04/05/14 by Rennie Detore
When exactly did the mantra of marriage turn from "living happily ever after" into sadly, another would be love story that ends in divorce?
Divorce rates hover around the 40-50% mark for first marriages, a statistic that doesn't bode well for the segment of the population that still believes in love, marriage and finding their soul mate.
Nancy Irwin is a doctor of psychology, author and specializes in clinical hypnosis and is a coach and counselor to struggling couples. She concurs that marriage, in and of itself, isn't necessarily broken. In fact, she suggests, that is hardly the case.
"Marriage is here to stay; it's shifting and changing," she said. "Human beings are gregarious and social creatures and love to be with someone; marriage is going to be here for a long time."
Marriage might not be going anywhere per say, but that doesn't change the fact that the bond of matrimony is just not lasting like it once did.
There is, however, little doubt, based on the popularity of social media and online dating sites that love and marriage still is something the masses want, but it just seems like when they finally get it, they don't know exactly what to do with it.
Deciphering why marriage no longer works for some can be just as arduous and taxing as the relationship itself, but one has to wonder what happened to celebrating 50 year wedding anniversaries or marrying your high school sweetheart, much the way your parents or grandparents did.
Some will argue that money or financial instability contributes to divorce. Others will say that today's generation is surrounded by too much temptation (i.e. social media) and that, coupled with short attention spans and a fickle sense of romance, creates an atmosphere that discourages long term relationships and marriage. And how do kids factor into a marriage as far as stress on the couple? And what about those people who decide that marriage is a fantastic idea, even after only a few weeks or months of dating?
Those aforementioned proposals all make perfect sense but feel more like excuses or ancillary issues that only contribute to the larger scale contents that surround divorce: how you were taught to view relationships, communication and complacency.
"We form our opinion of marriage, and a blue print is based on how we are raised," Irwin says. "Your daddy is (prototype of) your first boyfriend; mommy is first (prototype of) girlfriend. We grow up and form relationships in our subconscious. It takes a Herculean effort to break those habits."
You would assume that most men and women don't draw back to their childhood as grounds for why they struggle in marriage specifically or relationships in general. Chalking up their woes to "picking the wrong" person is way too generalized of a statement to truly hold any real meaning and feels more like empty, generic rhetoric.
As Irwin stated, maybe those bad habits don't ever get broken, but rather the general public is attempting to push the proverbial square peg into the round hole when it comes to marriage and is relegated to forcing the issue with hope as the only emotion in the equation.
That mentality might lead to initial struggles and eventually turn into deeply rooted problems in the future that fuel the fire of poor communication and, eventually, barely speaking to the person.
In other words, choosing the wrong person isn't like missing a multiple choice question on a test. You don't just get docked a point when it comes to marriage but rather this misstep has the potential to manifest into a marriage that just doesn't work well.
As for communication, that facet of the relationship seems tied at the hip with complacency as far as explaining why marriages are ending in divorce.
For some men and women, marriage isn't the start of a new chapter of a relationship but rather an end point. The initial meeting, the dating and subsequently watching your relationship grow while relishing in every last moment you spend with the other person is exciting and intoxicating.
Everything about the relationship is new or uncharted, and both parties involved seemingly make it a point to put their best proverbial foot forward. In other words, you really never stop trying to impress the person.
Then, it would seem, marriage happens and comfort and complacency tend to wash over the relationship, and the luster, romance and companionship begin to dissolve.
Out come the sweatpants, weight gain and a penchant for no longer making the relationship a priority.
So why is the tilt from dating to marriage such a drastic one?
"I think there's a lot of pressure in our society for females especially to get married," Irwin says. "OK, now I can check it off the list and relax, and let yourself go and feel like the pressure is off, and you hit your home run."
Men usually follow a similar pattern after marriage, too.
"Guys are sometimes the same way: they bought the ring, showed up and are settling down. Certainly that aspect exists."
But Irwin is quick to point out that savvy, intelligent couples who fully understand that something as monumental as marriage shouldn't be entered into lightly have already begun planning, talking and discussing what each of them expects marriage will be like before any surprises abound.
"Wise couples, and this is what I advise couples, I think it's smart to share your vision and what kind of marriage do we want. What wife do I want to be, what do I need from you (my spouse). The more you share, the less surprises," Irwin says.
However, this sit down shouldn't turn angry or into misguided finger pointing. Rather, the goal is to combat potential problems in a way that is lovingly and attempts to curtail resentment before it destroys a relationship.
That, in turn, fosters open lines of communication right away, making it clearly known that talking to one another is going to be a building block of the relationship for the long haul. For a majority of couples, however, communication is a struggle and contributes to divorce, but sadly seems so avoidable when you think about it.
The lack of communication probably stems from either not knowing what to say but also how to say it correctly or in the right tone. Instead, ignorance leads to silence or communication breaking down before you decide to break up.
Irwin feels that communication is key and, despite what some may believe, can be taught, nurtured and fine tuned to the point that everyone in the relationship feels comfortable emoting. She also is quick to point out that part of knowing how to communicate is staying focused with your thoughts and finding composure once you feel a tangent is about to strike.
"It's helpful if people can express authentically in a mutually safe setting and know they'll be heard. That's the number one thing that is missing. They get off track," Irwin says.
She also strongly believes that just sporadically altering a few pronouns and how you frame the sentence will do wonders for the person on the other end of the conversation, even if communication isn't something you're adept at doing.
"It (communication) is a skill that can be hard after 30 or 40 years of not expressing yourself," Irwin correctly points out. "That tends to be men; women want to talk more, but that is something (communication) that can be learned, getting in touch with your feelings and starting with an 'I' statement on how you're feeling, instead of 'you never this, you never that,' etc."
Far too often in a marriage, communication is broadly viewed as spouting off one complaint after another in the hopes that someone tires out first before the other. But good communication with your significant other goes far beyond raising your voice, yelling, screaming or ranting. Instead, verbal altercations between married couples should center on respect, listening and honesty in not only choosing the words but how they're delivered.
"Anytime you have a complaint, turn it around. Flip the complaint into a request" Irwin suggests. "That's how you elicit someone's attention. 'I request you call me when you're going to be late,' as opposed to yelling 'why are you always late.' The more you say it authentically , the more it works."
In the heat of the moment, it is partially understood how a passionate, important argument can lose its direction and fall by the way side. A lot of these arguments, Irwin points out, can be avoided by implementing specific times and days to talk.
Call it a relationship check in for a check up.
"I always tell couples to set up a check in session, maybe once per week or once per day. Some only need once per month. It's just a chance to check in and actually rate your relationship. Like 'on a scale of 1-10, where are we?' "
No matter where you are, the relationship starts with you, the individual, and knowing what you want, how to find it and, finally, fostering the relationship from infancy all the way through and including marriage. Marriage will never be an exact science, but that doesn't mean you should enter into that union deaf, blind and especially dumb.
"Knowing yourself and what is important to you is key," Irwin says. "It depends on the couple, some people having a really great passion and are more visual, and others want to get married for the values of children, home, reliability and friendship. There are many paths to happiness and a fulfilling relationship, and you can't say one is better than others."
But what you can say with some certainty is couples who are cognizant or self aware of their surroundings and how they interact with one another seem to be the ones that make it work better than most.
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