Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of May 15, 2006
Invest in your marriage, not divorce lawyers
Communications provides a solid marital base
- Design Pics photo
Couples too often want too much too soon and end up in divorce court.
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
Once upon a time, it was more than just a romantic sentiment uttered at the altar when couples tied the knot.
It was for real.
Marriage was forever.
These days, it may seem that if you make it past your fifth wedding anniversary you deserve to be congratulated. Modern marriage is tough going - and many people decide it's not worth the hassle.
Current divorce statistics indicate that most divorces occur for couples married less than five years and that the proportion of divorces is highest for couples married three years. This is not surprising since a 2001 study conducted by the Centre for Marriage and family at Creighton University in Nebraska found young couples face serious conflicts over the use of time, sex and money in their first years of marriage.
Because 60 per cent of marriages today begin with both spouses employed, juggling work and time together, not to mention the early arrival of children, can lead to great stress. This is a balancing act that becomes impossible for many.
Other areas of stress include finances, debts brought into the marriage and required employment relocations, which separate husband and wife from family and familiar locations that can be sources of security. Lack of sexual adjustment also takes its toll. Even though society proclaims sex is the answer to every problem, couples may find sexual intimacy is itself the problem.
Local experts agree the first five years are critical but say young couples can beat the odds by learning skills of communication, negotiation, getting along with one another and of finding solutions that work for both of them.
They must also work less and play more. "Taking the time to focus on their relationships on a regular basis will serve them well into the future," says Dr. Norma Pelkie, an Edmonton psychologist who works with married couples. "I tell all couples they need to find the time in their day, and I sometimes tell them to include it when they say grace before dinner, to talk about appreciation for each other.
"I tell them to use that moment just to tell each other what they appreciate about each other. Often what happens is that we talk about our problems but we forget to talk about what brought us together in the first place, what we love and appreciate about the other person."
The adequate amount of time can only come if couples cut back on activities such as sports and work, Pelkie said. "I think there is a lot of pressure on young couples to be able to do everything and I think they should realize that there is a consequence and the consequence will be that the marriage will break down."
"The first five years are critical, but I think young couples can make it through if they learn how to communicate with each other," says John MacDonald, director of family life and health care for the Edmonton Archdiocese. "If people are honest with one another and express their feelings and their needs to their partner in language that is not offensive, that is not hurtful but that is in fact engaging, they will be able to resolve their issues."
Too many married people act like singles, MacDonald said, thinking only about what they want and need instead of being considerate of their partners.
That's in part because young couples enter marriage with a set of relationship skills that are dictated by society. "Society, from the time they are young children, places them in competitive situations," he noted.
"Marriage on the other hand takes them to a place where the rules of the game are supposed to change. You are no longer supposed to be competitive with this one person; you are supposed to find ways to complement, to be partners in everything you do."
MacDonald recommends couples communicate with each other through letters or by doing an exercise he calls the DTR, the daily temperature reading.
"This is a little exercise that encourages couples daily to just take a little bit of time to say how are you doing, how do you feel about the day, what's heavy on your agenda, anything I can do to help?"
MacDonald said couples need to be realistic about their acquisition of material wealth and warned against placing much more significant values, such as their relationship, on the back burner.
Family comes first
"The career should be second to the marriage, to the family life. That should be number one priority. We do not take a vow nor is it a covenant when we are employed; that's a working agreement. But when we are married and we engage in family that's done in a very deeply sacred and beautifully committing relationship that should take precedence over everything else."
Instead of bailing out, young couples must work on their marriage. If mediation is required, they should go for it, MacDonald said. He also recommends struggling couples to enroll in programs like Retrouvaille, which takes them "right back to the beginning to establish good relationship skills."
Marriage is like a car, Macdonald said. "Driving down the road you see the red oil light on. You don't ignore the red oil light or you buy a new car."
And Pelkie agrees, "If couples don't deal with their problems, the problems will get worse and the marriage might simply break down."