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Key Causes of Stress in Marriage…and Some Ways to Reduce Them

by Bradley A. Coates, Esq.

The Nature of Marital Conflict. There are, of course, many causes of marital conflicts. Perhaps the most central is the waning of the romantic illusions that once enabled the participants to ignore faults they now find intolerable. Sometimes we marry our own romanticized creations but are disappointed when dealing with a real person with real shortcomings.​

Unrealistic expectations of our partners have their roots in a primary staple of the psychoanalytic trade called “transference.” We choose mates that remind us of our parents and transfer to our mates the feelings we felt toward our parents. Whether we want to or not, most of us end up with marital relationships that mirror our parents’ marriages.​

Really Know the Person You Marry. Far too many folks enter a marriage based on an initial infatuation. Although I hate to downplay the importance of “raw romance”, it’s probably wiser to pair up in a pragmatic relationship that makes good logical and common sense (i.e., comparable family and social backgrounds, educations and values). Why do you think the Asian cultures emphasized arranged marriages rather than leaving it up to the guess work of the couples themselves?

​Birth Order as a Behavior Determinant. Another factor which has a major impact on how we behave in intimate relationships is our respective places in the birth order. Although this subject is obviously prone to over-generalization, researchers indicate the following: Eldest children tend to be conservative, critical, judgmental, competitive, aggressive, responsible, organized, dominant, and controlling. Middle children, on the other hand, tend to be loyal, retiring, compromising, indecisive, peacemaking, easy to get along with, and good negotiators. Youngest children tend to be fun loving, adventurous, reckless, impulsive, self-centered, loving, rebellious, and dependent on authority.

​Only children tend to behave like what they are a combination of eldest and youngest. Eldest children can be pushy. They are used to taking charge and being in control and telling younger siblings (and later their spouses) what to do and how to do it.

​Relationships generally go better when onlies or eldests are coupled with middles or youngest children. The mellower middles let the eldest (or only) take over and run things in the interests of peace and harmony. Youngest children push their mates to take responsibility because they’d rather not do it themselves. Meanwhile, two middles can string out the “stuck in neutral” stage forever.

​As mentioned previously, the Lastborn/Firstborn combination is one of the least stressful combinations in a marriage. The Only/Only combination is also a fairly low-stress combination. The rule of thumb is that same‑birth-order marriages are more stressful than mixed-birth-order marriages.

​How different are you from your mate? Major differences between spouses can turn marital bliss into marital blisters. Women are generally more emotional and empathetic than men. Each has different styles of communication: men tend to focus on facts, whereas women tend to focus on feelings. Marriages where there is power sharing, where both partners are relatively independent, and where both partners have nonviolent conflict resolution skills are the least stressful and most satisfying.

​Three P Soup … A Recipe for Disaster. Start off with a base of the Personal, “You’re such a nag, there’s no pleasing you.” Follow with a dollop of the Pervasive, “You nag about everything.” Add a pinch of the Permanent, “And you’ve always been that way.” Then bring to a roiling boil with “I gave up on you a long time ago.”

​Don’t be “Unnecessarily Rough”. Once uttered, you can never really take those harsh words back, so be careful what you say. Above all, avoid name calling, and avoid Three P Soup like the plague. It takes about five positive interchanges to make up for one negative interchange, so be careful about those negatives or you’re going to have to work awfully hard to make up for them.

​Make “I” Statements, Not “You” Statements. Speak from your own perspective, use “I feel sad when…” style statements about how a stress situation affects you. Steer away from negative or inflammatory statements about the other person. “You” statements like “You should…” or “You always make me feel…” are likely to make the other person defensive or irritated and cut off further meaningful communication.

​Staying the Course: Keeping Your Marriage Intact. Always think in terms of resolving conflicts, not winning fights. Marital fights have no winners, only losers. Resolve conflicts rapidly when they happen. If you don’t, unresolved conflicts from one stage of marital development will fester and impede growth in future stages. Remember, the longer a conflict goes unresolved, the more corrosive it becomes.

​Bradley A. Coates, J.D., has over two decades of experience as a practicing divorce attorney in Honolulu. He is the founder and managing partner of Coates Frey Tanimoto & Gibson, Hawaii’s largest family law firm. Mr. Coates has been selected as “Best Divorce Lawyer” by both The Honolulu Weekly and Honolulu Magazine. He writes a monthly column on legal topics of general interest and has recently published an authoritative new book on the divorce process entitled Divorce with Decency. Much of the information contained in this month’s column was excerpted from an excellent book entitled “Stress and Marriage” by Drs. Lyle Miller and Alma Smith.

​This article contains only “general” information and readers should not take any actions based on the “summarized” information contained herein. Instead, appropriate experts should be consulted for each individual’s case and/or fact situation. ©C&F 1998

Getting Past the Anger: How Couples Can Benefit from an Uncontested Divorce

by Bradley A. Coates, Esq.

​One the main causes of contested divorces is the lingering anger of the parties toward one another. Often, the parties use the divorce as a means of seeking revenge against the other spouse. What the vengeful spouse fails to realize is the huge emo­tional and financial costs of a contested divorce. Once the parties get past the initial anger, their heads usually clear, making it possible to reach a reason­able settlement.

​Better still, if the parties can be proactive in learning to transcend their anger by the time their divorce com­mences, then an uncontested divorce becomes possible. Our office generally encourages clients to reach amicable and economical settlements with their spouses. Here’s what I wrote about uncontested divorces in my book, Di­vorce with Decency.

​”If you are able to achieve an un­contested divorce, you reap the follow­ing benefits: (1) you save lots of money; (2) you avoid lots of stress; (3) you get your divorce completed within two to three months; and (4) you salvage some sort of decent relationship with your former spouse. This last issue is espe­cially important where the kids are concerned. In general, reaching an uncontested divorce settlement vastly minimizes the emotional and financial costs of the entire situation. This is cer­tainly the goal to shoot for.”

​A couple invariably feels more sat­isfaction when they are able to reach their own sensible agreement with a spouse. Art uncontested divorce is also a more positive approach for children as they see their parents working to­gether looking out for their best inter­ests. Specifically, it can allow the parties to set up a custody/visitation schedule that satisfies everyone.

​As money becomes tighter in Hawaii’s economy, the financial benefits of an uncontested divorce become very important. The divorcing couple can avoid facing costly attorney’s fees for both sides since they already have a basic agreement, and only one attorney may be needed to prepare the docu­ments for Court. This couple also avoids having to divert time and en­ergy from work (and other more posi­tive and progressive ‘life and lifestyle objectives) in order to attend lengthy and often stressful pre-trial discovery and court proceedings.

​If you can keep anger and resent­ment from controlling your divorce, then you can work collaboratively with your spouse to arrive at a fair and un­contested divorce settlement agree­ment. If you succeed, then both you and your family will feel far more sat­isfaction in the end.