Want to get a good marriage advice and stay happily wedded? Ask a divorced friend for help, suggests Terri Orbuch, PhD., a psychologist at the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan and a professor of sociology at Oakland University.
Dr. Orbuch, who is also a family and marriage therapist and an author of five books on relationships, known as "The Love Doctor," conducted a long-term project on marriage and divorce that started more than 25 years ago. The findings are documented in her new book, titled "Finding Love Again: 6 Simple Steps to a New and Happy Relationship."
You can go to people who are very happy in their marriage and ask them how they achieve that, says Dr. Orbuch, but divorced people can tell all about hardships and problems in a failed marriage and what they would change or do differently in the next relationship. Otherwise, people who lost the most important relationship of their life, have something powerful to teach others. If they are at least a little self-reflective, they will acknowledge their own mistakes, not just accuse their ex-spouses, and if they want to find happiness with their next partner, they will try to learn from these mistakes.
For her research, Dr. Orbuch has been periodically collecting data from nearly 400 same-race couples with the ages between 25 and 37 years, who were in their first year of marriage in 1986. Over the following 25 years of the study it was revealed that 46 per cent of these couples got divorced. Dr. Orbuch continued following many of those divorced into their new relationships and interviewed 210 of them. Of these 210 individuals, 71 per cent lived with new partners, including 44 per cent who got married again. What the scientist was interested in the most was what these people had learned from their previous mistakes.
Dr. Orbuch says that, according to her findings, the majority of divorced people identify the same top five regrets or behaviors they believe played major role in their marital problems. Following is what these people would change or do better in the future:
1. Boost your partner's mood
Of all the divorced individuals in the study, 15 per cent said that they would give their spouse more of what the experts call "affective affirmation," such as kissing and cuddling, compliments, holding hands, saying more often "I love you," and emotional support. Dr. Orbuch says that divorced people named four components of displays of affection that are very important for them, including how often their spouse showed his/her love and affection; how often the spouse made them feel good about themselves; how often the spouse approved of their own ideas and ways of doing things and how often the spouse made them feel good by having these ideas implemented; and finally, how often the spouse made life interesting or exciting.
2. Talk more about finances
It turned out that in the majority of marriages, happy or not, studied by Dr. Orbuch, money was the primary reason for arguments and conflicts. Almost 50 per cent of divorced people from her study said that they argued and fought so much over money with their spouse that they assume money to be a problem in their future relationship as well. Arguments over finances involved different spending styles, hiding expenses from each other, one spouse making more money and trying to control the other one, and so on.
3. Blame the relationship
In the study, 65 per cent of divorced people blamed their ex-spouses for the problems in the family, with 80 per cent of women blaming their ex-husbands versus 47 per cent of men blaming ex-wives. And when it came to blaming oneself, 16 per cent of men blamed themselves, compared with only 4 per cent of women who did so. The experts said that the divorced people in the study, who blamed their ex-spouses, or even themselves, were more depressed and had more problems with sleep and anxiety when compared to those who blamed just the circumstances that contributed to the breakup. Those individuals who were still angry with their ex-spouses were less likely to move on with their lives and build a healthy and strong relationship with a new partner.
4. Let go of the past
Getting over and letting go of the past means getting over jealousy of your spouse's prior relationships, as well as irritation at how your husband's relatives treat you, something from your own past that makes it hard for you to trust, a fight you and your spouse had a while ago, and so on. In Dr. Orbuch's study, divorced people who still could not let go of the past and held on to strong emotions for their exes, whether positive or negative, were less healthy when compared to those who moved on and forgot emotional moments of their past.
5. Learn to communicate
More than 40 per cent of the divorced individuals in the study reported communication style to be the No. 1 thing they would change in their future relationship. It is always better if spouses speak in a calm and relaxed voice, even during arguments, Dr. Orbuch says. People should learn to argue and disagree in a way that will produce a solution and not trigger more anger and dissatisfaction. In order to communicate well and better understand each other, spouses need to practice "active listening," where one spouse tries to hear what the other part is saying, without interruption, and then asks if they understood correctly. Such topics help both partners understand each other better.
Dr. Orbuch's study was funded by the National Institutes of Health.
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