Doing Life Together

divorce-619195_1920Before you know it, we will  be celebrating the holiday of love. Yet,  too many couples have lost that loving feeling and are headed for divorce. Divorce attorneys report that January and February (just before Valentine’s Day) are the busiest time of year for divorce.

Think about it. Couples try to make it work over the holidays and hope that all the hoopla and family time will reignite an ember burning marriage. Apparently, not so much! In many cases, unhappy couples feel the exhaustion of the holidays and have trouble gearing up for the new year.

Researchers are always looking for ways to predict divorce. Their findings can actually help us make necessary changes in order to prevent divorce. So when I found a study by Alan Booth, Paul Amato and colleagues at Penn State concerning long-term marriage and divorce, I thought I’d pass along the information.

Three conclusions were reached about couples and divorce:

1) Couples who do NOT own a house are more likely to divorce. The thinking here is that owning a house represents commitment and stabilizes relationships. When couples have more investment in staying together, like home owning, they may be reluctant to sell or divide the property. That commitment makes it more difficult to divorce and may act as a deterrent to breaking up.

2) Intergenerational transmission of divorce. If your parents divorced, it is twice as likely that you will divorce. This is one of the strongest risk factors for divorce. We learn patterns, healthy and not so healthy, from our original families. So if you lack skills regarding conflict, dealing with emotions, compromising, etc., and didn’t have great role models for interpersonal skills growing up, go to seminars, be open to changes and learn to better communicate and meet the needs of your spouse. Divorced parents can give “permission” to an adult child to get out of the relationship rather than work through the difficulty.

3) Living together. Couples who live together prior to marriage report more problems and are more likely to think about divorce. Living together does not help create a stronger marriage like so many people think. In fact, many couples live together thinking this will help them avoid divorce because of the potential to get to know the person better by living with him/her. However, cohabitation actually has the opposite effect and leads more often to divorce. So God’s way, marriage first, is still the best way.

When God is the center of any marriage, there is always a way to break past patterns, honor the marital covenant and make marriage last for a lifetime.

idea-1880978_1920Perhaps you have new goals and are determined to make a fresh start this new year. You’ve thought it through. There are a few things on your TO DO list you would like to check off. So, like millions, you make resolutions.

The top resolution for most of us involves fitness–lose those 10 unwanted pounds, get to the gym every day, stop smoking and eat better.

Well, if you want to up your chances of success, move to Florida. Geography matters in terms of follow through. Floridians do better than New Yorkers or Californians. But that is hardly a solution for most of us!

The most important factor to consider in making change is do you really want to change or are you just doing it based on guilt or someone else’s suggestion? If you have weighed the pros and cons, started making preparations and are ready to take action, you might become one of the 8% that actually follows through on New Year’s resolutions.

Also, consider these tips to help make change stick:

1) Aim low, not high. This is especially true regarding weight loss. Don’t start the year with lofty goals like losing 50 pounds. Rather, begin with a small goal of 5, then 10 pounds. It’s psychologically easier to attain and you won’t feel like a failure if it takes time.

2) Start early. Did you know that it is better to start changes in August, not January? In August, we are geared up and ready to go (maybe because it feels like the start of a new school year). January is actually the worse month for follow-through! So, know from the beginning that you are going to have to keep up your motivation and not give in to feelings of wanting to hibernate and coast through the winter season.

3) Stay the course. If you can go 90 days, you have a better chance of making a change. Think about the gym–most people who crowd the machines in January are gone by March. They haven’t made exercise a habit. From the beginning, make this a commitment in your head, something you have to do regularly to make it stick. Your thoughts will influence your actions. “I need to go three times a week to the gym” is better than, “It’s OK if I miss a few times. I have all winter to get into shape.”

4) Tell someone who will keep you accountable. Like studying, if I know the teacher will quiz me, I study better. So, find a friend or loved one and make that person your accountability partner. Social support is critical to change. Also, your odds of success go way up of there is a financial incentive attached.

New Year’s Resolutions are a good idea only if you are truly committed to a particular change, juggle your schedule to make changes, stay the course, have realistic goals and are accountable to others. Otherwise, you join the 92% of Americans who have good intentions, but don’t follow through! And that doesn’t feel like a Happy New Year!



angry-man-274175_1280Bill and Ann need to stop inflicting pain on each other. Both suffer physical side effects from their unhappy marriage. They don’t listen to each other or a therapist because they are so physiologically aroused. Their emotions overtake them. They are distressed and in need of help.

They need self-control. Bill and Ann are so busy hanging on to injury or planning the next evasive tactic, they don’t consider the “rightfulness” of their responses. Are they evidencing the fruit of the Spirit through complaint, criticism and demand? Is emotional avoidance God’s way to deal with a spouse?

We are to guard our tongues. When we resort to criticism and demand we are not showing Christ’s love to our partner. When we avoid conflict or emotional exchange we are not resolving issues.

So how do we begin to turn the tide in what looks like a divorce situation? There is a technique developed by John Gottman, Ph.D. that helps couples begin to change highly negative interactions. He advises that both spouses be trained in soothing skills to help them both calm down. Calming down lessens physical arousal and makes it more possible to hear the other person.

Gottman suggests that when you have a difficult interaction, you monitor your heart rate. If your heart rate increases 10 beats per minute over it’s regular rate, you stop the interaction. Take a break (at least 20 minutes) and do something soothing. During this time you are NOT to think about the faults of your partner. Instead, calm yourself through something soothing (a walk, music, counting to 10, prayer, etc.) Your body will calm down. Then you can hear and deal better with your partner.

During the time you are calming down, you should also replace negative thoughts of your partner with thoughts that are kinder. Give the spouse the benefit of the doubt, e.g., “He’s only saying this because he’s mad. He loves me and really doesn’t want to hurt me.” As you get better calming yourself down, you can try and soothe your partner. Listen and validate what is being said.

When you get really good at this, add words of affection towards your spouse. For example, “Honey we are going to find a way to work this out because we love each other.”

The purpose of learning to do this soothing technique is to calm you down so you can stop the intense physiological responses that prevent you from controlling your interactions. When you are so overloaded by emotion, you can’t think clearly and no amount of therapy helps.

The spiritual application of this is that you are exercising self-control. You choose to think on good things, calm down your body and try to listen to your spouse. Not only will you have fewer health problems but you’ll also be pleasing God.


finger-769300_1920What happens to your emotions when you go on social media platforms? Could they become negative and lead to depression?

My daughter recently tried an experiment related to this question. She was given an assignment in one of her graduate school classes to unplug from all social media for 48 hours. No cell phone or computer usage at all.

It was surprisingly weird and a bit tough, making her realize how dependent we become on our devices and being plugged in. But what surprised her was that she felt better, less stressed and actually enjoyed reading a book. She went to bed at a decent time and awoke refreshed. She spent more time with her relationships and actually enjoyed just being with people.

We all know that social media can impact our emotions. We’ve had those experiences of being upset with mean tweets, crying over a moving video, or rejoicing with good news from friends.  What we may not know are the results of a recent study that looked at the relationship between social media and the number of platforms we use. Being highly connected could have its problems.

How many social media platforms do you use? The answer to this question could affect your mental health. The old adage, the more the merrier, does not hold up with social media and emotional health!

Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine found that depression and social media usage correlate–the more platforms you are on, the more likely you are to be depressed or anxious. If you are on two or less platforms, you are probably at little risk. Seven to eleven platforms and your risk for depression and anxiety substantially increases.

Now, an association between two things like the number of platforms and symptoms of depression doesn’t tell us about causation. So questions like, does the work it takes to maintain all the platforms cause depression, or how does the use of apps contribute to emotional health, or does unplugging help reset the person, still need more research.

But it is helpful to know that too many platforms might put you at risk for depression. So take a look at your social media usage. If it is high, try cutting back or even consider a media fast and see how you feel. Make an effort to connect with people in real life and  see if your mood improves. Since social support is so important to mental health, you will probably see an improvement in your emotions.