The following is based on the true story of a couple headed toward divorce. After the narrative, we give two scenarios that were possible, given the challenges the couple experienced. We ask you, the reader, to choose the scenario that would give the best hope for the family and for our growth and development as a society.
A couple, “Irene” and “Rick,” married for nine years is on the verge of divorce. They have been straining to communicate for over a year and have come to the point where both are exhausted by the effort. There are two children involved, an eight-year-old boy and five-year-old girl. Their eight-year-old, has been diagnosed with ADHD and there is little extended family support since the family moved to a new town. Because of financial pressures and pressures of dealing with a child who requires steady attention and some skill, the couple fights all the time. Rick, coming dangerously close to succumbing to a colleague’s obvious advances at work, has informed Irene that he has “lost that loving feeling.”
Scenario Number 1
The couple divorces: Now “Irene” is struggling with work and childcare; she and “Rick” are still going through a fierce child support and custody battle. “Rick,” now the ex-husband, has the new girlfriend from work. She is beginning to nag him just like Irene did. Their daughter has resorted to bed-wetting and the son is now requiring medicine. Irene’s conclusion is that she is not any better off emotionally or financially since she is no longer married to her children’s father. They now maintain two homes and their divorce attorneys have made a lot of money from their long, bitter divorce battles.
Scenario Number 2
“Rick” and “Irene” choose not to divorce. With encouragement from Irene’s mother, they sought some help for their marriage. It took time but they learned that they had the same goals but different ways of pursuing them. Relationships go through cycles, they found, and they were able to identify the skills needed to get through their crisis. With the assistance of a Certified Family Life Educator (CFLE), they found ways to connect with one another, reviving their loving feelings. Slowly, “Irene” and “Rick” realized that they wanted to have more compassion for one another and that the feelings of bitterness were coming from outside. The children, sensing their parents interacting with much warmer and pleasant dealings, seem happier and less agitated.
Fortunately, the couple, with help was able to avoid a painful, nasty divorce and ended up with Scenario Number 2. Remember, this is a true story. Below, we’ll share our insights from working with “Irene” and “Rick”. Having worked with hundreds of couples from a variety of classes, races and religious affiliations, certain things stand out for those who struggle with their marriages. The most difficult cases are the ones in which there is little to no kindness or compassion between spouses. Where one or both partners are self-absorbed or self-centered (egocentric) and focused on “me” instead of “we.” When either or both are no longer feeling satisfied, they opt to divorce. Bitterness, complacency, resentment and indifference are the red flags that indicate the relationship is sinking fast.
A few months ago, we facilitated a seminar, “Getting our Hearts Right: 3 Keys to Better Relationships.” It was based on a course put together by colleagues from the University of Arkansas. Like us, they too had noticed that knowledge and skills alone, while very important and necessary, are not sufficient to help relationships heal and should include a foundation based on three key spiritual principles: humility, compassion and positivity.
Over 75 people attended our seminar and they were intrigued by the seven biases that prevent us from really connecting with the people we claim to love and to resolve conflict. (The seven biases are: egocentrism, fundamental attribution, naïve realism, anger, confirmation, unreliable memories and negativity.). These biases, if left unchecked, eventually lead to bitterness, resentment, indifference and apathy. Ultimately, these states of mind can lead to divorce.
Divorce prevention for “Irene” and “Rick” included honest self-examination of these biases, and many exercises that invoked their compassion, humility and positivity.
Eventually, Rick took time to actually pay attention to Irene’s childhood story — how she had experienced traumatic feelings of abandonment when she was only five-years-old and her parents divorced. She rarely saw her father after that. He really listened and they were both able to connect the dots, understanding that she still had difficulties trusting men.
Seeing their parents being genuinely kind to one another, seeing them exercise patience with one another, gave the children a greater sense of security and they stopped worrying that their family was about to break up at any minute. Their daughter stopped bed-wetting. They no longer had to cringe when their parents shouted at each other because their parents literally stopped shouting at one another. Irene and Rick learned to deal with problems respectfully while appreciating each other’s input and desires.
Thus, this couple’s marriage was saved from divorce because they worked on being compassionate, humble and positive and we opine that many other couples can likewise avoid divorce if they do the same as Irene and Rick. Along the way, many other relationships will be benefitted.
 Quick definitions of common human biases:
- Egocentrism – focus on one’s self, not aware of or concerned about others’ needs or pains
- Fundamental attribution bias – the tendency to excuse our personal mistakes as due to circumstances and ascribe the mistakes of others as due to their bad character or lack of integrity; we give too much credit to those we like and too little allowance for those we don’t like.
- Naïve realism – the tendency to believe that only “I see things as they are”; can’t see when “I’m illogical or unreasonable but can definitely see when others are
- Confirmation bias – We accept that which aligns itself with our point of view and reject any information which doesn’t. For example, if I have already determined that someone is a thief, no matter how much evidence is presented to the contrary, I will still consider my opinion as correct.
- Unreliable memories – constant reshaping of our memories to fit our objectives. In other words, we remember what we want to believe, not necessarily what really happened.
- Negativity bias – taking a pessimistic approach, we’re inclined to be overwhelmed by, and focus on bad things and forget the good things.