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Divorced People Reflect Upon Lessons Learned About Marriage

In a longitudinal study starting with couples in their first year of marriage, Dr. Terri Orbuch, PhD continued to check in with the couples, even those who ultimately divorced (46%) eventually over the 25 years+ of the study so far.  She also followed many of the divorced people into new relationships and asked what they had learned from their mistakes.

What marriage insights came from this?

Consider the following recommendations as you look at you look at your own marriage.  Some may require some effort to hone in on more effectively and dig deep.

  • Get to Talking  Many are generally aware of the importance of good communication in relationships.  But knowing and putting into practice can be two different things.  Healthy communication in a relationship means not only consistently checking in with the other emotionally but truly knowing the inner workings of each other, how you feel, what is upsetting and what is affirming.  Try to spend a few minutes a day talking about things other than work, the kids or life logistics.
  • Less Blame, More Collaboration  Can you shift from finger pointing to holding a mirror up to yourself?  And  if there has been damage or unintentional harm, both must learn to take responsibility and make repair attempts.  With conflict, ask your partner what their thoughts and feelings are on the matter.  Validate their response no matter your feelings.  They will very likely be different and there needs to be room for that.  A healthy relationship feels more like teamwork than adversarial.
  • Show Me the Money  According to the study, this is the biggest source of conflict.  People come into marriage with their own ideas, anxieties, fears and expectations around money.  We must circle back to the importance of communicating well and being able to hear and understand the other and their meanings around money.  Compromise is important.  Dishonesty and lack of transparency around finances can be very damaging to trust in the relationship.
  • Notice and Show Appreciation: It’s easy for couples in longer term relationships to forget to attend to each other in ways they used to.  According to this study, there is a negative long term effect of failing to “boost” the other spouses mood.  Emotional safety and trust are built by these behaviors.  Display post-it reminders if needed or for those hyper-connected to their iPhones and other gadgets (many of us these days), set alarms as reminders.  It’s often less about the absence of caring and more about bad habits.
  • Address Your Unresolved Baggage:  Do not let your past hold you hostage.  Old wounds can have long term impact for you individually and in your relationship.  What’s done is NOT done, psychologically and emotionally speaking.  If you resolve your issues there is benefit for all.

Those who have been down the road of divorce have the benefit of experience and possibly, some time to reflect.  Married, planning marriage or hoping to marry in the future, heeding their advice is an opportunity for you to try to avoid repeating their mistakes.

Lisa Brookes Kift, MFT

Lisa Brookes Kift, MFT

Lisa Brookes Kift, MFT is the creator of LoveAndLifeToolbox.com with tools for emotional and relationship health and is the author of Therapy-At-Home Workbooks® for individuals and couples. She is a frequent consultant for the media having appeared in CNN.com, HuffingtonPost.com, MensHealth.com and others. Lisa has a private practice in Marin County, CA and offers online therapy to residents of California.

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