That’s Men: How to stay out of the divorce courts
There he is, hurrying along with a bouquet in one hand and one of those fancy carrier bags in the other. He is, we surmise, on his way home to his wife or female partner.
Should he fail to produce these tokens of affection she will, we assume, be miffed. Even in times of greater equality between the sexes, it is the job of the man to be the partner who remembers birthdays, anniversaries and Valentine’s Day.
All this seems to be based on an assumption by both genders that men must make women feel special and cared for. And it seems to be true, indeed, that happy couples are more likely to value tokens of affection than those who are unhappy.
But, according to US marriage researcher Dr Terri Orbuch, it isn’t women but men who are most in need of these tokens – which aren’t just presents, of course, but could be a touch, a kiss, a compliment and so on. She describes this as “affirmation” of one partner by the other. Her research suggests that men who don’t feel
“affirmed” by their wives are twice as likely to divorce as those who do.
The same she found, surprisingly I think, doesn’t hold true for women. Her explanation is that women get affirmations from others in the form of hugs and compliments. So they have other sources of affirmation but men don’t.
All of this is from US, rather than Irish, research but I expect these findings can, nonetheless, be useful in an Irish context.
Much research, including Orbuch’s, has been drawn together by the American Psychological Association Monitor (you can read the article at iti.ms/13FnZta) and some of the findings – such as men’s greater need for affirmation from partners – is fascinating.
Some of these findings suggest that our prolonged economic woes could bring a slew of divorces in their wake. According to Orbuch, money is the main source of stress in marriages. One study showed that couples with no assets were far more likely to divorce than those who had assets.
The harm is done by the stress created by money tensions. When newlyweds were asked to keep a diary of stressful events and of interactions with their partners, it emerged that when they were stressed (often by external events such as traffic jams), partners were more negative in their behaviours towards each other.
People at all income levels experience problems in their relationships, the research suggests. Typically these include a wish for more affection and better communication. But people on lower incomes have the additional stresses and strains that arise from not having enough money.
Stress robs energy
It’s as though we have a certain amount of energy to put into our relationships and stress can rob a lot of that energy, resulting in conflict and dissatisfaction. Also fascinating, I thought, was the issue of metaphorical cold feet, as in, “Am I doing the right thing in marrying this person?”
The marriages of women who had cold feet before the wedding were twice as likely to be over within four years as those of women who didn’t have doubts. Men having cold feet did not seem to affect the course of the marriage even though men are more likely to have cold feet anyway: perhaps pessimism suits us better.
How to avoid the divorce court? Tokens of affection are important. So is the way people fight: those who are harsh fighters are more likely to end up with a divorce than than those who bring some softness and kindness into how they express disagreement.
Surprisingly also, celebrating a partner’s success may be more important than giving support when things go wrong – perhaps because when things go wrong, our partner is feeling rotten anyway but praising success boosts good feelings.
Boredom is also bad for marriages – but rather than bore you with that, I’ll stop.
Padraig O’Morain is accredited by the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. His book, Light Mind – Mindfulness for Daily Living, is published by Veritas. His mindfulness newsletter is free by email. Twitter: @PadraigOMorain