Most people who go through a divorce take time to reflect on why their relationship went bad. For many of us, it’s one part of a lifelong learning process.
And one nationally renowned research scientist Dr. Terri Orbuch has been studying it as well, on a larger scale. She sought to uncover what divorce can tell us about marriage, and since 1986, she has been carrying out a longitudinal study of married couples. Over the study’s first 25 years, 46% of the couples divorced, and Orbuch interviewed many of them to find out what they had learned from their marriage.
Here are the top 5 trends she discovered, along with some advice to avoid these problems from the Houston marriage counselor.
We need to show—and give—affection. Some people may feel uncomfortable showing affection, or may not think that they need to show their partner that they care. 15% of the divorced people interviewed said that they wished they had given their partner more positive affirmations, including compliments, kissing, and verbal expressions of love.
Has reading this made you realize that you often take your partner for granted? Make a conscious effort to give your partner a genuine compliment every day, and set aside time when the two of you can be by yourselves to really appreciate one another.
We need to talk about money. Nobody wants to talk about finances in a relationship… which is why so many people put off having a serious money discussion when they first get married. Whether you like it or not, income, spending habits, and monthly bills are all going to come up in your marriage. In fact, almost half the divorced people in Dr. Orbuch’s study thought money was such a big problem in their first marriage that it would come up again in future marriages.
If you’re newly married or planning to tie the knot, sit down with your partner and have a frank discussion about your financial situation. Discuss spending habits, saving goals, and whether or not you want to combine your finances.
We need to let it go. You can’t have a healthy relationship if you’re constantly hung up on the past. Whether it’s a fight you had last week or an ex you’re jealous of, holding onto strong emotions from the past isn’t healthy.
If you have trouble letting go of anger or resentment, find a healthy outlet, such as going to the gym, talking to a friend, creating a piece of art or music… whatever helps you relax and move on.
We need to stop assigning blame. Dr. Orbuch found that 65% of the divorced people blamed their ex-spouse for the dissolution of their marriage, and those who focused on assigning blame had higher rates of anxiety, sleep disorders, and depression. Clearly it isn’t good for your physical or mental health, so it’s time we stop, whether or not you’re currently in a relationship.
Instead of assigning blame, think about the ways you interact and what you could change to improve things for both you and your partner. When talking to your partner, don’t use an accusatory tone; instead, remain neutral and tell them how you’re feeling.
We need to open up. 41% of the divorced people said they wanted to change their communication style in their next relationship. They want to open up more and have meaningful conversations, rather than going on autopilot after a long week at work.
As a Houston marriage counselor, I always encourage the couples who come to see me to practice active listening—really paying attention to the content of their partner’s words and empathizing. I also encourage couples to set aside time to dialogue and get a good understanding of how their partner is feeling.
If you’d like to learn more, contact me or sign up for an upcoming relationship workshop.