As an experienced Marriage & Family Therapist, I have seen many couples seeking premarital counseling, and they do it for two reasons: It’s either required by whoever is marrying them, or they’re seeking an assessment by a professional who might show them areas of strength and weakness, while also offering helpful suggestions on how to have a healthy relationship. Of those, two couples had what it takes to have a successful marriage and received my full endorsement, while the rest of them got married, even after being passionately discouraged not to.
I believe that choosing to marry the wrong partner is the primary reason for the high rate of divorce in the United States. No one can blame the American public for not knowing how to do it; while we are taught in school about the solar system, world history and how to give a speech, never is healthy family dynamics and communication discussed. What an egregious educational oversight.
So we grow up, usually in dysfunctional families, become attracted to people, commit, and begin a life with someone while not knowing a damn thing about how to do it ¬ – never mind the divorce rate, the important question is how many married people are truly thriving and happy? No one knows for sure, but researchers estimate that only 8 to 17 percent of married people can be described as happy and satisfied – that’s pitiful.
Since my life goal is to change all of that, I decided that as a public service I would make a list of predictors of divorce. That way maybe someone will listen and think hard before getting into these sorts of situations.1
The most common characteristics predicting marital doom are:
• Age & education. The younger you are and the less education you have, the higher the divorce rate.
• A sense of urgency to rush a wedding date. In this scenario, one person is unusually anxious to get the marriage date on the calendar despite the obvious wisdom of taking your time and allowing the relationship to have a longer history. The plea to the reluctant fiancé is often, “Well, we’re going to get married anyway so why not go ahead and do it now. The person rushing the issue usually has less-than-healthy motives for not waiting, such as an inability to be alone, being emotionally anxious, wanting to improve financial security, etc.
• A major power discrepancy that creates dominance of one person over the other. You’re rich, she’s not; she’s old, you’re not; you’re beautiful, he’s not, etc. (Think Anna Nicole Smith and J. Howard Smith II, married in 1994, they are the poster children for most predictors of divorce in one marriage. Unfortunately Marshall died after one year of marriage at age 90, but therapists had their money on it ending in divorce had he lived).3
• Insecurity & trust issues. A great relationship has to have a strong sense of trust and solidness with one another; otherwise it will be built on a fragile foundation that will lead to all sorts of cracks in the walls of the marriage in the years to come.
• Blending families. Most kids do not enjoy sharing their parent with outsiders, and if they had a say, the precious time they do have with their parent after a divorce would be to have quality time on their own. It can take up to five years – and sometimes it never happens – for a child to acclimate to a step parent and/or the new set of children that comes with that person. Add to that the refusal of most kids to treat a stepparent as an authoritarian figure, or even someone they like, and torn feelings the parents have between their new spouse and their children, and you can see why the divorce rate for blended families is so high – 60 percent or higher. Although it can occasionally be a good thing, I say avoid it if you can.
• Gottman’s 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse. If criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling (emotional or physical withdrawal from interacting) already exist in your relationship, your marriage will last an average of 5.6 years., says Dr. John Gottman’s research., so don’t do it. 4
• Chronic immaturity. Putting self before others in the worst possible ways, i.e., thoughtlessness, lack of self-discipline and inability to control one’s self. Into immediate gratification, has an inability to accept responsibility, and has an excuse for everything.
Preparing yourself individually to be healthy in mind, body, and spirit will prepare you for a healthy relationship in the future. Having two emotionally healthy, mature people who can take care of themselves if need be, but who value that needing and caring for a life partner will certainly enhance life, is the spirit required for a successful marriage. When you are healthy, you will attract healthy partners, and the ones who aren’t will slip away. This is the ground on which to choose a mate for life.
1. Some of the best research on this subject comes from esteemed scholar Dr. John Gottman at the University of Washington. Gottman is famous for being able to predict whether a couple will divorce with 94% accuracy. For more info visit http://www.gottman.com
2. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Marriage and divorce: patterns by gender, race, and educational attainment. October 2013.
3. For more information on this coupling go to http://www.biography.com/people/anna-nicole-smith-183547
4.Gottman, John http://www.gottman.com
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