Adults going out on their own together is good for their relationship – and allows children to see that mum and dad have a life beyond the family.
It could be any Saturday night, almost certainly the wrong side of 9pm, and our two elder children – 11 and 10 – are settling down with us to watch a “family film”. It’s a weekend ritual that we initially encouraged as a shared alternative to screen-time but has now somehow created a different kind of problem.
“OK, so two episodes of Modern Family, says one, stretching out on the sofa.
“Yup, and then my choice on Netflix,” continues the other. “And, er, Dad, where’s the homemade popcorn you promised? Not too much salt this time.” Endless snacks and a luxury of viewing time lies ahead of them, and we are consigned to refreshment duties, trips back and forth to the kitchen for the next round. Oh well, there’s no more sofa space left for us anyway.
When we’re lucky, we get an hour or two alone, but it’s only temporary. Often we have to keep the television volume down low, knowing certain shows, like a beacon, will draw them back downstairs, indignant and slightly hurt. “I can’t believe you’re watching this without me!”
“Breaking Bad? What’s that about, a chemistry teacher? So why’s it unsuitable for children then?” Our three year old, blissfully, has yet to discover a world beyond CBeebies’ Sarah & Duck and bed at 7.30pm, but we’re living on borrowed time.
I’m increasingly reluctant to admit how long my children stay up: “10pm-ish, er, quite often,” I confess to a friend.
“Oh God, yes,” she replies. “All the time. At least when he was a baby, I could Gina Ford him and our evenings were our own. Now he sulks when he’s not part of whatever we’re doing.”
Welcome to child-centric family life where time alone has all but vanished. Adult recreation – supper, a glass of wine and Newsnight – now merges amorphously with last-minute maths revision, packing sports kits and urging children to get ready for bed – a ritual they are true masters at protracting.
Couples therapists would say parents like us should work harder to balance our priorities in order to preserve the family unit. It’s even on the political agenda in some countries; well, Scandinavia anyway. Last October, the government in Oslo issued a plea to parents in Norway to embrace “date nights” more frequently in response to rising divorce rates – now 40%, with those aged 40 to 44 most vulnerable to separation.
It has always struck me as a fatal flaw in Darwinian logic that the institution most essential to a child’s wellbeing – the couple unit – is the very one they are most likely to, unwittingly, sabotage and undermine. Marital therapists will tell you that one of the times a relationship is most at threat is during the first year after the first child is born.
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High divorce rates and low marital satisfaction are a direct result of partners’ inability to meet ‘psychological expectations’.
Time was when a roof over your head, food on the table and occasional bouts of sexual activity were the hallmarks of a successful marriage. Not any more. According to a US psychologist, the modern marriage must fulfil far deeper demands, and most couples are struggling to cope.
Eli Finkel, director of social psychology at Northwestern University in Illinois, said couples today looked to their marriages to help them “grow as individuals”, and support them through “voyages of self-discovery”. But their expectations are rarely met, he said, because of the investment of time and effort involved.
Finkel claims that persistent high divorce rates and low levels of marital satisfaction are a direct result of couples being unable to meet the psychological expectations of their partners. While overall demands on marriages have not changed much over time, he said, the nature of the demands has shifted and they require more time and effort to satisfy.
“In the past, you married someone who helped you meet your basic needs, but over time, love increasingly conquered marriage. Now people are looking to their spouses to help them discover who they are, and to achieve the best version of themselves,” Finkel said.
Speaking at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting in Chicago, Finkel said that most couples struggle because the change in demands calls for more investment in marriage in an age when many people have less time on their hands.
“People used to marry for basic things like food and shelter. In the 1800s, you didn’t have to have profound insight into your partner’s core essence to tend to the chickens or build a sound physical structure against the snow,” Finkel said. “Back then, the idea of marrying for love was ludicrous.”
“In 2014, you are really hoping that your partner can help you on a voyage of discovery and personal growth, but your partner cannot do that unless he or she really knows who you are, and really understands your core essence. That requires much greater investment of time and psychological resources,” he said.
A blissful minority are in marriages that fulfil these deeper demands, and those marriages are better than the best marriages of yesteryear, Finkel claims. But the average marriage falls short because the time and effort required were impossible for most to meet.
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For communication to work in any relationship, both members must abide by certain rules. There is a right and wrong way to communicate with each other, and over the years it has become clear to me that, while healthy communication can strengthen a marriage, poor communication can destroy it.
One of the top communication skills that must be learned in a healthy marriage is the ability to speak in a caring tone.
Early in our marriage, I had a horrible time controlling my mouth. Often, Karen would try to communicate a problem to me, and I would immediately begin to argue. I would discount her concerns and lecture her about why she was wrong.
I was more interested in winning the argument than understanding her side of the story.
When it came to communicating my thoughts, I was a pro. I would have made a great lawyer. But I knew almost nothing about listening.
After God began restoring our marriage, it became clear that this was one area of my life that had to change. I had to learn to control my tone, my argumentative words, and my compulsion to always be right.
It was harder than I expected. Even when I’d begun listening more to Karen and was trying to work things out, the way I spoke giving her another impression. She kept saying, “I wish I could record the way you talk to me. Then you’d see why I don’t feel like you’re listening.”
During that period—as has happened many times in my life—I became convicted by the words of Ephesians 5, in which husbands are commanded to love their wives as Christ loves the church. In that passage, verse 26 says that God uses this Christlike love to “make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word.”
As I read, God gave me two visions. In one, Jesus was gently scooping handfuls of water over my head, with great kindness and patience. In the other, I was spraying Karen with a fire hose. She was cowering beneath the force of the water.
I finally understood what she had been trying to tell me. My attempts to “wash” Karen were hurting her. I may have been speaking truth—and I may have intended my words to be loving—but my tone was far too forceful.
Those two visions forever changed the way I talk to Karen. After that point, when we needed to discuss something, I used a quieter voice rather than repeating things multiple times and hammering her with my words. I spoke kindly. I said what I needed to say and then let the matter drop.
Karen noticed. The gentle way I had begun talking to her stood out so starkly against my previous communication that she couldn’t help but see and respond to the change.
It confirmed to me just how much my tone must have been bothering her—and I hadn’t even realized it was happening.
In marriage, how we talk to each other is just as important as the content of what we’re trying to say. A loving and caring tone is the first and most critical step when learning how to communicate effectively with your spouse.
Jimmy Evans, Marriage Today
A very thought provoking letter from Jimmy Evans, Marriage Today
I haven’t been shy about detailing the rocky early years of my marriage to Karen. Both of us were certain that our marriage was destined for greatness—that we would never fight, never get tired of each other, never worry about money or kids or any of the petty things other couples argued about.
We both knew we were the perfect match and nothing could stand in our way. We were confident. It only took two weeks for us to realize how misplaced our confidence was.
I don’t remember the first argument Karen and I had after we were married, but I do remember wondering if the fighting would ever stop. One argument would flow into the next one, like an endless raging river. Though we kept fighting, neither of us ever won.
After three years, we hit rock bottom, numb and out of love. We were barely speaking. Both of us were thinking about leaving.
What happened to turn things around in our marriage? How did we ever get from that point to where we are today—two giddy old married people who can hardly keep their hands off each other?
The truth is, it wasn’t any one miraculous event, but a long series of small decisions and attitude changes followed by more decisions and attitude changes. It was a journey.
But like all journeys, it began with one critical, monumentally important first step: We gave up.
There came a point when we both realized we simply could no longer make it on our own. We understood we were completely incapable of putting our marriage back together again—at least on our own power. So we quit trying. We put down our weapons and surrendered.
No one would have blamed us for leaving each other. Looking back, I’m surprised I never got to that point of no return, and even more surprised that Karen didn’t. I was an emotional bully. Almost anyone else would have left me.
But somehow we both found the strength to do the right thing. We surrendered our marriage to God. We opened our hands and hearts and gave ourselves over to His will, recommitting ourselves to the relationship. Little by little, day by day, we began to rebuild the love that had died.
It didn’t happen overnight. It was a daily process of dying to self, getting up each morning and deciding to be nicer to each other than we were the day before. More forgiving. More loving. More selfless and caring.
In short, we did with our marriage what God asks each of us to do in our own Christian walk. Instead of focusing on our own selfish desires, we focused on the needs of the other. I started learning Karen’s needs and looking for ways to fill them. She did the same for me.
We gave up trying to make it on our own and instead leaned on God to rebuild the love affair we had so callously destroyed. That has proven to be the most supernaturally rewarding decision we could have ever made. What about you? Is it time for you to give up?
The UK has one of the highest rates of family breakdown in the Western world with just two thirds of children living with both parents, according to research by a global development organisation reports the Independent.
The UK comes only behind Belgium, Latvia and Estonia in the list of countries where both a child’s father and mother live in the same household. The analysis by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) showed that just 68.9 per cent of children live with both parents in the UK, well below the average of 84 per cent. The figures have been described as symptomatic of an “appalling epidemic of family breakdown” by social justice campaigners.
The lowest percentage of all was in Latvia at 64.9 per cent, while the highest was in Finland where it stood at 95.2 per cent. The UK is in contrast to other Western European countries such as Germany which stands at 82 per cent, Italy at 92.1 per cent, Spain at 91.5 per cent and France at 79.5 per cent. The United States also had a much higher number of children living with both parents, at 70.7 per cent.
The figures, which looked at the living arrangements of children aged between 0 and 14 in 30 OECD member countries, relate to 2007. They also show that the proportion of children living with their mother and not their father in the UK is 27.6 per cent, while for those living with only their father it is just 2.4 per cent. Only Latvia has a higher percentage of children living with only their mother, at 30.2 per cent.
Christian Guy, managing director at the Centre for Social Justice, said: “Timid politicians are becoming numb to Britain’s sky-high family breakdown rates. Behind too many front doors family instability damages adults and children. Yet, as these OECD figures show, broken families are not some inevitable feature of modern society or ‘social progress’. All kinds of transformational help can be offered to parents and couples when they come under life’s pressures. It is time for people who oppose things that would stem the tide of breakdown, such as backing marriage as the most stable path for children, to stop playing politics. Our forgotten families need all the help we can offer.”
Harry Benson, communications director at the Marriage Foundation, said the statistics should “convince politicians of all colours of their utter failure to deal with the central social problem of our times”. He added: “The latest UK data tells us that 450 of every 1,000 children will experience the break-up of their parents before their 16th birthday, largely the result of the trend away from marriage, in particular the collapse of unmarried families. This appalling epidemic of family breakdown costs the taxpayer at least £44 billion per year, more than the defence budget. Yet government has no policy whatsoever to reduce or prevent the continued rise. The Marriage Foundation has been established with a primary purpose to confront this very serious national issue. We will not rest until the tide has been turned.”
God created sex for two reasons. First, He wants us to procreate. Second, He wants us to experience pleasure in marriage. As we pursue the latter, we need to feel free to explore the realms of sexual pleasure while also knowing our boundaries.
As you might imagine, during my years teaching and counseling couples, I regularly get asked, privately, about these boundaries. What is allowed sexually within marriage? What isn’t allowed? Is it OK to experiment?
Couples ask these questions because they fear any sexual experimenting might somehow be wrong or sinful, especially when it comes to certain sexual positions, sexual enhancements or “toys,” and other fantasies.
In addressing these issues, I first tell them that God wants them to enjoy sex. Then I tell them that when something isn’t specifically forbidden in Scripture, that’s generally because it is allowed.
Need an example? Consider oral sex. I’ve heard a good number of preachers over the years talk about how it’s a sin. But there is no place in Scripture that forbids it within the context of marriage.
The same guidelines apply to other practices. While I am not necessarily endorsing or recommending particular sexual aids or positions, I don’t believe a preacher or anyone else has the moral authority to tell husband and wife what they can or cannot do in the privacy of the bedroom—especially if the Bible hasn’t forbidden it.
When it comes to the question of whether to allow or disallow any sexual practice, I recommend asking these questions:
• Is it forbidden in the Bible?
• Does it violate my conscience before God?
• Does it violate my spouse or is it against his or her will?
• Is it physically safe? Does it cause harm to me or my spouse? Are there health issues or risks involved?
• Does this treat my spouse in a disrespectful manner or damage our relationship in any way?
Use these questions to help you and your spouse discover your sexual parameters. As for me, I believe the boundaries for sex in marriage are broad. Remember that God wants you to have fun and enjoy intimacy with your spouse.
When it comes down to it, my advice is this: If it feels good to you and isn’t against God’s Word, you should consider it.
The best marriages are those in which two people enjoy each other and make each other feel good. Approach sex from this perspective and don’t let the opinions of other people dictate your sexual practices.
After all, other than God, you know better than anyone what you like and what is best for your marriage. When properly practiced, sex builds your relationship and binds you to each other. It creates an atmosphere of pleasure and delight.
And within that garden of pleasure and delight, a marriage flourishes.
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Married couples will be in the minority in little more than a generation and half of all children can now expect to see their parents separate, a shocking report reveals today.
The Centre for Social Justice, the think tank set up by Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith, says marriage is increasingly the preserve of the middle and upper classes.
Former Conservative children’s minister Tim Loughton said the findings demonstrated the urgent need for David Cameron to get the Government’s family policy ‘back on track’.
In his first interview since being sacked in last month’s reshuffle, Mr Loughton warned the Prime Minister to that without concerted action, Britain was in ‘peril, socially and economically’.
Mr Loughton’s removal from the education department dismayed Conservative MPs, who regarded him as an champion of the pro-family agenda Mr Cameron promised in opposition.
‘All the research shows that the presence of mum and dad throughout childhood gives children the best chance of good health, successful education and freedom from dependency,’ he told the Mail.
‘At its extreme, the absence of strong family structures contributes to the chaos of the herd instinct and lawlessness that we saw in last summer’s riots. On an everyday basis family breakdown costs society £44 billion a year, so it is vital that we heed the Centre for Social Justice’s shocking revelation that 48 per cent of all children will see the breakdown of their parents’ relationship.
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Just by booking your first appointment and agreeing to come together to Living Families for Marriage Councelling Horsham Sussex is really significant. It demonstrates to your spouse how much the relationship matters to you and can often be a huge part of the healing process in itself.
A safe place
Couple Counselling or Relationship Counselling should take place somewhere neutral to you both so that you feel are in a safe place where you can talk through your difficulties in more effectively.
When it’s just the two of you, discussions even about everyday issues can quickly escalate out of all proportion. Having a counsellor present can soften the intensity and moderate the discussion. By facilitating the conversation, both of you feel heard and the whole thing slows down and you can get to grips with the issues.
Identifying repeated patterns
Couples often come into therapy really stuck in their positions, feeling misunderstood, unheard, frustrated and angry.
By helping you become aware of repeated patterns and “going round the mountain yet again”, you can begin to reconnect and work together to solve your problems.
You probably never did any study about relationships despite the importance and commitment required. In your sessions you will study and learn more effective ways to communicate and resolve conflict. What you learn and put into practice will become part of your lifestyle.
Finally, there is always hope. It’s never too late. If both of you are serious about wanting your relationship to work and are committed to change, we have never failed to see a miracle of restoration.
Communication is essential for a good marriage. There is one element always necessary in successful communication… caring. It doesn't matter what communication techniques you may know and understand, if you don't care, it won't make a difference. As long as you keep communicating how much you care, intimacy and passion will continue to increase and you'll experience a rise in the romantic temperature of the relationship
Britons have an addiction to divorce fuelled by a 'Hello! magazine' attitude to marriage, a top judge has warned.
Sir Paul Coleridge said family breakdown was 'one of the most destructive scourges of our time'.
Citing growing evidence of harm to a generation of children, he said youngsters whose parents separated saw their educational achievements and job prospects damaged.
In a highly unusual move for a serving judge, Sir Paul will tomorrow launch a campaign – backed by senior legal figures and Church leaders – to promote marriage.
There was 'incontrovertible' proof that married couples were more likely to stay together, he said.
Sir Paul, one of the most senior family court judges, voiced particular concern over what he called the 'Hello! magazine, Hollywood image' of marriage, saying: 'The more we have spent on weddings, the greater the rate of family breakdown.'
And he also warned that a trend for older couples to split once children leave home was having an 'extremely emotionally disturbing' impact on families.
Sir Paul's campaign is expected to be supported by the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu and the Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks, while patrons of the campaign include former chief family law judge Baroness Butler-Sloss, family lawyer and academic Baroness Deech and Baroness Shackleton, the divorce lawyer who acted for Prince Charles and Sir Paul McCartney.
The judge warned that courts had 'streamlined' family cases to contend with the growing numbers, making it too easy for couples to split – suggesting they should be required to go through counselling and mediation.