But sadly, some couples aren’t successful. The couples who don’t make it can be surprising. In fact, sometimes couples with the longest relationships and the most history together are actually most at risk for getting divorced. I’ve written all about the science and psychology of breakups at all different stages of life in my book, “Exaholic: Breaking Your Addiction to An Ex Love.” I was honored to be invited to speak with Dr. Randy Kamen at her Fulfillment and Joy in Midlife Summit about the potential pitfalls couples need to avoid if they want to grow old together.
Here’s are just a few of Dr. Kamen’s wonderful relationship questions:
What can couples do to ensure that their marriages stay strong and satisfying as they grow older?
Why do older couples often get divorced after the kids leave home?
What are the warning signs that your marriage is on the rocks?
How do you stay connected to your partner, as you are both growing, changing and evolving?
How can couples who have been together for a long time keep their relationships interesting and fresh?
What do couples who stay together do differently, compared to couples who get divorced?
Watch our interview, and learn what it takes to stay happily married for a lifetime.
January is The Most Common Time Of Year For Breakups and Divorces
Does your relationship have a holiday hangover? Don’t let your relationship turn into a statistic! Take some advice from your online marriage counselor and learn how to turn 2016 into the best year ever for your marriage.
It’s time to deal with your relationship: Memories of the holiday meals and sparkly presents are fading into the distance. The brown pine needles have been vacuumed from the rug. But the hurt feelings, resentments, and disappointments? Hoo boy! NOW is the time of year when it finally feels safe to talk about the hard things that have happened over the last few months.
Holidays are wonderful, and there is lots to love. But they are also stressful, and they put uniquely difficult stressors on relationships. The cracks in every relationship strain around things like money, in-laws, setting limits with the kids, “being thoughtful,” who might be drinking too much or flirting with a certain someone at a holiday party, or all the unhelpful ways people cope with stress. Over the holidays, pressure gets put on all those cracks at the same time.
People cope the best they can. Many people, as they go through the holidays, say to themselves: “Just get through it, get through it, get through it.” The holidays are supposed to be happy right? So people keep the lid on the hard stuff. They smile when they feel like screaming, they stuff the disappointments, and they endure the annoyances. Silently. With mounting bitterness.
As any marriage counselor worth their salt will tell you, stuffing things only makes them fester and grow like warty mushrooms of resentment on your heart. So by the time you arrive in January, what you’ve been holding on to for the past month or two may feel like a really. big. deal.
Furthermore, nobody wants to open up a bunch or hard stuff right before the holidays. Certainly nobody wants to talk about breaking up. Couples who weren’t in a great place even before the holidays start to feel squeamish about dealing directly with their problems before all the family events and vacation plans. Married people “don’t want to scar their kids by ruining Christmas.” So they wait, stuffing their feelings and biding their time until the ball drops on a New Year. A new start. A new life.
And then they blindside their partners with talk of breaking up, or the “big D” in January.
Do Not Be Afraid of The January Relationship Crisis
Seriously. Use it to your advantage.
Use it as an opportunity to resolve issues, and make the changes that need to be made: This can be a “fresh start” for your relationship, just like your other goals and hopes for the new year.
Now is the time for a fresh start for your relationship: Talk about the things you haven’t been talking about. If you can’t talk about them productively, that’s normal too — that’s what marriage counselors and relationship coaches are here for. Get in touch and we can help you communicate, reconnect, and work through it productively.
Show your partner how much you love them by staying calm, and letting them know you’re willing to work on it. Practice listening non-defensively, and responding to their requests. Let them know you’re willing to do whatever it takes to work through it with them.
Educate yourself: I am re-releasing the podcast I created last year on this subject, “The January Relationship Crisis.” Listen to it to get deeper insight into what’s going on, and how you can work together to reconnect. While you’re there, browse around the other relationship podcasts I’ve made to learn more. (And if you like the Love, Happiness & Success Podcast please subscribe and leave a review!!)
Use the resources available to you: Sign up to get my free relationship advice freebie (below) and then check back here over the next few weeks for new posts on “How to Get Your Unwilling Partner to Go To Marriage Counseling,” “How to Deal With a Partner Who Shuts Down,” and “How to Deal With a Partner Who is Always Angry.” (Don’t miss these posts: Sign up for our monthly round up at the top right of this page and I’ll send them to you next month).
2016 could be the best thing that ever happened to your relationship. Facing challenges fearlessly, as a couple, is what will create a stronger, deeper connection than ever before. No one wants relationships to be over: They want them to be better. Embrace the “January Relationship Crisis.” This could be your chance to take your relationship to the next level.
Are You Unhappily Married, and Wondering What to Do?
I have people get in touch with me with all kinds of relationship questions. “Jane” from New Zealand recently contacted me with a really common dilemma: How to proceed in an “ambivalent” marriage — one where there are both positive and also very difficult aspects? How do you know if there is hope? When is a relationship salvageable, and when has too much damage been done? How do you know if it’s time to get divorced, or if you can be happy together again?
Tough questions, and ones that many people wrestle with. There is a slew of new research out as to the prevalence of “mixed bag” relationships and the emotional and physical consequences they take, including this new article from the New York Times: The Ambivalent Marriage Takes a Toll On Health.
Marriage Is a Journey, Not a Destination
What makes “ambivalent marriages” so confusing is that relationships are constantly evolving. There is no “final destination” unless a couple divorces or someone dies. What might be true in one season of life doesn’t stay put forever. It changes.
In fact, couples do a dance of intimacy over decades: Coming together, then pulling apart, then rediscovering each other, then being preoccupied with other things, and then delighting in the new person their partner has grown into while they weren’t paying attention. During the hard times that all marriages weather, people can feel extremely ambivalent about their relationship, and wonder whether it will ever get better. But the space you’re in right now can always change. That hope for change can keep people hanging on for a long time.
[tweetthis]”Where there is life, there is hope.” — Cicero[/tweetthis]
Is There Hope For YOUR Marriage?
I’ll share with you Jane’s question, and my answer, and we’ll plunge into the multi-faceted, messy, ever-evolving reality of relationships and the confusing paradoxes of attachment. As we do, I encourage you to think about your own situation, and the current opportunities (and challenges) in your marriage.
Here’s what Jane asked:
“What usually happens in a marriage when there are both reasons to divorce AND reasons to stay? How do people resolve their ambivalence about their marriage and decide whether to end a relationship or work on it? Here’s the situation…
A husband in his forties is not happy about his marriage, because:
They are “always” arguing
He is jealous of his wife
The love & passion is long absent from the relationship
They are just not happy like this
They have different priorities, can’t agree on anything
She spends too much time in work therefore she is never at home
They have different opinions on religion, politics
No one wants to resolve the conflicts, they just build up
However, there are also some reasons for saving the marriage:
They have two grown-up kids
She responsibly takes care of food, laundry & cleaning
They are co-owners of a family business
They have common assets (bank accounts, property) that would be difficult to divide
The high cost of divorce
The social impact on family, friends & church
They might lose some common friends
They have nice history together, many good memories
They have known each other forever
Maybe they still like each other deep down
It’s hard to imagine what life will be like after splitting up (afraid of change)”
“Can this marriage be saved?” — Jane
Here’s my response to Jane, about my perspective of the possible strengths and challenges of this marriage.
Jane, this sounds like a very difficult situation that is causing a great deal of pain and unhappiness for both of the partners. I also know that this kind of situation doesn’t just explode into being overnight — it takes many years of hurt feelings, negative experiences, and resentment to get to this point. This is a great example of what can happen when a couple waits too long to get good marriage counseling. Sometimes the wounds and hurts pile up to the point where an attachment is broken beyond repair.
However, I’d caution you against using a “pros and cons” list to attempt to figure out what the most likely out come will (or should) be. Love is a mysterious and powerful thing, and what you’ve shared with me speaks to the possibility that there may be a profound attachment remaining between these two people. If they had the opportunity to explore that with each other in a safe place, all kinds of amazing things may still be possible for this couple. The warmth of empathy, compassion, and responsiveness can bring love back to life — particularly if it’s been disguised as hurt and anger.
Strengths of This Marriage
They are still fighting. I know this sounds very odd to think of arguements as a positive thing, but when people are fighting it means that they are feeling hurt, and trying to get the other person to understand them. This means that they still care enough about each other to be hurt. Their (angry) attempts to communicate mean that they still want the other person to understand them.
People who are really, really done with a relationship simply disengage all together. They don’t get hurt, angry or offended. They don’t care enough about their partner one way or another to be hurt or perturbed by anything they say or do. They stopped expecting anything better a long time ago.
What I hear is that this couple still has a longing for connection, but perceives each other as being unavailable and emotionally unsafe. There is enormous opportunity for healing and growth for even the most tormented marriage when people can still open up to each other (and hear) how much pain they are feeling about their disconnection, loneliness, and longing for closeness and companionship.
The fact that the husband is suspicious of his wife (and resents the time she spends away) tells me that he really wants to feel loved by her, and have her attention. I wonder what could happen if he could share that longing with her in a vulnerable way? In a badly damaged marriage, people require a competent marriage counselor to be able to create and maintain the emotional safety necessary to do this productively. But amazing things happen when it does.
Having been the marriage counselor who creates safety for couples to have those kinds of new conversations, I’ve had the honor and privilege of witnessing the magic that can happen when people realize that they’ve BOTH been hurting, and wanting the same thing: Connection, emotional security, and love. It’s like they discover each other all over again. I’ve had sessions where all three of us were moved to tears by the beauty of two hurting people realizing they both need the same thing.
If I’ve learned anything as a marriage counselor, it’s this: Love is powerful, it can overcome seemingly enormous obstacles, and that you have no idea what’s possible, until you try.
Challenges of This Marriage
In my opinion most troubling thing about this situation, and one that may signify that the marriage cannot be repaired, is that the “positives” are largely centered upon conveniences and efforts to protect themselves from other kinds of losses. (Financial losses, losing friends, risking the business, losing the security of the “housekeeper / provider” arrangement). Only at the very end does this vignette allude to the possibility that there may be some remnant of affection, or attachment that would be lost if they split.
When people don’t really care that much about the other person’s presence in their lives, but are instead focused on maintaining the lifestyle or conveniences that marriage affords, it implies that emotional detachment has already occurred. The partners are focused more on themselves rather than each other. People who are very self focused sometimes have difficulty doing the work of repairing a relationship, which is developing empathy and appreciation for the needs, rights and feelings of the other, cultivating emotional safety for your partner, and showing them that you love them.
However the fact that this couple has had positive experiences with each other in the past, still relies on each other for companionship, “might still like each other” and “can’t imagine life without the other” signifies that there may still be a powerful attachment bond making them feel cared for by aspects of their partnership.
The presence of an attachment bond would explain why they still care enough to feel hurt, or worry that the other is being unfaithful, or feel annoyed that the other spends too much time at work. This tips their hand — revealing their longing for love. They still want each other, they just don’t have any idea how to find each other again.
Very Few People Really Want to Get Divorced
In my experience, even in couples who do divorce, I’d say that 90% of them don’t really want to end the marriage. They are just unhappy with the way their relationship is. They don’t want it to be over, they want it to be better better …but they have no idea how to fix it. So divorce seems like the only solution to an unsustainable situation.
What marriage counselors understand is that just because you don’t know how to fix it, doesn’t mean that it can’t be fixed. If there is still an attachment, if people are willing to be vulnerable with each other, and if there is a willingness to show the other person that you do still care about them there is always hope and opportunity. But many couples need help to see past the hurt, anger and blame, and reach for love instead.
The bottom line: I don’t know what is possible for this couple. But neither do they, currently. What I do know for sure is that this couple needs a good marriage counselor who can help them talk about their pain, and create new understanding between them. If they can connect with the part of themselves that still wants to love and be loved by this person, they may be able to achieve a whole new chapter of connection, affection, intimacy, and the deep, meaningful relationship that can only be EARNED by walking through the dark woods of disconnection… and finding each other on the other side again.
I know that this probably sounds like an infomercial for marriage counseling, but think of it instead that someone who cares about you is letting know know that there is always hope, that change is always possible, and there are people who can help you. If you want to take a chance on marriage counseling, make sure you work with someone who is competent to help you. Here’s a tutorial that can help you find the right marriage counselor for you: http://www.growingself.com/marriage-counseling-questions/how-to-choose-a-marriage-counselor/
Thank you for your question, and I wish you both the very best…
Use This Simple Trick to Transform Conflict into Connection
Friction and annoyances are inevitable in every relationship. But you don’t have to fight. In fact, there’s a simple strategy that you can use to turn moments of potential conflict… into a stronger connection.
The first telltale sign that I’m getting upset with my husband is my clenching jaw. What’s the trigger? Any one of a dozen things, but all having the common core: He did not do something the way that I thought he should have. The scene of an errand undone, or of a small pale face burnished by sunburn will tighten my face and harden my eyes in annoyance. I start rehearsing my self-righteous (and entirely justified!) lecture in my mind.
But then my husband, a marvelously funny man, will peer, wide-eyed and blinking, into my face, cock his head like a parrot, and start singing a little song about me and the reason that I’m mad — usually to the tune of some 80’s rock anthem. He’s so good it usually even rhymes. By the end I can’t help but giggling at his silliness, and my amusement has chased away my frustration. I swat him with a dishtowel and he runs away, playfully, and then peeks his head around the corner in exaggerated fear. All is forgiven, and our evening rolls on.
In contrast, when my husband is upset about something, he tends to rant. Over the twenty years of our marriage I have learned that if I just listen to him and nod appreciatively, he’ll pick up steam, like a train chugging ever faster down a track, and eventually his rant will turn into a full-on stand-up comedy routine about his irritations — complete with ficticious embellishments and dramatic re-enactments. It’s hilarious. His recent tirade about some annoyances eventually had me laughing so hard I literally could not speak. We’d just moved into a new house and then realized, to our new neighbors, his bellowing and my sobbing with laughter probably sounded like some kind of crazy domestic violence situation. The idea that they might call the cops on us sent us into a new round of hilarity.
A Funny Marriage is a Happy Marriage
There are things about my husband that I sometimes wish were different, and I’m sure that he could provide you a very long list of all the ways I disappoint him. But the fact that he is funny, and I am easily amused, has saved our marriage from the many things that could have sunk it.
[tweetthis]Laugh together. Laugh at each other. Just laugh. #advicefromamarriagecounselor[/tweetthis]
Stop A Fight: Use Humor
All relationships have natural friction points. Differences between partner’s opinions, personalities, hopes, and expectations all create hurt and frustration. This is true for every couple, even the happiest. Research into relationships conducted by Dr. John Gottman of The Gottman Institute, in Seattle Washington, estimates that up to 80% of the problems that all couples have are due to these intrinsic differences. These are therefore “unsolvable problems” that are never going to change. You may be surprised to learn that happy couples have just as many differences and circumstantial hardships as an unhappy couples, yet they are thriving anyway. Why? One thing that happy couples often have that struggling couples don’t, is humor.
Going for a giggle in a tense moment sounds simplistic, but reaching for humor instead of anger, defensiveness or judgment during a friction point does four extremely important things to strengthen your relationship:
1) It creates a “repair attempt”
The happiest, most successful couples are able to stop an argument in it’s tracks by attempting to repair the impending rift before it gets too wide. Reaching out to an angry, upset, or hurt partner in efforts to close the gap and restore peace (and then having that olive branch accepted) is a “repair attempt.” When the thunder and lightning of a bad fight are rumbling on the horizon and one partner is able to crack a joke that makes the other person smile, the sun peeks through the ominous clouds. Moods lift, the problem seems less serious, and it’s easier to reconnect.
2) It breaks a negative mood state
Negative moods like anger, resentment, or hurt tend to reinforce themselves, and get stronger over time. When you are upset about something, you ruminate about it — turning it over and over in your mind, like a cow chewing it’s cud. The more you think about all the horrible ways in which your partner has disappointed or offended you, the worse you feel. But when someone throws a cold splash of unexpected humor into the face of self-righteous anger, it breaks the pattern. Getting knocked off keel by something funny shifts the trajectory of a bad mood, allowing positive feelings to flow back into an otherwise unhappy outcome.
3) It creates emotional safety
Nobody behaves well when they are feeling attacked, threatened or shut out. I guarantee you, that when you aggressively confront your partner about something it will nearly always provoke them to feel offended and defensive. Likewise, if you coldly dismiss your partner’s complaints you are inviting them to get more angry and hostile. But responding with humor will nearly always get a more positive response. Why? Because it restores emotional safety. When you are funny, unexpected, and lighthearted you are communicating, “I’m not really that mad. You’re safe with me.” Defensiveness is diffused, and aggressiveness wanes: Connection has been achieved. All of a sudden, whatever you are in conflict about seems more manageable, and easier to deal with.
4) It emphasizes the positive aspects of your relationship
Some people are wary about being lighthearted with relationship problems that seem serious to them, saying, “But won’t it minimize my feelings?” Or, “But if we just joke about it, things will never change!” So they insist on grinding away at their differences, and becoming increasingly unhappy when things stay the same. Newsflash: You and your partner will always be different people. They will never change into exactly who and what you think they should be. Focusing on the negative aspects of your relationship will make those differences more pronounced and will change the emotional climate of your marriage for the worse.
In contrast, enjoying your partner and having fun with them, and appreciating the good things about them will help you have a better relationship. And the grand paradox is that when people feel safe, accepted, and cherished for who they are, it is actually easier for them to change for the better. When you use humor to communicate to your partner that you enjoy them, they will be more eager to please you and less inclined to fight with you.
So the next time things start to feel hard between you and your partner, do something unexpected and funny. Crack a joke. Sing a silly song. Make a face. Emphasize the funny parts of your disagreement. Have a good time. And if the neighbors call the cops on you — blame me.
Was there a time that something funny saved you and your partner from a fight? Do share! Tell us in the comments below…