Dear 7th Grade Moms & Dads,
With school starting up again, I want to let you in on a little secret…
I know, I know… middle school parents typically don’t get a lot of attention. You are certainly not newbies, and at least one of your offspring is not yet on their way to high school either.
So, why you?
I am writing to you because it’s time to let you in on a phenomenon that will begin happening six short years from now.
How do I know? Because without fail, it happens every year.
No one wants to talk about it, but I guarantee that one day, you will hear the whispers.
It sneaks up on unsuspecting parents, sometimes seemingly without warning.
You see, sadly, six years from now, soon after these hormone-crazed 7th graders graduate high school, you will begin to hear that “so and so” is getting divorced.
You would never guess by all the happy, smiling family pictures blanketing social media at graduation each spring. It is like a secret—hidden in plain sight.
So why am I letting parents of 7th graders in on this sad reality?
Because multiple studies have found that “couples typically allow problems and resentment to build up for 6 years before seeking help and beginning to work on resolving their differences and improving their relationship.”
Some of you have told me how “you tried everything.” Especially when addiction, abuse, and adultery wreaked havoc on your family for years.
You and your kids invested valuable resources and all your emotional energy into helping your spouse with their addictions to no avail. I feel for the families that did not get the results they worked and prayed so hard for.
But there’s another group of you out there…the ones like me who never think it will be “us” getting divorced. The ones who are so busy living parallel lives as wonderful parents but are not so great at being lovers. It is to you that I hope this message serves as a wake-up call.
These “waited till the kids are out of the house divorces” pain me beyond measure because I know if my husband and I had not sought help twenty years ago for our own marriage, it could have easily been us.
If any of this resonates with you, I encourage you to find ways to reconnect with your spouse now. Do not wait until the kids are out of the house to “deal with this.” I can assure you that it’s not easy to face challenges as a couple, but it will definitely not get any easier if you wait.
Get the help you know you need before it’s you telling a friend, “I am just done,” as one woman recently wrote to me. “I was tired of being lonely in a loveless marriage.”
The Gottman Institute, a renowned relationship think tank, notes that “timing is an essential element in whether marriage counseling works. Unfortunately, most couples wait too long before reaching out for help.”
Today, you and your spouse have six years before your 7th grader graduates from high school. There is still plenty of time to change the trajectory of your marriage. You may not know how—you may not even be sure your spouse will be on board—but you do have the added benefit of time and, possibly even more important, “awareness” on your side as well.
If your youngest is in high school or even a senior, I assure you there is example after example of couples who have done the hard work, and their marriages are stronger today because of it. It is only too late if one of you decides it is.
Why do we think we should have all this relationship stuff figured out?
How many of us witnessed empathic and effective communication between couples growing up? Most likely, not many.
Some of you may have had the added blessing of being raised by parents who seemed to really like each other. Regardless, the chance that they openly discussed their issues and modeled how they successfully resolved them would have been extraordinary. This is not intended to blame, but it does begin to explain each generation’s lack of problem-solving abilities.
So if any of this resonates with you, where do you start?
Based on experience, I recommend starting with a “well-timed conversation.” In the case of my own marriage, I give 100% credit to my husband for bringing up the initial discussion almost twenty years ago. Although we both now agree his tone was a bit off—we can even laugh about it—but his message was painfully clear. Something needed to change, and we could no longer figure it out on our own.
There is never a perfect time to have a difficult conversation, but here are some things to consider:
1. Timing, Tone & Intention are everything:
- Find a time when emotions are not running high, and neither of you is stressed out.
- Use the tone you would be most open to when receiving this type of information. Your tone will significantly affect how well your message is received.
- Check your intentions. If your desire is to find ways for you both to improve your relationship, then you are off to a great start.
2. Work together with a licensed marriage/relationship counselor.
- If your partner doesn’t want to go, you go first. The therapist should be able to help you understand why you each react the way you do and help resolve conflicts.
- I realize it is hard to find one; keep trying. I know it’s expensive but getting divorced is much, much more. If you are buying a coffee drink a day—STOP—and most likely, you can divert that expense toward counseling.
- Ideally, you would each have an individual counselor to work with as well.
- If the first counselor isn’t a good fit, try another. It can take a while to find a good match—we’ve had at least five over the years. *Remember, we are all individuals, and none of us absorb information or grow at the same rate—have lots of patience.
3. Three books to consider:
- How We Love—Book & Workbook— by Milan & Kay Yerkovich. If you are tired of arguing with your spouse over the same old issues, this one is for you. https://howwelove.com/
- The Seven Principles of Making a Marriage Work by John Gottman, Ph.D., is very comprehensive. I highly recommend going through this as a couple or with a group. https://www.gottman.com/
- The 80/80 Marriage by Nate and Kaley Klemp—This book offers a new, refreshing way to embrace your relationship. It is the “lightest” read of the three. https://www.8080marriage.com/
4. Three Podcasts to consider:
- Search podcasts with “Esther Perel”: She is a Belgian-born licensed therapist with a wealth of knowledge on preserving relationships
- Small Things Often: The Gottman Institute offers relationship tips in 5-minutes or less. Also, search podcasts with “John Gottman.”
- Tied for 3rd Place: Sexy Marriage Radio, The Naked Marriage, One Extraordinary Marriage, and The Stronger Marriage Podcast.
These recommendations come from my personal experience from my 30-year marriage to my best friend and are intended for educational purposes only. Please do not hesitate to reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions on how my husband and I approached a particular challenge.
My sincere hope for you is to enjoy more friendship, love, and intimacy with your most important person. Love, Lisa
Lisa hopes to share life’s stories through the ever-changing platform she founded, called The Evolving Nest. She writes and shares insights about her own triumphs and struggles during her 30-year marriage to her husband and best friend. Together they have 3 growing children, two of which live 1,500 miles away most of the year, and an adult son with autism who has the run of the upstairs to himself. Lisa also contributes to Her View From Home, various podcasts, and of course, her own website, The Evolving Nest.
Please consider following “I Do” on Facebook, Instagram, Linkedin or receive the latest post via email, or writing for The Evolving Nest. Lisa is motivated by the quote, “What will the world miss if you don’t tell your story?”-Donald Miller