Thursday, January 17, 2013

Attention Engaged Couples: Read Before Marrying!

Update #1: Please read this article from Science of Relationships related to the topic of this post. It is a concise and incredibly on point research-based assessment of what is needed to make a marital relationship work as told by what you should be vowing to each other when getting married/entering into a union. I also recommend this post: How To Craft An Empirically-Supported Marriage.

Update #2: Also read this article, "How we end up marrying the wrong people," which goes into great detail about why we marry the wrong people, and what we can do about it so we can work on preventing it. It really echoes many of the things I have discussed throughout LOVEanon's posts.

Marhaba LOVEanese! Since my last post was a bit heavy, I want to steer the sentiment of this post back to the normal paradigm of serious content supplemented by humor (or cute animals, whatever). I do appreciate the wonderful comments on the previous post, and do hope that I fostered meaningful--if not just interesting or thought-provoking--discussion.

As usual, I just want to give you some news/updates/cool articles. What I want to bring to your attention in this post is an article that was shared with me a few weeks ago (that I also shared on the LOVEanon Facebook Page), written in 2010. It's called "Is the Arab World a Graveyard for Love?" It actually hits on many points I made in my thesis, and I know that a lot of people in Lebanon will be able to identify with her feelings. Check it out, and let me know what you think. What I said is simple: it doesn't have to be [a graveyard]. You can change it! And if you can't do it with your parents, you can do it with your kids. Teach them how to love, how to respect each other, appreciate difference, and embrace the similarities in others. I challenge you to make this happen!

The second thing I want to share is a big announcement that I also shared on the Facebook Page. This week, just a year and a 5 months after I launched LOVEanon, it's hit 20,000 page views!



 Screen shot from the blog on January 13, 2013

Now... to get to the substance of this post. Ahhh, it's 2013, the year of love!


See? It's true because the Internet says so!

I don't know if this is happening to you, but it seems like everyone I know is getting married. In fact, if you're single or in a relationship, but not engaged, I think this Buzz Feed story captures a feeling many of us share. Seriously, please click that link, it's hilarious and surprisingly accurate.

Wait, what's that? OH! YOU'RE getting married!? Well... how convenient, because this is what this post is all about!


How we really feel. JK!

Marriage is kind of a big deal. I've written in the past about the connection between jealousy and monogamy and how it relates to marriage, and I've I written about why we love and the importance placed on it in a past post. However, marriage does a lot. Especially in the US, being married is less expensive than being single (that piece got a LOT of passionate commentary on Facebook). It's also generally good for your health and well-being, especially for the groom (e.g., see this article and check out my thesis or the same past post for more on how romantic relationships impacts our health and well-being). Moreover, a couple months ago, I wrote a little blurb about marriage in the post about Hitch.

This post isn't meant to be a case for marriage or a case against it (that's a topic for the future post). And I'm not going to discuss civil marriage in Lebanon (or as we all know, the lack thereof) either, even though the first civil marriage has reportedly taken place after jumping through many bureaucratic hoops and interpreting older laws from the French Mandate (pending Ministry of Interior approval), and even President Sleiman has publicly endorsed it and stated that Lebanon needs civil marriage. (Update: it wasn't approved initially, but now it has been, yay!). However, I'm not talking about it now mostly because I don't know much about it, save for what is advertised on the autostrad billboards. I could do some research, though, and perhaps do a future post on civil marriage in Lebanon.

On the contrary, since I'm directing this post at engaged couples, I assume you've already made up your mind to wed. And if so, listen up. If you're getting married, all kidding aside, I WISH I didn't have to remind you that this is one of--if not THE--most important decisions of your lives. Think about it, everything from this moment on now directly affects at least one other person. And if you have kids, your happiness affects their happiness. Including over the course of their entire life (for instance, see: Amato and Keith, 1991; Wallerstein, 1991). In other words, IT'S A BIG DEAL! Now, I'm not insinuating or trying to imply you aren't taking it seriously. But I do think there are a lot of people out there who: 1. Don't take it serious enough or think about their long-term consequences of their actions, and 2. Don't read enough, take the time to educate themselves, and really prepare for both marriage and (most likely) parenthood. Speaking of, let me show you probably one of the most profound things Keanu Reeves has ever said (fun fact: he was born in Beirut!):


 
This scene is actually from the movie, Parenthood (great movie! Also stars one of my favorites, Steve Martin). Honestly, though, he's right. At least in most places, you need a license for anything. Yet, when it comes to the most important job you'll ever have, you don't so much as spend a second in a formal classroom. When did they ever teach you about love, sex, romance, intimacy, how to manage personal finances, how to resolve conflict, how to grow old together, or raise kids together in school? In between history lessons, or in calculus homework? For the most part, they don't. Life and experience teaches you, and unfortunately, that's not something that's readily available in most school's curricula. And not everyone has the best parents to use as an example either.

So, what can you do? The first is to realize that love is not enough to make a marriage or long-term relationship of any kind (married, or long-term partners) lasting and successful. There are multiple factors at play, including life goals, family, relationship dynamics, and a host of others. The article I linked to at the beginning of this paragraph explores this concept in greater detail, and I suggest you read it, especially since there are even more considerations to bear in mind as well. The fact is, most Westerners are obsessed with the idea of love, whereas people from Asia are obsessed with (social) compatibility. I believe there is a healthy in-between though!

The second and incredibly important thing to do is educate yourself. You're not going to be taught the various ins and outs of your marriage--and I'm DEFINITELY not the person that's going to try, it's not my place. But, you can know that you'll make mistakes, but learn from them, and you can see what resources are out there for you. Like this: 7 Divorce Myths Debunked. It's a short article backed up by relationships experts, statistics, and research. The seven myths include: 

--Myth #1: One in two marriages ends in divorce
--Myth #2: Living together before marriage lowers the chance of divorce
--Myth #3: Second marriages are more likely to last than first marriages
--Myth #4: Divorce is incredibly expensive
--Myth #5: All ex-wives get alimony
--Myth #6: The mother almost always gets custody of the children
--Myth #7: The US's divorce rate is higher than every other country's divorce rate


Never saying "your butt looks bigger," or "you've gained weight," however, is NOT a myth

This article also covers other marriage myths including pursuing your own individual needs is incompatible with making a marriage work, and the goal of marriage is for both partners to get exactly what they want (these are two big myths!). 


Another good series of articles comes from Dr. Terri Orbuch. She wrote an insightful article taken from some of her longitudinal research following couples who were married in 1986. 46% were divorced by 2012. The article itself is offering ways a marriage can be successful by taking a closer look at why those marriages failed. Take these lessons to heart, and don't brush them off! Some of the issues included the decline/lack of affection and intimacy, not taking responsibility, using ineffective communication or having incompatible communication/conflict resolution styles (she has some great tips for dealing with that here), and not moving on from past events and relationships. However, what was the number one issue? Money. Do you currently share a bank account? Will you keep separate ones? How will your file your taxes? Do you both have student loans? Remember that after you tie the knot, those debts are your debts. Dr. Orbuch offers some great tips for discussing money and finances in a relationship and in marriage in this article, and this article (written by someone else) offers even more suggestions.


"I ain't sayin' SHE'a golddigga..."

Aside from the resources presented above, there are a host of great resources available. For instance, this article gives nine great tips on how to keep your marriage healthy. This one out of the University of Maryland outlines the qualities of a healthy marriage. The National Healthy Marriage Resource Center has wonderful resources, statistics, and other useful information. One of my favorite sites, Science of Relationships, has a small, 10-question Sustainable Marriage Quiz you and your partner can take together and interperet your results. Moreover, the legal-oriented site Expertise has some great information and resources pertaining to divorce, specifically questions you must ask before filing for divorce and information on divorce and child custodyEven within this blog, there's many good resources for you to check out, whether it's getting to know your partner's Love Language, how you work together as a team, going on dates after you're married (don't forget that you should still do that, especially after you have kids!), how to keep the passion in your relationship alive, and the ever importance of loving yourself to be able to love someone else completely. Whatever you need, it's out there!

But what if you could go into it with a little bit of training? Beyond merely reading articles and maintaining active and open communication with your partner? Have you talked about everything? What exactly is everything? Something I am personally a huge proponent of is premarital counseling. Many couples are required to go through it before they are married within a religious institution (I know some churches require it anyway). According to MayoClinic.com:

"Premarital counseling is a type of therapy that helps couples prepare for marriage. Premarital counseling can help ensure that you and your partner have a strong, healthy relationship--giving you a better chance for a stable and satisfying marriage. Premarital counseling can also help you identify weaknesses that could become bigger problems during marriage. Premarital counseling is often provided by licensed therapists known as marriage and family therapists. These therapists have graduate or postgraduate degrees, and many choose to become credentialed by the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT). Premarital counseling might be offered through religious institutions as well. In fact, some spiritual leaders require premarital counseling before conducting a marriage ceremony."



As this article on the "Rules of Engagement" demonstrates, premarital counseling is on the rise, and has many positive, but also practical, benefits. When asked if it's generally good for you, beneficial, and positive, the overwhelming answer seems to be yes. For instance, CUNY--Brooklyn College has a whole page dedicated to answering questions about it as well as providing answers to FAQs, links, and resources. Moreover, much of the research conducted on premarital counseling concludes that it does positively benefit a couple such as by reducing marital distress and decreasing the chances for divorce (Stanley, 2001), and that  participation in premarital counseling generally yeilds higher levels of marital satisfaction and commitment, lower levels of conflict, and the reduced odds of divorce as well (Stanley, Amato, Johnson, and Markman, 2006). Furthermore, Carroll and Doherty (2003: 105) reviewed 26 studies examining premarital counseling, and found that: 

"The average person who participated in a premarital prevention program was significantly better off afterwards than 79% of people who did not participate. Stated differently, the average participant in a premarital program tends to experience about a 30% increase in measures of outcome success. Our findings suggest that premarital prevention programs are generally effective in producing immediate and short-term gains in interpersonal skills and overall relationship quality and that these improvements are significantly better than nonintervention couples in these areas."


Other studies also encourage and advocate for more premarital counseling citing its beneficial effects on average, yet also affirm that more research is needed, specifically for non-religious or "at-risk" couples (e.g., Sullivan and Bradbury, 1997), and more diverse samples (that is, couples that aren't white, American, and and middle-class) (Stanley, Amato, Johnson, and Markman, 2006). Bear in mind, premarital counseling isn't a panacea for relationship success though. These studies are mostly quantitative--meaning, they rely on statistics and numbers to generate trends and relationships. And as this narrative points out, premarital counseling doesn't always work for everyone. You have to be honest and realistic about your relationship, your needs, your expectations, your future lives together, and your marriage. Additionally, as another study confirms, it also depends on the quality of your premarital counseling (Schumma et al., 2010). 


There are many additional resources out there for premarital counseling. Amazon.com has an entire list with books and resources. Some other interesting tools I found where this one, a short and fun test based off of curriculum from FOCCUS (a premarital relationship resource, inventory, and counseling website). Another is 10 Must Ask Pre-marriage Questions, which are very relevant and on point. Similarly, this premarital questionnaire offered thought-provoking questions to consider before tying the knot as well.

If you're looking for a premarital counselor, you can find one in many ways. If you're in Kentucky, check out this link. However, you can also find a licensed AAMFT counselor here, no matter where you are in the United States. Alternatively, you can try this site. If you're in Lebanon and elsewhere, try doing a simple Google search to find someone in your area. If that doesn't work, I suggest contacting a local psychology or sociology department (for instance, the one at AUB, LAU, Lebanese University, or the social work program at USJ). I'm not sure what the options are in Lebanon outside of religious counseling, but they may be able to point you in the right direction. If you need help finding one, take advice from the aforementioned CUNY article I posted above. It has some pointers for choosing the right program for you. And of course, this isn't to necessarily replace a religious program if you are going through one. But it can supplement it, or offer different perspective.

In general, I would encourage everyone to discuss these topics, and although premarital counselors should addresses them, make sure you stay diligent about talking about the following topics:

--Your expectations of your marriage and how they compare with each others
--Discussion of your life together (including your careers, housing, managing your cars if you share, where you're going to live, how you'll take care of your aging parents/in-laws, etc.)

--Conflict resolution and how to manage fights, arguments, and conflict, and how to better communicate (effective communication is one of the biggest pillars of marriage!). The fact is, conflict is often unavoidable. But conflict is also healthy. How you deal with it/manage it makes the difference. This article has some great insights for how to manage conflicts, and what is worth discussing (I put it on my Google Drive/Docs account so everyone could access it).
--Negotiation techniques and your individual negotiation styles
--How to collaboratively problem-solve, and understand how you normally solve problems and overcome difficulties
--Independently and collectively discuss personal and professional growth and development. What kind of people are each of you, and how are you/will you change?
--Sex in marriage (how much, how often, etc.)
--Kids (how many do you want, how will you raise them? Where will they go to school? Who will take care of them? etc.) 
--Religion. Will you go to/join a particular religious group? Will you raise your children with a certain religion?
--How to spend time together--even after you have kids 
--Focus on building a better team between you two 
--Brainstorming retirement including do you want to stay or move? How will you manage a 401K or save for it?
--How to handle your finances
--What are your fears and insecurities, and how do you handle them? Do you have doubts? Where does that doubt stem from?
--Again, I also encourage you read this article that discusses other ingredients that make a successful marriage/partnership, as well as the potential things that can seriously harm or destroy a relationship.
 
Remember, as I said, we spend years preparing for a career. We start in elementary school, then move to middle, then high school. Then maybe you go to college, perhaps even further. Yet, for the most important role you'll have--husband/wife, father/mother--you really don't get any kind of training. You're kind of just thrown into it, and if you're fortunate enough to have good parents, maybe they can help you. But for all of those who don't, you're on your own. So, take the time to invest a little bit of time, money, and energy into a program that can hopefully help your relationship develop further, iron out some of the kinks before you get married, and build a better foundation for your lives. It's fun, insightful, and hopefully, you'll come out as a better couple as well as better people. And considering the time and money spent on your formal education, it's a fraction of that!


Please, don't be this couple.

Look, if you're engaged or about to get married, I wish you the absolute best, I really do. I wish you happiness and success. And every relationship is different. In the end, you both should know each other well enough by now, and have realistic expectations of both each other and your relationship. But don't get caught up in this fantasy that marriage is all sunshine and daisy's. It's really hard work, a work in progress. You will fight, you will disagree, you will bicker, you will go to bed angry sometimes (not that that's necessarily a bad thing). They say "for better or for worse, in sickness and in health" for a reason. The work isn't the wedding, it's the marriage! The work doesn't stop after you say "I do," it starts! But you will also love, and laugh, and travel, and make so many new memories, and most likely, raise kids, and visit the principal's office, and attend PTA meetings, and visit family on the weekend or at Christmas or Eid, and hopefully be happy together.

Never forget this!

Once again, I am not going to lecture anyone on how to be in a long-term relationship. I've never even made it to six months! I am well aware of my own limitations. But do NOT take this commitment lightly.
And while it might seem self-evident, I think it's important to not enter into a marriage thinking of divorce as an option. Yes, sometimes divorce is necessary. However, all too often I see people taking a very blasé approach to marital commitment (in Kentucky/the U.S. where I grew up specifically), and I just think to myself that doing so is setting yourself up for failure. Instead, breathe, and be patient with one another. If you're prepared going into it, you can often work things out. This is why things programs like premarital counseling exist, and why you shouldn't rush into things. Take the time. Talk about everything beforehand--I know so many of you do. If it doesn't work, there is also marital or pre/post divorce counseling. And don't get married because you feel pressure either--from a partner, family, friends, life, society, or a biological clock. Do it because you really want to build a life with the other person. I don't mean to come across as offensive. Perhaps I'm also pushing too many of my own values. I really don't mean to preach. You don't have to believe in monogamy or marriage. And that's fine if that's what you both want. But marriage all too often these days is looked at as a joke. However, it is NOT child's play (especially when children are involved). It is very serious. Sometimes, life just doesn't work out. But make sure you're prepared going in. Do it for each other, do it for your families, do it for your friends, do it for your kids, do it for yourselves. Because no one, none of those people I just listed want to see you turn into this.


Spread the love,
-Ogie, MA


P.S. If anyone wants to read one of the articles I link to (whether in this post, or any other), but can't, just let me know. I'll try and send it to you. Tweet me, e-mail me, or send me a message on Facebook.

References
:


Amato, Paul R., and Bruce Keith. 1991. "Parental Divorce and the Well-being of Children: A Meta-analysis." Psychological Bulletin, 110(1): 26-46.

Carroll, Jason S., and William J. Doherty. 2003. "Evaluating the Effectiveness of Premarital Prevention Programs: A Meta-analytic Review of Outcome Research." Family Relations, 52(2): 105-118.

Schumma, Walter R., Anthony B. Walkera, R. Roudi Nazariniaa, Darwin A. Westa, Cynthia Atwella, Annie Bartkoa, and Angie Krileya. 2010. "Predicting the Short- and Long-Term Helpfulness of Premarital Counseling: The Critical Role of Counseling Quality." Journal of Couple & Relationship Therapy: Innovations in Clinical and Educational Interventions, 9(1): 1-15.

Stanley, Scott M. 2001. "Making A Case for Premarital Education." Family Relations, 50(3): 272-280.

Stanley, Scott M., Paul R. Amato, Christine A. Johnson, and Howard J. Markman. 2006. "Premarital Education, Marital Quality, and Marital Stability: Findings From a Large, Random Household Survey." Journal of Family Psychology, 20(1): 117-126.

Sullivan, Kieran T., and Thomas N. Bradbury. 1997. "Are Premarital Prevention Programs Reaching Couples at Risk for Marital Dysfunction?" Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 65(1): 24-30.

Wallerstein, Judith S. 1991. "The Long-Term Effects of Divorce on Children: A Review." Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 30(3): 349-360.

4 comments:

  1. "And PLEASE, DO NOT think of divorce as an option!"

    Confused by this. What about the whole host of literature that finds, appropriately, that divorce is often the best solution in unhealthy relationships (e.g. domestic abuse)? Especially if there are children involved. Recent research has found that couples who stay together "for the kids" report lower levels of general happiness, and tend to have children more likely to engage in crime over the life course and develop negative affects, compared to couples who decide to divorce.

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    1. Thank you for reading :)

      Let me clarify. That's not what I meant at all. Any why I said "Sometimes, life just doesn't work out. But make sure you're prepared going in."

      I'm not saying divorce shouldn't ever happen, if anything, I'm just commenting more on my perception that a lot of individuals have a very blase attitude towards divorce. Kind of like, "Oh, if it doesn't work out, we'll just divorce." In other words, people just think their problems as things that will go away. But really take work. On the contrary, I'm just trying to push being better prepared going in. So, I apologize for this miscommunication.

      Does that address your concern?

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    2. Sure, that makes perfect sense. I was just thrown by that sentence at the end of a very well-written piece. To write about the importance of doing do diligence before tying the knot (couples counseling and such that you outline), and outlining important pieces of research, and then in the concluding thoughts to write a blanket statement that divorce isn't a viable option at all, confused me. Thanks for clarifying.

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    3. No problem! And thank you for your kind words, I appreciate it. And sorry for throwing you off! I think part of my perception also has to do with growing up in Kentucky. This state has a VERY high divorce rate, and it's really an endemic problem here.

      Anyways, I tried to clarify that statement in the post itself too, so hopefully people will understand my thought-process better :)

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