By Je’Don Holloway Talley
For the Birmingham Times
Everyone is aware that marriages likely come with good times and bad, sickness and health, and other challenges.
Infidelity, financial secrets, different parenting styles, child loss, intimacy issues, and relationships with in-laws or extended family members are just a few that can negatively affect a marriage, according to professionals.
As Valentine’s Day approaches, the Birmingham Times recently interviewed several counselors and therapists to get their advice about what makes a sustainable marriage and what steps to take to avoid issues that could derail a relationship.
Infidelity is certainly among those issues that can wreck a marriage. Can a couple rebound from it?
Katasha Bozeman, a therapist at Shaping Lives Counseling Services in Homewood said, “Yes,” but it takes true forgiveness, faith, and a focus on the future and not the past.
“It does not mean the couple is stronger or weaker than one that has not experienced [infidelity], but it does display that the two believe the marriage is worth more than what caused it to fall apart,” she said.
Deanna Hatcher, a Birmingham-based licensed professional counselor, said a couple can survive, but it is difficult due to having to earn trust.
“Earning trust can take time—and a lot of it,” she said. “It also takes a lot of work, and both partners must be willing to put in the time, work, and patience.
Deborah Harris, a licensed marriage and family therapist who works in private practice at Brookwood Medical Center said “disconnection” can lead to infidelity.
“When one or both individuals feel totally disconnected from the other … and when attempts to reconnect are unsuccessful, they might go outside of the marriage to find what they are missing from their spouse or significant other.”
Money is another primary factor for divorce. Financial issues can manifest in many forms, including mismanagement of money, nonpayment of bills, unequal control of how funds are spent, and, in recent years, women earning more than men, Bozeman said.
“I have seen all of [those] issues … in my practice,” she said. “I suggest that couples identify each other’s strengths in the area of finances early in the marriage and use those strengths to help build the marriage.”
Harris said a couple’s conscious or unconscious assumptions about money could lead to feelings of betrayal.
“Couples need to be able to openly communicate and negotiate their different attitudes and styles regarding money management, and they must work together to merge their attitudes and habits,” she said. “This way, the couple can create a joyful and prosperous life together.”
Jacques L. Austin, who in private practice with JL Austin Counseling and Consulting in Homewood, said money is not the issue: “It is how the couple views and chooses to handle their money issues that leads to the divorce.”
Change is inevitable, and it is not always a bad thing, Bozeman said. Couples can outgrow each other, but it doesn’t mean the end of marriage. Self-evaluation, compromise, and a willingness to work at mutual growth are important.
“The majority of us are not who we were 20 years ago, so our marriages and relationships will change, as well,” Bozeman said. “As we change, our needs will also change, and it is important that couples make a habit of communicating those changes so behaviors can be adapted accordingly to continue marital satisfaction.
“What your spouse needed in the first year of marriage may be a little different from what they need in year five, year 10, and so on.”
What happens in relationships and marriages when one partner outgrows the other is similar to being unequally yoked, said Hatcher.
“It is possible for the couple to work on the problems of their relationship and get back on track. … [But] it can mean disaster if neither partner is willing to change who they are,” she said.
The Importance of Counseling
Austin said premarital counseling can help save a marriage before inevitable growing pains arise.
“It allows the couple to consider circumstances that they may not have previously,” he said. “It is always best to have a conversation with someone whose wisdom exceeds their own.”
Counseling also can help a couple work through “constant arguing and the inability to let go of negative emotions,” he said.
Harris said it takes strong commitment to vow “until death do us part” to maintain a high level of marital satisfaction.
“Good marriage relationships and spouses are not found, they are made,” she said.