No marriage is perfect, but some go terribly awry. What makes a successful union and what causes things to get ugly? Let's consider the possibilities and face the truth about the D-word.
Marital problems often start with "I do." Many people choose the wrong partner or get married for the wrong reasons; they rush into marriage or don't take it seriously enough.
"I think it's kind of strange that you can pretty much get married with ease, but it takes a lot longer to get out of it," Talia Campbell, two-time divorcee, mused.
Divorce attorney Grant Lloyd of James R. Gotwals and Associates, Inc., said the same thing. "I think it would make more sense to have marriages be a little more difficult on the front end. If it was as difficult to get married as it is to get a divorce in this state, we probably wouldn't have run into quite as many issues."
However, since we have the freedom to get married at our own will (and at such a young age) it's our responsibility to preserve our relationships. Campbell praised the pre-marriage counseling initiatives going on now and relationship building workshops such as "Forever. For Real," which offers a $45 discount on marriage licenses for couples who attend. It's a great idea to address potential issues before they pop up -- and before tying the knot.
"Most people don't go into marriage [thinking], 'I'm going to divorce you in two years.' They go in with hope and they go in with love," Lori Thompson of Midtown Family Therapy said. Unfortunately, about half of those marriages end in divorce so having the right attitude isn't always enough.
"Pre-marital counseling is a wonderful place to start. Be as prepared as you can. It can't hurt anything," Campbell said.
Love's Fighting Chance
If you find yourself in a marriage that's not working, Thompson suggests counseling is needed "before people get to the point of hurt that would turn into resentment or turn into [someone] wondering what it would be like to be with somebody else," or when fighting gets too intense.
"People think that counseling is for the weak and I say that counseling is for the strong... If you're coming to therapy, there's still part of you who's trying," Thompson said. She focuses on the strengths of the individuals and their relationship, and helps clients alter their behavior in ways that will benefit the marriage.
Those who are trained specifically in Marriage and Family Counseling have the highest success rates for helping couples. "Marriage therapy is very different than individual therapy," Thompson said. "Marriage therapists are trained to see the marriage as the client."
"Fortunately, I'm really seeing a change," Thompson said. Since she started counseling 16 years ago, she has noticed that "we have made some transitions in society [and] therapy is much more accepted."
Do's and Don'ts -- Words of Wisdom
According to Thompson, "A lot of times we are nicer to a stranger than we are our loved ones." Yes, the people we're closest to "get" to see us with our guard down, which is great in one sense, but they also see us at our ugliest. Try to remember that sensitivity toward your spouse goes a long way.
Thompson also said it's important to set emotional and physical boundaries when you first get involved in a relationship. Often this is not discussed, but certain "rules" should be addressed. What is allowed and what isn't? The rules are different for every couple, so figure out what works for you.
For example, consider whether you are for or against "going to bed angry." Even though the old adage says you shouldn't, the truth is that doesn't work for everybody. If you can't calmly talk it through, it's probably best that you take a break and see how you feel the next day. Otherwise you'll be up until 2am fighting -- and resolving nothing.
Many of Thompson's clients' problems stem from the belief that they do things the "right" way and cannot understand why someone would do things differently. Learn how to compromise.
Arguably the biggest no-no: "We take our spouses for granted," Thompson said. (Beware; this especially happens with the arrival of a new baby.) The danger here is infidelity. "Sometimes an affair will happen and that person will go, 'I never saw that coming.'" After they get that slap in the face, they look back and see what they did wrong; they see that they neglected their partner.
The most common thread among Lloyd's divorce-seeking clients is the issue of infidelity. By no means are all divorces a product of unfaithfulness, but he does see that a lot. He said "some people tend to forget their marriage vows or decide not take them seriously," and he personally understands why this would lead to divorce. So now for some groundbreaking advice: If you care about your marriage at all, don't cheat.
If you are the one feeling neglected in your relationship, don't be afraid to let your partner know. Many people don't clue their spouse in on what's bothering them. "There are a lot of people that just don't like conflict," Thompson said. But if you bottle up your feelings that can easily lead to resentment -- and God knows what else.
A Healthy Dose of Reality
Divorce is certainly no walk in the park, but Lloyd said the biggest misconception about it is "that one side will win. I really don't think there's any 'winners' in divorce."
"You see all these signs around town for a 'quick divorce' and... It's not quick. It's not painless. Even though I left both of my ex-spouses, it's still painful. You hear it compared to a death and, in all honesty, it is," Campbell said.
"And it's not inexpensive," she added with a laugh.
For Campbell, the process of divorcing her first husband took about six months and, even though her second husband was an attorney, their divorce took a year. According to Lloyd, the length of the divorce process "varies on how agreeable the parties are...and it's dependent upon if minor children are involved. If kids are involved, it's usually a longer process... You can't just go in and get divorced the next day."
Explaining further, he said, "There are procedures that you have to do when kids are involved, like a parenting planning conference -- all parties have to go to that -- then they have to go to a seminar called 'Helping Children Cope.' I could go on and on... There's a lot more hoops to jump through."
The idea is that you're preparing both the children and parents for the divorce. "The parents are there dealing with the kids' reactions to what's going on every day, and they need to be at least admonished of certain things not to do." They are also told what is good for their children during the transition. "Typically kid issues are the most emotional, as you can imagine," Lloyd said.
"There's no such thing as 'This is going to be an easy one.'" Lloyd tells his clients, "Believe me, this is not going to be simple... There's just a lot of things that you don't think about until you're there, in that moment, and it's happening."
Campbell agrees. She suggests you "exhaust all other options before running to the court house to get divorced... You're going to see a side of that person that you never thought you would see. It can get angry and bitter -- it's what people do when they're hurting."
Third Time's a Charm
Sometimes all you need is a second -- or third -- chance. After divorcing twice, Campbell has found love again, and this time she's confident her current marriage will last -- partly because she's older and wiser.
According to Campbell, her first marriage ended because "we were really young... There was infidelity on both sides. I didn't know, honestly, what the title 'wife' or 'partner' entailed." In retrospect, neither of them were ready to settle down.
She decided to get a divorce from her second husband because there were trust issues. When their problems became serious, they tried marital counseling, but "it was very brief. Had we continued on, I'm sure it would have been beneficial, but we, for whatever reason, didn't follow through with it."
As for her current marriage, she said, "Will I stay if he turns out to be a jerk and treats me bad and I'm unhappy? No, I will not, and maybe that's the wrong answer, but I love myself more than that. But I do feel confident that we'll last. He is a good man and we're happy, and I know so much more today about what it means to be in a partnership in a marriage."
She continued, "I also know that today he does not complete me. I think he enhances my life. I think that he adds a lot to my life...but he is not the end all and be all of why I get up every morning. That wasn't the case when I was younger."
Don't Stop Believin'
In Campbell's opinion, the biggest mistake people make in marriage is giving up too quickly. She thinks the media portrays a certain type of marriage that is easy and nearly perfect. "That's just not the way it is. It's hard work. It takes a lot of patience and giving, and I think that people need to know that going into it... I know today that just because my husband doesn't act a certain way one day or if he ticks me off one day, I don't have to run to the divorce lawyer. I know that there's ebb and flow in life, period, but especially in marriage."
Part of the trouble is misguided expectations. If you think the passion you feel at the beginning of a relationship will stay at the same level of intensity forever, you're in for a rude awakening. People seem to think that love is an ecstatic feeling, a natural high of sorts, when lasting love is actually a solid bond between two people who care for each other. Sure, you want the passion to be there, but it's not the only factor to consider, and it will not always have a starring role in your marriage.
Even though Campbell's relationship isn't a "fairytale," she knows the love is there. "It isn't always going to be exciting, and bells and whistles, and fireworks, but...it's holding that person's hand and walking through life with them. Really, it turns into a friendship -- a best friendship." Studies show that relationships built on companionate love are more successful than those based on passion alone.
"You go through phases in marriage as you do your life, and you'll come out on top if you just hang on," Campbell said.
Campbell suggests that couples planning on getting married consider talking with a successful married couple whose relationship has longevity. "They may be able to warn them that the butterflies go away and the fireworks stop blowing up, life settles in and it becomes a little complacent and normal, and that's okay."
She doesn't really have any regrets about getting married or divorced. "In all things we find ourselves and we grow from them, and we learn what works and what doesn't for us. And obviously it's helped to build my character, for sure. I sometimes judge myself on the fact that I've been divorced twice and I'm so young, but it doesn't bother me that much. I don't lose sleep over it."
At least not anymore. Campbell is living proof that even the wounds of divorce heal over time.
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