Most singles think about common interests, shared values, personality traits and looks when considering someone as a future spouse. Recently, another question is also being asked: “Are your parents divorced?”
The question makes sense. Expert Scott Stanley reports that, if a child of divorced parents marries someone from an intact marriage, the odds of the new marriage ending in divorce is twice that of couples who both come from intact families. The odds of divorce triple if the new spouse is also a child of divorce.
Children of divorce also want a healthy, life-long marriage, but they, too, fear their parent's divorce may undermine their chances. However, as researcher Elizabeth Marquardt cautions, “statistics describe populations, not individuals, and no one of us is doomed to repeat the past.”
Here are some ways you can improve your chances for a successful marriage no matter what your family history might be:
•Start by focusing on commitment. Researcher Benjamin Le reviewed data collected from 37,761 participants and 137 studies and found that commitment (or lack of it) is one of the strongest predictors of the success (or failure) of relationships.
Commitment is a conscious decision to stick with it no matter what, to make whatever personal changes are needed to help the relationship grow, to invest in both your spouse and your marriage, to depend on your spouse, and to make yourself dependable for your spouse. Real commitment recognizes the value of your marriage and completely rejects divorce as a solution to marital problems.
Commitment also avoids anything that encourages un-commitment, especially premarital cohabitation. It isn't possible to develop commitment by living together when you aren't committed.
•Don't assume every disagreement is “proof” your marriage won't work. Sure, your parents disagreed, and they divorced. But, all couples disagree, even happily married couples.
Disagreements aren't the problem; how you handle the disagreement is what counts. Work on understanding and respecting your spouse's perspective, even if you disagree. Acting like a team, not as combatants, will change your marital outcome.
•Develop what researcher John Gottman calls “conciliatory gestures, that is, repair mechanisms” that will help you hold your marriage together during disagreements. He explains that happily married couples develop signals, either words or actions, which stop the argument from spinning out of control. Examples include saying, “Yes, I see;” or “I need a hug before we go on.”
•Avoid comparing your spouse to others. The more you compare your spouse with others, typically the worse your spouse will look. The reason's simple: You're not living with the other person, trying to solve the day-to-day problems of life with them, dealing with their idiosyncrasies or seeing their dirty laundry on the floor. If you think the grass looks greener on the other side of the fence, remember that's the part of the lawn they want you to see; they keep their weeds out of sight.
•Constantly plan for the long haul, but remember to keep your love alive in the present. If you're a child of divorce, this is especially important. Seeing yourselves as a couple in the distant future makes it more likely you'll make it happen. Meanwhile, having fun together now keeps your marriage healthy.
Children of divorce can have wonderful marriages. First, they must be willing to adjust for the history and perceptions they bring from their past.
Marquardt, herself a child of divorce, ends: “We children of divorce value marriage because we know what life is like when it's gone. Many of us are, frankly, quite wonderful.”