The number one predictor of divorce is the habitual avoidance of conflict.

What's sad is the reason couples avoid conflict is because they believe it (conflict) causes divorce.
It's like the cartoon where the couple explains to the marriage counselor,
"We never talk anymore. We figured out that's when we do all our fighting."

In the beginning, we avoid conflict because we are in love and we believe that
"staying in love" is about agreeing, about NOT fighting.

We're afraid that if we disagree – or fight – we'll run our marriage off into the ditch.
We believe that if we've found our soulmate, we'll agree about most things - and
certainly about the important things. 

Later, we avoid conflict because when we finally do try to deal with our differences (talk about them)
things get so out of hand and our fights so destructive and upsetting,
that we simply shut down. After a few bad blow-ups we
become determined to avoid conflict at any cost. And, we start wondering
if we married the wrong person. We think to ourselves:it shouldn't be this hard. 

Successful couples are those who know how to discuss their differences
in ways that actually strengthen their relationship and improve intimacy.
Successful couples know how to contain their disagreements – how to keep their disagreements from
spilling over and contaminating the rest of their relationship.

While it's true that we don't get married to handle conflict, if a couple doesn't
know how – or learn how – to fight or manage their disagreements successfully, they won't be able to
do all the other things they got married to do.

Put another way, it's hard to take her out to the ball game if you're not speaking.
Couples are often so determined to avoid disagreements that they shut down – quit talking, quit loving.

Couples need to know what the research has found: that every happy, successful couple has
approximately ten areas of "incompatibility" or disagreement that they will never resolve.
Successful couples learn how to manage their areas of disagreement and live life "around" them
– to love in spite of their differences and to develop understanding and empathy for
their partner's positions.

The divorce courts have it all wrong. "Irreconcilable differences" – like a bad knee or a chronic back – are
not a reason to divorce. Irreconcilable differences are part of every good marriage. Successful couples
learn to dance in spite of their differences. They gain comfort in knowing they know their partner,
know which issues they disagree on and must learn to manage.

They also understand that if they switch partners they'll just get ten new areas of disagreement, and sadly,
the most destructive will be about the children from their earlier relationships.

In addition to skills for handling disagreements, we also have to learn to welcome and embrace change.
When we marry we promise to stay together till death us do part – but, we don't promise to stay the same.
That would be deadly dull. We need skills and confidence to welcome, integrate, and negotiate change along the way.

The good news is that the skills or behaviors for handling disagreement and conflict,
for integrating change, and for expressing love, intimacy, sex, support,
and appreciation can all be learned. Couples can unlearn the behaviors that predict divorce –
that destroy love – and replace them with behaviors that keep love alive. (Yes, in addition to learning how to 
manage disagreements and integrate change, it's also crucial to learn how to express love and appreciation.)

There are many different courses for learning the skills – many courses from which to choose.
The courses are not about what kind or type of marriage to build
– they give couples the tools to build and maintain the marriage that fits their own dreams and that fit their own

• There are courses for different stages of relationship and marriage.
Couples can learn the skills at any stage – engaged, cohabiting,
as newlyweds, as new parents, or after many years of marriage.

• The courses are also effective for couples facing serious distress
or contemplating divorce. It turns out that when you learn to interact
in new ways, the feelings of love CAN be revived - can come flowing back.
You can learn to fall in love all over again.

• There are courses designed to teach high school and middle school students the skills
for building good relationships and lasting marriages - to teach them what to look for, and what to avoid, in a mate.

• There are courses to help dating couples assess the strengths and weaknesses
of their relationship and to learn how to improve the areas in which they have poor skills.

• There are courses designed specifically for the unique challenges of stepfamilies.

• And there are courses for couples facing the adventures of parenting - from first baby,
to adolescents, to empty nests - or for dealing with sexual dysfunction,
substance abuse, domestic violence, adultery, unemployment, dual careers, and illness.

• There are courses adapted for different denominations taught in
churches, synagogues and mosques.

•There are secular courses that are connected to no church or denomination
which are taught in community centers, on military bases, in childbirth classes,
in private practices, prisons, or at the county court house.

•The courses work equally well for any long-term committed relationship.
Courses help cohabiting couples - often can give them the confidence to marry.
There are also courses for same-sex marriages or committed life-partners, for gay and lesbian couples.

The courses are taught in classroom settings – think teacher, flip chart, "driver's ed for relationships."
This is not about therapy, or encounter groups.
Exposing private relationship issues and talking about your problems and feelings
in front of others is not part of the process.

Courses are short, inexpensive, user-friendly and empowering.

Couples enjoy themselves as they gain mastery and become "relationship smart."

Smart Marriage couples also model the skills for their children
which will slow the divorce rate in future generations.
"Don't tell us how to have a good marriage, show us."

The courses offer couples a do-it-yourself solution.
"If you give a man a fish - he can eat for a day;
if you teach him to fish - he can feed his family forever."
The courses teach couples how to fish! - to solve their own problems over the life
of their marriage and to meet the highs, lows, joys,
challenges....the 'for better and for worse' issues - with confidence.

Learn how to become a Marriage Educator

Diane Sollee
Copyright, CMFCE.

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