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Real-life marriage takes work, just like for reality TV stars

By Erin Chan Ding

Detroit Free Press


Their kids are super cute.

Three local marriage experts talk about how a couple can deal with gossip, anger and affairs while keeping their kids as unthreatened as possible.

BECKER: We cannot control what people say about us, but I can control, to some degree, the information they have to work with. That's in the category of boundaries. For example, if I'm setting out in public with all these women, I'm setting myself up for rumors. I do need to maintain boundaries so those rumors don't fly.

BENSKEY: Certainly, if there's more than one source, you have to consider there must be some validity to it. And consider the source it's coming from. I always encourage people to confront their spouse, not to do it in a hostile way — because people tend to get defensive if you're hostile — but to be direct about it.

HOLLANDER: Ultimately, you need to talk to your partner directly and clearly.

Q: What do you do if your spouse denies an accusation, but you suspect he or she is lying? Is hiring a private investigator going too far?

HOLLANDER: There is a lot of controversy out there about this kind of thing. Some counselors would advise hiring a private investigator, but to have to go to that, you clearly don't trust this person.

BECKER: I have worked with people who are literally committing crimes on a mission to prove this. They have stalked, they have harassed, they have threatened. I wouldn't get to that degree. It's a matter of confronting and going to therapy.

BECKER: With couples, probably myself included, we're a lot angrier than we think we are. Find out the theme that's underneath the anger. Most often, it is hurt.

BENSKEY: You have to work it through to a path of forgiveness. Also, look at the marriage itself and say, "OK, what happened? Where are those cracks and weak spots in our marriage?"

Q: How do you address your marital troubles with your kids?

BENSKEY: You always want to reassure a child that the problem has nothing to do with them. If you're comfortable, say you're going to counseling to work it out. But you don't give them details.

HOLLANDER: It's not appropriate to be discussing your sex life with your children at all. The other thing that is really important is to acknowledge if there have been upset feelings between the couple, as opposed to pretending everything is fine. You can say, "Mommy and Daddy are having a very difficult time, and we are going to get help."

BECKER: It's the most difficult because kids are innocent victims. ... They might not know what infidelities are going on, but they know emotionally that there's discord. Try to address it by saying, "Mom and Dad are going through hard things right now. How has that affected you?" Let them talk.

With infidelity, it's a real judgment call whether to tell your kids. I encourage people to speak to a therapist first in the interest of preserving the innocence of children. You don't want to give kids something they don't know how to handle emotionally. It's kind of like giving a kid a machine gun and saying, "Here, handle this."