Monthly Archives: April 2016

Let’s know about divorce secret

Maria Sirois is the author of the recently-published book A Short Course in Happiness After Loss (Green Fire Press, 2016).  The book combines the science of positive psychology with research on resilience to offer a “curriculum” for feeling stronger during hardship.  It’s also a guide for reconnecting to our sense of meaning.  Sirois is a licensed clinical psychologist who teaches at the Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health in Massachusetts and works as an inspirational speaker and consultant.  Her book takes the position that both resilience and happiness are choices we can make, even during tough times.

I was excited to talk to Sirois about how her work applies to those of us facingdivorce.

Wendy Paris: I love the idea that we can choose to become more resilient and even happier, but aren’t resilience and even optimism inborn traits—you have them or you don’t? 

Maria Sirois: We know that there is some “genetic loading” for positivity, happiness and resilience.  You can have DNA that leads you toward pessimism and anxiety or toward optimism and happiness.  Some of us have a neurochemistry that works in our favor toward resilience or against it.

But the research points to the fact that there is much more flexibility than we realized.  In the 1980s, we thought you were lucky enough to be resilient or not. But it turns out that’s not true.

The tools and practices of positive psychology can be learned at any age and they stir resilience.  These practices have a huge impact on your neurochemistry, your heart, your health, and also your sense of agency.  Feeling more resilient makes you act more resilient. It’s a beautiful “virtuous cycle.”

Wendy Paris: So how do people become more resilient? 

MS: Resilient people make conscious choices every day to put aside time for practices that energize them, enliven them or strengthen them—that build their capacity, strength, perseverance or endurance.  The key is that they make the conscious choice to do so.  Research shows that prioritizing those things that lift or strengthen you builds resilience.  These choices literally change our neurochemistry.  Some people seem to have been raised in ways that inculcate this, or they have a natural capacity to do this.  Many of us, however, have to learn that this is what we need to do.

You have to ask yourself, “What are the things I know that actually lift me?  That make me feel good about being alive?”  Is it music, yoga, mindfulness practices?  Where can you go to engage in those activities?

Wendy Paris: I think a lot of people have trouble remembering what makes them feel good or gives them energy.  How can people get in touch with the things that give them strength after leaving a stultifying or conflictual marriage? 

MS: This can really be hard for people if they’re not in the habit.  Not asking also makes it hard to notice the small things we love.  Also, who you are today is different than who you were in the past.  What most lifts or builds you may not be the same thing that worked years ago.  Just taking time to ask yourself the question is a start.

The powerful overarching teaching of asking yourself what you love, on a daily basis, is that you’re teaching yourself two important things.  One is that you care about yourself.  And the other is that every day matters.  Both of those build optimism and energy.  People say to themselves, “I don’t know what I love.”  And then they try volunteering or going to the gym, and it doesn’t work for them.  They feel like they’ve failed and they give up.  But they don’t realize that the discipline of asking themselves is invaluable.  You need to give yourself time to come up with the answers.  They won’t come right away if we’re not in the habit of considering ourselves.

There are two ways to figure out what lifts you.

  1. Make time for mindfulness.  A mindfulness practice really helps you identify what you love.  Set aside a few minutes every day for stillness and reflection; once you’re still, you can sit quietly and ask yourself what you love.  Do the mindfulness practice for five to 10 minutes, and then ask yourself that question.
  2. Write down your thoughts. The second technique that’s helpful for people dealing with divorce is daily journaling.  Sometimes when we get divorced, we realize that we’ve been doing some things because of the obligations of the couple or the family, but they don’t really nourish us.  You can write your journal at night or in the morning.  At night, you might ask, “What excited, energized and lifted me today?”  Or you can do it forward-looking, and ask yourself, “What am I excited about this week?”  This helps you get clear about who you are at this stage in your life.

There are so many disruptions to your identity and to your way of living after divorce, or after any kind of loss.  The old normal doesn’t exist anymore.  But we’re not in the new normal yet.  The transition time can be confusing.  There can be an untangling of what had been part of the marriage and what is you.  All of this takes time.

Wendy Paris: You talked a little about what helped you in your divorce.  Can you elaborate? Did you use your own techniques? 

MS: I had a journal when I got divorced.  I wrote down my answers to the question, “What do I love now?”  It helped me start noticing what made me exited.  I still love going to rock concerts, for example.  I’m 55, and I still love Bon Jovi.  I’m no longer excited volunteering for charitable organizations, being on their boards.  I still do a tremendous amount of charitable work, but I don’t want to sit on boards, probably because I spent a tremendous amount of time in my 30s doing that.

One of the things that came out of my divorce was that I kept hearing myself say, “I just want to love what I love!”  If I love blueberries for breakfast, I’m eating blueberries.  If I love the idea of going to Dublin, I’m going to Dublin.  It’s this notion of doing what I love and building it into my schedule.

I love to dance, but we don’t really have clubs here where I live, or the ones we have are a lot of 20-year-olds, and that doesn’t make me feel good.  I’m at the stage where I don’t have a lot of weddings to go to, so I’m not dancing there.  My love for dancing has been translated to going to concerts, just being around music.  The search for music performance has been something I’m prioritizing.

It all about single people

That fantasy, that ideal, that aspiration known as The American Dream has many permutations, but right smack in the center of many of them is a home of one’s own. In the iconography of American ideals, and in pictures of houses ranging from children’s stick figure drawings to slick real estate brochures, mom, dad, and the two kids seem to dominate. Is that accurate? Or, as the percentage of single people has grown, have unmarried Americans also become a bigger slice of the group of people who buy homes of their own?

To mark Unmarried and Single Americans Week (September 18-24, 2016), the Census Bureau released its annual set of statistics on singles in America. So we now know that there are more single people than ever before – 109 million people, 18 and older, who are divorced or widowed or have always been single. That’s 45% of the adult population. (If you start counting at 16 instead of 18, then single people were already in the majority in 2014.)

Unmarried Americans: What is Their Share of the American Dream?

The National Association of Realtors has been keeping track of home buyers for 35 years. Their researchers record the purchases made by married couples, single women, single men, and unmarried couples (as well as a miscellaneous “other” category). So we know whether those three categories of single people, combined, account for 45% of all home-buyers, as they would if they bought roughly in proportion to their representation in the adult population.*

They don’t. As of the most recent year for which data were available (2015), all threeunmarried groups account for just 31% of all home buyers. Married couples dominated; they bought 67% of all homes. (The other 2% of homes were purchased by people who did not fit into any of those categories.)

Things were worse in other years. (You can see the graph with all 35 years of data here.) In 1985, for example, married couples accounted for a whopping 81% of all home purchases. A few times – in 2003 and 2010 – the proportion of homes bought by married couples dipped just below 60%. In those years, unmarried Americans came closest to buying their fair share of homes.

Married couples have more money than everyone else, so in a way, it is not surprising that they are more likely to purchase homes. In 2015, the average income for the four groups was as follows (note that this is income only for home-buyers, not for all of the people in each of the groups):

  1. $99,400 married couples
  2. $87,600 unmarried couples
  3. $67,000 single men
  4. $57,300 single women

Money, though, wasn’t everything. Single women, with the lowest incomes by far, were the second-biggest group of home-buyers. That has been true for all 35 years. In 2006, their share was as big as it has ever been, at 22%. Differences over time are related to the ease of obtaining credit. That has varied greatly, as students of the financial crisis know all too well. As lending becomes more constrained, it is the people with less money and weaker credit who are affected the most.

Here is the proportion of home buyers, in 2015, for each of the four categories. Note that the group with the second-highest income, unmarried couples, were the smallest group of home buyers.

  1. 67% married couples
  2. 15% single women
  3. 9% single men
  4. 7 % unmarried couples

New reports offer insights into the psychology of home-buying for the three different categories of single people. For my most recent column for Unmarried Equality, I drew from those reports to create profiles of single women, single men, and unmarried couples as home buyers. (Thanks to Unmarried Equality for allowing me to share my findings here.)

The Sources of Data

Thanks to 35 years of survey data collected by the National Association of Realtors (NAR), as well as a new report from the Urban Institute and a recent article on home-buying trends, we now have detailed profiles of home-buying experiences of single women, single men, and unmarried couples. Add to that my own research with Wendy Morris and Stacey Sinclair on discrimination against unmarried Americans in the rental market, and we now know more than we ever did before about the experiences of unmarried Americans as home buyers and renters.

The most recent NAR report focuses on data from 2015. Survey participants were 6,406 people who recently bought a primary residence. Groups included married couples, unmarried couples, single women, and single men. The report from the Urban Institute was based on data from more than 60 million mortgages issued over an 11-year period: 2004 through 2014. The main categories of borrowers were single women, single men, pairs in which a man was the main borrower and a woman the co-borrower, and pairs in which a woman was the main borrower and a man the co-borrower.


Single Women

#1 Single women buy more homes than anyone else except married couples, and that has been true for more than three decades.

Every year for the 35 years that National Association of Realtors (NAR) has been keeping tabs, from 1981 through 2015, single women have been the second biggest group of home buyers in the U.S., surpassed only by married couples. In 2015, they accounted for 15% of all home purchases, compared to 67% for married couples, 9% for single men, and 7% for unmarried couples. (The NAR also includes a category of “other” buyers, which I will not be discussing.)

The 15% share for single women is more than it was in the early eighties but less than in 2006, when single women accounted for a high of 22% of all home buyers.

Single women are the second biggest group of home buyers among both first-time buyers and for repeat buyers.

Home-buyers in all four groups most often buy detached single-family homes (83% overall). Single women (and men), though, are relatively more likely to buy townhomes, row houses, apartments, condos, or duplexes.

In the NAR survey, 5% of all home buyers were African-American. Among the single women, though, 10% were.

#2 Single women’s reliability in repaying their loans suggests that they get a worse deal on their mortgages than they should.