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How Not To Save A Marriage

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WORST WAYS TO SAVE MARRIAGE
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After confessing to his wife last year that he'd had flings with numerous women--he wasn't sure how many but guesstimated "about 10" in their five-year relationship -- Mark Owen, a member of the Brit pop band Take That, did what a lot of guys might do to make things better: He tried to buy her back.

Not with Tiffany diamond earrings or a sleek new Mercedes, but the promise of a $3.6 million house.

It must have worked. Although they're still looking for the house of their dreams, they're still together and Take That is out with a new double CD and a tour. No surprise the 39-year-old singer's two kids and wife Emma Ferguson are along for the ride.

It isn't all that unusual for a couple to want to try to reconcile; the devil you know is often better than the one you don't, says Arlene Dubin, author of "Prenups for Lovers."

Says Dubin: "Reconciliation is not uncommon, especially today. When people go through the process, they take a fresh look at themselves and their partners, and they often decide that the good outweighs the bad. They're face to face with the reality of what life would be like without their spouse."

Former supermodel and mom of three Stephanie Seymour called off her divorce from multi-millionaire Peter Brant late last year. And then the newly revived lovebirds promptly did what Owen and Ferguson did--they went townhouse-hunting in tony Central Park neighborhoods.

Divorce is tough, even when it's amicable--it's expensive, emotionally and financially draining, and things can get ugly pretty quick. Throw kids into the mix and the impacts of divorce can be deep and long-lasting. Depending on the issues, it often makes sense to at least try to salvage a marriage, experts agree. And like Owen and Seymour, some couples consider remodeling or moving into a new home for a "fresh start" or going on an exotic vacation to renew the spark as the place to start.

"Very often, its because one partner realizes there's something wrong and thinks that something new--a new home, going on vacation--is going to be the solution," says Hara Estroff Marano, editor at large of Psychology Today and author of "A Nation of Wimps." It's well intentioned, she says, but misguided.

"When these last-ditch efforts are made, it means that the marriage is in trouble," says Michele Weiner-Davis, director of the Divorce Busting Center and author of "The Sex-Starved Marriage" and "The Divorce Remedy." She continues: "While an exotic vacation might be fun or even remind people why they got together in the first place, the problem is, vacations end."

A new home isn't much better, Estroff Marano says. "The very fact of creating a new home can tear a family apart."

Few may know that better than Marni Jameson. "Buying a new house does stir things up," says the syndicated home design columnist and author of "House of Havoc" and "The House Always Wins." Although she knows one couple for whom a new home pushed the reset button on their struggling 25-year marriage, Jameson ended her first marriage when she realized the numerous visits to the new home she and her first husband were considering upgrading to made her ill whenever she envisioned him "walking down the hallway in his bathrobe." She and her second husband started off their marriage by remodeling a home and have since built two more together. "Whenever we got to the point of divorcing, negotiations broke down over who would get the house. Neither of us wanted it. So we slugged it out. In the end, we were too exhausted to do anything drastic, so we made up."

Says Bruce A. Clemens, a longtime Beverly Hills divorce attorney, "Relationships that are already troubled can rarely withstand the stress of remodeling."

But the worst way to try to salvage a marriage may be to have a baby.

"A lot of the time, people are feeling a loss of connection and love in their marriage, so they kind of hold this fantasy that if they have a child that that will bring everything back to being OK," says Oregon therapist Debbie Bensching. "Part of it's an idealization, and the solution to fixing a problem."

It's often the woman's idea, says Colorado social worker and marriage therapist Enda Junkins. "She thinks if she gets pregnant, she can hang onto the husband, because 'We're having this baby together,' which is not a good reason to stay together or to have a child."

Having a baby adds incredible stress on a marriage, Estroff Marano says. "People think having a baby is a kind of a cement and it's generally nothing of the kind. Babies make demands that take time away from each other," she says. "Babies take women out of the workforce, away from peers, it isolates them, and completely takes you away from what you've been doing."

Up to 90 percent of couples say they are stressed, conflicted and less satisfied in their marriage after the birth of a baby, according to the Gottman Institute and other studies. Some of those couples split--about 12.5 percent of couples divorce or separate by the time their first-born is 18 months old, according to Carolyn Pape Cowan and husband Philip Cowan, co-directors of the Schoolchildren and their Families Project and authors of "When Partners Become Parents."

Then the new mom can have an entirely new set of problems--society isn't too keen on single moms, and having a new baby limits a mom's mobility and as well as her desirability in the dating arena, Estroff Marano says.

Of course, the baby doesn't fare any better. "If children come into the world with the burden of saving a marriage, as many do, they sense it," says single dad Joe Sindoni, author of "50 Reasons to Not Have Kids: And What to Do If You Have Them Anyway." Then the child feels responsible if his parents split, or tries to fix things before they do. "It's a big load to put on such little shoulders," he says.

So if a week in Bali, a new or renovated house, or a baby won't salvage a marriage, what will? Not surprisingly, therapists recommend therapy.

Not just anyone, says Weiner-Davis, but a "therapist who believes in the sanctity of marriage, not due to religious reasons necessarily, but because there are far too many unnecessary divorces."

Weiner-Davis believes in marital education, too. Many couples "don't know how to negotiate, collaborate and demonstrate caring about each other's feelings. And believe it or not, these are skills that can be learned."

And if a couple's struggling because of an affair, "both partners need to be curious about (why the affair happened) and delve honestly and deeply into the truth and take a fair share of responsibility for what went wrong," says Janis Abrahms Spring, author of "After the Affair" and "How Can I Forgive You?" "They also need to talk out and listen to each other's hurts, and show they care about what the other is experiencing."

Distractions, she says, "won't heal the wound."

Still, it sounds kind of nice to "delve honestly and deeply into the truth" while learning to "negotiate, collaborate and demonstrate caring about each other's feelings" fresh from the sandy beaches of Bali and back in your new $3.6 million house.