Improving a Marriage Instead of Getting a Divorce - Free Self-Help

By Diana Holbourn

Article Summary


This article gives quite a lot of practical advice about the ways people can improve the way they communicate with their husband or wife to prevent arguments or make them less severe, and to get across what they really want them to hear, instead of something they're likely to argue over or ignore. It also says quite a bit about forgiving the marriage partner for past hurts, and ways of controlling anger when provoked or expressing it calmly, to stop arguments and bad feeling.

There are stories in the article about ways misunderstandings led to unfair anger in a marriage, and other things.

The last part is all about the after-effects of divorce on children and the couple themselves, which can be more harmful than they ever thought they would be.

Skip past the following quotes if you'd like to get straight down to reading the article contents and self-help article.

Things People Have Said About Love and Marriage

Love doesn't just sit there like a stone; it has to be made, like bread, remade all the time, made new.
--Ursula K. LeGuin

A successful marriage requires falling in love many times, always with the same person.
--Mignon McLaughlin

Love is a condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own.
--Robert Heinlein

One advantage of marriage is that, when you fall out of love with him or he falls out of love with you, it keeps you together until you fall in again.
--Judith Viorst

It is not a lack of love, but a lack of friendship that makes unhappy marriages.
--Friedrich Nietzsche

In every marriage more than a week old, there are grounds for divorce. The trick is to find, and continue to find, grounds for marriage.
--Robert Anderson, (Solitaire & Double Solitaire)

You learn to speak by speaking, to study by studying, to run by running, to work by working; and just so, you learn to love by loving. All those who think to learn in any other way deceive themselves.
--Saint Francis de Sales

The little unremembered acts of kindness and love are the best parts of a person's life.
--William Wordsworth

We often spend so much time coping with problems along our path that we forget why we are on that path in the first place. The result is that we only have a dim, or even inaccurate, view of what's really important to us.
--Peter Senge, (The Fifth Discipline)

The Main Contents

Background Information About This Article

The Self-Help Information in the Article

  1. Blaming, Holding Grudges and Forgiving
  2. Some Ways of Controlling Anger
  3. Communication Difficulties
  4. Unexpectedly Harmful Effects of Divorce on Children and the Divorcing Parents

Part One
Blaming, Holding Grudges and Forgiving

Strike an average between what a woman thinks of her husband a month before she marries him and what she thinks of him a year afterward, and you will have the truth about him.
--H.L. Mencken, (A Book of Burlesques, 1916)

More marriages might survive if the partners realized that sometimes the better comes after the worse.
--Doug Larson

When you hold resentment toward another, you are bound to that person or condition by an emotional link that is stronger than steel. Forgiveness is the only way to dissolve that link and get free.
--Catherine Ponder

True love is when you put someone on a pedestal, and they fall - but you are there to catch them.
--Author Unknown


Anita thinks:

The author of this book sounds a bit like me, in that she says she really wanted to divorce her husband at one point. I'll see what made her change her mind. ...

Oh. She says that what really changed her mind was that she realised that the problems in her marriage weren't all her husband's fault by any means, and that there were things she could do about them. She says that now, she's glad she didn't divorce her husband, because they fell in love again, and after she learned to do things differently, their marriage became a lot better.

Well, perhaps I'll have to admit that I've been partly responsible for some of the problems in the marriage. ... Well, at least one or two. ... Maybe. What she says sounds interesting. I'll read on and see if I think what happened to her could happen for me.

The book says the author describes some of the things that happened in her marriage and how she's improved it, to help others experiencing similar things.

Well, that sounds good.

Blaming Her Husband for All the Marriage Difficulties

Talking angrily

The author says that at the time when she was thinking about divorcing her husband, she would blame him for all the problems in the marriage. She says she had a long list of changes she wanted him to make, and blaming him for the difficulties felt more satisfying than recognising her part in the problems. She even read self-help books and underlined the bits she thought he should take notice of, and gave them to him, without considering that she needed to change.

But she says that now she knows that part of the problem was that she'd grown hard-hearted because she didn't feel he showed enough love towards her, and she became critical of him, and was sarcastic about any efforts he made to improve things, as if he just couldn't do anything well enough. Now she realises that her attitude was ruining their relationship more than anything he did.

Not Forgiving Him for Anything


She says she would get angry with her husband for the smallest things, and so they often argued. She would say nasty things to him. Besides that, she'd lose her temper easily with her children and snap at other people like shop assistants for trivialities as well. And she mulled over little spur-of-the-moment comments that others made until they seemed like major upsets.

She says there were several reasons for that, but one of the most important was that she'd never learned to forgive.

Why She Hadn't Learned to Be Forgiving

She says she thinks there were four reasons why she found it difficult personally to forgive:

One was that she thought of herself as a nice person who didn't show unpleasant emotions like anger, thinking that not showing anger would keep the peace better; so she stored up petty resentments rather than commenting on them until there were so many that she was furious, and so her husband just needed to say one little thing, and she'd explode with a torrent of accusations that were nothing to do with the issue. And the arguments would go on for hours.

She says a second reason she couldn't forgive was that she often felt hurt about things and she thought someone ought to pay for that. Letting go of all the hurts and disappointments would mean that that wouldn't happen.

But when she started to reflect on all the things she'd done wrong herself, she realised she had no right to demand that others forgive her if she wasn't willing to forgive them. She realised she had actually done more than her husband to make herself and her marriage miserable, and that she wanted him to be someone who'd forgive her unconditionally and accept both her good and bad qualities as part of his love for her, since that was part of her idea of what an ideal husband should be like; but she was holding him to a different standard from the one she wanted him to hold her to: She wouldn't forgive him for the things he'd done wrong.

But she realised the relationship would never get better unless she changed. She came to think that mistakes and misdemeanours ought to be forgiven even when the person doesn't deserve it.

She says another reason she didn't forgive her husband is that he never asked her to.

And she says a fourth reason is that she wanted to feel like the victim in the failing marriage so she wouldn't have to take partial responsibility for its failure. She didn't have a problem with guilt as long as she could feel like the aggrieved victim and think that it was her husband who needed to change, not her.

But she says that this kind of attitude won't make a marriage healthier or make the person who holds the attitude any happier really.

She says there's actually a lot of power in thinking of yourself as the victim, because it frees you from any responsibility for what's happened and gives you justification to do what you want in retaliation. She says she was once told by a recovering alcoholic that while he was drinking, he would always look for things to get angry about, like the dinner not being ready or the television being too loud, because then he didn't have to feel guilty about drinking, since he could say he only did it because his wife and children did so many annoying things. He would tell them that if only they would do everything right, he wouldn't have to drink, so it was their fault.

She says she was doing a similar thing, thinking of herself as the victim so she could feel justified in being unpleasant and didn't have to feel guilty about her anger problems or the way she treated her husband. It meant she didn't have to look at what she was doing and take some responsibility for the state of her marriage.

The Problems that Being Unforgiving Can Cause

She says that some of the symptoms of an unforgiving attitude include:

Of course, those symptoms won't always be caused by an unwillingness to forgive. But it's interesting what she says. She says she couldn't become a nice person no matter how hard she tried until she resolved to be more forgiving, because she was full of resentment, disappointment, pride, bitterness, anger and hurt, and that showed in her behaviour. She says she was being hurt by her unwillingness to forgive more than her husband was. And she says she couldn't see the potential in their marriage and the person her husband really was, because she was so consumed with bad feelings about his past mistakes. It stopped them enjoying what there was still left in the relationship and was destroying what love was left.

She says when someone with an unforgiving attitude leaves a relationship, they'll carry their unforgiving attitude into any future relationships they have, so even if the new ones seem better than the previous one for a while, the old problems will start recurring. And friendships will suffer in the same way, because a bitter person will not only make themselves miserable, but they will have a negative attitude that others find unattractive.

One or Two Things That Can Make Forgiving Easier


She says that forgiveness won't always be easy and may take time, but when people forgive, they benefit themselves as well as the person they're forgiving, because the anger and hurt can be like a weight they're carrying around, and when they let go of it, they can feel it's lifted.

She says that one aid to forgiveness is thinking about the childhood of the other partner, which often won't excuse their behaviour, but it might sometimes make it more understandable. She says she was often angry with her husband for not showing greater love towards her. But when she thought about his childhood, she realised his parents hadn't shown a particularly loving attitude towards him, so he didn't have a loving person to model his behaviour on while he was growing up, so it wouldn't have come naturally to him to have been all that loving.

She says that at first, letting go of her husband's offences was difficult, since she'd grown used to cherishing hurts and bringing them up later as ammunition. And she says she still finds it difficult to forgive sometimes and it can take time, but it's worth doing, for her own well-being as well as for the marriage and her husband.

She says it's harder to forgive a misdemeanour if it keeps being repeated, but she finds it easier if she first thinks about how often she does the same old things herself and needs forgiveness for those.

A Few Qualities of Genuine and Fake Forgiveness

She says forgiveness is like cancelling a debt. When someone forgives, it means they let go of the right to bring the offence up to make the other person look bad in the future.

And she says real forgiveness is done freely, not with strings attached, such as the expectation of a lot of gratitude for having done it.

She says it can be nice to tell a husband or wife they've been forgiven, especially if they might feel guilty over something.

But she says that on the other hand, forgiveness shouldn't be used as a weapon. For instance, if someone said, "I forgive you for being inconsiderate yet again!", they would probably really be implying a criticism of the other person for supposedly being inconsiderate, rather than genuinely forgiving them. Even if they'd only thought the bit about the other one being inconsiderate rather than actually saying it, their real attitude would probably have come through in their tone of voice.

She says forgiveness doesn't mean forgetting. It might be difficult to forget. But she says she finds it difficult to remember many of the things she once thought it was worth divorcing her husband over.

But she says the important thing is that people don't allow themselves to become preoccupied with resentful and other negative thoughts, but when they notice they're thinking them, they stop themselves and turn their attention to more productive things.

She says it was when she recognised that she was as much a part of the problem in her marriage as her husband, if not more so, that the marriage began to heal.

Ways of Going About Forgiving

She says that some people might feel a bit daunted by the fact that they've got resentment about so many things stored up that they think forgiving everything might take forever; but a good way to go about forgiving all the misdemeanours in the past is to forgive them all at once, rather than thinking of them one by one, maybe by doing something symbolic to represent forgiving them all altogether.

She says people she knows have come up with different ideas for symbolic things to do. She says one person destroyed a bit of paper to symbolise getting rid of a mental list of unforgiven things. She says someone else imagined her husband imprisoned in chains of her unforgiveness, and imagined cutting each link in the chain one by one to set him free. Someone else imagined drawing a line in the sand to represent a divide between the past unforgiveness and the future, and imagined stepping over it.

She recommends that after people have forgiven their husband or wife, they ask their spouse to forgive them for their own misdemeanours. She says using the word sorry probably won't mean much, since it may have been well over-used. She says that certainly her and her husband used to say sorry a lot when they didn't mean it; they were often just tired and said it because they wanted to end the argument and go to bed. So she recommends people ask, "Will you forgive me?"

She says people shouldn't have any expectations of being forgiven immediately, since their husband or wife might need to think about it for some time before they can decide whether to forgive them. The husband or wife might feel as much hurt because of things that have happened in the past as the one asking for forgiveness does, and not trust the one who wants forgiveness until they've seen evidence that they mean to change their ways and be more loving. That shouldn't be seen as a problem. What's important is the long-term welfare of the marriage.

She says that after the person who's decided to become more forgiving and loving has resolved to change, sometimes, it might help if they do even radical things to help preserve the marriage. She says she changed jobs because she was tempted to flirt with a couple of people and wanted to take herself out of the way of temptation in case things got worse. And she stopped reading romantic novels, since she realised they gave her an unrealistic impression of what marriage should be like that was making her more dissatisfied with her own marriage.

Part Two
Some Ways of Controlling Anger

The conception of two people living together for twenty-five years without having a cross word suggests a lack of spirit only to be admired in sheep.
--Alan Patrick Herbert

Bad as I like ye, it's worse without ye.
--Irish Proverb

Happy marriages begin when we marry the ones we love, and they blossom when we love the ones we marry.
--Tom Mullen

Having a tantrum

The author says that one of her problems had been the way she dealt with anger. She says when she was a child, she'd had terrible tantrums where she'd kicked and screamed, but also even held her breath till she passed out. People used to talk about it with disapproval, saying she was spoiled and that it was shameful, and other bad things like that. For some reason, instead of getting the message that terrible tantrums were shameful, she interpreted what they were saying as meaning that anger was. So when she was grown up, she tried to hold her anger in, and not tell people when she was a bit annoyed. So she would keep her feelings in, until one day, she wouldn't be able to stand it any more, and something petty would happen and they would all come out, in the equivalent of one of the tantrums her relatives thought were so shameful before. She'd accuse her husband of all kinds of things. Then, she'd regret what she'd done and think even more that anger was bad, so she'd start holding it in again and the whole process would start off again. But she says the amount of time between the times she had angry explosions grew less and less until she was angry all the time.

She says there are several things she's learned to do to control her anger now:

Admitting to Feeling Angry


She says She's stopped thinking anger's bad in itself. She's realised it's the way people express it that makes the difference. She says that when she starts to feel anger now, she finds it refreshing to admit to herself that she's feeling angry, and accept it. Then, she asks herself what the anger's telling her about what's wrong in her life, and whether there are any constructive ways of fixing it, like requesting more help around the house or something. She says her anger motivated her to get a new job once, and when she had, she became much happier.

Other Emotions Could Be Triggering the Angry Feelings

She says another thing she's found helpful is asking herself whether another emotion triggered off her anger. She says when she's analysed the event that led to her becoming angry, she's almost always realised the anger was triggered off by another emotion, like fear. For instance, when her husband ignores her, she's scared he's angry with her. Or the trigger for her anger can be frustration at an impeded goal or an unrealistic expectation she has, like when she's trying to finish something and hasn't explicitly said she doesn't want to be disturbed, and one of her family asks her to help them with something and she thinks it might make her late for a deadline.

She advises people to think of what emotion or concern came before their anger each time, because she's found that when she thinks about what triggers hers off, the angry feelings often go away.

When Faulty Interpretations of Another Person's Actions Cause Anger


She says another thing she found helpful was recognising that her husband didn't cause her to be angry, even when he seemed to be provoking her deliberately; what did make her angry was her interpretation of the reasons he was doing what he did.

She gives an example, saying that she used to love to stop for donuts on the way back from church with her family. It just made Sunday seem special. But her husband would never offer to stop and she thought he should. She'd wait and wait for him to say something about it, but he wouldn't. After they'd passed the donut shop, she started to become mightily angry about it. She says her whole day was ruined because she thought he was stingy and thoughtless and mean.

She got over it when she began to think of things differently. She realised that when they left church, he was thinking about what to do with the rest of his day. Donuts were nothing special to him, so he never gave them a thought. When she started reminding him to stop to get some, he was happy to, and enjoyed the time together eating them as much as she did.

She says her anger was coming from her own faulty thinking processes where she was making judgments about what he was thinking, not from reality.

The Importance of Not Burying Anger

She says another thing that's helped her is dealing with angry feelings promptly, instead of letting them build up.

She says the first time she did that was once when her and her husband were out with friends, and he said something funny about her cooking. The others laughed, and she laughed along with them, but she was a bit upset really. On the way home, she thought about not saying anything, thinking it was petty and not worth making a fuss over. She knew she was being overly sensitive and she thought that to be upset about it was probably unreasonable. She argued with herself for several miles, but having just learned that it's important to clear the air over small issues, she eventually decided she needed to say something.

So going against her nature, she said, "What you said tonight hurt me and I feel angry". Her husband didn't get defensive or laugh; in fact he was amazed, and then he apologised, saying he hadn't meant it to be hurtful. She knew that, but she'd just wanted to hear him say it. They held hands and talked the rest of the way home.

So she says that by expressing her feelings, her and her husband were able to clear the air. If she'd held her anger in, she would have just been resentful about his remark and it would have contributed to driving them apart; and sooner or later, they would have argued about it when her feelings about several things like that had got too much for her to be willing to hold in any more.

She says it can take courage to stand up for ourselves sometimes, but when we do, the results can be surprising.

She says she thinks not resolving little issues can cause resentments to fester and cause bad feeling.

Talking Over the Real Problem Rather Than Arguing Over Lots of Other Things Instead


She says little issues can be fought over sometimes because the important ones seem too difficult to tackle. She says she was scared to bring up the topic of money for years and would buy things they couldn't really afford without telling her husband, because she was worried he'd say she couldn't have them. But then she would feel guilty and it would lead to bad feeling.

So now, she's realised it's best to discuss matters with him sensibly. She says that just the day before, she'd told him she wanted a new computer, and she'd been worried he'd say the one she wanted was too expensive, but he didn't say that but discussed it with her, and after that she felt much better than she would have done if she'd bought it without telling him and then felt guilty about it and it had caused bad feeling in the relationship.

She says another thing it's important to do is to keep to the issue an argument started over. She says if anger has been buried, it's tempting once an argument has started to raise all the other issues resentment has built up over; but that just makes the arguments go out of control and the real issue tends not to be resolved.

Yes, actually, one thing I've started doing when I'm arguing with my husband and he brings up something that has nothing to do with what the argument started over is saying, "If you want to discuss that, let's discuss it later; right now it's irrelevant, because we're discussing" ... whatever it is."Let's finish talking about that first".

Having a Break in the Middle of an Argument

She says sometimes, it's important to have a break in the middle of an argument to postpone talking about the issue, either till matters have calmed down, or till one person has clarified their thoughts on the matter in their mind better. She says she needs to do this, since in the middle of an argument, she sometimes realises she isn't clear about what she thinks, and needs time to think through it more. Trying to think it through in the middle of an argument just makes her confused and more angry.

She recommends that if people do postpone their discussions, they have the courage to bring the issues up again if there's a possibility they'll lead to buried anger that causes problems later.

The Importance of Listening to Explanations of Things Before Expressing Anger

She says another thing it's important to do is to listen to a spouse's explanation of something before expressing anger. She says that once, she was standing on a street corner expecting her husband to give her a lift home when he drove right past. A little while later, she phoned him up. He was at home, just about to go out swimming. She had a fit of rage at him, and it caused an argument. She got angry about it whenever she thought about it afterwards. She says it took years to forgive him for that.

Years? That sounds chilling!

She says that years after the incident, she realised the whole thing was just a misunderstanding. He'd thought someone else was picking her up.

She says that if she'd held her anger back on the phone a while longer and listened to what he was saying, she'd have realised that right at the start, and it would have saved her all that anger later.

The Importance of Standing Up for Oneself


She says that burying anger for the sake of "keeping the peace" is counterproductive. She says that some people avoid conflict because they think they're peacemakers, and then get so fed up that they think divorce is the easy way out. But if they'd stood up for themselves a lot more, issues important to the marriage would have been resolved that wouldn't have gone on to become damaging.

She says that people can manipulate and hint instead of standing up for themselves and saying what they want, but unsurprisingly, their spouses won't understand what they really want.

She says a time when standing up for herself worked out for the best was one day after her and her husband had gone to bed, when her son who was just about to go to college phoned up because he was having a bit of a problem, and she wanted to talk about his problem with him. Her husband angrily told her to hang up and come to bed.

After the call, she thought she had two choices: either to defend her actions, or to say nothing and lie awake fuming about it for hours as she used to.

She chose to express her anger, and after a few angry words, her and her husband made up, and even felt closer than they had before. If she'd just kept silent and fumed about it, it would have driven them further apart.

The Importance of Choosing What to Express Anger About

She says while it's important for people to stand up for themselves, people should be careful about what they get angry about. She says for years, she would get angry and hurt over the slightest little thing her husband said, like a slip of the tongue, or a facial expression or tone of voice that seemed critical. She says she wouldn't bother to find out the truth, because she thought that her opinion of what had happened was the important thing. So her husband had to choose his words carefully, be cautious around her and sometimes avoid her altogether.

She was upset that he was avoiding her and thought he was ruining her dream of marriage. And she thought he was weak for not standing up to her. She thought he was slow for pausing to consider his words before replying to her. So she felt superior to him.

But after a while, she started asking herself whether she could be turning him into the person he was becoming and realised what was really going on.

She advises people to choose carefully what they allow themselves to get angry about, and make sure the other person really is at fault and it's not just to do with a faulty interpretation of their behaviour. She says becoming angry about every little remark or sideways glance she didn't like just created tension in their home and did nothing to change her husband.

She says that since then, she's learned to become far more forgiving, and her anger has slowly become much less of a problem.

Not Thinking of Feelings as All-Important

She says that people often act according to their feelings, and that can make things go wrong. She says there was a point when all her feelings were screaming at her to leave her marriage, but her mind was telling her that everyone, including her husband, her children and herself, would be better off if she stayed. She thought she wasn't in love anymore because she didn't feel any warm feelings of love. But she did stay, and her and her husband recommitted themselves to each other, resolved to make a new start, and found themselves falling in love again.

But they slipped back into old hurtful ways after a while. Things improved again after she learned a few more things, and now she says the marriage is a happy one.

She says one thing she's found helpful in calming her feelings and preventing arguments is to realise that other people don't cause us to have feelings. We might have them because of their actions, but we often get them because of what we believe about those actions, not because of the actions themselves.

She gives an example, saying that her husband's driving often makes her angry, because she thinks he drives too close to the car in front. But when she has examined her thoughts to work out why she's getting so angry, she's realised it's because she interprets it as meaning he's being uncaring, since she's told him it makes her uncomfortable many times but he still does it. But he isn't really being uncaring; he just doesn't think he does drive too close to the car in front. So she says it's really fear causing her anger, not her husband.

She says it'll often be the way that something within a person is causing their feelings, not really their spouse.

She gives another example, saying that one morning, she woke up feeling depressed and angry, but she didn't know why. While her husband was making their breakfast as usual, she felt irritable with him and could have shouted at him. She was trying to read an article in the paper and she thought he was interrupting it with shallow conversation and wanted him to just go to work. It was a big effort for her to keep from shouting at him, but she kept quiet. After he'd gone, she realised that the reason she was feeling the way she was was because she'd been upset by things she couldn't do anything to stop, but which were nothing to do with her husband. For instance, someone often came into the library where she worked and looked at pornography in front of everyone, including children, but she'd been told by the boss that she wasn't allowed to do anything about it.

So her feelings could have made her shout at her husband, and their breakfast time would have turned into an argument and been ruined, when really, what was upsetting her had nothing to do with him.

So she says people shouldn't always act on their feelings, but if they feel like behaving out of proportion to what's happened, she recommends they ask themselves what's really behind their feelings.

She says a friend of hers became very angry because her husband kept leaving the toilet seat up, even though he knew it irritated her a lot. She thought it was a sign that he didn't love and respect her, whereas really, it could have just meant he didn't see why it was a problem and was forgetful.

She says that sometimes, feelings can go back to childhood or adolescence. She says another time when she reacted unfairly with more anger than she should have done was after she decided she ought to do some weeding in the garden. To her surprise, she enjoyed it. She was proud of her efforts, and even decided to buy some plants. She planned what to get and where to put them, and couldn't wait to tell her husband, thinking about how proud he'd be with her for having done so much weeding.

He was pleased about that, but when she told him about her new plans for arranging the garden, he told her they wouldn't work. She says she was hurt and angry with him, far more than necessary. But after she calmed down, she had a think about why she had reacted so strongly, realising that he hadn't meant his comments to be hurtful. She realised that when she was told her plans wouldn't work, she'd started feeling like she had as a child, when her big sister, who was good at everything and thought it was her job to teach her, had often criticized her ideas and undone things she'd done and done them properly. So that had made her feel stupid, and her husband's comments brought back the old feelings. So really, she was angry with him for something that wasn't really anything to do with him.

She says another thing she used to do was to hold her husband responsible when she felt unhappy. But then she realised she could take more control of her own emotions and life. So she started doing things to make herself happier, going out with friends sometimes, sitting in the sun, visiting art museums, and other things.

Part Three
Communication Difficulties

The first duty of love is to listen.
--Paul Tillich

The goal in marriage is not to think alike, but to think together.
--Robert C. Dodds

A great marriage is not when the 'perfect couple' comes together. It is when an imperfect couple learns to enjoy their differences.
--Dave Meurer, (Daze of Our Wives)

Trying to be Understanding, Willing to Compromise and Not Overly Critical

The author says that another cause of friction in her marriage was her unrealistic expectations of things, since if she thought that if her husband loved her, he'd do what she wanted, even though she hadn't told him what that was. For instance, they used to go for weekend breaks sometimes. He saw them as a chance to have fun in bed, get up early and go for long walks and visit museums. She, on the other hand, saw them as times to stay in bed late, talk about their problems and try to become closer. Because their two agendas clashed, they would snap at each other all weekend and their time would be unhappy. But she realised she wasn't being fair expecting her husband to do what she wanted as a matter of course and getting upset with him when he didn't. So now they ask each other beforehand what they want from the weekend, and go with an attitude where they're willing to compromise.

She says she came to realise that respecting her husband more would be good for her. For instance, she would continually have negative thoughts about him, thinking she did things better than him and not appreciating his good points. But then she realised that being so critical of him was only making things worse, and she wasn't appreciating what she had. So she resolved to try to change her thinking style, so when a critical thought came into her mind, she'd answer it with a positive one. To give a couple of examples, she says she doesn't like the way her husband cuts the grass, but when she thinks about it, she tries to remember to satisfy herself with the thought that at least him cutting it means she doesn't have to. She doesn't like the fact that he falls asleep in front of the television in the evening, but when she gets annoyed with him for doing that, she tries to remember that he makes her breakfast in the morning so she can sleep a bit longer, so she's more refreshed than he is.

She says that even when negative thoughts aren't spoken aloud, they can still be harmful to a marriage, because they create a disrespectful attitude which will show in the way people look at their husbands or wives, interrupt them scornfully when they're speaking, interfere with the way they discipline the children, and so on. It can cause a downward spiral of worsening relations. She realised in her own marriage that a lot of the things she was critical of weren't actually things that deserved to be criticized, but just differences. In fact, in some ways, her husband was doing things better than her. For instance, he stops to consider a question before answering, and she can get irritated by not getting an answer immediately, but actually, his answers are wise, whereas she tends to answer off the top of her head and make a lot more gaffes. She says she's learning to recognise when their ways are just different but one's not necessarily better. And they do have quite a lot in common, so she tries to focus on that.

And their differences can actually compliment each other. For instance, she was strict with their kids, but his different attitude actually caused hers to soften, which she's glad about now.

She says another thing that's helped the marriage is learning to laugh together at some of their differences, even things that really used to irritate them, like her backseat driving.

She recommends that people compliment and thank their spouses for everything they do do right, for instance when they mend something, or when they say something wise or clever, or make a good decision, or dress well, or offer to help with something. She says encouragement can make a big difference.

She advises that when someone's spouse does little things imperfectly, the other one asks themselves whether the issue is more important to them than the relationship, or whether it really matters, before criticizing.

She says the more respect people show their spouse, the more confident their spouse will grow in their abilities, and the more self-worth they'll have, so the more things they'll do that warrant respect.

Preventing Conflict Because of Misunderstandings By Giving More Explanation of Motives

She says her and her husband used to have communication problems because she would always say things before she'd thought them through, and he didn't always like to hear what she said. She says she finds she can clarify her thoughts more when she's spoken them out loud and got someone else's feedback, so that's why she says things out loud before she's thought them through.

She says she used to be able to have heart-to-heart conversations with friends this way where she'd talk through her worries with them, but when she tried that with her husband, he would respond differently, getting annoyed. For years, she thought there must be something seriously wrong with him, perhaps something to do with his upbringing. But then she realised that while her friends would sympathise when she said anything that could be perceived as a criticism of her husband, or they'd be happy to talk things through with her because they wouldn't be the ones who'd have to take the consequences of any decision she appeared to be thinking of making, her husband would be affected far more by what she said because it was far more relevant to him.

For instance, if she said she'd like to have their kitchen remodelled, her friends would be happy to let her talk about it, but her husband would become alarmed immediately because he would think it would mean a major drain on their expenses and a great inconvenience because of the time it might take; so rather than letting her indulge her thoughts, he'd tell her the idea wasn't practical because of all the money a re-fit of the kitchen was bound to cost. She was upset by that, because she'd only said it because she wanted to dream about it and sort through her thoughts on the matter with him, finding out how much they could afford and how practical it would be; and for some time, she interpreted his response in that kind of situation as meaning he didn't care about her.

Or if she said she was lonely, her friends wouldn't mind if they perceived it as a criticism of her husband and so they'd sympathise with her, but of course if her husband thought she was implying he wasn't doing his job as a husband properly, he'd get defensive. But she would only be saying it because she wanted him to talk about it with her so they could find a solution, like spending more time together.

In times of stress, misunderstandings could cause even more bad feeling. She says she used to accuse her husband of not caring about her or thinking about her, saying that she wished she hadn't married him. She said those things because she wanted him to see through them and realise she was upset and comfort her. But of course, he would perceive them as hurtful accusations and respond accordingly.

When she realised the problem was with the way she communicated, rather than with the way he did, she resolved to do things differently. She decided to try to remember to reassure him that she was just thinking of the possibilities before she told him about something she was dreaming of doing, like having the kitchen re-fitted. And she decided to make it clear to him that she was only saying what she said because she wanted to work things through with him when she brought up a problem.

Trying to Be More Considerate

She says another thing that caused communication problems in their marriage was the way she spoke to her husband when she was stressed.

For instance, when she was looking after two small children and he came home late from work and the dinner had been on too long, she would snap at him, calling him thoughtless for not phoning and letting her know he'd be late. He'd just get annoyed. But she's realised since that a better way would have been to take her focus of attention off herself and express concern for him when he came in, saying she was glad he was home and asking how the traffic was. That would have given him a chance to explain why he was late. She could sympathise with him when he told her, and only after that say she'd been worried. Later on, she could ask him to call when he's late in future because it would take a weight off her mind.

She says he's much more likely to take in what she says and do what she wants when he doesn't feel attacked when she says it.

She says it might take practise to start communicating more healthily, but with perseverance, the results can be encouraging.

She says another problem with their communication was that she used to feel obliged to tell her husband every little thing that was on her mind, all the reasons why she was unhappy. She says she used to think that that was what honesty in relationships was all about. But she realised that she wasn't being fair. For one thing, her attitudes to things could change with her moods or the weather or a number of other things. And she could never get her husband to do what she wanted.

She says that Recently, she's changed her ways, and before she raises an issue that she feels could be hurtful to her husband, she asks herself whether doing so will improve their relationship in the long term. If it won't, she keeps it to herself. This has made him more willing to change, and it's made some significant differences, since he said that before, he felt so overwhelmed with complaints that he didn't always know which ones to take seriously and which ones to ignore.

Being Straightforward About What You Want Rather Than Hinting At Things

She says she realises that another way she used to mess up the communication between them was that she used to hint at things rather than being direct about what she wanted, almost hoping her husband would read her mind. She would often feel hurt because he didn't take her hints. For instance, when she wanted him to take her out for dinner for the evening, she would say something like, "I'm tired; I've had a hard day. I forgot to take the meat out of the freezer; now what am I going to cook?" Since he didn't realise that that really meant she'd like to be taken out to dinner, he'd suggest she just thaw the meet out in the microwave. He thought he was being helpful; but she thought he was being cruel because he wasn't taking her out to dinner.

She says another time she was upset with him because he didn't understand that when she hinted at something she really meant that she wanted something was in a shop when she was looking at spatulas. She found one she liked and said, "Oh look, there's one of those nice spatulas I've been wanting" But after she looked at the price, she said, "But it's so expensive!" She was hoping he'd tell her not to worry about the price, and buy it for her, saying she was worth it. He, on the other hand, thought she'd decided not to get it after all. So they walked away, but she felt hurt and angry because she thought he was so thoughtless.

She sulked for a little while, and then she complained. He was totally amazed, not having realised she wanted it. Then she realised she hadn't said she wanted him to buy it for her. She'd expected him to just know. He was very happy to buy it. She would have spared them both some hassle if she'd said what she wanted in the first place.

So she advises people to be direct about what they'd like their spouses to do for them.

Making Positive Suggestions Rather Than Complaints

Fed up

She says one thing that often caused arguments in the relationship was when she would complain that her husband wasn't helping enough in the house. She never actually suggested anything she'd like him to do; she just complained that he wasn't doing enough. He would promise to be more helpful, but nothing changed. But one day she asked herself exactly what it was that bothered her so much, and she realised that just walking upstairs and seeing the bed unmade ruined her whole morning. So she simply asked him if he could make it every morning. One simple specific request instead of a vague complaint about not getting enough help made all the difference. She says now, he makes the bed every morning and she feels much happier.

Trying to Keep a Good Attitude

She says another thing she realises she did wrong was displaying a hateful attitude. She says her husband would sometimes accuse her of saying something she thought she hadn't said, and she would defend herself with great indignation. She assumed he wouldn't be able to read her mind, so he wouldn't be able to discern her hateful attitude. But he could tell it from her tone of voice and body language. So it didn't matter whether she'd said the exact words he was accusing her of saying or not; in any case, her attitude was by far more hurtful. So she learned she had to work on her attitude, becoming more forgiving and recognising her faults and being willing to change.

The Way Things are Phrased Can Make a Big Difference

She says that one thing that helped her learn to communicate for the better was learning to change the way she phrased things. She used to say things that provoked her husband, like,

"You make me angry."
"You never help around the house"
"You're always late."
"You are thoughtless."

She says statements like that are judgmental and would always put her husband on the defensive and irritate him, and when he was irritated, good communication would stop. She says that particularly irritating to him were words like always and never, since they're extreme statements that are very unlikely to be true. She says when she used words like that, her husband would remind her of times when he did do what she wanted, or wasn't late or whatever, so the real issue didn't get discussed, because that distracted them from it.

She found that when she started phrasing things in a way that didn't make them sound like accusations, it made a big difference. So instead of phrases that sounded as if she was blaming him for things, she instead said things like,

"I'm feeling angry."
"Will you empty the dishwasher?"
"I was worried because you were late."
"I'm feeling like no one wants to play with me."

Phrasing things that way stops things sounding so much like criticisms. It turns them into requests, or expressions of feeling that aren't necessarily implying that anyone's to blame for them. She says her husband started listening to her much more when she phrased things like that.

The Importance of Listening Properly

What did you say?

She says another thing she's tried to do is not to react angrily to criticism herself.

She says one thing that's very important is to listen, or spouses may give up talking about anything deep and meaningful with their marriage partners. She says her husband used to get irritated with her because she sometimes didn't pay enough attention to what he said, or would interrupt him, or she wouldn't wait for him to think of answers to her questions before she started talking again. But she learned to be more willing to listen patiently.

Well, I'm glad I'm reading this. Some of it's been hard to read because I know I've done some of the same things and so it's made me feel a bit embarrassed and guilty. But there's no point in feeling guilty about the past because it won't achieve anything. The important thing is the future. I feel more sure now that I want to stay in the marriage and that things can get better.

The Importance of Allowing People Their Personal Space and Time to Think

The author of this book says another important thing is giving your spouse enough space to think. She says it's important that they can have a place where they can go to be alone.

She says one of her friends said that for years, when she felt she needed to talk to her husband about something, but it didn't seem as if he was listening, she would follow him around the house and even out to his workshop explaining her thoughts more and more. This would often lead to an angry argument. Eventually, she discovered that if she just said what she wanted to say at first and then just left things, he would come back to her with an answer within a few hours or days, having thought the matter through completely, and they would resolve the issue.

The author says many husbands don't like it when people seem to be going on and on at them. She learned that her own husband felt that way.

Pros and Cons of Communicating Important Things By Writing a Letter

She says she learned in a class about improving marriage that writing a letter to a spouse can sometimes be a good communication tool when people have become over-sensitive to each other's tone of voice and body language. People can be more thoughtful about what they say when they put it in a letter. They have a chance to re-write it if they've decided their words are unwise, before they let their spouse see it.

But she says it needs to be thought about very carefully. She says a woman she knows wrote a letter to her husband about how unhappy she was, because she was afraid to tell him face to face, and her husband never mentioned it. Now, the woman's too scared to ask him why, and she feels very hurt because she thinks it means he doesn't care.

The author says she would have advised the woman to be there when he read it. She says people shouldn't say unexpected things in letters without being there, or at least arranging a time with their spouse to discuss them. She says people who receive that kind of letter often don't know how to handle these things. They might not be sure about how to bring the subject up, or they might ignore the problem, hoping it'll go away.

So she suggests that anyone who writes a letter makes a date with their spouse to discuss its contents, since although a letter can be a communication tool, it can't replace a good talk.

Improving the Chances of a Letter Being Received Positively

Then again, people could just watch for signs of an improved attitude towards them in the coming days. There are also things people can do to increase the chances of a letter being received favourably.

I read another book where it gives advice on what to say when writing a letter to a family member whose behaviour you've found difficult but who you want to get on better with and want to encourage to change.

It doesn't have to be written on paper; it could be an email.

As to what to put in the letter, it says it's best if it doesn't say anything the person could interpret as blame or undue criticism. That might just make them angry. It'll be better if the person writing it does their best to emphasize that they're saying what they're saying out of love and caring-concern for the other person and the marriage, that they're not trying to belittle them in saying they could play a part in improving the marriage; they're just unhappy at the way things have gone and think both of them could play a part in improving it.

The letter might be better received if you make your marriage partner feel valued right from the start of it. Letters can be more effective if they start by praising the person so they feel they won't be hostile and they're more interested in reading them. The more you make them feel valued, the more interested they might be in taking in what you say.

So perhaps in the first part, you could tell them about all the things they've done in the past you can think of that made you want to be close to them and admire them, everything they've done that made you appreciate them, things they've done that touched you, things that made you value them, and so on. You can talk about how you felt about them for doing those things, and what they've done that you value them for.

One advantage of doing that is that in thinking about the things the marriage had going for it at the beginning, and all the reasons you were attracted to your spouse in the first place, it can increase a desire in yourself to give it another try, knowing that if you saw a lot in your partner once, it's quite possible you could do again.

In the second part of the letter, maybe you could tell them how distressed you are by the way things are now; but don't make it sound as if you're blaming them. It might well be best if you say you understand that you've played a part in making the marriage what it is, but that you want to work together with them to improve it, and you're willing to take their suggestions on board for how you can help to improve it and change anything about your behaviour if that's what it takes. Also, talk about any personality strengths they've had in the past that have enabled them to solve problems, if you can think of any, saying you feel sure they still have them and could use them again to help them do their bit to improve the marriage, if you do feel that way.

In the last part of the letter, you could perhaps tell them about the ways in which you yourself would like your relationship with them to change, and talk about several little achievable things you'd like to be able to do with them again that would make your relationship happier. Also you can tell them about all your new ideas for how you could both improve things. You could talk again about what they do that you value, saying you appreciate it and you'd like to be able to admire and value them again for doing those things. You could maybe tell them you know the relationship could be good and happy again if you could get back to doing some of the things you did in the past together, and if you could start treating each other with more consideration. Tell them reasons why you value them as part of your life, and that you care about their well-being and want to get over the current difficulties in the marriage.

There's no guarantee you'll get a positive result, but a letter like that sometimes helps.

Part Four
Unexpectedly Harmful Effects of Divorce on Children and the Divorcing Parents

I haven't got children, but it looks as if I'd have to think very seriously about the way my decisions were affecting their well-being if I had.

Worries and Behaviour Problems Children Can Develop When Their Parents Divorce


This book says it's easy to underestimate the effects a divorce will have on children, but children can be psychologically damaged by divorce. People can think the children would be better off in a house that isn't full of arguments, and of course they're right; but when couples divorce, it brings a whole set of new problems parents might not have anticipated.

Arguments can still continue, and children can be especially upset if one or both parents says a lot of bad things about the other one in their hearing. Here are a couple of possible problems that can cause: If the children come to despise one or both parents, just who are they meant to have the confidence to turn to when they need help and advice? Not feeling they can turn to anyone can make them feel insecure and vulnerable. And why should they behave well for a parent who they've come to believe doesn't deserve respect? Or if they truly love a parent who's being bad-mouthed, it can be distressing to hear the parent spoken about with a lot of dislike. And after all, since they come from the parents, if they come to believe their parents are bad, they might not think very highly of themselves.

So it's best for parents not to say too much about any hostile thoughts and feelings they have about each other in the presence of children, unless the problem is that the actions of one parent might put the children's safety or well-being at risk.


Some children start thinking their parents' divorce was their fault, for instance if they've heard them arguing about how to discipline them and so on, or if they feel sure they've put a strain on their parents by being naughty, or by trying to take up their attention a lot so they have less time for each other. They can be plagued with guilt for some time, and their parents might not even know.

They might also start assuming that the parent who's leaving can't love them any more and has rejected them. The parents might not know their children feel rejected, because the children might not tell them. But it can make children anxious and upset for some time.

Parents going through bad times need to reassure their children that both of them still love them and that the children mustn't blame themselves for anything that happens.

Young children can behave worse when they're worried by something going on in the house or because a parent seems to have vanished. They aren't skilled enough at talking to tell their parents how they feel, so they show they're feeling disturbed by their behaviour. It can unfortunately be a vicious cycle; family tension and arguments can excite and disturb a child so they behave more aggressively and badly. Their parents find it more and more difficult to cope, not knowing how, especially when they're so stressed themselves or getting depressed. Arguments increase. Divorce is eventually seen as the best thing to do. But after the divorce, the toddler's even more upset so they behave worse, and the parent looking after them finds it even more difficult to cope, especially since they're trying to care for the child all on their own now. Getting into a new relationship quickly might only cause more problems if the new person is unsuitable as a parent and doesn't treat the child well.

Toddlers can also forget skills they've recently learned in their anxiety about what's going on, with their minds taken up with so much tension. It's important to be patient with young children who are behaving worse or forgetting things they've recently learned such as how to use the toilet. They need patience and gentle discipline, not harsh punishment. It might be difficult for a parent to restrain themselves when the child's behaviour's playing on already strained nerves; but harsh punishments will just distress an anxious child more and are likely to make their behaviour worse as their anxiety makes them more tense, or as they respond in anger or imitate the aggression of the parent; after all, parents are the main people little children learn from.

Young children can also feel insecure if the parent looking after them moves home soon after the divorce. First they've lost a parent and now they're losing the comfortingly familiar place where they live. So if there isn't a pressing need to move, it can sometimes be best to wait a while.

New Relationships

Then if a new relationship starts, some children can be distressed to think it makes it less likely that their parents who they love will get together again. And they can become angry and rebellious and misbehave. Then even more problems can arise if child discipline is an issue, if one partner dislikes the way their new partner's disciplining their child, or if the children from the two families who've just got together get treated differently. Parents need to try to be patient with children who aren't happy with the new arrangements; punishing them as if they're just plain doing something wrong should never be seen as the only answer, because at the root of their behaviour might be emotional upset that needs to be talked through with attempts made to resolve it.

It's best to take new relationships slowly, and for the new partner not to move in that quickly, partly so children still upset from losing a parent won't feel so anxious because their parent's being replaced in a hurry, and because not only the attention of their missing parent but that of the parent still looking after them is being taken away.

And if a remarriage takes place before there's really been time to find out if the relationship is suitable, perhaps because a parent longs to escape the loneliness of being single after years of living with someone, another break up soon afterwards - and lots of break-ups of second marriages do happen quickly - can be even more disturbing, for parent and child alike.

Basically, parents might long to divorce because they think it'll be an escape from the pain they're feeling and that the family would probably all be better off because life will become less stressful. But they might well be wrong about both of those things.

Affairs and Second Marriages


Parents can be thoroughly depressed after a divorce, wondering if they really are better off or whether it was the best thing to do after all. There can be a great feeling of relief at first; but fairly soon, other emotions can start to flood in: regrets, confusion about whether the divorce really was for the best, and questions about how they let things get to that stage, doubts about self-worth, sadness, anger and deep depression. It can sometimes be best to seek professional help. Children will sense the emotional turmoil of the parent and can become distressed by it.

Besides any unexpected loneliness the parents feel because of their broken relationship, divorce can also make life a more lonely experience for the parent because friends of the former couple can feel awkward about being around because they don't want to take sides, having divided loyalties.

Children Can be Hurt by New Relationships

Lonely parents can get into new relationships far too quickly as a substitute for the one they've lost, and it might ease their loneliness for a while, but if the relationship's unsuitable, chances are it'll break up fairly soon, and the children can be hurt, either by the behaviour of the new person in their parent's life, or by becoming close to someone else who then leaves, or by having to come to terms with the growing inevitability of the end of their parent's relationship with their other parent.

A lot of second marriages end very quickly, probably partly because they were entered into because they were seen as a quick fix for the deep loneliness and depression some parents sink into after the divorce, and the parents didn't take enough time to make sure they found someone who really would be suitable for them.

Realistically, it's best to do some soul-searching about why the previous relationship failed before getting into a new one, to reduce the risks of making the same mistakes that will make it more likely the new relationship will fail.

Besides what a new relationship failing does to the adult with yet another failed relationship to depress them, it can make children feel insecure. A first divorce in itself makes some children clingy, worried they're going to lose their remaining parent, not wanting to let them out of their sight in case they never come back.

If a parent leaves their child at nursery school, for instance, it can upset them, because they might not know if the parent's coming back. It's best if the parent always reassures them and shows them some affection when they drop them off, and tells the teacher there's a special reason their child might be anxious, in the hope the teacher looks out for them.

Studies have found that second marriages actually fail more often than first ones. Since each person in a couple will be partly responsible for the attitudes and behaviour that strained their relationship so much it fell apart, they'll likely carry those same attitudes and behaviours into their second marriages, and the same things are likely to cause problems in those that caused them the first time. And if they've got the added problem of misbehaving children and the financial and other problems caused by the break-up of their first relationship, that'll put an added strain on the new relationship.

Affairs and New Marriages Don't Necessarily Lead to Happiness

Also, if one marriage partner wants to leave a first marriage for someone they're having an affair with, there's no guarantee it'll work out. Affairs are often maintained by unrealistic fantasies, which it's easy to keep going because the partners having the affair don't have to see each other when they're at their most stressed or day after day when life is boring and humdrum and they have to discuss mundane things like who's going to do the housework. They don't have to discuss big problems with each other like finances and child discipline. So it's easy for people having affairs to imagine life would be so much better with the person they're having an affair with than it is with their partner. They can seem to get on so much better, and just not have all the problems their marriage has. So being with them can seem much more attractive than being with their husband or wife. Only when they've been with them for a while, realised that the person does have a bad side and that some of the same problems are arising in the new relationship as were in the old, that it can be downright boring sometimes, and their new partner is becoming just as disillusioned with them as they are with their new partner, can they realise the new relationship isn't the fantastic new life change they thought it would be.

Also, leaving a marriage in the hope that someone you're having an affair with will marry you can be misguided; some people prefer affairs to committed relationships, so chances are they'll just move on to someone else, especially if it didn't bother them that they were having an affair with a married person and so potentially wrecking a relationship. If they didn't mind wrecking your previous one, they might not mind wrecking the one they're having with you, when they get a bit fed up of it.

Studies have found that children are more likely to be physically and sexually abused by new partners their parents are having a relationship with than by the parents themselves. So divorcing and then going through a succession of new relationships to find one that's really good could put the children at risk.

Ways a Former Husband and Wife Can Suffer After a Divorce, and Possible Bad Consequences for Children


One marriage partner may well experience heartache at losing contact with their children. Or conflict can be caused when one partner looks after them most of the time through all the day-to-day problems, and then the other takes them for nice trips out every time they see them, and the one left at home worries that the children will come to think of the one taking them out as the nicer parent.

Not only can divorce have harmful effects on children. It can damage the emotional health and financial well-being of the parents.

Divorced couples can be consumed with anger over what happened for years to come, especially if arguments still continue, particularly if they're over things that really matter like the children. Even when divorces start out amicably, one partner can start behaving in ways the other finds hurtful, and problems can escalate from there.

Divorces can financially hurt both parents. A wife who's been looking after the children while her husband works can find herself in poverty when he leaves; and he can have the burden of paying a certain amount of his income to her for years to come, long after he's married again and has children from another relationship to care for and pay for things for.

And a husband won't necessarily pay the child support payments he's supposed to pay. Even if he does, they won't cover the costs of running the house, so a far higher percentage of the money the wife gets may have to be spent on that than was before, leaving her poorer. If she can't afford it, she and the children may have to move into a smaller house, maybe in an area that isn't as nice, where their children might be more likely to get in with a bad crowd.

A woman left poorer by the divorce may have to work longer hours or get a second job to get more money, meaning she has less time to care for the children. This may mean they're on their own for longer if they're old enough to be left on their own, so they're more likely to get into bad company than they would be if they were being supervised.

If the children become rebellious, it'll be harder for a single parent to discipline them. If the parent resorts to violence to control unruly children, the children can come to believe violence is acceptable and become worse.

But a parent who's left them unsupervised while they go to work won't necessarily know what they're getting into.

Or sometimes, children can simply miss out on after-school activities and trips out with friends, because the mother works long hours to support the family and the children have to look after younger brothers and sisters.

Even a person who's fairly well-off at the beginning of the divorce might be so poor they have to give things up, once they've paid the lawyer's fees. Divorces can be surprisingly expensive.

Divorce Can Have Long-Term Harmful Effects on Children


Children can be depressed by a divorce and it can still bother them years later. Even when they've become adults, their thinking can still be influenced by it; they can have lower expectations of having a permanent or happy relationship because of it, and they can be scared that relationships they get into will fail, or scared of abandonment by others. Adults' anxiety can sometimes be traced back to their parents' divorce years earlier.

This book says some studies have found that children of divorced parents are more likely to have emotional and behavioural problems, and more likely to become pregnant as teenagers, abuse drugs, and get in trouble with the law. That might be partly to do with lack of supervision by parents. But they can also be disturbed by the break-up of their parents' relationship for years. Also, a lot of teenagers who have babies do so because they want someone in their lives they can have a loving relationship with. They don't realise how hard raising a child can be till the child gets to be a toddler having tantrums and behaving in other challenging ways.

The book says children of divorced parents have been found to often underachieve at reading, spelling and maths, and are twice as likely to drop out of school and less likely to apply for college. It doesn't say why, but when people's emotions are in turmoil, it's hard to concentrate on things like schoolwork. If they're grieving about the loss of one parent from the family and upset about the ill feeling between their parents, it can be difficult to be motivated to get absorbed in schoolwork, more difficult than usual. And if they're called on to help with caring for younger children, and if they have other concerns such as being leant on emotionally and treated as a confidante by one parent, who in any case is too busy or absorbed in their own emotions or new relationships to help them with homework and encourage them to get down to it, then they won't achieve nearly as much as children from homes where parents focus on inspiring them to learn in an environment as free from worry as possible will.

When the family's finances suffer, children's physical health can suffer, partly because a parent out trying to earn money might be too busy to prepare healthy meals.

A lot of fathers can eventually lose contact with their children, or only see them rarely. Both children and fathers can grieve over the loss.

Parents might assume that children will be better off when they aren't hearing parents arguing all the time. But unless there's disturbing aggression between the parents, a child can prefer to be in an environment where both parents argue and yet both parents are there to help them with things, take them out, give them encouragement, be there to talk to and play with, and so on, to a home where one parent just isn't there.

Hostile Divorces Can Have Much More Harmful Effects on Children Than Amicable Ones


Then again, some divorces will be much more distressing to children than others. A lot of the time, it might not be the divorce that distresses them so much as the hostility and anger their parents have for each other, that can sometimes go on for years.

It isn't just the divorce that upsets children but what happens afterwards. It's much less distressing if the parents can try and keep the hostility between each other to a minimum and both reassure the children they still care and will still be there for them, and try to continue life with as little disruption as they can.

What can be really distressing for children is when parents treat them as weapons to hurt the other one emotionally. They can also be upset when one parent is cut out of their lives completely, and when the children's grandparents on the side of the absent parent are cut out of their lives as well. Children who were close to them won't understand why they can't see them any more. And there's no real need to deprive them of seeing their grandparents in a lot of cases. If the ex's parents are willing not to continually judge and criticise the parent who divorced their son or daughter, and the children are close to them, the children can feel happier if their grandparents can still be in their lives.

There's a book that gives advice for parents on raising toddlers that has a chapter on single parents, and says that sometimes, it seems divorced parents forget their children are being hurt by the experience, so they do things that result in them being hurt some more, even to the point of using them in a battle to hurt each other. They concentrate on making things as difficult as they can for the other parent, just not thinking about how it's hurting the children.

For instance, when one parent tries to discipline the child, the other one will contradict them, just out of spite. It can lead to an angry argument. What's the child in the middle supposed to think? They're bound to become confused, as well as tense and unhappy.


Sometimes the parent who wasn't awarded custody of the child but who is allowed to visit them won't turn up when they said they would. They want to make things awkward for the other parent, to spite them. But what does it do to a child when it seems their daddy has broken his promise to them? It's going to upset them. It might make them wonder if he really cares about them after all. It's going to make them anxious when future visits are coming up, wondering if he'll turn up this time. People can behave as if they just don't understand and don't care about the feelings of the child, so intent are they on hurting the other parent. When they do turn up for the visit, they might start arguments with the other parent, and not give them a time when they expect to be back by. They might be hoping to hurt the other parent, but they need to think about what it's like for a child being in the midst of heated arguments that seem to be about them, or uncertain about whether the visiting parent really wants to be with them, or whether they'll be back at a time that suits the parent they're living with. Children can feel guilty and upset thinking they're the cause of so much trouble, or they can feel rejected and uncared-for if the parent visiting them seems grudging and angry about taking them out, or doesn't turn up when they said they would. Children can come to fear the visits, since they know they'll be a time of stress and anger where hurtful things are said.

Apart from the hurtful things parents say to each other, parents can upset the children by saying nasty things to them about the other parent. For instance, a mother fed up by her husband not turning up for a visit could tell her child their father's unreliable, and also hopeless with money, lazy, argumentative, and a number of other things, while the father tells the child the mother's unreasonable, nags too much, lousy at discipline and so on. That's bound to make the child feel insecure: "Great, my parents are argumentative lazy unreliable naggers who can't get along and do things wrong all day. That really makes me feel safe and as if I'm in good hands! Not." A child might grow to dislike and distrust their parents or lack confidence because they don't know if they're being looked after by people who are competent to do the job, and get depressed because they feel helpless and powerless to make life better and can't see things improving any time soon. Of course, young children won't have the verbal skills to express their feelings till they're older; but they can still feel anxious and insecure, without the parents necessarily knowing.

It's best if the parents talk to their children about what's happening, explaining that sometimes parents just find it hard to live together, and listening to the child to see if they have any worries or want to ask questions, and if they'd like to talk about how upset they are.

It can also reassure little children if they're taken to see where the parent who's moving out will be staying, so they know what's going on and that the parent isn't just vanishing.

It may seem very unfair to one parent that the other one's got custody of the children; and it may seem very unfair to the one who's got custody that the other one comes and takes the children out for treats and good times while they themselves look after them during the daily slog of getting through life. But getting angry over what's unlikely to change will just cause tension all round. It can be best to try to just put up with some unfairness and injustice for the sake of peace in the family.

The children can be much less disturbed and recover from the upset of the divorce more quickly if the parents aim to make the divorce settlement as peaceful as possible, not trying to score points over the other one, or win a child's affections at the expense of the other one, or doing things with the sole purpose of hurting the other parent.

So naturally it's important that parents try to be nice to and about each other as far as possible, for the sake of the children. They can tell the children that sometimes parents have to separate because they don't get on, but it's best not to go into discussion of who's to blame. People can say unjust things, blaming the other parent while not seeing how their own behaviour contributed to the relationship breakdown. And anger can make people exaggerate others' faults. So they could well be making the child think things are much worse than they really are anyway. And it's important to reassure children it isn't the children's fault the relationship's breaking down and that both parents still love them.

Sometimes things just have to be settled in court; but sometimes, one parent will take the other one to court and argue over things like child custody just to hurt them. They don't think about what it's doing to the children, they're too focused on what they want to do to hurt the other parent.

The arguments, anger and stress can go on for years, while the child gets more and more disturbed.

In a parent's anger, they might overlook how cruel their behaviour is to their child or children. They need to stop and think about how much it's hurting the child and put the child's needs before their desire to hurt the other parent.


On the other hand, sometimes children can be hurt despite a parent's best intentions. A depressed parent might fail to give the child they're looking after the care they need, because the depression saps them of all energy, motivation and concern for others. A severely depressed mother might well benefit from professional help, and her child will benefit when her mental health improves.

A parent suffering from depression might not feel like doing much at all, let alone taking their child out. But the child will need cheering up, and although it can be hard to get motivated, parents who start doing things to improve their lives can find themselves feeling less depressed. Mild depression can lift when life begins to improve. Going out and meeting other mothers can help, perhaps while taking the children for a play in the park or at mother and toddler groups. Exercise, such as good walks, can leave people feeling perked up. So can learning about interesting things and so on.

Efforts Need to be Put Into All Relationships to Keep Them Working Well


All in all, while couples might be desperate to escape each other at times and feel sure a divorce would be the best solution, it can bring a lot of unforeseen problems and pain of its own, and certainly won't be a quick fix. So when there's a possibility the marriage can be fixed, it can often be a lot better to try. All marriages go through bad patches. Problems are bound to crop up in every relationship. The partner who seems perfect at the beginning of a relationship will seem less perfect when living with them reveals more things about them. That will happen in any relationship. But there are more ways of solving problems and conflicts than people might think, that don't involve divorce.

Also, relationships need to be actively worked on if they're going to stay fresh and enjoyable. Looking out for good things the other marriage partner's doing can help the relationship. Even if there are lots of arguments, the couple can start to feel more positive about each other if they actively look out for things the other one does they admire or approve of and compliment them for them. Even if they don't feel in the mood to make the effort at first, they can be glad they did, since it can lift their own spirits if they realise there's more to like about the other person than they thought, or that the other person does more they admire or like than they thought, so things aren't all bad. It's easy to overlook positive things when the mind's focused on conflict.

It can also help boost the relationship when couples no longer dwell on what's gone wrong in the past, stirring up old hostile emotions about it all over again, but they have an attitude going into conflict that makes them think, "How could what I'm unhappy about be made better in the future? What can I do to improve things?"

Also, making a deliberate effort to do kind and loving things for the other marriage partner can increase good feelings in the relationship, till doing loving things becomes a pleasure and more natural.


This article is written slightly differently from most articles. All the information in most of the articles in this series is written as if by someone finding out a lot of helpful information for the first time, just learning about it. That person themselves isn't real; they're just a representative of a lot of others suffering the same thing. Any little anecdotes they tell about their personal lives or those of people they know almost always have really happened though, sometimes to the author or to someone else known to the author. The article comes with a very short story about them to set the scene, and presents all the self-help information as if it's what they're finding out and what they think of it.

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The Story

Fed up

Anita is fed up of her marriage and feels fairly sure she wants a divorce. The marriage seems to have disappointed all her expectations. She's tempted to leave, but part of her wonders whether it's possible to stay and improve the marriage instead.

She looks around for self-help material that will aid her in making a decision one way or the other, and finds something that seems to speak directly about her problems. It gives her more optimism that the marriage can work and get better after all. She takes a lot of the advice, and things do improve, and she becomes happier.

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