Tying the Knot in a Meaningful and Memorable Way (Without Losing Our Savings or Sanity)

Monday, December 1, 2008

Divorce: The Underbelly of Marriage

It's funny how friends tend to marry in groups. For example, we got married within four months of three of our closest friends.

The scary thing is, I know three couples in my age range (all married a couple years ago) who are already getting divorced.

Honestly, I didn't even see it coming.

I suppose it makes sense, given the alarmingly high divorce rate. Statistically speaking, four out of every ten couples will split. But still, that's a hard number to stomach.

I started thinking about proactive ways to fortify relationships against divorce. I found this article from The Washington Post which addressed the growing trend of premarital counseling. While people who get married within the Roman Catholic Church are apparently required to attend such counseling, other couples are opting for it, too.

One of the first things many premarital therapists do is to explode persistent myths that help sabotage marriages: that love is the most important predictor of marital happiness; that shared interests are a bulwark against divorce; and that true soul mates don't fight.

All are false, researchers have found.

"That's why people feel so set up," said Diane Sollee, founder of Smart Marriages, a marriage education clearinghouse based in the District. She notes that psychologists have found that all couples disagree about the same amount -- it's the way they manage conflict that distinguishes satisfied partners from miserable ones.

I wish Matt and I had found a good premarital class while we were engaged. We did start working through a book together along those lines, but it became increasingly difficult to make time for our weekly session. How sad is that? Our wedding planning took precedence over our relationship work. Ugh.

But of course it's not too late. Matt and I are both interested in attending a couples workshop. There's one by The Gottman Institute, entitled: The Art & Science of Love.

Here's an excerpt from their website:

During this weekend workshop, you will gain new insights and learn research-based relationship skills that can dramatically improve the intimacy and friendship in your relationship. If you have a strong relationship, this workshop will provide you with the insights and tools to make it a great one. If your relationship is distressed, then this two-day workshop will provide a road map for repair!
Has anyone else had good experiences with a similar workshop? I'd love to hear about it.

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Anonymous said...

As a Catholic myself, the fact that I "had" to find some sort of premarital counseling was a big motivator (particularly to my fiance, who was initially less excited about doing relationship work during the rosy engagement period).

The truth is, though, it's been absolutely fabulous for both of us. We both feel better understood and better able to understand each other; we feel more confident in our ability to handle little conflicts as they arise; and best of all, we know we have mentors that we can turn to if things should ever get really rough during our future marriage.

I recommend it to everyone!

Ms Bear Cub said...

I'm an expat living & working in Chile right now, planning my wedding to be in Oregon. My fiance and I would have liked to go to premarital therapy, but it isn't exactly possible here... Could you tell me the name of that book you said you were going through with your hubby?

Anonymous said...

I was just going to recommend a book by Gottman! I can't remember which one exactly, but it's what my therapist recommended.

We had to meet with our minister and have a tough discussion about where we stand on common problems in relationships, and I've been in therapy for several years alone, and my partner has come to a few sessions with me and the therapist has helped us a lot; it really is about learning the "best" way to fight, as Gottman explains on his website and in the book I can't think of.

I know it's been helpful for me, to change or soften how I voice concerns or complaints.

Sara E. Cotner said...

@ Allie:

The book we started working through was Getting the Love You Want Workbook by Harville Hendrix and Helen LaKelly Hunt.

We only got through a couple chapters, so I don't know if it's good or not. Good luck!

Biz said...

yikes. these statistics are horrifying.

Anonymous said...

One book my now-husband and I read and discussed was "The Five Love Languages". It was such an eye-opener and helped us both understand that not all people experience love in the same way. For instance, for some people, hearing the words regularly is what they most need to feel loved and valued (and ready to give that love back); others may need physical intimacy or time spent togehter to feel the same way. The book helped me see that what seems like the "real" or "best" way to show love may just be because that is my own love language, so I need to know what my husband needs and be sure I show my love for him in that way (his love langage). It's very cool.

McSwu said...

My fiance and I have been reading two books together, Just Engaged: Prepare for Your Marriage before You Say "I Do" by Christine E. Murray and The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work: A Practical Guide from the Country's Foremost Relationship Expert by Gottman John. The first is based on more traditional pre-marital counseling approaches (but minus any religious assumptions), and the second is based on Gottman's years of relationship research. Even though we've been together for longer than 5 years, and I would consider us thoughtful about our relationship, both of these books have helped us approach or revisit important conversations so that we can explicitly discuss whether we are on the same page or not as we make our life commitment. Good luck to everyone--may we all find helpful words to guide us through successful marriages!

Catherine said...

Eric and I are reading "The Five Love Languages" together at night, and I second the recommendation from the previous poster. Eric's best man suggested it to us after reading it with his wife. Parts are a little cheesy and/or contrived, but the overall thesis is an interesting one, and good discussion material.

We have an "Engaged Encounter" retreat next weekend, part of our Catholic marriage prep, and I'll let you know how it goes. The brochure makes it sound like they present ideas and topics and then Eric and I will have opportunities to talk about them. I'm hoping I didn't misunderstand the whole thing, because it might be a little awkward if it's all about sharing with a big group, as we don't agree on 100% of the Church's teachings...

(On a side note, I was able to mooch "Taking Charge of Your Fertility" today on BookMooch.com and it came with a glowing recommendation from the previous owner. Thanks for the recommendation!)

Sara E. Cotner said...

I really liked the ideas in The Five Languages of Love, too.

Here's a link to a brief summary I wrote of the five languages in case any of you are interested:


Meg said...

I'm very excited about our pre-marital counseling sessions. It's one of the good things about getting married as a member of some sort of congregation - not that we don't pay for it in our dues, but still. It's one of the things we're most looking forward to in this process... and I'm aiming to have enough of the planning done by then to have lots of time to focus on it. We've already started books of lists of things we want out of our marraige/ want to bring to our marraige (with our cantors help). Anyway, such a good subject for discussion.

jen said...

We were required to do premarital counseling through my (non-Catholic) church and it was, by far, the best thing we did during our engagement. My husband was skeptical at first but became the biggest fan!

I highly recomment this to every single person getting married.

This was my 2nd marriage, and my husband's first. I was married for 2 short years in my early twenties and never imagined I would be divorced by age 26. We did not go through premarital counseling that first time...I'm happy life has led me to the place I am at, but I think the first marriage could have benefited from the counseling!

bibliophibian said...

not that anyone here really needs to hear it, but counseling only really works if both of you are honest to begin with. when my future husband and his now-ex-wife completed their required premarital counseling, the minister concluded by saying that "if both of you have been open in your answers, i think you can expect to have a successful marriage." she'd been saying what she thought he wanted to hear, trying to get their relationship to make it until the deal was sealed and their marriage would just *have* to work. it's not an effective approach.

diana said...

The statistics are alarming. And even more so when you know that most of those couples never thought it would happen to them. Premarital counseling is a wonderful thing.

Yivinns said...

I'm quite pleased with our current premarital counseling. Earlier this month, the Wolf and I went with his parents to a marriage workshop hosted by Gary Chapman, author of The Five Love Languages. Since both of us have read his book(s) (it's heavenly to be paired with a fellow book worm), there weren't any new concepts, but we learned that out of the two, he is most certainly the "Babbling Brook", and I, the "Dead Sea". ^_^

Our pastoral counseling starts in January, but every weekend we convene with the Wolf's parents and discuss a huge array of marital topics, which is a lovely catalyst for late night talks and cuddleage. It's probably one of our favorite events of the week.

Catherine VandeVelde said...

I love the book recommendations! My fiance and I read the book about 100 Questions before getting married. It was a great way for us to start talking about our ideals, goals, thoughts on finances, children, and the future. We've recently started seeing a premarital counselor, and it's been really helpful. We just want to have a strong relationship. I think that counseling can help "arm" you with tools to use throughout your marriage.

I've heard about the Seattle workshop and I think it would be great. If you go to it, Sara, you'll have to report back to all of us!

Hadeel said...

I'd love to go to an actual marriage counselor. The problem that I've found with the ones here are that they've very, very driven by religious ideals. Their advice is always the same: Women honor and do as their husbands say, have lots of babies, and only speak when spoken to. Men go to work and aren't expected to respect their wives. A paycheck is good enough.

I'll definitely crack open a book if just to get away from these antiqued ideas of what a marriage should be.

Unknown said...

Most of my friends got married before me and are also already divorced and now I've joined the club!

Me and my fiance tried counseling but after I caught him cheating the marriage fell apart and we divorced for good last year.

For some closure I sold the diamond engagement ring he gave me to www.idonowidont.com and pray that I find a good man out there and start over

Anonymous said...

A number of churches have taken up premarital counseling especially for couples that plan to be married at their church. Some churches also have a kind of 'couples empowerment' ministry where they organize for 'experts' to give talks etc. If you are a church person you can check out with your church.

Anonymous said...

I'm fascinated with the Gottman Institute!!

Anonymous said...

I higly recommend premarital couseling! I'm going to go through it with my fiance. I'm super excited! My parents both went through premarital counseling and they have been married for 34 years! I even have books on planning for a marriage that my aunt gave me. I believe it's so importan to plan for your marriage first before making wedding plans. Marriage is a life time! A wedding is just one day!

-Jodi :)

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