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Couples Therapy: What If Only One Of You Wants To Go?


It's not exactly happily-ever-after for the boomers entering empty-nesterhood in their 50s and beyond.

According to a new study, the divorce rate among adults ages 50 and older is at a record high -- doubling between 1990 and 2009.

Roughly one in four divorces in 2009 -- totaling more than 600,000 people -- happened to those in the age 50-plus group, according to "The Gray Divorce Revolution," an analysis of federal statistics conducted by researchers at Bowling Green State University.

Sociologist Susan Brown said that while the national divorce rate has declined since peaking in the 1980s, "gray divorce" has risen to its highest level on record. In addition, Brown noted, more than half of these older couples have been divorced before. The rate of divorce was 2.5 times higher for those in remarriages versus first marriages.

But what about counseling to save some of those troubled marriages? Many couples, says a recent story in the Wall Street Journal, wait too long to get help. And when they finally consider couples counseling, a common scenario is that one partner  (usually the wife) wants to go and the other does not.

So go solo, say therapists. They say a troubled relationship can benefit from couples therapy even if just one spouse seeks help.

According to the Journal, unpublished results from a five-year University of Denver study of 300 long-term couples suggest that after a month or two of relationship-skills training, those who got it as individuals saw as much improvement in their marriages as those who went as a couple. Eighteen months after the training, the researchers found that couples where the woman attended sessions alone reported being happier than the couples where the men attended alone.

"One of the major problems in relationships is that people can't handle the inevitable problems," psychologist and lead researcher Howard Markman told the Journal.

While counseling works best if both partners participate, he said, it still can be helpful for one partner to learn the practical, conflict management skills that can help improve a relationship.

Of course, there still are some ground rules, Markman said. The relationship must be basically sound (no lying, cheating, or abuse), and the partner who doesn't come to therapy must still want to improve the marriage.

The biggest lesson: Everyone must understand they can't change the other person, they can only change their own behavior. And each spouse must recognize his or her own role in creating the problems. As one therapist put it, "I have never een a relationship where all of the problems are the fault of one person."

In other health news:

Antidepressants may benefit people with wide range of depression. Despite recent debate about how well antidepressants really work in people with only mild or moderate depression, a new analysis of drug studies suggests they may have benefit across the board, according to Reuters. Researchers found that more patients taking Prozac or Effexor had a substantial improvement in their symptoms than those taking a placebo, regardless of how severe those symptoms were to begin with.

1 in 3 Americans is having a hard time paying medical bills. A new government survey of more than 50,000 people finds that a growing number of Americans are having difficulty coping with the high cost of health care, NPR reports.

Post-chemo, women get a mental boost from coloring their new hair. For many women who have lost hair during cancer treatments, dyeing is empowering. A New York Times story on one salon that encourages cancer survivors to feel good about getting a new 'do.

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