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Why do so many Marriages end in Divorce?

by Craig Gaunson BSocSci(Psych)

Why do they?

This is a question that many authors have tried to answer, yet the answer, I believe, like most truths, is really simple. After reading countless well researched books on the subject, and 20 years experience as a Relationship Counsellor, counselling hundreds of people, there are only two phenomenons that almost all couples having problems experience. They are simply communication and conflict resolution. 

People often try to explain why their marriages have been unsuccessful in a manner which has really caused confusion amongst even some of the clearest thinking, an intelligent researchers and authors. You hear these explanations everywhere: financial difficulty, different beliefs, morals, values, culture, different interests, argued over everything, different expectations – the list is endless. These sound very plausible until you read the enormous body of evidence revealing the fact that people who have successful, happy and loving marriages, also have similar problems. The difference is how these challenges or issues are handled, or resolved by the couple. Thus, communication and conflict resolution are the integral facets in making or breaking of marriages.

Communication and Conflict Resolution

Communicating effectively and resolving conflict requires a great deal of learning, whether self taught or learnt from books or courses. It is not easy for any couple to always communicate or resolve conflict, however, many useful frameworks and strategies can be learnt and employed to facilitate good communication and conflict resolution.  I would need an entire book to discuss these frameworks and strategies, so instead I will just discuss two main frameworks.


Marriage as a Unit

A useful framework for couples to learn and at times to remember is that couples are a unit, not two individuals acting independently. It is something that all of us forget from time to time. Therefore, working cooperatively and as a team is paramount for a successful marriage. Debating strongly your point of view, or winning arguments or debates at the expense of your partner’s thoughts and feelings, simply doesn’t make sense in terms of teamwork, or being a unit. It simply creates feelings of competition, adversary, and disconnection between the couple. Over a period of time this causes the relationship to weaken. Conversely, trying to find a consensus - joint agreement, or if necessary compromise – working out what each party are willing to sacrifice, demonstrates teamwork and the feeling of being a unit, togetherness, and care for each other’s feelings.

Feeling Based Communication v Content Based Communication.

This is a framework probably best explained in the book “Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus” by John Gray. However, to explain this very important framework briefly, most communication between couples is feelings based rather than content based. That is, both Women and Men are generally trying to tell their partner what they think and how they feel – feeling based communication-, rather than expressing factual information such as events that have taken place, why they took place, and the times and places they have occurred – content based communication. Therefore, it is important to centre most conversations on how your partner feels, and what they believe rather than what has happened, why it happened, and when it has happened.

When couples end up having content-based conversations, that originally were expressions of either of their thoughts and feelings, it makes them feel interrogated and criticised by their partner.

How can Marriages be strengthened?

Couples working on their communication and conflict resolution, rather than wasting time and energy, worrying about, or trying to eliminate, differences between themselves, can strengthen their marriages. Some of the best marriages are enjoyed by couples that have virtually nothing in common. Learning strategies and frameworks, such as “marriage as a unit”, and “feelings based communication,” as discussed, will ensure better communication and conflict resolution, and a stronger, happier, and more loving marriage.

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