You can see how one of your close friends’ marriages are going under. Should you intervene, or not? Some people believe that you need to stay out of other people’s business. Others believe that you cannot look the other way when those close to you are in distress… (more…)
Every couple sometimes experiences a disconnection, but what if your partner’s nature or a phase in his/her life makes it difficult for you to connect? Can you get close to an emotionally distant partner? (more…)
There is a good reason why experts often list communication as one of the most important ingredients for a successful marriage. It is like eggs or baking powder – without it, a cake will flop completely.
I recently had to bake a cake for a fundraising project at my child’s school. I got everything ready. First, the two chocolate-flavored box-cakes (because they are easy to make, pretty much flop-resistant and no one tastes the difference!). Then, the icing sugar, butter, cherries and golden glitter – because glitter makes everything beautiful!
So, I started baking, with some music in the background and the kitchen windows wide open. I was in a good mood and everything pointed to it being a raging success. I was reading the recipe when an incoming text message briefly interrupted me. An irrelevant, promotional message that tried to convince me that some company will lower my monthly car insurance premium…
I returned to my baking station but I have lost my place. Then I found it again, or at least I thought I did. What actually happened is that I had skipped a very necessary step: adding three eggs. Unfortunately, I only realized my mistake when I took out the pathetic brown pancake out of the oven and saw the three lousy eggs still lying on the counter… a flop that no amount of glitter could save.
In the same way, your marriage could be plain sailing. You went for premarital counselling and have put everything in place for a marriage that will last more than 50 years. But then you forget the eggs. Or you remembered to take them out, but forgot to add them in the mix…
15 Quick recipes for blunder-free communication:
- Make time to talk. From discussing trivial topics to debating tough issues. Some couples can talk non-stop from their wedding day until the day they die. But others have to work a bit harder. When you notice that your conversations are becoming less frequent, schedule time for communication, without allowing technology or the children to interrupt you. Chat over a cup of coffee. And if you have something important to discuss, do it when the kids are asleep.
- Choose the right time and place. When it comes to effective communication, timing is crucial. If you voice your disgruntlement about your financial situation while he/she is watching a movie or busy brushing teeth before bed time, a frustrating outcome is almost guaranteed. Neither should you confront your partner in a public setting or when you are between friends or family. It is unfair to the “spectators” and it will prevent you from speaking freely and honestly.
- Reconsider your words – again and again. When you and your partner talk to each other, carefully consider your words – as if you are handling glass. When a conversation becomes heated, it is easy to say something that you will regret later on. Remember, once it has been said, you can’t take it back. And if it so happens that you are arguing over text messages (never a good idea), avoid capital letters!
- Don’t interrupt your partner. Don’t stereotype your partner. Don’t generalize. These are three rules that, should you break them, will mean that you are playing dirty. When you interrupt someone, it makes that person feel angry and helpless. And to say something like: “You men are…” or “You always do this…” is unfair.
- Avoid misunderstandings by double-checking. Some of the biggest fights are the result of misunderstandings. Misunderstandings that arise from making assumptions. So, before you make your own conclusions, ask your partner: “Do I understand correctly if you say that I…”.
- Be aware of your body language and tone of voice. You might be saying the right words, but with so much sarcasm that no one can miss it. Or you might invite your partner to talk, but then challenge him or her with aggressive body language – arms folded.
- Remember that you are in control. Conflict is not escalated by the person initiating it, but by the person who responds. And yes, sometimes it seems unfair when your partner keeps taunting you, but you still have the ability to control the situation. Will you react and start a fight, or will you dismiss the challenge?
- Develop good listening skills. Listening properly, while paying attention, is one of the most important skills that you can learn to the benefit of your marriage. Look your partner in the eye, put your smartphone aside and make a conscious effort to understand what he/she is saying.
- Touch each other. When you and your partner tackle a serious topic, make sure that there is some intimacy between you. Do this by sitting next to your partner and holding his/her hand. There are several reasons for this: Firstly, it creates trust and makes your partner feel more comfortable to open up to you. Secondly, it is very difficult to have a bad fight while there is that kind of intimacy between you
- Be an attentive communicator. Whether you are simply communicating or arguing, read between the lines. People don’t only communicate with their words, but also with their eyes, body language and silences. You probably know your partner by now, so use your knowledge to the benefit of you both. When your spouse’s body language reveals that something is wrong, try to find out what it is. When your partner says one thing, but the body language shows something else, investigate further.
- Design a communication style that works for you both. When you’re not fighting, make some time to discuss your communication styles. You will soon realize why you rub each other the wrong way. Then talk about ways to avoid this. If you know your different love languages, it can also make things easier. If your love language is words of affirmation, you can explain to your partner that you need kind words to feel closer to him/her. If your love language is physical touch, point 9 will be extra important. Tell your partner which words (when you are fighting) really upsets you and where you think you can improve your conflict management skills.
- Don’t sweep things under the carpet. Sometimes you might just be too tired to argue or things are going so well that you don’t want to rock the marriage boat. But sweeping things that bother you under the carpet, has a negative effect on your marriage. If you continue to bury things to avoid a potential conflict situation, the tension will build until an explosion becomes inevitable. This doesn’t mean that you have to have a huge argument about every small disagreement, but rather that you should be open about the things that bother you in order to deal with it as soon as possible.
- Respect each other and sometimes agree to disagree. No couple can always agree on everything. They can also not solve every conceivable problem. Sometimes it better to just accept that you have different opinions and to respect each other’s views.
- Sometimes it is a good idea to ask help from a third party. There are times when it is beneficial to get the opinion of a close friend or a family member to help with an important decision. They can provide a new perspective. However, there are couples who don’t like it if someone chooses a side other than theirs so if you want to avoid getting angry at the person who are trying to help you solve the problem, rather get professional help from a person you don’t know at all – thereby ensuring that the person is completely impartial. An expert can also assist you with better conflict management techniques.
- Don’t try to win. You are not in competition with each other, instead, you are a team. Communicate with the goal to establish a connection between you, not to determine who is right and who is wrong. We often think that the purpose of communication is to let inform our partners of our needs and desires. But that is missing the point! The purpose of communication is to better understand each other…
Effective communication is essential for a healthy marriage – a marriage that “rises” as it should, just like a cake. So, gather as much information as you can about this topic and increase the chances for your marriage cake to be flop-resistant!
The blurred lines between fantasy, reality and virtual reality can take a marriage down the slippery slope of a cyber affair. A divorced man tells the story about how a virtual relationship cost him his marriage, but how there can be a light at the end of the tunnel.
John* (48) and Lisa* (45) were high-school sweethearts who dated throughout college, until they got married when John was 27 and Lisa was 25. Less than two years later, they welcomed their firstborn child – an unplanned surprise – to their family. Lisa wanted a big family, but John wanted to travel a bit more first. Despite his wanderlust, he and Lisa had four kids together.
Even though everything looked great on the surface, John harbored feelings of frustration and boredom. “I love my kids more than anything or anyone in the world. But our marriage quickly became very predictable. I wanted to be able to see the world and experience new adventures with Lisa, but we were parents and had a different role to fulfil,” says John.
“She is just a colleague . . .”
John went away for a week to attend a work conference. “I work for a multi-national corporation. A colleague from an overseas branch joined my team at the conference and we really hit it off at the event.”
The two experienced an immediate connection and they sought each other’s company when they had to work in groups. Their shared professional interests also complemented each other and enhanced their connection.
After the conference, the female colleague went back to her office and John to his. He immediately contacted her on Skype, while convincing himself that this was an above-board interaction.
“We are colleagues that had to work together, so I could rationalize the interactions as work-related,” said John. But John didn’t want to admit to himself that he might be experiencing more than just a platonic work interest in the woman, and their interactions morphed into a full-blown cyber affair.
From light-hearted to intimate
Initially, their conversations were light-hearted. As John’s frustration with his marriage and home life grew, their conversations became more intimate. They spent hours chatting online and John was able to convince Lisa that his virtual friend was a colleague who was working on a work-related project with him. “This was obviously not true,” says John.
At the peak of their cyber affair, they had phone sex. “I knew that we crossed a line, but because I had never touched her physically – she was on the opposite side of the globe – I convinced myself that I wasn’t really doing something wrong.”
John was very careful to avoid getting caught. “I always carried my phone with me and I never left my laptop unattended. This carried on for about a year.”
One day, Lisa popped in unannounced at John’s office because she wanted to take him out for lunch. He was in a meeting and his laptop was left open on his desk. Lisa saw what had been going on and she was heartbroken. A few months later, they were divorced.
Stepping back into the real world
“A cyber affair looks different than a ‘normal’ affair,” says psychologist Carien du Toit-Joubert. “But the damage that it can cause isn’t less severe or painful.”
Carien says it’s easy to engage in low-stakes cyber contact without fully realizing how the relationship is gaining momentum and getting stronger. “The initial stages of a cyber affair look so innocent and it’s often due to curiosity and boredom, but the apparent innocence can quickly evolve to something much bigger, especially if both parties feel an attraction.
“And the psychological energy that you are supposed to be giving to your spouse slowly gets drained from your marriage and makes its way to the inbox of another person!”
According to Carien, many people who have been involved in virtual infidelity don’t want to admit to themselves that they “cheated”. “The internal dialogue they keep telling themselves sounds like this: ‘I’m at home with my husband or wife, I do my part and fulfill all my responsibilities. I’m not sleeping with anyone else . . . we are just chatting!’
“Unfortunately, the reality of what is going on is much different because the online ‘friendship’ is both an emotional exit from your marriage as well as a way to keep a back door open for another romantic connection.”
Another dimension of cyber affairs is that it’s easy to live in a fantasy world with a person who doesn’t have to face the usual challenges of a real-life relationship. “Your online partner doesn’t have to change diapers with you, and they don’t have to discuss how you’re going to get the leaky furnace fixed. You’re living in a fantasy that a real-life relationship can’t compete with,” says Carien.
The cyber affair then develops and grows in the privacy of your psyche, because there is no way for you to verify the idea of a person that you’ve built up in your own mind with reality.
“The peak of a cyber affair is when a partner starts blurring the lines between reality and fantasy by making sexual contact online. This can happen through phone sex or sexting. The dangers of this are as clear as daylight.”
However, a marriage can survive a virtual affair and it can even flourish afterwards. Carien says that a couple in this situation needs to investigate the gaps in their relationship that could have led to the cyber affair.
“You have to investigate the root of the problem individually, as well as together. Maybe your relationship has stagnated. Maybe one or both of you are bored with the status quo of your marriage.”
Secondly, says Carien, you have to start rebuilding the trust that was broken by keeping secrets from each other. Get rid of the obstacles. “To simply start policing your partner’s phone and Internet activity, isn’t the solution because it’s rooted in distrust.”
Lastly, it will help to remind yourself that no “perfect” partner exists. “Rather try to bring the fantasy world and playful curiosity to the safe space of your marriage.”
Are you living together because it makes sense, but in reality there is no real emotional connection anymore? Experts call this being “emotionally divorced”.
Like many parents, Joe and Lisa devoted a lot of time to raising the kids. They worked long hours and spent all their remaining energy on tending to their kids’ needs. For 25 years, they served their children and watched the kids leave the nest, one by one, until it was only the two of them left at home.
Now they try to imagine how things were before they had kids. They used to sit on the porch and talk about work, exciting things and adventures for hours. Lisa would instinctively know when Joe had a tough day at work and offer him something to drink, leaving him to cool down for an hour or two before joining him in the study to discuss what was on his mind.
Joe could listen to Lisa talking for hours about the latest movie that she saw, and Lisa would listen attentively when Joe told her about the big sporting event that he watched with his friends.
Joe and Lisa were friends and companions. They made each other feel heard and seen. When one partner felt the need to connect on an emotional level, the other one would sense it and make themselves available.
This is how their relationship was in the beginning, but slowly – without being able to pinpoint when or why – they became disconnected. They started ignoring each other’s needs, or became too tired to invest time and attention in each other.
An observer would be able to notice catty or mean-spirited remarks by one partner (and the subsequent hurt look in the other’s eyes), but this emotional pain never got addressed because there simply wasn’t time to talk about things. After some time, the small rifts got deeper and started causing major damage to their relationship.
Are you Joe and Lisa?
After the kids left, Joe and Lisa’s relationship became increasingly disjointed. Sometimes they would eat together, other times not. Some nights they would sleep together, but more often each one would sleep alone. Each of them carries the weight of his or her own burdens, fears and concerns alone, and they don’t share in each other’s joys either.
Both Joe and Lisa know that they have lost their emotional connection and that they are being inauthentic when they put up a united front before friends, family members and their adult children. Keeping up the facade is part of the emotional divorce.
Can you prevent it?
- If one of you notices that you are becoming emotionally distant as a couple, it needs to be addressed without blame.
- Commit to living in the present. Focus on what’s happening between the two of you now.
- Try to pay attention to the emotional needs of your partner. Try to give him or her the emotional support that they are looking for.
- If your partner isn’t a talker or sharer, you need to start asking leading questions.
- If you are worried about raising an issue because it might lead to a fight, empower yourself by reading books and information about conflict handling. See a professional therapist if necessary.
- Remember that your partner is also feeling hurt, scared and helpless.
- Remind yourself that you used to be very close and emotionally connected. It might take some work, but you can get back to where you were and become an even closer couple than before.
Past generations grew up with a different idea of marriage. They believed that it meant forever and it’s something that you fight for. For a variety of reasons, it seems that people view marriage differently these days. Divorce has become more acceptable and easier, but are people separating for the right reasons?
Can a marriage really survive an affair? Some people believe that if the offender is truly sorry and remorseful, and proactively works at making the wrong right, then it shouldn’t lead to divorce. But what if it happens again? Do you have to repeatedly forgive your partner for cheating, even if it’s something that chips away at your psyche, well-being and your trust in your partner?
Mary’s* marriage was in turmoil when her husband moved in with a married woman, after being with Mary for 25 years.
“I filed for a divorce, but I’m a born-again Christian and because of this, I had a personal struggle going through with it. The Lord spoke to me several times during this period and I found it very hard to move forward with the divorce.”
Eventually, she did get a divorce. “I walked away from the marriage with nothing, but I’m grateful that I was able to feel the presence of the Lord during this time of struggle.”
Experts believe that a heterosexual marriage can’t survive homosexuality, but in Nadine’s case, it did. Nadine and her husband were very much in love and they had a great relationship, until he told her that he had experimented with another man.
“Initially, I didn’t want to ask questions about the situation because I was afraid of the truth. Within a year of being married, he started to contact gay men on Facebook. We went through turmoil and we were on the brink of a divorce, but today our marriage is stronger than ever before thanks to God, who has a master plan with our lives,” says Nadine.
Do the rules change or not?
Most people and some experts agree that there will always be exceptions to the rule. Divorce attorney Lindi Wademan says it’s important to distinguish between solvable marital problems and extreme situations, such as when someone is filing for a divorce because their child’s safety is at risk due to physical or emotional abuse. If one partner has a psychological disorder, suffers from an addiction or changes his/her sexual orientation, then it could be an unsolvable marriage problem.
Some relationship experts believe that divorce is the right way to end a relationship in the following situations:
- If there is serious physical, sexual or emotional abuse against a partner or (even worse) a child.
- When there is repeated cheating and the transgressor doesn’t change his/her behavior.
- When a partner’s sexual orientation changes.
- When both parties can honestly say that they have done everything in their power to try to make the marriage work.
- If one of the parties has a serious addiction that drives the family apart.
When to not get divorced
Lindi says that in other situations and scenarios, the chance of reconciling a marriage is always a possibility.
“According to my opinion, other issues such as minor irritations over bad habits, financial pressure, a difference in opinions or interference from friends or family are all challenges that can be overcome. If both parties are willing to work on the problem and the relationship, and in some cases, consider marriage counselling, then reconciliation is possible,” says Lindi.
Divorce is never the right thing to do if you have any doubts. Personality differences, different tastes, a problem with your sex life or different libidos are definitely not grounds for a divorce. If cheating took place and it was a once-off affair that both parties feel will never happen again, then divorce isn’t the path that your relationship should follow either. Even if you feel your partner doesn’t make you happy anymore, you still have a lot of inner and relationship work to do before divorce becomes a viable option.
What is the reality today?
In a perfect world, the above-mentioned situations and the logic applied to relationship goals make sense, but things often take on a different shape in reality. Lindi says there are usually a few reasons why people get divorced and not “one big thing”.
Some of the main reasons for divorce that she sees in her law firm include the following:
- Poor communication.
- No shared interests.
- Financial reasons.
- Sexual incompatibility.
- Inability to accept each other and wanting to change the other person.
- People feeling a lack of support from their partner.
- Couples not making enough effort to spend time together.
- Unwillingness to work on the relationship.
- Unwillingness to see a relationship therapist or marital counsellor.
- Restructuring of families where stepparents or stepchildren don’t get along.
- Emotional, verbal or physical abuse.
- Religious differences or having different values.
What does the Bible say about it?
Düring Cornelius, a teacher at the University of Potchefstroom, says divorce is contrary to the Word of God and His wonderful master plan for each spouse. As humans, we have contaminated God’s work through sinful rebellion.
A counselor may, however, reach a point where all paths of reconciliation have been exhausted and one or both parties are still intent on destroying each other. In this case, the partners would be advised to disassociate themselves with the marriage.
“However, this has to be the last resort and the result of a person or both parties continually being destroyed by another person’s behavior. It’s also the result of one or both parties’ inability to let healing and recovery through Christ work in their lives.”
Düring also believes that contemporary consumer culture and products wipe out our ability to deal with marital problems or face adversity in relationships. If something becomes a problem, it needs to be removed from the marriage as quickly as possible. Our culture of wanting instant gratification means that we want to solve a relationship problem as quickly as possible, and this often means that a divorce can look like the ideal, quick solution.
“Divorce is never a solution. At best, divorce is an emergency exit. Nobody wins in a divorce case and if there are children involved, they are the biggest losers.”
Is it really too easy to get divorced?
Divorce attorney Aletta Loubser says that in earlier years, the legal requirements for getting a divorce made the process less appealing and likely. In some countries, a person could only file for a divorce through a High Court legal process.
“Nowadays, the legal procedures are more accessible and the parties in a marriage are not faced with a legal obligation to work on their marriage. The divorce proceedings revolve around arrangements relating to children, support, and the distribution of assets and expenses. If the parties agree on these aspects, then a couple can get divorced quite quickly and easily,” says Aletta.
Consider the following if you want to get divorced
- Do you still have feelings for your partner? If your partner treated you badly, there is probably a lack of emotional intimacy. If you still care about and love your partner, then consider counselling instead of divorce. Be careful to not confuse feelings of guilt, or the fear of loneliness, with care and love, though.
- Does what is left of your marriage still constitute a marriage? A marriage consists of two people who form a triangle with God and work towards the greater good of the relationship, it isn’t about two people fighting to get their own needs met.
- Do you really want a divorce or do you only want to threaten your partner with a divorce? If you’re angry and frustrated, then you may threaten your partner with a divorce to make sure your partner knows how serious you are. If you’re looking for solutions, however, divorce threats aren’t an option.
- Is your decision emotional or rational? You can’t make a decision like this when you are experiencing overwhelming emotions.
- Consider your reasons for a divorce carefully. Do you hope that the threat of a divorce will make your partner treat you better or value you more? If you want to change the dynamics between you and your partner, then counselling is the solution and not divorce.
- Carefully consider the consequences. Divorce can shatter your dreams, and it can affect you and your children financially and emotionally. Don’t feel guilty about these things in a toxic relationship that’s hurting you, but consider all the consequences.
Can every marriage be saved?
If you are considering a divorce, then mull over your decision a lot. Listen to the thoughts and opinions of others, but realize that nobody can make this decision for you.
If you get a divorce, then commit to not having a victim mentality about it. Forgive transgressions and realize that a fulfilling life is within your reach after the divorce. If you are unsure, do whatever you can to save your marriage.
God is bigger than our problems and there is always a chance that a “guilty” or “sick” partner can be healed. In cases where a divorce is theoretically justified, the divorce should take place within the context of protecting a family from the person’s disease.
Reasons such as wanting to take time to find yourself or growing apart from a person don’t justify a divorce, says relationship therapist Elmarie van Wyk. “Both parties must be willing to work on the marriage.”
Change takes time and you can’t expect immediate results from one therapy session. At any point in time, you can decide to get divorced, but once you are divorced, it’s very hard to turn the relationship around.
Additional sources: www.divorcesupport.about.com.