Valentine’s Day can cause stress on troubled couples

Published 12:00 am Monday, February 15, 1999

By LEONARD GRAY / L’Observateur / Febuary 15, 1999

Calls to attorneys and counselors will increase 50 percent this month, as Valentine’s Day pressure can often put additional stress on broken- hearted couples in troubled relationships.

Before running to file for a divorce, relationship experts suggest you first seek counseling or some form of family mediation.

Nationally, about half of all marriages end in divorce, and the River Parishes area ranks higher than the national average, according to local statistics.

Figures for 1998 show that 363 marriage licenses were issued in St.

Charles Parish, while 405 couples filed for divorce. In St. John Parish, 275marriage licenses were issued and 186 divorce decrees were filed.

St. James Parish ranks closest to the national average with the number ofdivorces filed, ranking slightly less than half the number of marriages.

There were 155 marriages and 74 divorces filed in 1998.

“The national average is steady at 51 percent of all marriages ending in divorce,” said Diane Leonard, a certified social worker at the St. JohnClinical Counseling Center in LaPlace. Leonard said early detection andprompt treatment of disputes between marital partners is key to saving the relationship.

A mediator for troubled couples can be an attorney, social worker or other trained professional who has completed mediation training.

A mediator reduces obstacles to communication, maximizes the exploration of alternatives for resolution, addresses the needs of those involved and affected by the resolution and facilitates resolution in an impartial, neutral manner.

Leonard said lack of effective communication concerning matters such as finances and intimacy is the most common issue addressed by couples she counsels. The biggest challenge for both Leonard, as a counselor, and manycouples is that help is often not sought early enough.

“People are coming in too late, once they’re already on the way out of the marriage,” she said. “They’re tired and worn out when they come in forhelp, and it’s difficult to work with them at that point.

“There has to be some foundation left in the relationship to work with,” Leonard explained. “There needs to be some emotion, feeling and respectbetween the partners.”Leonard said finances are the most debated topic among couples with whom she works, and these disputes are not only initiated by lack of finances but even more so by how finances will be spent.

“It’s not really because they’re not paying bills, but how they pay the bills and what they will do with any excess money,” she said. “People havedifferent ways and styles of dealing with finances, and it often causes problems.”Leonard said “baggage” from past relationships, childhood experiences and an individual’s upbringing are also controversial for many couples.

“You’re bringing together two different people from two different households and upbringings, and this often causes disputes between partners,” she explained. “How to raise the children, whether or not tospank them and how much independence the children should have are all based on individual style according to someone’s upbringing.”Leonard said she strongly recommends pre-marital counseling, and this counseling does not necessarily need to be handled through a formal counseling service. Various church services and even discussion withexperienced couples can be beneficial, she said.

Talking with parents about marriage and their personal experiences can help bring out issues that young couples could benefit from hearing and discussing with one another, she said.

“If you talk to your parents or your spouse’s parents, you may learn a lot about the different ways people deal with different situations, and just opening the lines of communication about marriage will help,” Leonard said.

Addressing problems in a relationship early on is the best way to deal with differences in a marriage, she added.

“I strongly advise that couples try to work through any dispute on their own, but if something comes up repeatedly and begins to affect other areas of your life, people may start feeling resentment toward their partners and diminished intimacy can arise,” she said. “This can cause alot of strain to the relationship and needs to be taken care of early. That’sthe key.”In the instance that only one partner is willing to seek professional marital counseling, Leonard advises that the willing partner attend counseling alone. She said it is very difficult to work at maritalcounseling with only one partner, but if one person can get control of their anger, they may begin to feel less resentment toward their spouse.

“Deal with your anger individually, and then you will deal with the relationship better,” she said. “In receiving counseling, you could have apositive influence on your partner by them seeing the results of your therapy.”The St. John Clinical Counseling Center is a non-profit organization andnobody is refused treatment, Leonard said. Payment for treatment isdetermined by a sliding scale based on income and the number of people in the family.

“We don’t turn anyone away because sometimes that’s a barrier to couples seeking counseling in the first place,” she said. “If finances are already anissue, they may not be able to work it into their budget.”The River Parishes Mental Health Clinic is also on a sliding scale payment system and works with people who may have mental conditions requiring treatment more extensive than counseling alone, Leonard said.

“We work interchangeably with the mental health clinic, and sometimes we send patients there if we feel they need psychiatric attention, and they sometimes send patients to us if they feel a patient just needs counseling service,” she said.

The services are open to any individual, couple or family in need of counseling service or psychiatric attention.

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