Why marriage matters for the kids.

We often hear the phrase marriage matters.  In a recent article written by Kimberly Howard and Richard V. Reeves of the Brookings Institute interesting new research takes a look at the question why?  Why does marriage matter?  Can it be broke down into a few simple factors or is there bigger meaning infused in the experience of marriage that offers advantages to children? The article, titled “The Marriage Effect: Money or Parenting” puts in simple terms what the researchers were looking at.  Is money the determinant factor or the additional parenting resources and energy provided by a two-parent household?

marriage matters

According to the authors the two key take aways from the research are…

1) Children from married households do much better and are more likely to thrive.

“Children raised by married parents do better at school, develop stronger cognitive and non-cognitive skills, are more likely to go to college, earn more, and are more likely to go on to form stable marriages themselves.”

2) The research shows that some of the “marriage effect” can be attributed to the “parenting effect” and the “money effect.”

“The benefits of marriage in terms of children’s outcomes and life chances seem clear. The difficulty is teasing out the key factors. Our analysis suggests that both the higher incomes and the more engaged parenting of married parents count for a good deal. If anything, parenting may matter a little more.”

The article claims that the two key factors, more money and more engaged parenting are the most dominant factors affecting the outcome for kids.  While it is easy to understand how those two things have a positive effect on kids it isn’t entirely easy to understand if there is an additional benefit of the experience kids have living in a household with married parents.  Is it possible that there is a concrete benefit to kids witnessing the day to day experience of a marriage. There are certainly myriad factors involved not the least of which is the kind of marriage children grow up in. It would certainly be of benefit for children to witness good communication in marriage . On the flip side is a toxic marriage going to have a negative effect on a child’s well being and health? In addition, will more money and resources for parents who aren’t married result in the same outcome?  There may be no easy answer to that question, it is though an important question for couples, communities and larger institutions to look at in an attempt to understand why marriage matters.


The top 5 tips to avoid holiday stress

Along with the fun and excitement of the winter season comes with a notorious amount of holiday stress. It can come from the inevitable interaction with less than liked relatives. It can result from financial troubles over rising heating bills and affording gifts and throwing parties. It can come from the overwhelming sense that the holidays have to be “perfect.” Chances are you’ll find yourself at the short end of your fuse and wondering how to make a relationship last through the holidays. Here are 5 effective tips for overcoming holiday stress and keep your marriage strong.

1. Set a budget. Holiday stress often comes from the strain it puts on our wallets. Avoid this by making a realistic budget for the season and sticking to it.Try doing a “secret Santa” arrangement in your family (for Christmas or Hanukah) to limit the number and price of gifts you give. Don’t buy new wrapping paper and bows—which is expensive and bad for the environment—instead, recycle pretty wrapping and boxes from the past year and improvise with cloth, magazines, and newspaper. By trimming off the fat you’ll find what really makes the holidays really special.

2. Muster the troops. Coming together as a family and delegating work for the holidays will reduce stress and increase your bond. Resist the temptation to “do it all.”The children can be given simple tasks such as helping in the kitchen,  decorating, or cleaning up. Play to each of your strengths and abilities. Making sure each person has their role set clearly beforehand will make them more likely to follow through.

3. Get some “us time.” Stay connected to your spouse by setting a goal to show positive intimacy every day. Give him a hug for “no reason” multiple times a day. Hold hands or give her a massage. Scientific marriage help books have shown physical touch releases stress reducing hormones. Plus, it shows you are there for each other. Also, be sure to take an adults-only date night. Go skating or take a walk to look at holiday lights. Do something that gets you alone and enjoying each other’s company.

4. Deflect confrontation. This one’s tricky, especially when we’re stressed out and have a couple of glasses of spiked eggnog in us.  The best option for a nosy or confrontational guest who gets on your back is to face the problem directly and politely. Try saying, “I can see how you feel that way…at the same time, lets just enjoy the party and set that conversation aside.” Check out PO2’s online marriage counseling resources sections “yes…and…” and “anger ceilings” to learn how to agree to disagree.

5. Take a break—a complete break! When you feel worn down, get out of the house and do something simple that doesn’t have anything to do with chores. Go for a walk around the neighborhood. Don’t try to cram something useful into the time like walking the dog or picking up some groceries. Use this moment to clear your mind, admire the houses on your block and their decorations, or the beautiful nature around you.

4 things you need to know to navigate marriage and retirement

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

Marriage and taxes: 7 tips for newlyweds

First comes love, then comes marriage, then come taxes! If you’re one of the thousands of new couples married this spring and summer, get ready to embark on the adventure of marriage and taxes. The federal government provides many financial benefits to married couples, an it can be a little confusing how to go about getting them. Here’s a rundown of who your need to update on your new marital status and how to do it.


1. Social Security Administration  One of the most essential things for marriage and taxes is to make sure you name and social security number match. If you’ve changed your name after getting married, be sure to alert the Social Security Administration. How: File Form SS-5, Application for a Social Security Card. The form is available on SSA’s website www.ssa.gov, by calling 800-772-1213, or visiting a SSA office. Continue reading Marriage and taxes: 7 tips for newlyweds

Money and marriage: Should you keep separate checking accounts?

Marriage is the union of two lives into one–at the same time, maintaining independence and autonomy is an important part of a healthy relationship. How does money and marriage factor in? Wall Street Journal blogger Rachel Louis Ensign tackled this controversial topic last week. Her article features interviews with couples, lawyers and financial advisers who have found that sometimes not sharing everything can be the best situation for the marriage.

I was surprised to read in a follow up post that some commenters had been extremely critical of this idea, even accusing spouses who split up their assets as “definitely NOT a couple” and asking “Why even get married in the first place? Marriage is about trust and compromise, two people as one.” Continue reading Money and marriage: Should you keep separate checking accounts?

Homeless family resources make a world of difference

As cost of living rises while income doesn’t, and many low-wage employees find their jobs replaced by machines or oversees workers, homelessness has become a terrible reality for many families. Thankfully, homeless family resources such as shelters and job seeking programs can provide a vital lifeline to let these families get back on their feet. Many cultures take the winter holidays to think about charity and helping our communities, and this inspired me to share this heart-breaking and amazing short documentary about the families at the YWCA shelter in Columbus, OH.

The documentary starts with some pretty scary statistics. In 2009, the shelter board allocated around $5,000  to overflow homeless family resources. In the summer of 2011, they needed nearly one million dollars to provide overflow care. In July 2010, the shelter was forced to turn away 119 families that came for aid because they didn’t have the space to serve them. This past summer, that number jumped to 1,000 seeking aid that couldn’t be accommodated. And 60% of these families needing shelter are new to the homeless resource system.

The video then focuses on two families living in the shelter. The first are Andrew and April and their three kids. While both parents are still working, the family lost their home when Andrew’s higher paying job went over seas. Then we meet Keishauna, who lost her job and after marriage problems found herself a single mom of a young girl after 10 years of marriage. We follow Keishauna as she searches for a new job and an apartment that will lease to her.

I usually feel like homelessness is so far away from me. I had a real wake up call after an article in the SF Chronicle that stated more and more families–everyday families like myself and my neighbors–are winding up homeless. In fact, the Chronicle reported that there are 2,200 homeless children in the San Francisco public school system, 400 more than just last year. Chances are, your child knows and is friends with a kid who is homeless or on the brink of homelessness.

As the documentary says, “To raise a family with nothing, not even a home, takes immeasurable strength.” I amazed at the families shown in this video, especially Keishauna as she stays strong and supportive for her daughter and continues to smile through all her misfortunes. Check out this well-made documentary and please consider donating clothes, furniture, toys, and any other useful used items from your house to your local shelter. If you are struggling yourself, I encourage you to explore the homeless family resources available at your local shelter. You’ll find wonderful, kind people and lots of job and home hunting help to give you a lifeline. Visit http://www.familyhomelessness.org/ for information and directories.


Lessons from the Kim Kardashian marriage

What a katastrophe.

The Kim Kardashian marriage to Kris Humphries lasted a mere 72 days. She claims she “married for love” and divorced out of “intuition.” Others claim that the entire thing was a publicity stunt and money making scheme. Well, Kim and Kris definitely made bank out of the whole event. Kim got a 20.5 carat engagement ring and $172,000 worth of gifts from her bridal registry. Plus, selling the exclusive rights to cover the wedding to People Magazine made a cool $1.5 million. In fact, overall the couple made $18 million from various media and brand partnerships (Jezebel).

The situation is pretty off putting and many people are outraged. I’m disgusted, and at the same time, trying to see things from multiple angles. If the Kim Kardashian marriage was just a cold-hearted publicity stunt and had nothing to do with love, I have a feeling that she would have held out much longer. A dedicated person who is willing to marry for business could certainly steel herself to stay married for  business. After all, there’s plenty of room in a celebrity marriage for moneymaking gossip about happiness, unhappiness, infidelity, and pregnancy. The lightening fast divorce was a risky move that all involved must have realized would provide considerable backlash.Yeah, it looks bad. So maybe there is some real emotional ground to Kim Kardashian’s divorce. For instance, what if Kris Humphries was starting to show signs of being emotionally or physically abusive? That would certainly be a reason 

for divorce, and explain the haste and lack of public explanation behind the separation. Anyone in an abusive relation should leave it–FAST.

On the other hand, the Kardashian brand is known for being outrageous. And what’s more outrageous than a multimillion-dollar wedding followed by a divorce? So I’m undecided. And in the end, I can’t blame Kim–it’s her personal life and her personal decisions. I don’t know her.

At least there may be one good sign from this whole debacle. I think this whole mess proves that marriage is still relevant. The media public–who have stood behing their fair share of reality shows that delve deep into people’s personal lives–have shown that they still consider some things sacred. Marriage should be taken seriously, not as a trivial display that can be easily undone. People should work towards their marriages with couples counseling once they’ve made a commitment. Marriage is important. And I think this is a little encouraging!

An unforgettable event on a small wedding budget

Last weekend I was honored to attend the wedding of a good friend. It was a sweet and beautiful event, and had a lot of great inspiration for how to make a relationship last while involving your guests and having a great time on a low wedding budget.

The couple, “K” and “N” had already been living together since getting engaged two years ago. As a result, they had no need for the pots and pans, matching plate sets, Cuisinarts and other traditional home-making gifts. Since more and more couples are living together before marriage, this is a pretty common situation. They came up with a great alternative. The couple decided that instead of accepting presents or a gift registry, they would ask for participation from their guests to help make the wedding extra special.

First, they held the wedding at a 4H campground N had gone to many times as a child. It was a beautiful secluded camp with a creek running through tall redwoods. Guests had the opportunity to come early and stay the whole weekend camping, or to rent rooms in the hotel of a nearby town. The days leading up the the wedding were full of fun activities. All were invited to help decorate the grounds, make bouquets and create fun centerpieces. This was especially good for the little kids running around. The night before the big day there was a big latin-themed potluck and masquerade.

So many things made this weekend special. I appreciated being invited to participate in the wedding. It reminded me that this is not only the union of two people, it is the joining of two families sets of friends into one big new community. By the time the ceremony came, I felt I had bonded with the other guests. And, by having friends and family help out, K and N were able to keep the wedding simple, intimate, and low-cost.

Of course, camping weddings in the forest aren’t for everyone! At the same time, involving your guests in some way can make the event extra meaningful. There are creative ways for everyone can participate, no matter what the budget or style of the wedding! Here’s a great video, done on a big budget, that inspired me to write this post. It’s very different from my camping experience, but just the kind of thing I’m talking about. You can check out how they put together this amazing video at junebugweddings.com.


Materialism and your marriage are not compatable

Two noteworthy things happened today regarding marriage and money. One made me smile, the other made me think. The two are connected in a wonderful way.

First, today was the wedding of Bhutan’s charming young king Wangchuck to his longtime girlfriend, Jetsun Pema, a commoner. Not much was said about the bride in the SF Chronicle article, except that the king desired a queen who was “a good human being as well as unwavering in her commitment to the people and the country.” He found all that in his sweet fiance.

In addition to this being a heartwarming union, the following caught my eye:

Wangchuck’s father, the country’s revered fourth king, introduced to the world the philosophy of Gross National Happiness, the idea that spiritual and mental well-being matter as much as money, and that material gain should not come at the expense of the environment or culture.

I started thinking about how Gross National Happiness could be connected to marriage. The plot began to thicken after I read today’s Second Noteworthy Thing….

Today abcNews.com reported that couples who are focused on earning and spending money tend to have significantly less happy marriages. A Brigham Young University study found that “materialism was associated with spouses having lower levels of responsiveness and less emotional maturity. Materialism was also linked to less effective communication, higher levels of negative conflict, lower relationship satisfaction, and less marriage stability.”

There are several possible explanations for the findings. Firstly, materialism may be the indicator of a slew of other problems, such as childhood neglect, low self-esteem, or compulsions, that are the real root of marriage problems. Materialistic traits have also been found to go hand-in-hand with a whole host of problematic  behaviors. “People who are materialistic tend to be narcissistic and concerned with impressing people,” said Dr. Heitler, interviewed for the article.”They have a tendency to be anxious, depressed, have relatively poor relationship skills and have low self-esteem. These qualities in turn can cause marital problems.”

On the other hand, it could simply be that an individual’s obsession with keeping up with the Joneses leaves him little time to work on his marriage.

Financial stability is important in keeping a marriage strong and happy. However, studies have shown that once individuals get beyond the amount of money needed to keep them secure and free, happiness does not continue to increase with higher income or more “stuff”. In fact, more assets and belongings actually increase stress. So back to Bhutan and the idea of Gross National Happiness. I agree that happiness and wellbeing are far more important than what you spend. I challenge you to start thinking about your Gross Domestic Happiness just like any other asset. It is just as–if not more– important as your finances. Check in on the account once an a while. Do you need to invest a little more? Knowing how to communicate in a relationship is essential for this.

I wish King Wangchuck and Queen Jetsun Pema a long and happy marriage. I hope the national values instilled by Wangchuck’s father will help keep the destructiveness of materialism far from their home and the homes of Bhutan’s citizens.


More couples learning how to stop divorce

A Minnesota study sited in USA today has shed new light on the way couples think about separation and how to stop divorce. While divorce rates remain high in the United States, more and more couples are pulling back from the brink of divorce and reconsidering reconciliation. Indecision and uncertainty are common in struggling marriages, even among couples that have already filed for divorce. Divorce rates have fallen 7% since 2008 and researchers found that a quarter of Minnesotan couples filing for divorce were interested in reconciliation.

Part of the reason for many marriage problems—the tough economic times—is also one of the factors in keeping couples together. While a bad marriage may seem like the worst possible situation, the consequences of divorce are often much more unpleasant. The costs of hiring a divorce lawyer, splitting up assets, and loosing combined income are making couples think harder about how to stop divorce. Divorce also has longer term consequences for your physical and mental health, and is especially hard on any children involved. Many couples view relationship counseling as “a last resort,” says Dr. Heitler. “It’s radically cheaper emotionally, as well as financially, to fix the marriage than to declare it dead,” she says.

Times are tough right now, which makes it all the more important to stick together, learn the skills to act as a strong, supportive unit, and work to help your family thrive. Know that your not alone in having doubts about your marriage. Marriage is tough! Iris Krasnow, author of The Secret Lives of Wives: Women Share What It Really Takes to Stay Married interviewed hundreds of women and found that “splitting up crosses people’s minds more than I imagined.” In addition, “those on second marriages were not any happier than they were in their first. Many times, you’re trading in one set of problems for another.”

All the more reason to thoroughly examine your reasons for divorce.

Marriage is a “very high-skilled activity,” Dr. Heitler advises. “If your marriage is failing, make the assumption your skill set is insufficient.” Most important is to take an open and critical look at what you yourself can do to help the marriage instead of focusing on your spouse’s shortcomings. Dr. Heitler advises couples to be creative about new ways to be a better marriage partner. If both spouses “will each take personal responsibility and focus on their own skills upgrade, the whole picture turns around. Even one person can turn the marriage around,” she says.

Check out the graph of common divorce reasons below. Do you feel any of these biting away at your relationship? Only three of those categories cannot be fixed, or at least improved, with solid marriage counseling. See our information page on “Reasons for divorce” for the low-down on when you should stay and when you should separate.