What About Marriage Today?
What’s the state of marriage in America today?
According to Eli Finkel, (New York Times, February 14, 2014, The All-or-Nothing Marriage), there are two opposing views. One camp believes that the high divorce rate is a reflection of the lack of commitment and a decline in moral character in the United States. The other group thinks that the high divorce rate reflects greater freedom and respect for individual choice. Which one is right?
Consider the following: the divorce rate has been relatively stable since the 1980’s at around 45%, and intact marriages report lower marital satisfaction overall. At the same time, researchers have found that adults with the most satisfying relationships also report the highest personal well-being. There is little doubt that there is high correlation between marital satisfaction and happiness (or unhappiness). Indeed, marital problems correlate very highly with adult depression. I see it every day. Adults with big marital problems are in rat’s alley.
Finkel and his collaborators, Drs. Ming Hui, Carswell and Larson believe that today’s Americans have high expectations of marriage. In order to attain these expectations they have to invest a great deal of time and energy into their relationship. Otherwise, they will experience disappointment. They believe that marriage has become an “all-or-nothing” proposition.
According to the author, marriage has changed over time from an instrumental relationship (an economic partnership to insure survival) to a means of achieving self-expression and personal fulfillment. These are lofty goals, difficult to measure, and hard to obtain.
The bottom line--couples get out of marriage what they put into it.
One study showed that couples that spent “time alone with each other talking, or sharing an activity at least once per week” were almost 3.5 times more likely to be satisfied with their marriage compared to adults that didn’t. At the same time, adults appear to be spending less time with their partners than in the past. With increasing demands of work and the time commitment involved in co-parenting, couples are spending less time with each other and it’s impacting their marital happiness! Furthermore, there appears to be a growing gap between individuals with high socioeconomic status and their counterparts who are less educated. The divorce rate is much higher among those with a lower socioeconomic status.
This rings true to me. Today, adults have high expectations of marriage. They want all of the bells and whistles—companionship, shared interests, family life, friendship, passion, successful happy children, great sex, and the desire that their partner will help them become the best they can be! It’s a lot to hope for. But I think many individuals expect to reap these profits without putting in the time or energy. They think that all of these flowers should bloom from love and desire alone.
The good news—if couples put in the elbow grease to nurture their relationship, meet each other half way, improve their communication skills, and roll up their marital sleeves, the prospects for receiving more of these relationship proceeds are good. There will be a return on their investment. They may not achieve Olympic gold, but they will make it up to the podium.
The bad news—those adults who hope for the best and only water their marital garden with hope alone will have greater disappointment. With expectations running high, the fall from those dizzying heights of desire can bring forth great frustration. It can be a one factor that leads to marital distress.
What do you think?