December 3, 2004 CFS 325 Transitions through the Family Life Cycle Strengthening Your Marriage & Family Relationships, & The Future Of Your Family Strengthening your marriage and family is a life-long process. It may start at age 20 when you begin looking for a mate and then finish at age 75 when your life ends – that is a 55-year process. Talk about a long time! A couple could spend a large amount of time strengthening their relationship at the beginning, but even that does not guarantee a successful marriage or happy family later in life.
Although it is never too late to start rebuilding a marriage, and therefore benefiting your family, there will be issues from earlier in the marriage that will still have to be dealt with. The two institutions of marriages and families are a lot of work. They can turn your day into something you had not planned. They can leave no time for you and your personal needs. And despite the happy moments, they can ruin your day.
When your child has just remembered they need a school supply for the next day and the dog has had an accident on the floor right after an argument with your spouse, will you prioritize this as something more valuable than daily problems? When you have so many things to do and the projects or problems keep piling up, it is not easy to set the less important things aside and spend a minute or two caring for someone you love, but it is the only way to strengthen your marriage and family. Time: we all wish we had just one more hour in the day or just one more half hour.
It is greatly valued, but is it valued in the right areas? Prioritizing your time in favor of your marriage and family can be a big challenge but is part of the process. In the following paragraphs, topics will be discussed that deserve the most time in your family’s process to strengthen it no matter what curve balls are thrown your way. These issues will take time and patience as they are not easy, but they should be top priorities. If possible, the best way to start a strong family is in the beginning with a strong marriage. The husband and wife are a role model for how the children will communicate and problem-solve.
The PAIR Project has proven that actions in a couple’s courtship are indicative of the future marriage (Huston & Melz, 2004, pp. 949-950). It is extremely important that an engaged couple look as objectively as possible at their courtship in order to prepare for the process ahead of them. Gaining more popularity, an approach to this is pre-marital counseling which can provide lasting benefits. A good marriage is necessary for a good family, and a couple about to be married should pay attention to the warning signs that may be present, as they most likely point in the direction the marriage is heading.
Since the PAIR Project’s longitudinal study occurred over fourteen years, the results are very trustworthy. It was a case study on those who failed to see, or ignored, warning signs before marriage. Couples’ courtships were classified as one of three categories: rocky-turbulent, sweet-undramatic, or passionate. Rocky-turbulent courtships would be classified because of feelings of jealousy, independence, a fear of the uncertain future, and selfish love. Sweet-undramatic courtships have attitudes of service, sensitivity, and understanding.
Passionate courtships are considered rash, sexually-based, and living in the moment. Both the rocky-turbulent and passionate courtships often became unhappy marriages while the sweet-undramatic courtships became relatively healthy marriages (Huston & Melz, 2004, pp. 943-958). According to the PAIR Project, a relationship’s mood is determined in the beginning of the marriage. Characteristics of placidity and caring can form a foundation of a happy marriage. Although a couple may be very affectionate and have high levels of sexual activity, they do not necessarily have low levels of conflict.
This study found that often the “mood” did not change drastically over the 14-year study. Therefore, it is important to know that despite growth in the areas of communication or finances, the mood in the beginning stages has a high probability of reoccurring throughout marriage. If there are already “negative moods,” it is wise to start marital counseling although other areas seem to be progressing nicely. The emotional climate of a marriage can affect that of the family. Often, love and affection are seen as the requirement for a successful marriage, but the PAIR project suggests that he lack of strife is equally important. Huston & Melz suggest that we look at love and affection not by itself in varying degrees but interweaving the varying degrees with different degrees of strife. (Huston & Melz, 2004, pp. 943-958) Communication is one of the top two most common problems spanning the marriage life process. There are many programs teaching communication skills, and one study took spouses with strong marriages who had been taught communication skills. These spouses only used their newly learned skills 4% of the time.
Although they knew the skills, it was very difficult to put them into use in the heat of the moment when they could not think reasonably. (Worthington, 2003, pp. 231-239) When someone is mad or upset, those are the only feelings that they can think about. A physical process occurs in the body when emotional distress is present causing the prefrontal-cortex reasoning to shut down. The changes in the body leave little room for reasoning. Spouses may know how to take part in reflective listening or not to bring up past wrongs, but these skills are hard to maintain during an argument or disagreement.
In response to those issues, it is important to know about soothing techniques so that the learned communication skills can be put into practice. A technique suggested by Worthington is deep breathing. (Worthington, 2003, pp. 231-239) What relationship gets anywhere without forgiveness? It is another suggested approach by Worthington. Every one of us fails at being unselfish and uncaring whether it is a parent, best friend, or spouse. This inherent fallibility guarantees us that at some point in any relationship there will be feelings of hurt.
Therefore, in order to have a growing relationship, spouses must take time to forgive another along each step of the process. Although difficult, the benefits heal and help areas such as anxiety, fear, vulnerability, and lack of reasoning during an argument. (Worthington, 2003, pp. 231-239) Again in Worthington’s article, a “Hope-Focused Marriage: Recommendations for Researches, Clinicians, and Church Workers,” he suggests that spouses rebuild hope in a hurt marriage and that there are three ways to do this. Spouses that value the relationship more than they value themselves have the willpower to change.
They keep at the change because they know it can be done, and they want it to be done. Spouses must want the relationship to work. Next, having the willpower to change refers to the spouses knowing which ways, besides the typical counseling which may be embarrassing and financially burdening to attend, allow the spouses to help themselves. This might look like spending a week away from each other to cool down, spending time on personal growth, or spending one-half hour each day talking until an agreement has been made. Spouses need to understand that although repair is good, prevention is even better.
Lastly, have the waitpower to change. Spouses need to push through a problem, albeit hard, and wait because they know there will be greater outcomes at the end. (Worthington, 2003, pp. 231-239) Also, it is important to recognize common early-marriage areas of conflict. Both a longitudinal study of ten problem areas and a recent study utilizing a clinical population determined that financial and communication problems were found the most. When therapists were asked their opinion, communication again was the most common answer.
But when moving towards the mid-life marriage, the most common problems increased to also include children, recreation, and sex (Henry & Miller, 2004, pp. 406-407). Although the children, and hence the family, may start in the early marriage stage, parents are increasingly having children at a later age. This, of course, means that as the children are coming later on in marriage, the problems dealing with children are coming later on in marriage as well. Once the children start arriving, there are many different aspects that will provide a stable foundation for a future family.
Today, at least one if not both parents have a full-time career, allowing them only limited time with their children. The time that they do have is spent trying to be a friend rather than a parent. Also, they are too exhausted to hold their ground and be a disciplinarian. But, in the late 1990’s, there was movement towards more discipline and less permissiveness (Gardner, 1998, p. 12). This is when parents need to realize that being a parent requires time and patience. It is not easy to come home after a long day’s work and then put energy that they thought they did not have into their children.
There are possibilities for a parent who feels too busy: a job with less hours even though it might have a small pay deduction, little to none extra commitments to fulfill on top of work and home, and partnership with the other spouse in sharing the disciplining in a realistic manner. Marilyn Gardner who wrote the article “Advice on Parenting Switches from Laxity to Tighter Discipline” also suggests that guidance, structure, limitations, time, volunteer work, and a spiritual or religious experience will enhance family strength.
In response to the issue that parents need more time, the article “Hopping aboard the Daddy Track” addresses companies that are allowing fathers more flexible work schedules in order to have more family time. Fathers are more often taking advantage of flexible work programs and new parents’ classes. Also, there seems to be a trend with the Boomer fathers (ages 38-57 in 2002) and the Gen X fathers (ages 23-37 in 2002). Gen X fathers are much more family focused and willing to put their family above their career. (Brady, 2004, pp. 00-101) Besides having had negative experiences with one-parent households (Brady, 2004, pp. 100-101), Gen X fathers are more likely to take this more-involved attitude possibly because their wives have more power. In the past, wives could not nag their husbands about how they spent all the time with the children and needed more help. Now, the husbands have to listen because if they do not, their marriages will not be happy, and therefore, she might consider leaving. The fathers must deal with this pressure and seem to be better for it. In 1977, mothers spent 3. hours each workday with the children and fathers spent 1. 8 hours (Brady, 2004, pp. 100-101). Today, in 2002, mothers spend 3. 4 hours with children, Boomer fathers spend 2. 2 hours, and Gen X fathers spend 3. 4 hours each day (Brady, 2004, pp. 100-101). Also, 52% of college-educated men want a job with more responsibility versus 68% in 1992 (Brady, 2004, pp. 100-101). While women still have more responsibility in child-rearing, the changes are encouraging and are beginning to balance more towards equality, which is cornerstone to the foundation of the marriage.
Many children today deal with marital conflict and/or dissolution. These can have varied effects on children, depending on age and sex at the problematic time. Unexpected behaviors in children can result from either the conflict before and after the divorce or from the divorce itself. Divorce almost always contains an “emotional divorce” on the parents’ part before and after the legal divorce. Whether a legal divorce or an emotional divorce, conflicted homes cause problems for a child both socially and academically. (Dykeman, 2003, pp. 1-42) While on the opposite hand, simply owning a home versus renting will aid the child socially and academically. A study of 1,000 households over four years proved this. The child knows they have a stable home to come home to everyday, and therefore, a possibly more stable family life. (Van Slambrouch, 1999, p. 1) Family meals have also been shown to benefit individuals within a family. In one study of high school students receiving a national scholarship, the unifying factor was that the families ate dinners together.
Also, teenagers who eat dinners with their families are less likely to get involved with drugs, drinking, or smoking. The dinner table is an excellent playing field for testing out one’s social ability to clearly express their ideas while competing for the attention of others to listen. On a personal note, my family, who are wonderful in many other ways, did not eat our dinners together except for occasional special nights. So, I have always had trouble speaking up, or stating my opinions amongst others, in front of groups.
When I have a written speech in front of me, I can speak in front of a crowd of hundreds, but when in a discussion of as little as ten or more, I am extremely nervous. As children move out of the home to create their new life, there are many new challenges to be dealt with – one being equality as the spouses move into retirement. In earlier marriages, equality seems to be hopeful. In 1977, married men spent 1. 2 hours on household chores each workday while married women spent 3. 3 hours. Today, in 2002, married men spend 1. 9 hours a day, and women spend 2. 7 hours a day. Brady, 2004, pp. 100-101) But in older couples, there are many different aspects that come into play such as marital satisfaction, the equity theory, equitable marital relations or egalitarian gender role ideology, and equality in social relations and perceived equity. The egalitarian gender role ideology tends to provide the most marital satisfaction. As one can see, a marriage and family is a long process with many different aspects to be worked on, and each of the issues will be another process within themselves taking up their own amount of time – a process of processes.