'Be the right person' – Advice for women getting married or divorced

LAST week we looked at how women can get the short end of the stick when their husbands initiate divorce. Thank you for your positive feedback and suggestions. Over the next few weeks, we are therefore excited to share practical, helpful general relationship advice from our conversation with medical doctor and insightful premarital counsellor Dr Sharon Earle Edwards.

Q: Divorce has been on the rise before COVID-19 but since the pandemic, the numbers have climbed even higher. From your vantage point (as a premarital counsellor), what would you say are the main reasons for this?

A: There is a saying — marriage intensifies the state it finds you in. So if you are reasonably happy before marriage you will be reasonably happy after. I would want to say to an extent, COVID-19 can also intensify the state it finds you in. So as far as a couple is concerned, if a couple is already undergoing stress and already has a weak relationship foundation and decreased resilience, COVID would just bring that out even more; it would intensify that. Stress in any situation tends to worsen anything that we are experiencing and in fact we know that stress tends to find our points of weakness, so if there is a weakness in the relationship, stress is going to find that point and I think that is what has happened to COVID and relationships.

Add to that of course, the fact that couples are often together for longer periods because of the work-from-home situation for many. Plus couples who have children and having to homeschool — the situation is really very tense so without a strong foundation, without a faith experience through which one can process these stresses and without a good support system, it is quite likely that a couple can turn on each other and that would intensify a relationship challenge especially where there is a weak one already. And when we say stress, health challenges are also a part of the issue and of course, financial challenges, which COVID have brought for many.

Q: Last week we highlighted the plight of some women who are divorced by their husbands. We pointed out that women sometimes get the short end of the stick in a divorce — they are oftentimes left in a bad financial situation, are left to take care of the children largely on their own, etc. With all of these issues in mind, what is your advice to women getting married and women getting divorced?

A: Divorce affects the finances of both persons but more so the women, especially in the cases you mentioned where you have already made sacrifices in your professional and career advancement, and this means that a woman could end up in a situation where she is either underemployed or unemployed at the time of separation or divorce, leaving her more vulnerable. The challenge as well is that some of the issues that come with this is less resources, less support and not enough time for herself, and a woman could end up with poor self care. So some of the things that I would suggest are for women who are getting married:

• First and foremost, be the right person. Many times society suggests that we find the right person; however, we need to be the right person to attract an emotionally healthy individual of sound character who matches us in as many ways as possible.

•Know what you are looking for. After you have worked on yourself, then it is important to be aware of the qualities the person should have, as far as you are concerned. Keep a short list — not an extensive list — of the qualities the person should have and review that list and modify it often.

• Seek prayerful counsel and the support of friends and family. Most family members and friends are reasonable and can help us to see the blind spots that we may overlook because we feel we are in love, so it is important for those contemplating marriage to seek the opinions of family and friends. That old-time song, 'take time to know him (or her)', does apply.

• I personally think it is important in most cases to see the person in all seasons of life — in the year and possibly twice — so at least two years of getting to know the person and seeing what they do at different phases. Many people rush in when they have been dating and seeing the person in high times and not seeing what the person does when the storms of life come your way or their way.

Join us next week for more practical, helpful advice.

Shelly-Ann Harris is the author of God's Woman and the Goodies on Her Tray. She is also the founder of Family & Faith Magazine. Check out the website at familyandfaithmagazine.com or e-mail familyandfaithmagazine@gmail.com.

Dr Sharon Earle Edwards

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