In a recent Op-Ed in the New York Times, titled How Marriage Survives, Justin Wolfers examined current statistics on marriage. He noted that the numbers have not changed significantly with the recent recession, thus concluding, “Truly, the recession has not torn young couples apart; it has pushed them closer together.”
Could have fooled me.
The number of couples who have legally married, or who have chosen to stay married at this time, young or old, is no indicator of the viability nor gratification of those marriages. All of us know people who are married and miserable. Divorce, on the other hand, is very expensive. Who can surmise the number of couples who are choosing to not divorce for the sole reason they cannot afford to do so? The number of people marrying, or choosing to stay married, is no indicator of a quality nuptial situation. And isn’t quality the point of intimate relationships not simply the numbers?
A few months ago, Henry Olson of the Wall Street Journal looked at our current economic malaise through a different lens. He examined the ratio of the civilian employment to population. In these terms, America is suffering the largest employment drop since World War II. A number of recent news articles estimate the true unemployment rate to be between 17 and 22% (when you take into consideration those individuals who have been unemployed for so long they’ve given up looking, or those thousands of part-time workers who desperately need full-time work.)
Most people would agree: this is a hard time, an uncertain time. People everywhere are significantly more stressed. Stress breaks us down physically, emotionally and relationally.
So, what can be done about it?
Dwelling on those aspects of our lives that lie beyond our control will leave us feeling unsettled and insecure. The high unemployment rate, the price of food and daily expenses, the boss or coworker you can’t stand, and finally what other people feel and think or how they act: these are all areas beyond our control. Focusing our attention and our efforts on those areas where one does have influence or control is where we find solace and satisfaction. Pulling together a scrumptious meal for loved ones, planting bulbs that will bloom in the spring, babysitting for a neighbor so she can interview for a job, taking a friend who is struggling out to hear some music: these are examples of places where we can have a positive impact.
If one of your priorities is to strengthen or deepen your primary relationship, consider any of these ideas:
- Working to manage your anxiety or arousal (Flooding).
- Being mindful of the words or tone you use.
- Notice every day what your spouse or child or sibling or coworker is doing right and communicate your appreciation to them. Be specific (“That was great how you rubbed my feet last night as I vented. I woke up feeling so much more relaxed this morning.” Or, “You look gorgeous. I love that sweater on you.”) Every day.
- Take the language of love test together with your mate. http://www.afo.net/hftw-lovetest.asp Discuss it with him or her. Make an effort to express your love to your partner in his/her language. Every day.
- Ask your spouse, How are you these days? Listen intently, and then at some point during the conversation, ask “What do you need from me right now? What can I do to help?”
Make the changes you can make. Pull your attention, your focus, to what’s right in front of you: the person speaking, the article you’re reading, the car you’re driving. Give it your full attention. The quality of our lives is an amalgam of our choices, our actions and our attitudes. Especially towards those closest to us.
 For those of you familiar with any of the 12-Step programs, you will recognize this as the tenet of the Serenity Prayer.