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MARRIAGE DONE RIGHT

Marriage advice: A stable marriage is a Christmas gift for your children

Wednesday, December 19, 2012 - 12:01 am

Christmas is a time for gift giving, especially gifts for children. Many parents buy the most popular toys and the latest clothing styles for their kids. But, the gift kids need the most is free: A healthy, stable home life with their parents.

The evidence is overwhelming. Children raised by their married parents, who are in a healthy relationship, have the best outcomes in life. They do better and go father in school, earn more money as adults, have more stable marriages themselves, have fewer health problems as adults and, on average, live longer by four years.

But, what if your marriage isn't perfect? You're having real problems, and you've thought about a divorce. Before you do, ask yourself a basic question: Is your marriage highly contentious or is it low-conflict?

If you are in a physically abusive marriage or one that is highly contentious, with lots of loud, spiteful arguments, divorce might be the best answer. Despite the problems resulting from the divorce, expert Paul Amato explains that couples' staying together despite high levels of hostility and conflict is even harder on kids than a divorce.

But only a third of all divorces occur in high-conflict marriages. Over half (55 percent to 60 percent) are in low-conflict marriages where the marriage is “good enough” to get by, despite the emotional disconnection.

As Amato notes, “these are not bad marriages. They are just not ecstatic marriages.” Amato warns: “These low-conflict divorces are very disturbing for children.”

When there's angry yelling and screaming, kids see the divorce coming and they understand the reasons. When one parent leaves and the kids haven't witnessed any problems, the divorce is a complete surprise and the shock can be overwhelming.

They grow up wondering if any marriage will work. After all, their parents' marriage seemed fine, and it fell apart, with no warning and for no apparent reason.

This is underscored when the parent who leaves says: “I still love your mom/dad, but we just can't live together anymore.” The child hears: “Love is meaningless and cannot be trusted as the basis for future commitments.”

In low-conflict marriages, you're better off if you stick with it, too. Researcher Linda Waite reports two thirds of couples in low-conflict marriages, who decide to stay together, report being very happy five years later. Only half of those who divorced could say the same thing. For these couples, Waite concludes “staying married is the better bet.”

If you're in a low-conflict marriage and would like things to improve, here are two steps to get started.

1. Take time for fun together without your kids … just for yourselves. Once kids are old enough to be left alone or with someone, they need your marriage to be strong more than they need your constant attention. It's a gift to your kids to take time away from them to keep your marriage healthy.

2. Honor your differences. Women need unconditional love; men need unconditional respect. Women need affection; men need sexual affirmation. Women need to talk out their problems with someone who will listen; men need time alone to think out their problems, doing routine tasks they enjoy. Women are relationship oriented; men are task oriented. The list can seem endless. Showing that you respect and value these differences is a wonderful gift for your children.

If you're considering divorce, ask yourself: Is your marriage low conflict; or is it physically abusive or highly contentious? If it's low conflict, stick with it and take steps to get the passion back. It's the best Christmas gift you could give your kids.

2012, All Rights Reserved. James Sheridan’s website is www.marriagedoneright.com. This column is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinion of The News-Sentinel.