Divorce rates for couples over 50 are rising. The culprit? Marriage and retirement. Retirement represents one of the biggest life changes since graduating college or having children. This complete rearrangement of your daily routine, social status, and perceived purpose in life has the potential to put untold stress on your marriage. Here are some tips for navigating the waters of marriage and retirement in a way that preserves your strength as a couple and steers you clear from the turbulence of divorce.
1. Marriage and Retirement Planning
One of the biggest problems starts with pre-retirement planning. As we prepare for retirement, we often make lots of mental plans about what and how to do it. When these develop in our minds and don’t share them with our spouses, we are setting our marriage and retirement up for miscommunication, disappointment and conflict. Continue reading 4 things you need to know to navigate marriage and retirement
It was a very long four months for both my husband and I. Which four months? The last month of my pregnancy and the first three of my sons life.
The last month of pregnancy was long because I was huge, cranky and not sleeping. The first three months of our baby’s life were harder because on top of the exhaustion and pain of recovering from a c-section, I, the expert, got blind-sided by a serious dose of postpatrum depression.
I share this to emphasize that prepartum and postpartum depression can sneak up on anyone. Physical discomfort, lack of sleep, and all those hormones certainly are contributing factors. So too are less tangible experiences of feeling out of control–out of control of your body, of your baby’s schedule (or lack thereof!), or of your ability to get your feet back under you in general. Continue reading How I beat postpartum depression
Ashley Davis Bush, LCSW, is a psychotherapist who specializes in helping couples overcome loss and manifest their potential. She is the author of Transcending Loss, Claim Your Inner Grown-up, and her latest book, Shortcuts to Inner Peace: 70 Simple Paths to Everyday Serenity. She also manages several loss support communities on Facebook. In this guest post for PO2 Ashley shares insight into staying connected as a couple through the grieving process.
In the brilliant 2010 movie, “Rabbit Hole,” Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart play a bereaved couple who are driven apart by their grief after they lose their young son in a tragic accident. While the mother draws inward and wishes to hide from her memories, the father wants to attend grief groups, talk endlessly, and memorialize his son.
The grieving process — with its mixture of pain, sadness, hopelessness, longing, anger, guilt, confusion, and disorientation – is one of our most universal experiences. Thankfully, we won’t all know the searing pain of losing a child, yet we will all know the grief of losing grandparents, parents, pets, friends, and even siblings.
While individuals have different styles of grieving, it is generally considered healthy to be able to tolerate, honor, and express emotions. When you’re grieving with a partner (who may or may not be feeling the same degree of grief), coping with your feelings can be quite a challenge.
How a couple handles their array of grief feelings has the potential to either drive them apart or draw them closer together. The following guidelines offer help for managing the intense, lifelong impact of grief. These are important to remember not only for an individual’s mental health, but also for the sake of the relationship.
1. Speak honestly
Be truthful about your experience and what you’re feeling during your grieving process. It may be that you want time alone to process or write in a journal. Or perhaps you need time to talk with your partner about what’s going on inside. Speak from your heart and be honest about what you need.
2. Listen to your partner’s feelings
Listen with an open heart to whatever it is that your partner is experiencing. Don’t take anything personally and be willing to offer them space when they need it and/or a listening ear when necessary.
3. Support your partner in his/her process
Although you and your partner may have different styles of how you grieve, try to support your partner’s preferences (even if they are quite different from your own). If you like to display photographs of your dearly departed but your partner finds them upsetting, keep pictures visible to you but private (such as on your desk, in your car, or on your bureau).
4. Honor the loss
Talk about the loss and don’t be afraid to reminisce. You may want to light a candle, for example, at special dinners/holidays to commemorate a person who is no longer present.
5. Stay intentionally connected as a couple
Even if you find that you want to experience your grief privately, find ways to stay connected with your loved one. Let them know that you still love them, care about them, and appreciate their presence. Stay connected through the grieving process with hugs, touch, texts, words of encouragement, and tokens of love.
At the end of the film “Rabbit Hole”, the two main characters find their way back to each other in spite of their different grieving styles. This was an intentional choice on their part aided by their desire to embrace life. One of the urgent lessons that loss has to teach is that life is fragile and must be savored. If you can take that lesson to heart and honor each other in the process, you may find that the grieving process – whenever it occurs – has the potential to knit a fabric of intimacy and intensity that you’ve never before experienced.
Have you ever wondered, “Am I depressed?” Most people will experience depression at some point in their lives. At the same time, many may feel the symptoms of depression without recognizing it as such. Depression is a sliding scale of emotions, thoughts, actions and chemistry – depression can be a mild sense of being “off” to a debilitating experience. Symptoms of depression include:
Lack of energy/physical fatigue
Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities
Feelings of hopelessness
Feeling an indescribable “dark cloud”
Changes in appetite or weight
Crying and unexplained sorrow
Unexplained aches and pains
If you experience any of these symptoms for a period of two weeks or longer, it’s a good time to ask yourself, “Am I depressed?” Recognizing depression is the first step to addressing it. Step two is exploring where your depression comes from. A marriage can be both the trigger and casualty of depression. This is the story of Bonnie, a real patient of Dr. Heitler:
Bonnie is a stay at home mom of two young children. She is a strong, creative woman who enjoys spending time with her kids and is usually very positive and energetic. Lately she has been feeling tired and has a hard time being enthusiastic about anything. She finds herself criticizing herself: “Your house is so messy,” “Why can’t you keep track of anything,” “You look old and worn out.” She is uncharacteristically snappy and irritated with her children.
One night she and her husband have an argument. She is unhappy that he works so late at his new job and comes home too tired to interact with her. She is so excited to see him and she feels abandoned. Her husband snaps back: “I’m doing this to support the family! I can’t risk asking for fewer hours. When I come home, you hover over me and the kids are so worked up…I need to relax, I can’t take it.” Bonnie drops the subject.
Interestingly, Bonnie hadn’t wondered “am I depressed?” while experiencing these dark times. Is Bonnie depressed? Yes. Is she depressed because she feels abandoned and is fighting with her husband? Well…yes and no. Depression, Dr. Heitler writes, is rooted in an imbalance of power. We feel depressed when we feel powerless. In Bonnie’s case, part of her depression stems from feeling powerless over her lonely situation. Her husband has dominated the conversation while she defers to his criticism and needs.
Depression is a common result of dominant-submissive conflict resolution. Many people believe that an argument is resolved when you have a winner and a looser. This belief comes from the mistaken idea that
power is the same thing as control, specifically, having control over another person. In fact, power is the ability to get what you want, but not by definition at the expense of those around you. Truly powerful people are able to reach satisfying solutions that also satisfy others – win-win solutions.
In reality, when you solve a conflict with a clear “winner” and “looser,” you don’t solve anything. Especially in marriage, a pattern of winning and loosing will lead to depression in the submissive spouse.
To help Bonnie get the root of her power imbalance, Dr. Heitler used a visualization experiment. You can try this, too.
First she asked Bonnie, “If you could be angry at anybody right now, who would it be?”
“My husband,” Bonnie replied.
“Close your eyes and image the last argument you had with your husband. Picture you two together. Now, who seems bigger.”
“Ok, now I want you to look up in this scene and see above you a light powder sprinkling down on you. It could be green, or gold, or like snowflakes. As it falls on you, you find yourself growing, like Alice in Wonderland. Tell me when you’ve stopped growing.”
“Ok, I’ve stopped”
“And where are you now? How big are you.”
“I’m towering over him, at least four times as big.”
“Now that you’re so big, you can look down and see things you couldn’t see before. What can you see about him now?
Bonnie reflected for a minute. “He’s all puffed up. He’s not really that big, he’s puffing himself up like a puffer fish.”
“Because he’s scared…and he’s covered his ears because he doesn’t want to hear what I’m saying”
“Why is he scared?”
Bonnie thought again. “He’s scared because he thinks that I’m telling him he’s a bad person. But I’m not, I know he’s a good person. I know he works late because he feels anxious about supporting the family.”
With this insight Bonnie was able to have another kind of conversation with her husband. This time, she brought the subject up delicately, talking about her feelings and clarifying how much she respected and appreciated him. Together, they came to a surprising solution.
Bonnie is a highly educated woman with a lot of drive and she realized that staying home all day with the kids wasn’t stimulating enough for her. She was feeling bored and frustrated, which contributed to her feelings of powerlessness and led her to get worked up when her husband came home. Bonnie decided to go back to work part-time. She found she was excited to see the kids again after her morning’s work and less frantic about seeing her husband when he came home. Also, the extra income she brought in allowed her husband to be more assertive about setting limits for his hours at work.
Power imbalances in marriage can come from one spouse dominating through aggressive behavior. In the worst case scenario this domination comes from violence and insults. At other times, as in Bonnie’s case, the imbalance lies more in one spouse deferring and “giving up” (this becomes easier the more depressed he or she already is). Usually the situation has aspects of both dynamics.
Just as both spouses contribute to the depression of one, both must be part of finding a solution. Whether or not your answer to “am I depressed?” directly involves marriage problems, it is imperative that you go to joint counseling as part of the treatment. It may surprise you that getting individual counseling for depression leads to a higher chance of divorce. This is because as one spouse may make progress they other may be left behind. Both spouses should progress together.
Your counseling sessions should give you the tools to find the root of depression and work through it while providing skills to face similar problems down the road. Remember, you and your spouse are a team! That is a huge strength. Working through depression in marriage will leave your marriage stronger, wiser, and closer.
May is mental health awareness month, and I’m excited announce a series of guest posts from marriage experts. Each week will feature a new guest post on a certain subject of mental health in marriage.
I’m kicking off the campaign by talking about the importance of talking about mental health–specifically when it comes to child rearing. I’m using a great TED talk lecture given by Babble.com co-founders Rufus Griscom and Alisa Volkman.
Americans are strong, independent, creative and adventurous. At the same time, we’re not very good when it comes to talking about our feelings, our challenges, and our struggles. Child rearing is one of those areas. As any parent knows, raising kids is hard. It takes its tole on our bodies and our minds. Yet when it comes to talking about our mental health challenges as parents, there are still taboos that hold us back. This lack of communication makes us doubt our ourselves…if it seems so easy for everyone else, why is it so hard for me? What’s wrong with me? Am I a bad parent? Am I a bad person? These doubts and anxieties whirl around inside us, growing on themselves and eating away at our self esteem and happiness.
It takes a lot of guts to get up and talk about your own difficulties with child rearing. Luckily, we’re seeing more and more of this as mental health taboos are broken and the “strong and silent” expectations of our culture shift towards one of sharing and mutual support. Rufus Griscom and Alisa Volkman are two brave pioneers. In December 2010, the couple gave a TED talk about the parenting-discussion taboos they’ve faced versus the realities of child rearing. They break the silence and tell us why it is so important to talk about these things with each other.
Taboo #1: You can’t say you didn’t fall in love with your baby the moment you saw him.
While this may be true for some parents, it should not be the expectation. Rufus points out he felt deep affection and awe for the little newborn in his arms, but not deep, enduring love like the love he felt for his wife at that moment. Love is what has grown over time and is the way he feels about his son now. The problem, Rufus says, is that we tend to think about love in binary: we are either in love or not in love. The truth is, love is a process; it grows and fluctuates constantly. This is as true for your spouse as for your children. You are not going to feel blissful, all-encompassing love at all times.
Taboo #2: You can’t talk about how lonely having a baby can be.
Alisa loved being pregnant. During this time, she notes, women are doted over with visits and wishes and love. Same for the moments in the hospital and right after the birth of the new baby. Then, all of a sudden, it’s just you and the infant. No one had mentioned that she would feel isolated and lonely. Why didn’t her sister–who had three children of her own–warn her? “I’ll never forget this–she said: ‘It’s just not something you want to say to a woman who’s having a baby for the first time.'” Postpartum depression and general loneliness is a huge and common burden for new moms. And it’s not “weakness”: it’s because what you are going through is hard! Knowing this can help mothers prepare and safeguard their mental health. After all, the baby is important, and so are you.
Taboo #3: You can’t talk about your miscarriage.
Having a miscarriage can be a devastating experience. During the talk, Alisa bravely shares the story of her miscarriage. Miscarriage is an invisible loss, she observes, there’s not much community support or closure that comes from any other kind of death. In addition to depression, she felt shame and embarrassment at “failing to do what she was genetically engineered to do,” and worried about the future of her marriage. After talking a bit with other women, she found that miscarriages were amazingly common in her community. Stories from friends and co-workers came out of the woodwork. In reality, miscarriage is not uncommon at all: 15-20% of all pregnancies end in miscarriage. Tragically, 74% of women believe that the miscarriage was “partly their fault.” This silent suffering and sense of shame prevents women from reaching out and receiving the mental health support they need.
Taboo #4: You can’t say your “average happiness” has declined since having a child.
Child rearing is amazing and magical and every bit of it is an utter joy. My children are my greatest joy. They are bundles of joy. Yet studies interviewing parents show that average happiness does indeed plummet with the birth of a child. Somehow, it’s not OK for us to admit that. Alisa and Rufus give a possible compromise explanation: before having children–in our late 20s–we settle into a nice, comfortable way of life with little that jars us our of our routine. At this point our average happiness is mellow and steady. After children, it runs up and down like a roller coaster. Yes, child rearing brings some of the most difficult and challenging times of your life–at moments, you will certainly be less happy that you were without children. And it’s OK to admit that! At the same time, parenting also rockets you into amazing moments of pure bliss and joy that you also wouldn’t have experienced without children. It’s just…different than pre-baby. It’s up and down and all over the place. It’s life.
As they conclude “Candor and brutal honesty is important for making us all better parents.” Sharing your difficulties as well as joys is key to airing out and addressing problems before they take a toll on your mental health (and marriage). This week, I challenge you to share a secret about your child rearing experience with a friend–something you feel you are alone in or slightly ashamed of as a parent. You might be surprised to hear that he/she feels the exact same way…
Have you ever wondered, “Should I get a divorce?” Sometimes it’s hard to tell if your marriage problems spell doom for your union, or, if it is possible—and worth it—to salvage your marriage. Power of Two is founded on the principle that most divorces can be prevented by learning the skills for strong, healthy marriages. At the same time, some relationships have toxic and dangerous elements that make divorce the best option for everyone involved. These behaviors can be hard to face, and they should never be ignored.
The following are Dr. Heitler’s “Top Five reasons to Divorce”:
Your spouse is controlling. He/she attempts to manipulate you and/or control your friends, activity, behavior or money by the use of threats, put-downs, criticism, excessive guilt or anger.
Your spouse has cheated repeatedly. One infidelity does not necessarily spell doom—with lots of work, your marriage can recover and be stronger than ever. However, repeated affairs mean your spouse unlikely to change his ways no matter what.
There are unaddressed addictions. You should consider leaving if your spouse has damaging problems with gambling, drugs, alcohol, or other behavior and refuses or continues to avoid getting treatment.
There is an unaddressed mental disorder. Many couples live with mental disorders and have strong marriages. At the same time, if your spouse refuses to get treatment for a damaging or dangerous disorder, you should consider ending your marriage. It is the best for both of you.
Your spouse is violent with you or others, or mistreats children. This is the most resounding “YES” to the question “Should I get a divorce?” Remove yourself and your children from this situation immediately and seek professional help.
The good news is the most common reasons for divorce these days are not the ones above—and this means they are fixable!
“Should I get a divorce?…“ Consider couples counseling over divorce if the following sounds like you:
We just don’t communicate very well and can’t seem to resolve our conflicts. Communication and conflict resolution difficulties are the most common complaints of divorcing couples. Luckily, they are also simplest to change. You can learn the skills to handle these problems at any time and they will help you in all areas of life, from your spouse to in-laws to the office.
I just don’t love him anymore. Love is a cornerstone of marriage and feeling “out of love” can be frustrating and confusing. At the same time, the quality of love is constantly changing; sometimes hot and passionate, other times a cool, subtle bond. Do you really not love each other at all? Passion, intimacy and positivity can be revived!
Because it’ll be better for the kids. It’s true that having fighting parents is hard on kids. At the same time, so is divorce. Also, if you keep fighting while you’re divorced, it’s still bad. The solution? Learn to stop the fighting. Marriage education can help you replace your arguments with positive dialogue and win-win problem solving!
He/she’s just not the same person I married. We all change and grow as we go through life together. What’s important is knowing how to support each other on our personal journeys. Counseling can teach couples how to turn differences into powerful tools instead of a source of marriage problems.
I don’t trust him/her anymore. He lied and made a stupid deal, she gambled or cheated… Sometimes people do make mistakes. At the same time, most mistakes are repairable. Get the skills to analyze your errors and prevent future repeats. Sometimes the sourer the lemon, the sweeter the lemonade.
In the old days, and in many places still, divorce is a difficult, lengthy process that is highly stigmatized. This has the potential to trap spouses, especially women, into dangerous and unhappy marriages that fall into the category of good reasons to divorce, listed above. So, in many ways, it’s a good thing that we can quickly leave marriages we are uncomfortable in.
At the same time, this gives us the responsibility to think about our choices very carefully. And I don’t mean to imply that anyone takes divorce lightly! It’s just that marriage isn’t easy, and divorce is not necessarily the answer to your marriage problems. Consider this: If you don’t learn the skills for a healthy relationship now, you are likely to find yourself in the same situation with simply a different person in the future.
If you feel your marriage getting rocky, don’t hesitate to talk to a therapist or try a program like Power of Two. Problems are solved most easily when they’re caught early. And it certainly never hurts!
This is a Power of Two guest post by Lori Lowe, a blogger providing help for marriage at MarriageGems.com and author of FIRST KISS TO LASTING BLISS: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage due out Dec. 8th at http://www.loridlowe.com/firstkissbook.html. This book chronicles the journey of multiple couples as they struggle, find joy, and grow their marriages.
After the death of their infant son, John and Kathy Eubanks were more than devastated. The parents weren’t even comforted with a complete explanation for his condition, which led to multiple organ failure. Because of this lack of information, they weren’t sure if they could or should have other children. The lactating mom, Kathy, was hormonal and extremely emotional. John soon returned to work where he saw little sympathy from coworkers, many of whom didn’t even acknowledge his loss.
Their marriage became strained. Kathy stopped sleeping at night and suffered from depression. John stopped attempting to comfort her. They grieved separately and took turns turning to alcohol to numb their pain. They lacked compassion for the other’s feelings. They ate dinner in silence.
Nine months later, John returned home to Kathy crying again and said, “I don’t know how much more of this I can take.” He says he meant that it was very hard to see her suffering. However, Kathy interpreted his comment to mean, “If you don’t get happy, I will leave.” She was convinced divorce was imminent because of her assumption.
The Eubanks are one of twelve couples whose stories are featured in my new book, First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage. All the couples face various tests and decisions, and all of them find help for marriage and a happy ending. The Eubanks’ case may be unusual for its level of despair, but the misunderstanding itself is all too common in marriage.
How often do you hear your spouse say something and assume a meaning that wasn’t intended? It happens to my husband and me frequently. As we unravel a dispute, I’ll tell him what my understanding was, and he’ll say, “How did you get that? That’s not what I said.” The truth is that even as married couples who think we know each other enough to read one another’s minds, we cannot.
Power of Two calls this confusion of what-I-think-you-think, and visa versa, “Spaghetti Talk.” To avoid misunderstandings, talk only about yourself. Ask clarifying questions when necessary. For example, “I thought you said x, what did you say?” Each person can clearly state their feelings, and usually this leads to a common understanding. I know it is a helpful process for me.
And it’s exactly how the Eubanks family ended their misunderstanding. One day Kathy confronted her husband and asked, “Are you planning to divorce me?” (Remember that was her assumption due to his earlier statement.) John was taken by surprise and said, “No way.” It led to a breakthrough discussion where they shared their feelings and made a commitment to grieve together and to be unified in their suffering. And eventually it helped them get past their grief together. Their son, J.D., would be 18 years old today, and they know he would not have wanted their marriage to end because of his death.
There is much more to their story, including Kathy’s scary past marriage to an abusive husband, and their happy future with other children. Today, they feel their marriage is “100 times stronger” due to the fact that they weathered that storm together.
How are you misunderstanding your spouse in your communications—both big and small? Are you assuming the best in your spouse? Are you giving him or her the benefit of the doubt that their intentions are positive? Be sure to untangle the “spaghetti talk” and clarify your understanding when you are having a disagreement.
If you’d like to learn more about the Eubanks family’s journey to a great marriage, you can also read about 11 other remarkable couples who overcame many challenges, including infidelity, drug abuse, military separation, stranger rape, infertility, opposing religions, financial crises, depression, cancer, brain injury and much more. Their powerful stories can help you see your marriage with a new perspective and gain lessons and insights through their experiences. Whether you have a strong marriage and would just like to maintain and grow your relationship, or whether you are working through a difficult time, these stories have the power to change your attitudes, and change your marriage for the better.
This Ladies’ Home Journal Q&A is a tough one. A reader describes a tough situation, in which her marriage was affected by her own depression and past hurtful treatment towards her husband. Now, he’s moved out, and while she’s sought treatment and seeks resolution with her husband, he has begun to suffer from his own bout of depression and regards their life together with a more “closed door” attitude.
What’s a wife to do?
Dr. Heitler encourages the reader to remember her husband’s depression, which may allow her take his reluctance to reconnect less personally. Heitler recommends a heart to heart, which may help the reader to understand her husband’s concerns about reconciliation.
Depression can wreak havoc on even the strongest relationships, read more to learn the rest of Dr. Heitler’s recommendations.
Once again, we’re having fun reading Dr. Heitler’s latest advice on how to save your marriage. Ladies’ Home Journal just came out with a Q&A on how to keep anger and fighting from ruining your marriage. The bottom line– control and anger don’t work– skilled communication and mutual appreciation do!