7 Ways to Prevent a Gray Divorce

Although the overall divorce rate in this country is shrinking (see marriage statistics here), recent headlines and reports have indicated that the divorce rate is climbing for couples in the 50-and-over age bracket.

Interested in preventing further erosion of “gray relationships,” renowned gerontologist Dr. Karl Pillemer surveyed 700 men and women, ages 60 and up, to ask their opinions about how to keep the spark alive. Details can be found in his book “30 Lessons for Loving: Advice from the Wisest Americans on Love, Relationships and Marriage,” but here are his main findings:

1. Happy couples are willing to share new interests and embrace their partner’s interests. This is important even if it’s an activity or hobby they don’t really care for that much; Pillemer says it’s worth trying. One couple in the study included a golf “widow” and a golf enthusiast. When his wife decided to learn the sport and join her husband on the golf course, he reported it was a dream come true. He’d hoped for years that she would play golf with him.

2. While a romantic spark is important, it’s a real friendship between two partners that matters most over the long haul. After retirement, couples typically spend more time together. It’s hard to be with someone for extended periods every day if you don’t enjoy spending time together!

3. In successful long-term relationships, remembering the “little things” makes a big difference. Partners who help each other with small, routine matters, who show appreciation and add occasional surprises, keep their relationship fresh and their love alive.

4. Older healthy couples do in fact have active sex lives, and value being in good shape physically, as well as maintaining an appealing appearance. Often, the concept of sexual intimacy expands to include simply the pleasure of touch.

5. Of interest to note, Dr. Pillemer discovered that couples growing old together see each other as physically looking the same over the years – a great way to halt the aging process!

Study participants also endorsed the value of couples counseling. People who had been in previous marriages wished they had attended couples therapy prior to calling it quits. In hindsight, they realized how important it is to feel that you did everything you could to try to save the relationship. Lingering guilt or regret over “not trying hard enough” could likely have been avoided with some professional help.

Below are suggestions for keeping love alive in the later years, but they can enhance a couple’s relationship at any stage:

1. Each partner agrees to try one of their significant other’s hobbies, sports, or other interest that they haven’t previously participated in.

2. If suggestion #1 doesn’t apply or work out, decide on a new activity that interests both partners and learn about it together.

3. Focus on everyday little things that you appreciate about your partner. These “microinteractions” create positive connections that can have quite a big impact and really add up.

4. Surprise your partner with thoughtful gifts: perhaps that new tennis racket he or she has been eyeing, or tickets to something you could do together, such as a theater performance you know she’d enjoy, or a sporting event he’d like to attend.

5. Expand on #4 by scheduling a weekly date night. It can be something as simple as an evening stroll through the neighborhood, or as adventurous as taking that hot air balloon ride you’ve heard about.

6. Regularly compliment your partner and show your appreciation for his or her presence in your life. Everyone wants and needs to feel that he or she is valued and loved.

7. Even if a couple has no particular problematic issues to deal with, attending a few couples counseling sessions can enhance or “tune up” any relationship.

In summary, in order for a long-term relationship to flourish, it requires effort and an ongoing attentiveness. While there will undoubtedly be periods that are challenging and difficult, the end reward can definitely be worthwhile.

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Money Conflict: The #1 Relationship Killer

Financial disputes are considered the most frequent cause of conflict between couples today and can often lead to the end of the relationship. Multiple research studies confirm this finding and, according to data from the Utah State University, couples are 30% more likely to divorce if they argue about money every week, as opposed to those who argue about money less frequently.

In a survey conducted by Ally Bank, 55% of Americans desire someone with a strong savings and budget approach. Not surprisingly, this preference grew proportionately with the age of the respondent. In addition, they found that 76% of survey participants said it was important to have a compatible financial philosophy. Other attractive money management traits included thriftiness, bargain hunting, and “paying as you go” strategies.

Regardless of its long-term importance, fiscal responsibility isn’t usually one of the things people look for at the beginning of a relationship. When a couple first falls in love, clearly appearance and personality play the largest roles. But as a relationship progresses, each other’s spending habits can become an important issue for serious discussion and a determinant in a couple’s level of commitment. After you’re married, the “for better or worse” vows also apply to your partner’s financial history – his or her good or bad credit rating and any debt become yours as well.

If you didn’t have this talk prior to your wedding, or if you haven’t had it yet (!), it’s not too late to make amends. A couple’s relationship can grow through any challenge, if handled properly. One way to begin is by identifying your “money personality.”

In an online assessment, you can discover which of five money personalities best describes your attitude toward finances. Here are brief descriptions of the different financial types:

1. The “Saver” who gets a high from saving money and rarely spends impulsively.

2. The “Risk Taker” who gets a thrill from risking money, regardless of the payoff or lack thereof.

3. The “Spender” who doesn’t skimp, lives in the moment, and spends freely for any convenience.

4. The “Security Seeker” who is willing to sacrifice and has a plan for the future.

5. The “Flyer” who lets others take charge and make all the financial decisions for them.

It’s easy to see how some combinations of money personalities can lead to big conflicts between couples!

Here are some tips to keep your relationship financially healthy:

1. Try to identify the financial personality that you and your partner most closely follow. It may not be one clear choice, but a combination of two.

2. Discuss financial issues early on in your relationship. Be honest about your financial background. How much debt are you in?

3. Regularly discuss your goals, both short and long term, and if following a budget, check in with each other about it often.

4. Be on the same page with your partner about money; create a financial plan and share financial goals. Planning for the future (kids’ college fund, vacations, retirement, etc.) are all important compatibility issues.

5. Realize that finances can trigger different emotions, which may be unsettling for some people. Influenced by our early experiences, money may equate to power or security for some. It’s important to have the money talk without emotions getting in the way. Stay on topic and don’t let the discussion drift into other conflictual issues with your partner.

If you need help implementing the above suggestions, you may want to consider seeking appropriate financial help from an accredited financial planner.

However, if you and your partner are having unresolvable money conflicts due to personality differences and/or communication issues, seek couples counseling early on in the process to boost the overall health of your relationship.

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Why A Lack of Tolerance Dooms Relationships

What if you can’t find common ground with your partner on some serious relationship issues like finances, sex life, and parenting differences? Does this mean your relationship is necessarily unhappy, or even worse, doomed?

Typically, most attribute dissatisfaction or unhappiness in a relationship to an increase in the number of problems a couple faces. However, a recent study, conducted by the University of Georgia and the University of California in Los Angeles, found that experiencing an increase in the number of problems is not what increases relationship dissatisfaction. This holds true even when the number of problems stays the same; some couples will still grow apart. The researchers hypothesize that it is a lack, or lowered tolerance, to the same old issues partners are having that causes the biggest rift, not any additional or new conflicts.

These study results are, in fact, very consistent with the work of Dr. John Gottman. His research found that the majority (over 60%) of marital problems are perpetual, unsolvable problems which are not likely to change much over time. Gottman found that even 10 years later, these problems will still be there (even if they’re a little less intense). He concluded that intimate partners who are healthier and more at peace, whom he refers to as “Masters of Love,” develop tolerance, playfulness, and humor to manage their differences. On the other hand, the “Disasters” don’t learn to accept their partner’s preferences as the years go by. Instead, these conflictual issues grate on them and increase the emotional distance within the relationship. Gottman found that these perpetual problems can become “gridlock issues,” (especially for the “Disasters”) in which couples spin their wheels and get nowhere.

It is interesting to look at why some partners have more tolerance than others. One important factor, suggested by Gottman, is that the partners whose tolerance grows thin over time seem to have an idealized, underlying belief about relationships. They believe that couples should mostly be happy and in a state of bliss. It is likely this belief that prevents couples from realistically accepting the difficult qualities of their partner and becoming more tolerant of them.

It should be noted that some relationship issues can very reasonably become “deal breakers.” If you and your partner have polar opposite stances (on finances, parenting issues, or sex life) and these issues are extremely important to one or both of you, this level of incompatibility, regardless of how tolerant you are, is likely to doom your relationship. However, the level of tolerance plays a vital role when the perpetual relationship problems are difficult, but not deal breakers for the couple. When you and your partner learn how to manage this difficult issue in a way that is acceptable, but not ideal, the level of tolerance you have over time becomes critical to your relationship satisfaction.

How to best deal with perpetual relationship problems:

1. Recognize when unresolved issues are, in reality, perpetual problems. Ending the relationship is always an option, but you should realize there will likely be an ongoing difficulty in any relationship.

2. Distinguish between a one-time issue, and an on-going perpetual issue. Is it a solvable problem or a situational problem? What is solvable for some couples isn’t for others. A perpetual problem that reflects a fundamental difference in character or lifestyle is likely a deal breaker. For some, that issue might be an open relationship versus a monogamous relationship. To other couples, the unacceptable issue could even be about how to load a dishwasher.

3. Honestly examine and evaluate your underlying beliefs about relationships. If they are unrealistic and idealized (expecting only relationship bliss), recognize that your high expectations are setting you up for disappointment.

4. Seek couples counseling early on, before the problems become gridlocked. Counseling can help couples learn how to manage their perpetual problems, and even increase your tolerance for each other’s personal preferences.

5. For couples just starting out, premarital counseling can be invaluable in this regard, helping couples recognize their differences and working through them, prior to committing to a permanent partnership.

Learning to manage and tolerate our differences, rather than letting them fester and cause increased resentment with each passing year, is a critical step to promote a satisfying long-term relationship.

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9 Relationship Breakup Survival Tips

So you just broke up, feel devastated and distraught over your loss, and are not sure what to do. Friends and family try to help by encouraging you to “move on, it’s over.” Their unspoken message is often to “quit thinking and talking about it,” and start moving forward with your life.

Your friends and family, of course, are well-meaning, but, according to researchers from the psychology department at Northwestern University, you should be talking about the breakup, and talking about it a lot! In fact, the more thoroughly you detail the events to others, the more it boosts your well-being and facilitates a more rapid recovery.

In the Northwestern study, one control group of newly singles met only for a periodic check-in, filling out a survey at the beginning and the end of the nine-week assessment. A second group, also comprised of people struggling to recover from a breakup, underwent much more extensive testing and an interview process. They were encouraged to talk about every aspect of their relationship, from where things started going wrong, to what they learned about themselves going forward. The group participants who were more interactive and communicative about their relationship breakup recovered at a much quicker rate and moved on sooner with their independent lives.

One of the biggest challenges after a breakup is discovering, or rediscovering, your self-identity. When you’re in a relationship, your self-identity is intertwined with your connection to your partner. When single, it is not the same as who you are when you’re part of a couple. The process of reclaiming your old identity, or a whole new self, requires changing your thought patterns from an “us” to “me” way of thinking.

Processing the feelings around a breakup helps us more quickly discover who we’ve become, how we’ve grown, and what we’ve learned from the experience of this past relationship. The knowledge we accumulate helps us mature and improves our relationships in the future.

Following these survival tips can help ease the transition from “we” to “me”:

1. In addition to focusing on basic self-care (healthy eating and sleeping schedule), don’t forget to reach out for the support you need–and don’t stop discussing the events before, during, and after the breakup!

2. Expect older losses to come up for you during this grieving period. This most recent relationship loss will likely stir up any past losses, when you also felt sad and lonely.

3. Avoid self-medicating with alcohol or drugs, as this only puts off dealing with the inevitable source of your pain and delays healing.

4. Avoid the rebound trap. Quickly jumping into another relationship is yet another common way some people distract themselves from the pain of a breakup.

5. As mentioned above, refrain from identifying yourself using “couple-speak” (words such as “we” or “us”) when describing or thinking about your breakup. Research suggests that recovery happens faster for those who refer to themselves in first-person singular.

6. Expand your focus on self-care by renewing old interests and hobbies, or engaging in new ones. Perhaps it’s time to travel. Consider places you wanted to go, or things you wanted to do that your ex-partner wasn’t excited about. Your choices are now totally in your control; now is the time to follow through on engaging in those activities or interests you’ve always put off.

7. Begin or increase an exercise or activity regimen. Physical movement is important for overall health and wellbeing and provides mood-boosting mental health benefits.

8. Once you are stable and have a good self-care regimen established, focus outwardly by helping others. There are ample volunteer opportunities for worthy causes. Volunteering has been repeatedly shown to increase feel-good endorphins and provide a sense of purpose, as well as another avenue for meeting new people.

9. Utilize social support organizations to work through your feelings or connect with understanding friends. There are a variety of relationship breakup support groups that you can join.

If you’re still having a hard time recovering from your relationship breakup after trying the above steps, don’t hesitate to seek supportive counseling to assist in processing your feelings of loss and truly begin moving forward with your life.

Is Technology Destroying your Relationship?

Is Technology Destroying YourI love my iPhone, and I also think our technological advances are really amazing. However, with many new tech devices, the excessive use and a lack of moderation can be problematic. Most of us would have to admit that we’ve experienced the unpleasantness of “technoference,” the term coined to describe intrusions and interruptions in our life, due to technology devices. This is particularly annoying, however, when it’s interfering with our romantic relationships.

Recent research published in the journal Psychology of Popular Media Culture confirmed these views. It revealed that the majority of participants have been negatively affected by their partner’s use of a device during conversations or meals. These same people also expressed less satisfaction with their relationships and with their overall lives.

Although this study surveyed only women, the findings almost certainly apply equally to men, as well as children. Wouldn’t we all feel slighted if our partner paid less attention to us than to their latest text messages or Facebook updates?

Feeling important and special, particularly to our significant other, helps maintain and strengthens the connection in our relationships. We all need to know we are being heard and acknowledged. Clearly, feeling ignored or unimportant negatively impacts a relationship. Technological devices definitely have the potential to cause damage if they are not used with discretion.

Unfortunately, in today’s tech-dominant world, having someone’s undivided attention is rare. Many people don’t even “unplug” when retiring for the night, much less for a “quality time” date or a private face-to-face conversation. How many couples spend as much as 15 minutes attending to each other, on a regular basis, without distractions? This oversight definitely comes at a cost to the relationship, and can prevent a couple from reaching a deeper level of intimacy.

Our device dependency not only shows disregard for our loved ones, but infringes regularly with the rights and preferences of the general public. Outcry over lack of device etiquette is growing, as evidenced by “turn your phone off” mandates and reminders showing up in an increasing number of places. What first appeared as a directive mostly in theaters and doctor’s offices, has more recently expanded to include restaurants, which are now asking customers to refrain from cell phone use out of consideration for other diners and to prevent longer occupancy of their tables.

In fact, a recent trend exists where restaurants across the country are offering discounts to patrons who will leave their phones at the door! And this new policy is apparently working, with up to 40% of customers complying per one report. A deli in Vermont has even included a penalty by adding $3 to your bill “if you fail to get off the phone while at the counter.” The behavior is declared rude, and holds up the line!

In a Zagat survey earlier this month, most respondents disapproved of texting, tweeting and emailing when dining out. Research also shows that 81% of U.S. adults believe that mobile manners are getting worse, up 6% from last year. Keep in mind that having your phone handy on the table can signal to your partner that you’re not that interested in him or her!

Although annoying at times, technology is not evil and it’s not going away. In fact, in many ways, these high-tech devices can help improve our relationships.

So, how do we combat this “technoference”? I suggest starting with the following recommendations:

1. Discuss the situation with your intimate partner. Is this a serious issue in your relationship? Understanding how your device use negatively affects one another can help motivate a behavior change.

2. Mutually come up with guidelines and rules on when it’s acceptable to use devices in your partner’s presence.

3. Agree on device-free blocks of time together. Develop non-tech hobbies, participate in outdoor sports as a couple, or sign up for a class you’d both enjoy. Or, simply rediscover face-to-face, uninterrupted conversation!

Following the above steps can rekindle your romance, and serve as a reminder of what attracted you to each other in the first place. I’m betting your smart phone didn’t play that big of a role.

Lots of people come to therapy for the undivided attention it provides. If you and your partner can’t find common ground on how to manage the “technoference” in your life, it may be worth pursuing couples counseling.

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