Betty W. Phillips, Ph.D., Psychology
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Relationships and Marriages

Relationships and Marriages

Several Chatham County readers have corresponded with me about complicated issues in their marriages. Because this correspondence has been so individualized, the letters are not appropriate for a newsletter column. I can offer some general thoughts here about these topics.

In an ideal world we would learn to communicate well within our family, friends and school relationships. Then, when we begin intimate relationships with others, we would all have the emotional prerequisites to form enduring partnerships. If it's not too late for you, the reader, to pay attention to learning healthy communication patterns, especially when considering establishing that important relationship of life partner. If you are considering marriage, please consider some premarital counseling. The unfortunate reality is that being in love often confers emotional blinders on the partners and they ignore this important step. Although the 50% divorce rate means that half of new marriages will end in divorce, starry-eyed newlyweds ignore this reality, commonly asserting that their marriage would only have a 10% possible divorce rate. If premarital counseling is not available, at least consider the issues involved in establishing a good marriage relationship. A great resource book for premarital or marital counseling is The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work by John Gottman and Nan Silver, 2000. A couple can read along and work through the chapters. The Gottman book discusses the important concepts involved in establishing a positive foundation for the marriage, how to communicate and avoid conflict, and addresses the most common solvable problems found in marriages (finances, chores, sex, in-laws and parenting.) I recommend this book because based upon many years of research into marriage relationships.

My best advice for readers who correspond with me about difficult marriage problems is to find an empathetic and competent marriage therapist. Sometimes this is not available because one spouse refuses to participate in therapy. If this is the case in your relationship, a viable choice remains for you to seek advice and support through individual counseling. Sometimes this is not available, for example due to lack of financing for therapy. I do not recommend using friends and family as your "therapists" as their advice will usually be colored by their personal relationship with you and your spouse as well as influenced by their life experiences rather than a professional study of the issues. Nevertheless, help is available in these situations. Read-together books such as the Gottman book referenced above can be invaluable resources if the couple is open enough to learning and trying new approaches to their relationship difficulties. Gottman has found that 60% of marriages improve when the couple reads through the book together.

At other times jealousy and suspected or actual infidelity are issues disturbing a relationship. Those problems must be addressed directly, but the level of emotional tension and conflict is sometimes too high to address these issues without assistance. When a professional therapist is not available to assist you in dealing with these sensitive issues, an excellent resource is a book written by Shirley Glass, Ph.D., an experienced therapist and an expert on infidelity, Not Just Friends. Rebuilding Trust and Recovering Your Sanity After Infidelity, Free Press, 2003.

Be sure not to let age influence your choices in this matter. You can never be too young or too old to improve your relationships, especially when you are looking toward a lifetime with your partner. A great resource for understanding the issues involved in long-term marriages is the book A Good Marriage: How and Why Love Lasts, Judith Wallerstein and the Sandra Blakeslee, Houghton Mifflin, 1995.