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Michael R. Rosmann, Ph.D., FarmersÕ Forum columnist

Divorce changes formerly married partners

People who divorce their partners are seldom the same afterwards as when they undertook their marriage vows for the first time. They often feel their innocence slip away when they separate, and especially if they enter new relationships; they usually also become clearer about what they are looking for in a permanent mate.

Divorced people generally are wary and careful when making nuptial pledges for a second, third or additional time, even if they are not responsible for the problematic behaviors of their partner, like substance abuse, that contributed to marital dissolution. Divorce is sometimes the best option, such as when avoiding maltreatment for themselves and their children and when nothing works to restore love and trust with a spouse.

This is the third of a four-part series about divorce, with a particular focus on farm families.

Farm couples divorce less frequently than couples in the U.S. population overall, despite that the national rate of divorce has also been declining for three decades. At least two factors contribute to these shifts: Similar to couples in general, the ages of farm couples marrying for the first time are increasing (in 1986 females averaged 22 years old, and males were 24; in 2016 females averaged 26 years old and males were 28), and more couples cohabitate prior to marrying to explore if they can live together after their wedding.

Although personal and religious views sometimes conflict with cohabitation before marriage, independent research reports by the Pew Research Center and sociologist Arielle Kuperberg in 2011 and 2012 respectively, confirmed that the divorce rate of couples in general who lived together prior to marrying was about a third lower than for those who chose to not cohabitate. In another published research report, Finnish farm couples this century who lived together prior to marriage had a lower divorce rate than those who did not cohabitate before matrimony.

What facilitates restoration of personal adjustment of divorcing partners? Beginning in 1997, the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration compiled scientifically-proven findings about many behavioral health problems and issues to establish a National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices.

Since 1997 evidence-based best treatments gradually accumulated for many diagnosed behavioral health conditions. As of Jan. 11, 2018, evidence-based best-practice recommendations have been suspended from public dissemination (https://www.samhsa.gov/newsroom/press-announcements/201801110330) by the assistant secretary for mental and substance use at SAMHSA, Dr. Elinore McCance-Katz.

A number of former federal officials and healthcare professionals disagree with suspending the availability of evidence-based recommendations. They say the SAMHSA directive reflects current U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' administration views and wrongly distorts how research evidence is compiled to suggest best-practice recommendations.

We can look elsewhere for what helps people heal after unhappy divorces. The following are recommendations derived from the Journal of the Marriage and the Family, useful books and my observations from counseling divorced people to achieve satisfactory adaptations:

• Learning, not only from the bad parts of a marriage but also from the positive parts, teaches us about ourselves and others; the school of hard knocks is a good teacher.

• Most people have maladaptive behaviors in need of modification; often these dysfunctional behaviors developed during their own upbringing; examples include not talking about feelings, not displaying emotions, not knowing how to manage anger productively, and a propensity to coerce others, along with many other nonconstructive behavioral styles.

• Emotional understanding from others who are knowledgeable, especially professional counselors and support groups, as well as friends and family who are objective sounding boards, books and social media that rely on evidence-based conclusions — not opinions — are beneficial.

• Establishing or modifying existing core beliefs through spiritual searching is beneficial; these pursuits may be guided spiritual retreats or personal meditation, such as a private quest into the outdoors, dedicated study and prayer.

• Divorced farm partners should take their agrarian drives into consideration; staying involved in agriculture has healing benefits from working with land, animals, water and plants.

• Keeping an open mind is essential to moving on, even though it's difficult; it's easy to become bitter after failures in intimate relationships; self-discipline is required to examine discomforting information.

• In the end, it is up to each individual whether to undertake self-improvement, to remarry or to not choose future marital relationships.

Does practice make perfect? I am well-acquainted with a farm couple in which the husband and wife have been previously married four and three times respectively. The partners, in their 60s, are entering their 17th year of marriage and are happy together.

I also know individuals who are best off not married. They are self-sufficient and have figured out that they are happiest when living their daily lives alone, while also associating periodically with family, neighbors and friends.

These exemplary individuals have sustaining spiritual beliefs and daily habits of meditation. And so do my married friends who have "figured it out" after one or more attempts.

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