Last Saturday, Joyce Marter was a guest on AgingInfo Radio and discussed love, relationships and marriage. Joyce’s interview is below. For the full interview, click the above picture.
Do most people question if they should stay in their marriage or not at some point during the relationship?
Absolutely. All marriages have issues and challenges–no relationship is perfect. It takes some hard work on the part of both partners to maintain a loving, collaborative partnership.
What are the common stressors you see trigger these marital crises?
In my counseling practice, couples often seek therapy because they are experiencing communication problems–money and intimacy issues (both emotional and sexual) are common challenges. Financial stress can put significant strain on a marriage. Unemployment or underemployment are common issues these days. Obviously, fidelity is another challenge. We are seeing more Facebook divorces–people who are bored or unhappy in their marriages and are reconnecting with an old flame online. Apparently, 2/3 of people filing divorce these days site Facebook or social media as part of what led to the split.
Are there certain points in marriage that seem the hardest?
I’ve heard it said that marriage is like a W. It starts out high, there is a low point when the kids are little, it gets a bit better when they are school aged, there is another drop during the teenage years, and then things tend to improve when the kids move out and during retirement. However, I also see in my practice a large number of empty nesters who stayed in a marriage for the kids and suddenly question why they are in their marriage–perhaps the couple has grown apart or become disconnected over the years.
What factors keep somebody in a marriage even when the relationship has deteriorated?
Finances are a big factor. Some people feel financially dependent on their partner and therefore, stuck in the relationship. Some fear the expense of divorce, child support or alimony, or the cost of having 2 separate residences, which usually comes with a decrease in lifestyle.
Religious reasons or family values is another big factor. There are many people who believe divorce is wrong or that if they leave their marriage, they have somehow failed.
People also stay for the kids. They don’t want this kids to experience the emotional pain of a split and the stress that comes with two different households.
Fear of being alone.
What are some tell tale signs that it is time to end a marriage?
Abuse is never okay. If there is physical or emotional abuse and the abuser refuses to get help, then the relationship must be reevaluated.
Also, if someone has a serious addiction or mental health issue for which they refuse treatment, the partner may need to leave the relationship in order for the person to hit rock bottom and seek help.
When the trust is violated beyond repair. If you do not feel emotionally or sexually safe in your marriage and there is no plan to improve things, for example through counseling, the marriage may need to be reconsidered.
Can counseling help? If so, how? How long does that take? Is it expensive? What if your partner refuses to go?
Yes. Counseling can never hurt and most often helps. It provides a safe place and a neutral, skilled professional to mediate discussions and teach tools to improve communication and conflict resolution skills.
The length of treatment depends on the couple. Much progress can be made in 8-10 sessions.
Can a marriage be saved? Yes. I believe in healing. Marriage is often a petridish where we recreate old issues and patterns. Marriage takes hard work and is an opportunity to work through those issues.
The was an article in the WSJ this past March about the graying of divorce–stating that the divorce rate for people over 50 has doubled over the past 2 decades.
Also, the article states that for many boomers, it is not their first marital split. Fifty-three percent of the people over 50 now getting divorced have done so at least once before. Apparently, most of the divorces are initiated by women and a shift in the cultural value of “self-fulfillment” is a factor. According to a 2004 AARP survey, most older divorcees are happy.
What can a concerned parent do about an adult child who is experiencing marital problems?
Provide empathy without judgment. Listen openly. Resist the urge to give advice. When my husband and I had challenges adjusting to the transition to parenthood, my mother gifted us with 10 couples counseling sessions. It was extremely helpful and provided us with the professional support we needed.
How do you know what to do if you are ambivalent? There are places like The Lilac Tree in Evanston that offer workshops on why it is so hard to decide to divorce. Consulting a therapist is always a good idea.