According to the American Psychological Association, between 40 to 50 percent of married couples in the United States divorce. That’s not news to anyone these days—the divorce rate in Western cultures has been notoriously high for decades.
What does that mean to you?
For one thing, during the course of your relationship and lives, you’re going to witness your fair share of friends, family members, colleagues, neighbors and others going through divorce. The news comes in various ways: sometimes it’s the friend who’s been complaining about his or her marriage for years, so you’re hardly surprised when they finally call it quits. Sometimes, it seems like the most compatible couple in your block who suddenly announces they’re getting a divorce, making you wonder if any marriage really stands a chance or if happy couples are simply a figment of your imagination.
But again, what does all this mean to you?
Here are a few thoughts to consider:
1. Trying to understand where other people’s relationships went wrong is often a fool’s errand. If you are closer to one partner than the other, you’ve only heard one side of the story. This doesn’t make you an expert in their marriage or its demise. And while empathy is a great quality, beware identifying too closely to your friend’s marital complaints and making comparisons where they don’t belong. There’s another side of the story that you’re not hearing. Your role when a friend whose relationship is in distress is to be a good listener and offer support wherever you can, but avoid the danger of internalizing their angst and anger to fuel any grains of concern about your own relationship. You’ll never know what really went wrong with another person’s marriage, and it’s not your place to draw conclusions—about theirs and certainly not yours. Just because you see similarities doesn’t mean you’re in the same situation.
2. If you find that another couple’s split is creating a lot of anxiety for you, talk about it with your partner—but preferably not in the context of the other couple’s problems. Again, it’s important to separate your relationship from other people’s relationship. Still, try and slow down your thoughts and put things in perspective if you find yourself thinking, “Rob was having an affair, and this is how Debra found out. My husband sometimes stays at work longer than it seems he should; is he having an affair?”
Concerns and accusations about serious problems like infidelity should not be taken lightly, nor should they be made on the basis of someone else’s example—which, again, is more than likely to be one-sided. In other words, be empathetic to a friend going through a painful split, but don’t try and turn his or her problems into life lessons for you. If it triggers questions about your own relationship, take your own questions seriously but try to think of them in the context of your own relationship rather than someone else’s experience.
3. Beware friends who want to spread the outrage. It’s perfectly understandable and even healthy for them to want to vent. Still, there are two areas here of which to be wary. One is that it’s not over until it’s over. He or she might be emphatic that they’ll never take their partner back, all the while encouraging you to engage in bashing the other party. A word to the wise, however: no matter how sure your friend seems that it’s over, there’s always a chance at reconciliation, and you don’t want to have painted yourself into the corner of condemning their partner and then having to face him or her at a dinner party two months later.
Alternately, even if the split remains permanent, remember that misery loves company—so your friend might jump at any sign of trouble in your relationship and even try to plant suggestions that your marriage is similarly damaged. Be careful not to take the bait. Your friend, understandably, might be feeling pretty hostile right now about relationships in general, but this has everything to do with him or her and nothing to do with you.
4. The most important thing you can do for your own relationship, at all stages, is to remember that marriage is hard and takes work. You don’t know why your neighbors’ relationship failed—that’s not your job. All you can do is try your best at making your own work, and when it’s not, try to it talk through it together or with a professional. As a wise person once said, “Don’t borrow trouble.” It’s easy enough to find as it is!
If you and your partner are struggling with relationship problems—and are concerned about what others’ relationship problems mean to you—please give us at a call at 949-220-3211 or schedule an appointment via our online calendar. We at the Orange County Relationship Center are here to help you.