Calgary couples spill the beans on how to avoid divorce

There are many definitions of marriage. Some say it’s a sacred union, an unbreakable bond. Others say it’s a joke.

But however you choose to define it, the fact is some couples choose to opt for divorce over so-called holy matrimony.

Researchers Paul Amato and Denise Previti of Pennsylvania State University reviewed data on reasons for divorce and found the most frequently named causes were infidelity, incompatibility, drinking or drug use and growing apart. While many couples choose to call it quits for these or other reasons, there are those who find a way to make marriage work.

Calgarians Tim and Karen Adams are one of those couples. Approaching their 39th wedding anniversary in June, they have spent the majority of their lives together.

“We defied the odds,” said Tim.

Tim, who spent 31 years working for the Calgary Herald, said he’s happy he managed to hold onto his relationship in an industry he said isn’t kind to keeping love alive.

“I remember in my interview they said, ‘you should know, one of the highest rates of divorce [is among] people who work in the newspaper field.’

“I think it’s because of the deadlines and the shift work. A lot of people can’t take it and that’s a lot of pressure on the family,” he said.

Fortunately for Tim and Karen, he said in his case absence made the heart grow fonder. He said he found working shift work actually helped his marriage in the long run because he was home during the day — allowing him to take their daughter, Kelly (now 23) to school while Karen was free to pursue her career.

This allowed the couple to have their own lives during the week and enjoy each other’s company at home on the weekends, he explained.

That’s not to say they’ve never argued.

Karen brought up the time she made jello that didn’t quite set.

Tim’s response was: “What is with the jello? Anybody can make jello. My mom can make better jello than that.” He added that he ended up wearing that jello — Karen threw it across the room.

“Whip cream and jello all over the walls. That was the worst of our fights,” he said.

Karen said she reacted strongly in that instance because Tim hit a sensitive subject by comparing her cooking skills to his mother’s.

Adding that this was when they were younger, the couple said they’ve relaxed in their relationship as years have passed.

“Don’t sweat the small stuff — it’s easy for me to say now because when I was younger things used to bother me like crazy,” said Tim. “Now, you look back at it, and at the time they seemed like big issues but years later you think, was that important? Why did I stress out about that?”

Noting that the best thing to do when conflict arises is to walk away for ten minutes instead of blowing up at your spouse, Tim said as you get older “you get mature and you get complacent.”

Phil and Barb Drake, married 30 years as of August, are another Calgary couple that has managed to beat the odds.Barb and Phil say they find everyday joy in the simple things – like spending time together at home.

Photo By: Ashley Freeman

Phil, 54, said that after meeting in high school, he and Barb, 53, were “the definition of homies” — they were best friends.

Friendship soon turned to romance and after dating for five years the Elbow Park couple married in 1981.

“We saved up our pennies and put a down payment on this house, the only house we’ve ever lived in,” said Barb. “We’re pretty happy here. Our roots are deep.”

It wasn’t long before the couple decided to start a family.

“That’s a huge challenge because my priorities changed from just Phil and I to now this fabulous precious baby in our lives,” said Barb.

“And then your income changes. I’m not working so money becomes a huge challenge,” she adds.

Despite the difficulties they faced, Barb and Phil never sought professional help to solve their marital problems.

Calgary relational therapist Kathleen Cowan said it’s important for couples to realize that these sorts of challenges are common, and that there need not be a stigma around the notion of seeking help.

“It can feel really bleak. It can feel hopeless. It’s been researched that if someone’s sick, it’ll take 30 minutes to make a decision to see a doctor,” she said.

“But for someone whose marriage or relationship is in trouble, it’ll take them six years to contact somebody.”

Phil has simple advice when it comes to keeping your marriage on track — it’s important to pick your battles to avoid unnecessary conflict.

“It’s just keeping up with the punches, that’s all. Being light on your feet,” he said.

While Barb said she “really enjoys hanging out with Phil,” the couple still finds ways to maintain their individuality outside of their relationship by giving each other space.

Barb said although there are times “when you do kind of hate him (Phil)”, it’s simply a matter of knowing that you’re in this for the long run so you choose to get through it.

“It’s just gotten better and easier and maybe the best it’s ever been,” she said. “I’m just really delighted and I’m kind of proud of it. But it’s work.”

Work? Definitely. Worth it? According to Phil and Barb, without a doubt.

“Maybe more people should hang in,” said Barb.

According to Cowan, ultimately it’s up to the couple to make the commitment to stay committed.

“Don’t wait until it’s in a crisis because sometimes we get so far into the crisis all we think about is calling the divorce lawyer before we call a therapist.

“Do something, because relationships are so precious. They really are the essence of life.”