THE BLOG
08/21/2014 05:23 pm ET Updated Oct 21, 2014

How Your Parents Set You up to Get Divorced

Your divorce might not be all your fault. Perhaps your parents' played a role. They were probably terrible role models. Chances are high that they were either 1) divorced, 2) never married or 3) that they're still married -- but not in a way that anybody would want to emulate. There was no Relationships 101 at the schools they sent you to. Where were you supposed to learn how to have a good marriage -- from watching Mike and Molly?

When you went to marriage counseling there were your parents again, lurking at the root of every problem the two of you were having. That's where you discovered you married your father -- with his terrible temper -- to work out your unresolved issues. Your spouse's parents were also there --giving ample evidence to the therapist's assessment; that he was from a dysfunctional family and therefore emotionally wounded and not able to be there for you. And when the couple's counselor had you hitting the chair with a broomstick to release your anger at your mother, or talking to your inner child, or letting your spouse have the floor without interrupting while he was holding the wooden spoon and crying about how his dad loved his brother more, wasn't it obvious whose fault all of this was?

That's right. Mom and dad.

That's what happened to me too. I unwittingly followed my mother's recipe for martyrdom and nagging so well that I ended up with a miserable marriage -- at which point, I nearly got divorced.

But then I realized -- I didn't want to end up like my parents.

Fortunately, there are more effective, modern advances in revitalizing relationships that weren't available to our parents, who only had All in the Family to study from.

Here are some that mom never told you about:

1). The Power of the Spouse-fulfilling Prophecy

Lee Milteer tells the story of a woman who attended Lee's course on the power of auto-suggestion and realized that she had been unwittingly using affirmations with her husband that were reinforcing behavior she didn't like. Every time her husband got angry, she was affirming, "You always lose your temper!" After hearing Lee speak, this woman decided to pick a new affirmation for her husband.

She went home and waited for her husband to lose his temper, which didn't take long. Then she said, "That's not like you to lose your temper."

Her husband gave her a funny look, but their 12-year-old son said, "Yes it is, Mom! He always loses his temper." But the woman stuck to her new declaration.

Not long after that, they were at a restaurant where the service was slow. The husband was fuming and said, "I have a good mind to call the manager over and let him know how long we've been waiting!" Then he stopped and said, "That's not like me to lose my temper, is it?"

What are your affirmations for your spouse? Always late? Not good with money? Immature? Are those affirmations serving you? If not, consider experimenting with some new ones.

2). RSVP "Not Attending" When Your Spouse Invites You to a Fight

Whenever you're mad at your partner, you're also hurt. It's true every single time, even if we don't want to admit it. Anger is the defensive reaction that masks the more tender emotion underneath. Therefore, when you're mad, and you want to fire off a cutting comment, a great strategy for preserving the intimacy is to use this word instead: "Ouch!"

That's it. Just, "Ouch!" No further explanation is necessary. Even toddlers know what that means.

You might still get a quizzical reaction if you change up your usual interactions this way. After all, you both know the steps of that old dance you were about to do where you hurl mean comments at each other -- or storm away in stony silence. But you can save the evening for both of you with a single, impactful word and a quick exit.

Saying "ouch!" has two big advantages. First, you preserve your own dignity. You avoid saying anything unpleasant you'll have to apologize for later. Second, chances are very good that you'll create an environment where intimacy -- which requires emotional safety -- will thrive.

Here's a bonus benefit: You put the odds in your favor that you'll get an apology -- if not now, then maybe later -- instead of an argument.

3). Listen Without Agreeing or Disagreeing

For me it was a revelation to discover that sometimes when my husband is talking, he's just thinking out loud and he doesn't mean half of what he's saying. He's just trying things out. Therefore, I don't need to comment either way.

For example, he might be telling me what he'd like to say to his late-paying clients -- but never actually would. In those situations, I have a magical phrase that I rely on.

It's a way of saying, "I'm listening" without saying either, "I agree" or "I disagree." It's both respectful and conducive to intimacy.

Here is that magical phrase: "I hear you. "

We all have a deep need to be heard and understood. The phrase "I hear you" let's him know that you're listening. It's amazing how much stress that can relieve. Sure, you might be tempted to comment further, or use the opportunity to make a point, but consider experimenting just for one evening with just listening. Once you get started with this phrase you'll find yourself saying it to everyone -- not just your spouse, but your boss, your kids and your friends. Here's a fringe benefit: it makes you a great conversationalist because it makes you a great listener.

If any of these practices sound like the opposite of what you were taught about relationships, then you may be on the right track. We've already established that your parents had no idea what they were doing.

For more free Modern Marriage Skills Your Parents Never Told You and to take the quiz: Rate Your Intimacy Skills, visit here.

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