Local experts offer tips for strong relationships. Don’t wait too long to seek help, they say.
By Sara Mastbaum Thomas – Contributing Writer
A new report by the Institute for Family Studies suggests that couples who marry between the ages of 25 and 32 have the lowest likelihood of splitting up in the future. Even more intriguing, the study shows this to be true across all demographic factors.
Why? It’s well known that marrying young can often lead to trouble up ahead, and the study suggests that those who marry after age 32 become set in their ways as singletons and unwilling to compromise with a spouse.
Of course, there’s no magic number or formula for a successful marriage, and, as many people know, “The One” doesn’t always come along during this seven-year span of life. Don’t despair if you don’t meet the study’s criteria. Our local experts have tips to help keep couples together at all ages and stages of life.
Need help? Don’t wait
A common reason couples get into trouble is that they wait too long to seek outside help or view it as a last resort. Films and TV shows often reinforce the idea that couples therapy or family therapy is something for separated or divorcing couples only, thereby creating a stigma.
“A lot of people end up going to couples therapy when one person is already thinking of ending the relationship. Couples should seek help before they get to that point,” said licensed social worker, Joy Forcier, LISW, of Dayton. Recently returned to the Miami Valley, Forcier practiced for over 25 years in Boston and has counseled numerous couples.
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” said Sydney Dattle Sr., support service specialist with Marriage Works! Ohio’s Divorce Prevention Program. Marriage Works! Ohio, headquartered in Dayton, serves seven counties in southwest Ohio. “Don’t wait until you’re having problems. The biggest thing I tell couples is that if things are good, make them great. If it’s going great, make it excellent. If it’s excellent, strive for perfection. If you don’t put in the work and effort, the relationship will get stale.”
So, aside from doing regular maintenance on your relationship by checking in with a counselor or taking a workshop, what are some signs that you and your partner should seek an objective opinion?
“If the couple finds themselves in a repetitive pattern or sequence, such as having the same argument over and over, and they can’t seem to get beyond it,” is one such reason, Forcier said. “If people feel distressed about the relationship more often than not, it’s worth trying to figure out what’s going on.”
With any relationship, romantic or otherwise, good communication is the best thing for it. “One of the biggest indicators [of relationship problems] is trouble with communication,” Dattle said. “Most couples don’t have adequate skills in conflict resolution … . Couples who divorce often do so not because they can’t work it out, but because they don’t know what to do.”
“One of the hardest things is just to listen and feel empathetic toward the other person,” Forcier said. “Their feelings are still important and need to be respected … . It always helps when someone points out the positive.”
Dattle recommended improving your communication skills through a class or workshop at organizations such as Marriage Works! Ohio. These are great options for those who are unable to afford a private counselor or would prefer a somewhat different setting. “We like to say that Marriage Works! is like Pep Boys or Auto Zone,” Dattle said, explaining that the mechanic will sell you the part and may tell you what’s wrong with your car, but will not come to your garage and fix it for you. “We have the tools to teach couples to effectively address their issues.”
One of the reasons found for the marital success of those who marry between ages 25 and 32 is that people between those ages often have a strong sense of self. This sets them apart from the younger crowd, who are still figuring that out, as well as older people, whose sense of individualism may have grown too strong.
An issue often arises, Forcier said, when couples can’t figure out how to be part of a union and remain as individuals at the same time. Or perhaps, they thought they knew what the relationship was about, and it’s changed. “People can fall in love because they think they see exactly what they need in that person,” she explained. “When the emotions calm down, the differences can be unsettling.”
Frustration with the process is another common issue. Opening up communication can be slow going. Be aware, Dattle said, “It’s normally the case that the [frustrated] person has done a lot of work on the relationship in the past and is done.” Forcier advised being honest about your frustration and mentioning it in your therapy session or workshop.