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Family Matters

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Linda Mintle, Ph.D. is a licensed marriage and family therapist, author of 16 books, a national expert on family issues and the psychology of food and weight. She's an assistant professor in the department of pediatrics at Eastern Virginia Medical School, a national speaker, writer, and news contributor.

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How Couples Grow Apart


This week, Al and Tipper Gore announced their marital separation after 40 years of marriage. The couple has known each other since high school and raised four children together.  The reason given for the impending divorce was that they have grown apart—a common cause cited for couples going their separate ways.

Growing apart is a process understood by marital therapists. The road to emotional distance is well documented thanks to the efforts of marital researcher John Gottman. Couples lock into negative cycles of interactions that often lead them apart. They turn away from each other rather than towards each other when stress mounts. Instead of forming a united front against stress and life pressures, the spouse becomes the enemy or is not sought as a source of help.

The progression of growing apart begins with criticism. Criticism leads to feelings of contempt. Those feelings raise defensiveness. Defensiveness is a self-preservation response to relationship problems. It blocks intimacy and is usually motivated by fear and insecurity when you feel attacked. When your spouse is overly critical or on the attack, it is easy to become defensive. But if you stay defensive, the relationship suffers. Defensiveness leads to stonewalling. Stonewalling is just like it sounds-putting up a stone wall and shutting the partner out of your life. The result is emotional distance-the number one predictor of divorce.

Marital therapy helps stop this negative cycle of growing apart and teaches couples to turn towards each other in times of stress. Therapy aims at strengthening the emotional bond and repairing relationship damage quickly.

It is sad when we see couples such as the Gores call it quits after years of marriage, especially when I know so many marriages like theirs could be saved if they were willing to submit to the therapy process. The path to lost love is known and can be turned around. But it takes a commitment by the couple.

Do not allow your marriage to grow apart. If you see the signs of criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling operating, contact a licensed marital therapist and get help.

Do you agree that too many couples divorce over fixable problems?

~ Dr. Linda


Promo: Lost that loving feeling? Get a copy of Dr. Linda’s book, I Married You, Not Your Family and visit her Web site for couple help, www.drlindahelps.com.

Print      Email to a Friend    posted on Thursday, June 03, 2010 4:37 PM

Comments on this post

# RE: How Couples Grow Apart

The question of the author was:
"Do you agree that too many couples divorce over fixable problems?"

I completely agree.

Moreover, I believe that there can only be fixable problems for Christians, because we are a new creation. Jesus even said that His followers must not divorce (unless one of them has become an adulterer, and thus has torn him/herself apart from Christ and from his/her spouse already). He would not have said that if there was not a way for all Christian marriages to recover. I believe, the "best wine" can come at these points (John 2:10).

And for persons who do not know Christ yet, they can still get to know Him personally, and then the same truths can become reality for them, too.
Left by Geza on Jun 08, 2010 7:53 PM