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Judge Michele F. Lowrance

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How to Survive the Divorce Epidemic

Posted: 08/06/10 09:00 AM ET

If you want to withstand the divorce epidemic you must self-vaccinate by learning upgraded conflict skills. The skills that I am going to give you may make the difference in determining if your marriage will last.

A recent study at the University of California reports that divorce tends to spread through groups, and that the emotions can be transferred like a virus. We all know marriage has been blasted to its core. The assumption that marriage means a lifelong commitment where couples remain together amid discomfort or unhappiness is no longer prevalent. On top of that, new studies tell us that divorce is a contagious epidemic. A split between immediate friends increases a person's own chances of getting divorced by 75 percent and a divorced coworker's split can increase the likelihood by 55 percent.

There have always been seductive distractions to marriage, but now with unlimited quantity and ease. Why? One reason may be social media. When stress appears in a relationship the tendency is to look for answers outside of the relationship. But what the relationship needs is hard, deep work within it. Your adorable high school sweetheart on Facebook provides the perfect fantasy escape. Unlike your marriage, these outside "solutions" are free of flaws and tend to give only affirming feedback.

Social media, now reported to be major factor in divorce, offers a whole different kind of communication. But it is not offer the essential, deep interpersonal dynamics required. The internet is not equal in potency as face-to-face communication, and too often social media supports the culture of divorce. Good conflict skills are not automatic and often counter-intuitive. Without them conflict is perceived as a landmine, and if you step in the wrong place you fear everything around you may blow up. It may feel safer to vent on the internet.

Ask yourself these questions if you have a problem with your mate: Do you speak or just let resentment fester? Do you keep your grievances in a separate emotional back account? Do you ask for what you need, specifically? If you don't ask, why have you shut down to the real information that asking would give you? Do you turn to social media as a way of being heard or venting anger instead?

If you answered yes to any of these, chances are you don't trust your own conflict negotiating skills.

10 suggestions for enhancing your relationship during conflict that will make all the difference:

1. Listen until your mate is finished communicating. Wait until they are done. Don't try to calm them down; if they're at the peak of their anger they won't calm down until they are finished venting or become exhausted.

2. Realize limited capacities: Make a list of your spouse's limitations. For example, "In his or her family they don't communicate about feelings, so he or she never learned how." (Notice that it would have been difficult for your spouse to act any way other than how he or she did.

The behavior may not have been as intentional as you suppose.)

3. Realize that anger fades. (Make a list of five things in your life that you were very angry about that no longer mean as much to you.)

4. Don't assume each other's motivations. (No matter how well you might know someone, you can never be sure what another thinks.)

5. Agree to swiftly acknowledge errors and mistakes you have made. An apology doesn't always help but you can change your life without one.

6. Tell your spouse when something is really bothering you, and resist letting it fester until the point of resentment. Agree on a mutually convenient time to discuss issues. (If you don't tell each other when you have an issue, then you aren't giving the other person the opportunity to correct their behavior.)

7. Agree that if you have an argument, you will not rehash the subject for a day unless you have a suggestion to resolve the issue. Give yourself a chance to gain some insight so you to create a different approach.

8. Communicate with each other only until you reach that "no turning back" level of frustration. Terminate such a session when one person is frustrated and the other wants to continue. Agree to resume the discussion at a specific date and time. Agree that either of you can call for a "redo" of a conversation, if you have an idea about how to do it better.

9. If you agree to put solutions first, the "blame discussion" will become less interesting. Reduce your requests for admissions of fault and give up the chicken and egg debate. Try to give up the need for a steady diet of your spouse's acknowledgment of the suffering he or she has caused you.

10. Remind yourself of all the ways you have benefited during your time together to reduce your anger when you feel wronged. Give each other a new compliment, often. Reminisce once a week or more.

Each time you resolve a conflict in a positive way, your relationship becomes more resilient. Keep your eye on the big picture and remember the old saying; it is the set of the sails that matters -- not the direction of the wind.