Articles from the October 1997 Unification News


Healing Marriages: What the Experts Say

by Dr. Dietrich Seidel-NYC

The expert advice seems to converge on one topic when it comes to building good marriages. In order for the spouses to succeed in their relationship, they need to start with one basic task: develop communication skills. As simple as that may sound, it takes persistent effort to learn and apply interactive skills, speakers have pointed out at a recent conference on "Smart Marriages - Happy Families" in Washington D.C.

One of the major driving forces behind this gathering of more than five hundred professionals has been a profound concern with the dismal state of today's marriages. Although researchers address repeatedly the problem of high divorce rate and the tragedy of family break down, convincing solutions have not yet arrived. Most therapists will agree on a twofold strategy for stabilizing marriages: preventative measures through marriage preparation courses for engaged couples and marriage enrichment programs.

Psychologists repeatedly point out that there is a large discrepancy between the available knowledge about building a successful marriage and how much of that knowledge is actually used by couples. Therapists Howard Markman and Scott Stanley speak of a major problem in what is known as "psycho education", namely, the ever widening gap between research and the actual application of its results. Psycho education can be seen as the more general term for marriage education, dealing with the knowledge involved in human relationships. Markman and Stanley emphasize that divorce can be held in check once the partners decide to fight for their marriage and then acquire the proper communication and problem solving skills. With out that initial decision to love one’s spouse with utmost commitment, none of the research-based interactive skills will bring results.

The goal of well adjusted marriages is not merely a matter of personal fulfillment but, in fact, it is a community issue of the highest priority. This has been stated not only by members of the clergy but also by community leaders and law makers. Judge James Sheridan points out that the public bears an enormous burden when it comes to the consequences of divorce. Millions of tax dollars are spent on people connected to divorce cases for covering expenses related to health-care, welfare, crime and drug abuse. Sheridan appeals to law makers and all levels of government to get involved in promoting stable marriages. He emphasizes that divorce is much more than a personal or religious problem. It is always a community issue.

In addition, researchers in the medical field discover ample evidence that people in good marriages are in much better shape to resist illnesses. Dr. Sullivan, who does research at the Duke University Medical Center, confirms the interest of the medical profession for promoting stable marriages, last not least on account of their positive impact on the immune system and their therapeutic function of lowering the risk of a heart attack. He says that being divorced, separated or in a situation of perpetual conflict with your spouse doubles the risk of coronary disease.

Another researcher, John Gottman of the University of Washington, reports on his findings why marriages succeed or fail. His results of clinical research have shown that most assumptions about marital conflicts need to be revised. All kinds of marriages, whether externally peaceful, internally struggling or outright fighting ones, will last if the couple is able to maintain a sixty percent margin of mutually satisfying relationships. According to Gottman, a couple may never be able to solve a recurring problem of one spouse, but both partners can learn to deal positively with their situation by moving from gridlock caused by a problem, to dialogue beyond the presence of the problem. The skills to de-escalate arguments and to deal with difficulties constructively and even with humor become a crucial asset for making the marriage go the distance.

Remarkable steps for reducing the divorce rate are being taken through the Community Marriage Policy Event, an initiative launched by clergy from diverse denominations who pledge to marry couples only after they completed a marriage preparation course. One of the most effective methods of preparing couples has been developed by Dr. David Olson who is the author of the Premarital Personal and Relationship Evaluation (PREPARE), a premarital inventory for engaged couples. Following the motto "what God has joined together, the congregation should hold together", Mike McManus, the major driving force behind the marriage saver movement, explains how we all can join forces and become marriage savers by assuming the role of mentoring couples. So far clergy in over fifty cities in the United States have joined the Community Marriage Policy movement, thus becoming effective marriage savers.

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