Some of us are fortunate enough to grow up in households with stable marriages. We witness firsthand how couples interact on a daily basis, solve problems and handle crises.
Others hail from less functioning homes. Their parents may have argued bitterly or had a succession of different partners. Perhaps they were physically abusive or struggled with alcoholism.
The offspring of such unions often rise above their folks’ dysfunction and grow into capable adults. Still, their marriages are likely to suffer.
According to researcher Paul Amato, new marriages less than four years old have an 87 percent increased divorce rate if the wives had a history of parental divorce. That rate soars to 620 percent if both partners hailed from divorced families.
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In addition, Dr. Amato found that personal problems, such as getting overly angry or having difficulty managing money, were twice as likely in marriages where both partners’ parents had divorced than if neither had.
Complex series of factors
The reason for this disparity is complex. Genetics most certainly play a role. People who are born with characteristics that render them difficult to be with are more likely to experience marital challenges than those who are inherently more placid or congenial.
But environment is equally at fault. We’re not born knowing how to de-escalate arguments or negotiate with a loved one. We learn by watching others.
When boys and girls are surrounded by chaos, anger and hostility, they absorb those habits as their own.
Fortunately, we have a choice in the matter. We can analyze our family of origin and make changes as we see fit. If our father spoke rudely to our mother, we can vow to be more respectful to our mates. If Mom was a chronic cheat, we can make fidelity a No. 1 goal.
Looking beyond family
Sometimes we have to look outside our families to learn how marriages succeed. We identify marital mentors, then watch to see how they get along.
These high-functioning duos may model such important behaviors as eating family meals or going on vacation. They may show us how to accept disap pointment or manage a mate’s personal quirks.
We may even have a consortium of mentors from whom we pick and choose. One couple might be picture-perfect parents. Another runs a family business. A third household loves to play games.
The key is to find the right teachers and be the best students we can be.
LOOKING FOR MARITAL MENTORS? WATCH FOR THESE TRAITS
Longevity. One measure of a couple’s success is the number of years they’ve been together. Seek out couples who have heaped on the anniversaries. They’ll have the most wisdom to share.
Stability. Stable couples avoid unnecessary drama. Their lives follow a routine. Choose pairs who are rock solid. You’ll have lots to learn.
Fun. Watch for couples who laugh often, share hobbies and generally have fun. They find pleasure in being together and are good role models to follow.
Conflict resolution. Every couple has issues. How they handle them is indicative of their marital success. Even if you don’t hear them argue, you can tell how they handle minor, public disagreements.
Support. Marital mentors should be mutual cheerleaders. They offer each other encouraging words and do their best to further their partners’ goals.
Speak fondly of each other. Notice how they talk about each other when they’re apart. Successful couples are adoring no matter where they are.
Mutual respect. There’s no time to be disrespectful in a good relationship. Look for mentors who address each other with the utmost courtesy at all times.
Financial management. Watch how couples handle money. Do they work together as a team to manage their assets? Or is it the source of never-ending conflict? Emulate duos who are able to navigate their bank accounts, regardless of the bottom line.
Linda Lewis Griffith is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her, visit http://lindalewisgriffith.com .