouldn’t have even gone to the party because they would still be upset about an argument they had the day before about Paul’s not helping with the housework. To Gail when Paul does not help she feels abandoned, which she is sensitive about, and to Paul Gail’s complaining is an attempt at domination, which he is sensitive about. The same is true about Alice. If she had married Steve, she would have the opposite problem, because Steve gets drunk at parties and she would get so angry at his drinking that they would get into a fight about it. If she had married Lou, she and Lou would have enjoyed the party but when they got home the trouble would begin when Lou wanted sex because he always wanted sex when he wants to feel closer, but sex is something Alice only wants when she already feels close.
Even rock-solid marriages have sensitivities like the ones described above. This is where it can hurt. It is common to think of marriage as something that is difficult, discouraging, and even hurtful. Many think of personal failure. It is difficult to respond well in an intimate relationship when we are not treated well. We all can think of examples where we are not treated well. Maybe you can think of a time you were betrayed by a childhood friend. Or, you ask your teenage daughter how her evening went, and she nearly bites off your head. Possibly you are caring for aging parents and in spite of all your efforts, they are still unhappy. Or, you are unhappily married but stay together for a number of reasons. Others do not. Every 45 seconds a marriage ends in divorce (Dr. Greg Smalley).
An incredible statistic is the one that predicts divorce. Marriage is one of the most researched topics over the last 40 years and this prediction is well-documented. John Gottman and other researchers underscore that your response, when you are treated poorly in your marriage, is predictive of eventual divorce with 91 percent accuracy.
It is not exactly what is said, or what is done, that is so predictive. It is the feeling that one spouse is above or below the other. It results in defensiveness. It can come from dwelling on the injustices in your relationship, or from ruminating on the weaknesses of the other. It leaks out in one’s tone, facial expressions, and non-verbal body language. It is contempt. We often do not mean to be contemptuous. Maybe you just want to bring up an issue, or just talk about it, and your spouse interprets it as criticism and wants to defend, attack back, and finally withdraw. Dan Allender, in his book with Tremper Longman III, Intimate Allies says that “many couples live with an underlying contempt for each other.” Later they write, “Spouses degrade each other when they show a contemptuous, shaming, judgmental spirit.”
We are all treated poorly at times. We all have different desires and these can turn into expectations. When these expectations are not met, we get angry, or at least disappointed. We can feel that the other is not living up to their end of the bargain. The contract is not being fulfilled. If you a sign a contract, there are certainly expectations to be met. If you use that mentality in marriage, you are set up for more disappointment and hurt. Tension develops between the idea of marriage being a contract, and marriage being a covenant.
So what do spouses do, who generally get treated well, in their marriage, act at those moments when they are not treated well?
If there is any recourse from a hardened heart to one that is open, safety is key. It is hard to open up and admit feelings and failures, if you are afraid of your partner’s response. If one feels safe, you can be honest about feelings and failures. It creates a joint struggle to expose the beautiful, and the broken. It allows for true love, the grace that provides the elements needed to grow, and it feeds passion.
Contempt, on the other hand, is beyond the inevitable frustration with your spouse. It does not just say that I am angry, afraid or sad; it puts the emphasis on that the other is wrong or bad. We are all wrong or bad at times. We all struggle. But people that get treated well do not put down the other resulting in defensiveness. This approach seeks to make sense of your partner, and understand what he or she is feeling, and to make his or her feelings as important as your own. Marital researchers underscore that this non-judgmental approach happens in the context of equal regard, creating a sense of safety. It acknowledges underlying needs on both sides of the equation.
Here are common needs for men and women, as highlighted in Shaunti and Jeff Feldhahn’s research-based books on relationships, For Men Only and For Women Only.
Women need to be pursued. They are wired for relationship. Women feel it when something is missing here. They write, “Pursuit is likely to make you a great husband in her eyes.” Relationships need an infusion of energy like anything else of value. A little time can yield big dividends.
In the movie, Parent Trap, Nick asks his ex-wife. Elizabeth, about what happened between them. He said, “It ended so fast. So about the day you packed, why’d you do it?” She replied, “Oh, Nick. We were so young. We both had tempers, we said stupid things, and so I packed. Got on my first 747, and . . . you didn’t come after me.” After a period of dead silence, Nick admitted, “I didn’t know that you wanted me to.” Elizabeth felt if she asked him to come after her, she would never know if he would on his own.
Men need to be proud of. They are wired for accomplishment. Men feel it when something is missing here. The authors write, “What is at stake isn’t his pride as much as his secret feelings of inadequacy as a man.” Many unmarried men described feeling inadequate as a major barrier to getting married in the first place. They do not want to feel inadequate the rest of their lives.
What if I am not open to this kind of covenantal approach? Impulsivity, stress, lack of time and energy, built-up anger, hurt and resentment are all facts of life but get in the way. A formidable obstacle is the belief that one’s partner is more to blame for the relationship problems. An urgent need is for personal support to make personal changes from reading, friends, and support groups.
What if my partner isn’t open to this kind of covenantal approach? This kind of approach is for the sake of the giver as much as the receiver. It allows the giver to feel settled and in control about their part, even if your partner does not respond well. Researchers underscore that when one partner is not treated well, this is precisely the time that this approach is needed. When it gets tough, take a break and come back allowing both sides time to process to a better conclusion. Or break the discussion and ask your partner for proposals, or make proposals. Living in a fallen world and being self-responsible means that we have to set personal boundaries. The challenge, according to marital researchers, is to not look down on your partner in the meantime, because looking down on your partner itself puts your relationship at risk.
By Dan Blair, a marriage counselor and family counselor.
Is harder than many people think. Since the strength of a relationship is based on connection between people, communication is often underestimated as well. It is a skill that must be practiced over and over. Even when making casual conversation, there is opportunity to strengthen relationships by reflecting the interests of another. One’s words can also strain relationships when they stir up emotions. The intent of one’s message may be lost leaving both parties feeling misunderstood. Three ingredients to resolving relationship issues apply to spouses, parents, children, friends and coworkers: Understanding, Showing concern, and Agreements.
One must be calm and focused to use these tools. Otherwise one’s brain, flooded with adrenaline, does not cooperate and one’s intent in communication is much different than the impact of one’s words. On the contrary, when relaxed, usually taking turns without interruptions works. Taking time to understand before you are understood even works better. Technically, one does not have to prove oneself or convince someone to be valid.
To show understanding one cannot assume he or she understands the other. One cannot also assume the other is wrong. People tend to repeat themselves, argue, or criticize unless they feel understood. To make sense of what someone is saying does not mean you agree, feel the same, or would do the same as someone else in a given situation. To understand, instead, accomplishes the purpose of communication: to make sense to someone else. People who feel better or closer after a discussion usually feel connected rather than corrected. A couple of guidelines can greatly reduce adrenaline-fused verbal spars. When showing understanding, focus on the following:
Fouls: avoid insults and topic-hopping. Starting sentences with “I” may receive less resistance that starting sentences with “You.”
Feelings:what one is feeling is more important than facts to feel close to someone.
Future: the future can be changed, the past needs understanding but cannot be changed.
S howing concern
Demonstrating that one cares is an essential ingredient in satisfying relationships. If one is in a relationship but no longer cares, perhaps one is dwelling on the negative, or there is a lack of common goals. There are a number of ways to show you care not only about a person, but also about their statements.
Talk: tell the person how much you appreciate them or what they feel.
Time: spend time doing something enjoyable together.
Touch: affection can say a lot more than words when done appropriately.
Tasks: whatever you do for another that’s not expected but appreciated.
Tokens: notes, small gifts or offering to get someone a drink.
Even though one may not agree about the past or about a given topic, one can make agreements for the future. Adhering to agreements yield trust, commitment, and even passion. The following considerations can increase the chance of success, even if one has to go back to the drawing board.
Optimism: agreements should not bring future resentments.
Options: commit to find options that will work for both parties.
Outcomes: (not threats) that are understood if agreements are not kept.
For many, “I” statements are recommended to be used to communicate. For example, “I feel ______ when ______.” To connect and strengthen the relationship, try an experiment using a particular kind of “You” statements. For example, “You are feeling or thinking ______ and wishing for ______.” Instead of saying, “I understand,” or repeating what another is saying, show understanding with your words. Check with the person or look for signs that they feel understood. Instead of using “You” statements to criticize, condemn, or complain, see what happens when one makes comments showing interest in another’s views, whether they are wrong or right, over time. Even though you may not agree, you can make agreements.
When I ask you to listen to me
And you start giving advice
You have not done what I asked.
When I ask you to listen to me
And you begin to tell me why I shouldn’t feel that way
You are trampling on my feelings.
When I ask you to listen to me
And you feel you have to do something to solve my problems
You have failed me, strange as that may seem.
Listen! All I ask is that you listen
Not talk or do – just hear me.
Advice is cheap: the world wide web is full of free advice.
And I can do for myself. I’m not helpless.
Maybe discouraged and faltering, but not helpless.
But when you accept as a simple fact that I do feel what I feel,
No matter how irrational, then I stop trying to convince you,
And can get about the business of understanding what’s behind this irrational feeling.
And when that’s clear, the answers are obvious and I don’t need advice.
So please listen and just hear me, and if you want to talk,
Wait a minute for your turn, and I’ll listen to you.
By Dan Blair, a marriage counselor and family counselor.
D escribe the other person’s feeling, or show appreciation, or make sense of what they are thinking, even if you disagree.
A sk for what you are wanting, or ask the other person to make sense of what you are feeling. Make multiple proposals. Don’t debate.
B oundaries make clear what you are not willing to do, but end with what you are willing to do. Meet in the middle.
This approach can also be used for kids. Start by connecting with your child to increase the chance of being heard, describe their feeling (even in one word). Ask your child to do the right thing, or for a “time-in,” (teaching him or her how to calm yourself), or to take a “time-out.” Set boundaries by making it clear what is not okay, followed by what behavior is okay. Consequences can also be clarified or negotiated also at this point.
How well can you answer these questions with a long-term view?
<li>What are the five most important things to you in a marriage?</li>
<li>I love you because . . . (three reasons).</li>
<li>I want to marry you because . . . (three specific reasons, not “I love you”).</li>
<li>We’re a good match because . . . (five reasons).</li>
<li>Where would you like to live?</li>
<li>How much would you like to spend your free time together?</li>
<li>How much personal/alone time do you need?</li>
<li>How much sleep do you need? Are you a morning or evening person?</li>
<li>How often do you expect to visit extended family?</li>
<li> Do you expect to be very social as a couple? To spend much time with friends?</li>
<li> Do you expect to take family vacations every year?</li>
<li>Do you plan to make a career change after you get married?</li>
<li>What did your father’s role in the family look like? Your mother’s role?</li>
<li> Do you think your parents were healthy emotionally and relationally? Why or why not?</li>
<li>How do you feel about how your parents related to each other?</li>
<li>How did your parents make decisions? Did they talk about decisions together or did one spouse make decisions without consulting his or her partner?</li>
<li> What would you like to see your roles as husband and wife look like?</li>
<li>How would you like to make decisions as a couple once you’re married?</li>
Division of Labor
<li>Who will do the following chores?</li>
<li>Cooking and preparing meals?</li>
<li>Cleaning up after meals?</li>
<li>Doing the laundry?</li>
<li>Taking out trash?</li>
<li>Servicing the car?</li>
<li>Planning nights out?</li>
<li>Buying and giving gifts?</li>
<li>Planning and shopping for occasions?</li>
<li>Corresponding with family and friends?</li>
<li>Caring for aging parents?</li>
<li>Caring for pets?</li>
<li>What do you like and dislike about your parents? Your family?</li>
<li>Are there unhealthy patterns, dysfunctions, or other challenges in your family?</li>
<li>What concerns do you both have about your future in-laws?</li>
<li>Are you worried about interfering in-laws? What will you do if this happens?</li>
<li>What are your families’ expectations regarding your relationship?</li>
<li>What are your expectations regarding how your relationship with your families might change?</li>
<li>Will your families expect to see you regularly? How often?</li>
<li>What boundaries to you need to set right away?</li>
<li>What will you do about holidays?</li>
<li>What family traditions and customs would you like to continue?</li>
<li>Was church or synagogue attendance a regular part of your childhood?</li>
<li>One a scale of one to five rate the level of church involvement you prefer.</li>
<li>When you’re married, when do you want to pray together?</li>
<li>How important if Bible reading to you? Is joining a Bible study with others something you would like to do?</li>
<li>How important is spiritual leadership to you? Do you believe that one of you should take the lead, or how would both of you work together to lead the family?</li>
<li>What religious traditions are important to you?</li>
<li>Did you grow up rich, poor, or middle class?</li>
<li>What value did you learn to place on money?</li>
<li>Were you secure or insecure about money?</li>
<li>Did your parents model generosity, good shopping habits, and careful planning?</li>
<li>Was work more important than family? Was pleasure more important than wise money management?</li>
<li>Did your parents use coupons, pay bills on time, and meet financial goals?</li>
<li>Was there gambling, overspending, or spending to impress friends and neighbors?</li>
<li>Did either parent engage in high-risk ventures?</li>
<li>Did your parents have the idea that bankruptcy is okay?</li>
<li>Did your family sacrifice when needed, save, invest, and use cash versus credit?</li>
<li>Was paying for insurance, education, and retirement important to your parents?</li>
<li>Did they live on the edge of their finances now and not worry about tomorrow?</li>
<li>Do you think joint or separate accounts are appropriate in your marriage?</li>
<li>Do you think paying the bills should be done separately or together?</li>
<li>Do you work with a budget now?</li>
<li>Are you conservative or aggressive in investments?</li>
<li>What are your income goals?</li>
<li>Have you ever lost a large sum of money?</li>
<li>What mistakes have you made with money?</li>
<li>How much and what will each of you be free to spend?</li>
<li>What stress you out when it comes to money?</li>
<li>Do you tithe or give to charitable organizations?</li>
<li>How do you handle anger?</li>
<li>How do you handle anxiety?</li>
<li>How do you handle sadness?</li>
<li>How do you handle disagreements?</li>
<li>How do you solve problems?</li>
<li>How do you stay connected and close over time?</li>
<li>How do you handle resentments?</li>
<li>How do you handle “the silent treatment?”</li>
<li>One a scale of one to five how important is sex?</li>
<li>How often do you expect to have sex?</li>
<li>What worries do you have about sex?</li>
<li>Can we both initiate sex?</li>
<li>What is your attitude about giving or receiving sexual pleasure?</li>
<li>Are there limits? Acts or behavior that is not acceptable to you?</li>
<li>What would ruin sexual intimacy for you?</li>
<li>What creates passion for you?</li>
<li>What was your family’s attitude toward sex?</li>
<li>How did you learn about sex?</li>
<li>What experiences and influences from your childhood and adolescence might hinder healthy sex with your future mate?</li>
<li>Are you comfortable talking about sex? Why or why not?</li>
<li>How has the media and culture influenced what you think about sex?</li>
<li>How comfortable are you with your body? Your appearance?</li>
<li>How important is healthy sex to you and your future mate?</li>
<li>How many children would you like to have?</li>
<li>How do you feel about birth control?</li>
<li>Would one of us be a stay-at-home parent? How do you feel about that?</li>
<li>What if we’re unable to have children? How would you feel about fertility treatments?</li>
<li>How do you feel about adoption? Would you consider it, and when?</li>
<li>When would you like to start a family?</li>
<li>How would your disciplinary approaches differ?</li>
<li>Is your relationship more passion or more commitment-oriented?</li>
<li>Has your relationship stood the test of time?</li>
<li>Are there any bad habits or pet peeves?</li>
<li>Do you detect possible immaturity or selfishness?</li>
<li>Do you detect a critical nature?</li>
<li>Does one withdraw and isolate?</li>
<li>Is there any financial irresponsibility?</li>
<li>Is there any history of verbal or physical abuse? Controlling behavior?</li>
<li>Are there differences in core values or beliefs, especially spiritual?</li>
<li>Are there any addictive behaviors or substance use?</li>
<li>Any crossing of relationship boundaries with other in the past or currently?</li>
<li>Are both partners physically, financially, and emotionally free from past relationships?</li>
<li>Do you have your families blessing for your marriage?</li>
<li>Have you recovered from the loss of your previous marriage?</li>
<li>Have your kids recovered?</li>
<li>What will each of you change about this marriage to succeed?</li>
<li>Are you comfortable with your ex and your partner’s ex? What potential problems may arise?</li>
<li>Are you prepared for the complexities of step-parenting?</li>
<li>Are there child-custody issues, or legal issues that may appear in the future?</li>
<li>What will you need to become a successful blended family?</li>
Skill-based premarital courses lower divorce rates by 45 percent. Call us with any questions at (815) 276-3947.
For more information:
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By Dan Blair, a marriage counselor and family counselor.
A practical way to make love last is to devote at least 15 minutes a day to the relationship and two or three hours on the weekend by:
Time: having fun again.
Touch: simple affection.
Talk: be nice to each other, ask for what you want.
Tasks: do things for each other.
Tokens: give something to eachother.
Hugs & Kisses
Longtime couple illustrates how marriage can endure for decades
By CHELSEA McDOUGALL – email@example.com
Robert and Arlene Carl, both 89, of McHenry smile at each other Tuesday at Alden Terrace in McHenry. The couple has been married for 68 years and said one thing that made their marriage last was never going to sleep while upset with one another. (Hollyn Johnson – firstname.lastname@example.org)
McHENRY – Arlene Carl smiled ear to ear, and traces of the young 19-year-old bride she once was were present in her giggle as she sat next to her husband, Bob Carl. Bob is in rehabilitation at Alden Terrace in McHenry, and the couple sat next to each other on the couch for this interview. It was the closest they’ve been in months.
The way Arlene Carl tells their love story is simple.
“We met years and years ago before World War II,” she said. “I was working at a store and he came in with a boyfriend, and they invited me to go bowling with them. I went and that was it.”
But Bob Carl’s version is a little more romantic.
“It was in 1939 in February,” he recalled. “We kept meeting each other from time to time. When I saw her, I said to myself, ‘That’s the lady I want to marry.'”
Bob and Arlene met as teenagers in Depression-era Chicago. While Bob recalls Arlene’s striking beauty and auburn hair, she said it was his manners that eventually won her over. After meeting at a party, then eventually their first bowling date, Bob and Arlene continued to see each other on and off before Bob joined the National Guard. Bob only planned on one year of service, but Dec. 7, 1941, changed his life and put their relationship in fast forward. The couple married Dec. 26, 1942, and the couple enjoyed a month and a half of marriage before Bob was sent overseas. For 33 months, Bob traveled the globe during World War II, while back in Chicago, Arlene worked for the phone company. But the pair never were far from each other’s thoughts.
“It was very sad,” Arlene recalled. “But I worked hard and tried to set a little something aside so when he came home we could live normally. I was lonely and he was lonely, but we wrote every day.” The couple finally reunited in November 1945 and spent a long weekend reconnecting at the Belmont Hotel in Chicago.
“I was mighty happy to be home and see my wife,” Bob said.
Sprinkle in three sons, 11 grandchildren, six great-grandchildren, a little traveling, and a move to their McHenry home, and the Carls have lived a good life. The key to their successful marriage?
“Every night at bedtime, we would resolve anything that we had out there,” Bob said. “And we would kiss goodnight. [We] never went to bed mad.”
“Maybe a little miffed,” Arlene said, correcting Bob.
While the Carls have enjoyed nearly 70 years of blissful marriage, for other couples, a healthy marriage takes a little more work.
Dan Blair, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Crystal Lake, has worked with countless couples in his 11 years in practice.
“I think the leading cause of divorce is disconnectedness, a gradual over time erosion of the relationship,” Blair said. “Usually there is conflict involved over money, or sex, or in-laws. But the disconnection of the couple is what places the relationship in jeopardy.”
Blair suggested “putting the fun back in the marriage” and that struggling couples should focus on their friendship.
“Solving problems is easier when you restore that friendship,” Blair said.
Blair also said a goal was to maintain a balance of appropriate closeness, but not too close so as to suffocate one’s partner. Watch resentment, he suggested, and don’t let anger take root. Others looking for a romantic gesture can look to Bob’s tender goodnight greeting for his wife.
“I call her every night before I go to sleep and say goodnight and send my love and kisses,” Bob said.
When asked what he says to Arlene each night, Bob starts singing: “I love you, a bushel and a peck, and a hug around the neck.”
And Arlene blushed.
• • •
Strategies of the heart
Harvard clinical psychologist Dr. Betsy Sukowicz offers her take on what she calls “winning and losing strategies” for relationships. It is based on a popular therapy tool developed by Terrence Real.
Winning strategies …
- Shift from complaint to request, meaning ask “would you do this for me?”
- Speak with love and savvy. Be assertive about what you want. Don’t demand, but say what’s on your mind. Remember your partner is someone you care about.
- If your partner is asking for something, respond with generosity.
- Empower each other.
- Cherish what you have.
Losing strategies …
- Being right, or thinking your way is the right way and not negotiating issues.
- Controlling your partner.
- Unbridled self-expression or venting, telling everything that is on your mind without regard to how your words will affect your partner.
- Retaliation. When one person feels badly treated, he or she punishes the partner because the partner “deserves” it.
- Withdrawal, or detaching oneself from one’s partner.
Copyright 2011, Northwest Herald, The (Crystal Lake, IL). All Rights Reserved.
By Dan Blair, a marriage counselor and family counselor.
When looking for marital partners, men and women look first for common family goals, financial compatibility, and then compatibility in career choices, sexuality, and religion. Often opposites attract, and financial personalities range from savers motivated by security and spenders motivated by self-determination. Without blaming the other for their differences, couples can ask the other about their earliest recollections of how money is spent to understand why they may be different at this point in each partner’s life.
Financial advisors recommend setting financial goals to create an emergency fund, debt reduction, retirement planning, and a will sooner than later. Insurance is critical, including health, life, disability and property protection. Tools can be found at learnvest.com, mint.com,, and mvelopes.com among others.
One suggestion to recover from debt is to list your debts from the smallest amount owed to the largest.
Add the minimum payments required each month.
Add a hundred or two hundred to this amount. (If you cannot find an extra hundred to add to this amount, recovery from debt may not be possible without help).
The money for the minimum payments plus the extra hundred or two is the amount to be used to pay down your debt. Start by paying the minimum balance on each plus the hundred or two on the smallest debt.
When the smallest debt is paid, take the minimum payment, plus the extra hundred or two, and add that to the minimum payment of the next smallest debt.
Proceed accordingly paying the same amount toward your debt each month regardless of the number of debts owed.
Economy of Matrimony
By EMILY K. COLEMAN – email@example.com
CRYSTAL LAKE – Ahead of their October wedding, Matt and Crystle Mariani cut back on date nights and going out with their friends.
The Crystal Lake couple are both planners, and they’re both savers.
“It’s easy to … say, ‘OK, We want to get married; next we want to get a house,’ and now we’re continuing to do that and plan together for one day [when] we’ll want kids and we’ll want to go on vacation,” Crystle Mariani said, sitting on the couch in the home the two bought and moved into last month.
Arguments about finances early on in a marriage are the top predictor of whether a relationship will end in divorce, according to a 2012 study by a Kansas State University researcher.
“Money is an emotional issue with most of us,” said Jim Issel, a financial consultant with Exemplar Financial Network. “You’re bringing together two people from two totally different backgrounds, and it’s important to talk about it. It’s also important for people entering their second or third marriages.”
Besides helping people plan for their retirements and advising them on their finances, Issel is Matt Mariani’s stepfather. Issel’s wife, Ann Mariani-Issel, is a vice president with Dorion-Gray Retirement Planning in Crystal Lake.
With both of his parents in the finance sector, Matt Mariani got plenty of advice on money management, although Mariani said most of it he learned through example.
They talked to him about preparing for retirement, saving, budgeting, and being conservative with income, Issel said. The next conversation is life insurance.
While much of the Marianis’ financial planning is unspoken, more couples are coming clean about their finances before tying the knot, according to an Experian Consumer Services survey that compared couples married before and after 2008 and the recession.
“People are getting the issue that money is the No. 1 issue,” said Dan Blair, a counselor and owner of Blair Counseling and Mediation in Crystal Lake. “They frequently come to get help on that issue, and they don’t just come to counselors. They go to banks and look online.”
Finances have grown as an issue for Blair’s clients since 2008, he said, adding he typically sees three issues in this area: differing views on wants and needs, how to handle unexpected expenses, and a seeming inability to save money.
The heightened awareness around family finances caused by the recession may not be the only reason more recently married couples are talking about money before they get married.
For some of Marianis’ friends, student loans are causing them to push back some milestones, including getting married, or buying a home, they said.
While student loans weren’t as much of an issue for them, Matt and Crystle Mariani – Matt works for Centegra Hospital – Woodstock’s concussion and cardiac clinic and Crystle is a special education teacher at Cary Junior High – decided to rent until they felt comfortable and stable enough to take the next step and buy a home.
Now their focus is putting aside enough money to cover property taxes and household expenses because as first-time homeowners they don’t really know what to expect, Matt Mariani said.
With effort, marriages can withstand pressures of poor economic times
By JENN WIANT – firstname.lastname@example.org
Mel and Bobette Von Bergen have faced some hard economic times.
As farmers, the Hebron couple’s livelihood is at the mercy of the weather and the market.
From 2001 to 2006, times were especially tough because corn and soybean prices were down, but the costs for necessities such as fertilizer were up.
But the Von Bergens are fortunate because they have been able to rely on each other for support for the past 42 years.
For many couples, financial struggles can be so stressful that they lead to divorce. With the current economic downturn, more couples with marriage problems stemming from financial difficulties are seeing local marital counselors.
Perhaps the counseling is working, because divorces are down statewide and appear to be holding steady locally even while the population has increased.
The number of divorces in Illinois per 1,000 people has decreased to about 2.6 in 2005 from 3.3 in 1999, according to the most current data available from the National Center for Health Statistics.
In McHenry County, the number of marriages dissolved in court has stayed fairly stable at about 1,200 a year for the past decade, according to court statistics.
But marriage and family therapist Dan Blair of Blair Counseling in Crystal Lake said he had seen an increase in the number of clients with marriage problems revolving around finances since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
“I have found that money is often the straw that breaks the camel’s back,” Blair said. “Even more so now, I’m finding that it puts a wedge between husband and wife.”
Often, the primary wage earner feels the financial burden and overworks, Blair said. The other spouse is left to take care of the home or get a job to help make ends meet. Each spouse becomes distant and resentful of the other, and sometimes spending money becomes an escape, compounding the problem.
The Von Bergens have survived their marriage by supporting each other; diversifying their business to include a country market, school tours, and events like the Fall Fun Fest; and staying optimistic that the economy can get better as quickly as it turned bad, Bobette Von Bergen said.
“You’re in [the marriage] for the long run,” she said. “It causes strain and you get cranky, but in farming every day can be a turnaround.
“You have to talk and support each other. There were some really down times, but most of the time you can’t do a whole lot about it.”
Coping in tough times
Recognizing that the economy affects everyone is key, said Michele Weiner-Davis, founder of divorcebusting.com and director of the Divorce Busting Centers in Woodstock and Boulder, Colo.
“Not enough couples recognize that they’re victim to the poor economy like everybody else,” Weiner-Davis said in a phone interview from Boulder.
She offered three pieces of advice to couples struggling with marriage and their finances.
First, recognize that everyone else is stressed out for the same reasons, and your financial problems are not necessarily related to something your spouse has done.
Secondly, if you and your spouse have different ideas about how to handle the finances, try to understand your partner’s point of view.
And finally, if you can’t solve the problems alone, get help from a counselor.
“I am a very firm believer that marriage can really tolerate many things going wrong as long as couples have a platform to be able to discuss it, negotiate about it, collaborate and be empathetic,” Weiner-Davis said.
“As long as people can do that, their marriage will survive. When there’s no way to communicate so all they’re doing is fighting and blaming each other, that’s what really puts marriage at risk of divorce.”
Blair said he had recommended that spouses schedule time to be together, set spending limits in different categories, and divide home chores to help foster a sense of partnership in the home.
Not just finances
Gunnar Gitlin, a divorce attorney in Woodstock, said financial problems usually were a symptom of other problems in the marriage, and he didn’t see an increase in divorces as a result of the poor economy.
“Divorce tends to be generally unaffected by economy swings,” he said. “People get divorced in good times because they can afford to and in bad times because there are greater financial pressures.”
What was increasing, he said, was the number of couples choosing not to hire lawyers in divorce proceedings to save money or trying to solve all issues in just one court appearance.
But to avoid getting to the point of worrying about the cost of a divorce, licensed clinical psychologist Susan Olesch, who practices in Lake in the Hills and Algonquin, suggested that couples see a financial adviser who can help them get a handle on their money situation and set a budget.
“The majority of people I see stay together,” Olesch said. “In a real marriage, nothing breaks it up if you work on it and can get past it. If you want to make it work and you really value the other person, you can make it work.”
Copyright � 2008 Northwest Herald. All rights reserved.