While Americans may love being in love, our divorce rates are pretty high. According to recent Census data, about 40-50% of first marriages hit the skids, with second marriages dissolving at 60-70%. Sadly, Black marriages end even more, with 33% dissolving, compared to 19% for white women and 22% for Hispanic women.
Although many factors go into keeping a marriage intact, from income to education to parenting and sex, experts agree that some commonalities keep couples from turning those ‘I do’ vows into exasperated ‘Nah, I don’t.’ What are some of the biggest ways to keep that flame burning bright?
Here are some tips from two experts who know a thing or two about relationships.
“I would say the number one reason couples divorce is a lack of communication,” says Demetria L. Graves, a divorce attorney who’s been guiding couples through divorce for 19 years in Pasadena, Calif. She says that spouses often gloss over issues or talk to other people about a problem without directly addressing their spouse. “What may have started small becomes this big problem that neither party discusses, and when you have the influence of other parties telling you, ‘Oh, you need to leave,’ and the situation crumbles from there.”
Yeshiva Davis, a marriage and family therapist, agrees communication is an issue, which is why it can be crucial for couples to seek joint counseling to keep their bond tight. “We hear things through a filter? To mitigate that, it helps to get an education around how to communicate in a way that allows you to say what you need but [have it] land well so [the other] person can hear and understand what you’re saying.”
She has three tools she likes: mirror, reflect, and empathize. “So you’d say, ‘What I think I’ve heard you say is you want some cold water,’ (mirroring) then also being able to empathize, which is, ‘I know you’re thirsty, I can see why you’d some cold water.’ And being able to listen to what the person is saying without interruption,” which is part of the reflection piece.
Dollar Dollar Bills, Y’all
Not surprisingly, money is another reason couples crash, Graves says. Davis agrees and says money can cause big conflicts. “Some people think if you get it, you spend it––that’s what it’s for. Others think you save it for a rainy day. It also can create secrecy; the person who spends is hiding stuff in the closet or opening a different credit card so they can [make purchases] without the other person [knowing]. If you’re being dishonest, your partner is eventually going to find out.”
Me and You, Your Cousin and Yo Momma Too
Another thing that can destroy a marriage and brings couples to Graves’ divorce practice is blended families. “It’s really hard,” she says. “Sometimes kids don’t blend well; they don’t like the new parent, or the old parents don’t get along with the new parents,” Davis says she sees this too: different cultures, bedtimes, in-laws, disciplinary tactics, spiteful exes can all be factors in a marriage imploding.
And while Graves says that, more often than not, there’s no turning back once couples seek her out to start a divorce, Davis says that therapy can help salvage things. “If people are committed to staying married and want to repair their relationship, I’ve seen it happen often. [Couples therapy] is not some crusty old white dude asking personal questions. We’re sitting and conversing, and I’m sharing knowledge with you. If you haven’t done it, give it a try.”