Ruth Nemzoff wrote this article with Ellen Offner, Principal, Offner Consulting, LLC, Healthcare Strategy & Program Development
Some say you can divorce proof your children's marriages. We don't think it is possible.
But whether you are married, divorced, or have never been married, you might be able to make your children divorce-resistant. Too much of life is out of our control: health and economics top the list of why one can't assure a marriage will last. The best you can do is prepare your offspring for a quixotic future. With 102 collective years of marriage under our belts, we give the following advice on how to inoculate--but not prevent--your children against getting divorced.
By modeling relationship-enriching and relationship-preserving behavior in your daily interactions with just about everybody, you are giving your children useful tips to incorporate in their own marriages and other important relationships.
Here are our tips:
1. Well before the dating begins begin, tell your kids to make a good choice. Pick someone who is kind and considerate. They may poo-poo your thoughts, but at least they will hear them. My Indian friends with arranged marriages tell me that sexiness follows kindness. Studies seem to prove this phenomenon. Men who do more housework have more sex, as Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer of Facebook and author of Leaning In, has written. "Research shows that when men do their share of chores, their partners are happier and less depressed, conflicts are fewer, and divorce rates are lower. They live longer, too; studies demonstrate that there's a longevity boost for men (and women) who provide care and emotional support to their partners later in life." If that isn't exciting enough, try this: Couples who share chores equally have more sex. As the researchers Constance T. Gager and Scott T. Yabiku put it, men and women who work hard play hard.
2. Marriage has many stages. It morphs over time from romantic bonding to routine teamwork and finally to a retirement with real and respectful companionship. Talk during daily life about how your respect each other for the gifts each mate brings to the relationship at each stage. If you aren't married, talk about colleagues and friends in this way. That way, when your kids make their choice they just might have the wisdom to consider all these stages. The nice thing is that all stages can blend in the last stage. That is, if you are lucky and if you work to appreciate other people. Make your choice keeping in mind the person you choose will need to fill many roles, not just the bedroll.
3. Argue in front of your kids. Marriage isn't perfectly smooth every day, but rapport, shared values, and mutual understanding can make it last through life's inevitable challenges. Let your children see/hear how you and your mate and or friends resolve your differences based on your shared values and mutual respect. But don't try to deny the inevitable rough spots!
4. Teach them from the get-go that relationships are complicated. They are a combination of choice and obligation and inconsistency seesawing between your own personal needs and the needs of others. Practice flexibility in your life.
5. When your kids do begin to have rough patches, suggest they think about what attracted them to their partners in the first place: dancing, going to jazz clubs, finding gourmet vegan restaurants, travel, hiking, volley ball. Then suggest they engage in those activities (and add new ones) to rekindle their passion. If you are able, offer them some babysitting so they can have romantic time together without screaming kids and dirty diapers. Babysitting "chits" are an inexpensive but invaluable gift.
6. Tell them to get into their partner's head and respond to their needs, fantasies, and desires but at the same time make sure their own needs are met. There is a reason most martyrs didn't marry. Too much self-sacrifice deadens a union. Don't be a martyr yourself.
7. Hone their skills at communicating their needs, via body language, subtle cues, and facial expressions, as well as words. This is a great skill in life, in work, as well as in marriage. But to do this you must spend a lifetime being attuned to your children. If you model good listening and sensitive responding, they will unconsciously emulate this behavior over time.
8. Tell your children real-life stories about things that are meaningful to you. If you model how this can create intimacy, your are giving them a skill to use in their own marriages. As Elizabeth Bernstein writes in the Wall Street Journal, "In William Shakespeare's time, the word 'conversation' meant two things--verbal discourse, and sex.That's how intimate the most well-known poet and playwright in the English language viewed the act of talking with another person."
9. "Think of the people you have been in love with in your life [and of course your friends]. I bet that at least once early in your relationship you stayed up all night talking, telling stories that were revealing and illuminating. That deep communication is sexy." Encourage your children to tell their partners real-life stories at a time and place where they aren't rushed and there are no distractions.
10. It is OK to let the kids know as they are growing up that you are doing some things out of a sense of duty and responsibility, not just for fun.
11. Remember you owe something to all those family members on both sides of the marriage who have invested in you. Every house needs a firm foundation and those in the couple's support system provide that foundation when the frame is shaky.
Hollywood fantasies are just that. Enjoy what life gives you rather than always regretting that life is not perfect. In short, deal with what you've got, not with some some dream of what you want it to be. fantasy. Your kids may not listen to you, but they will incorporate the ways you approach life. So model behavior that squarely faces the downs as well as the ups, an approach with the potential to bring long-term happiness. Of course your behavior won't be perfect, and neither will your kids'. That is part of the message they will get by observing you and your partner working your way through the inevitably rocky times in your marriage.