Marriage in 2012
Marriage in the United States is still popular! Over 90 % of young adults aspire to marriage--although recently, many would-be married couples choose cohabitation instead. And, according to Dr. Andrew Cherlin at John Hopkins University, Americans have one of the highest rates of romantic breakups in the world. Why?
There are probably many causes for this trend. With greater personal affluence in the United States comes greater choice--in work, where to live, lifestyle, and even in partners. Adults also have a greater sense of entitlement. We want to have it all- career, family, love, and chosen lifestyle. In previous generations, couples had much lower expectations. Women might have been happy in their marriage if their husband was a good provider and good father. Men might have been satisfied if their wife was loyal and a good mom. Sharing values and beliefs might have been more important than sharing romantic love. But today, everything is different.
Dr. Cherlin notes in a recent book The Marriage-Go-Round: The State of Marriage and the Family in America Today that "marriage is now a choice. The result is an ongoing self-appraisal of how your personal life is going, like having a continual readout of your emotional heart rate. You get used to the idea of making choices to improve your happiness".
After several years, couples may evaluate whether they are as "happy" in their relationship as they think they "should" be. Looking around, they wonder if their friends or neighbors are "happier" than they are in their relationship. Let’s face it; the grass always seems greener next door. Of course, appraising someone else's marriage is not like rating their lawn or garden. No one can really evaluate the inside of someone else's marriage.
This kind of discontent inevitably leads to disappointment. We may feel that our perceived unhappiness is our partner's fault. Men and women feel that their loved one isn't meeting their needs, whatever they may be--not enough sex, affection, cooperation, and the list goes on.
Dr. William Doherty, professor of family sciences at the University of Minnesota, observes that many couples hound their partners to change, feel chronically disappointed, and then want to discard their relationship. They frequently undervalue their own contributions to the problems in their bond.
The cultural expectations of marriage have changed over the centuries. It wasn't until the 18th century that anyone thought that love might have something to do with marriage-- duty was still considered more important than love. In the 19th century, no one expected that men and women would have much real understanding of each other. It was only in the 20th century that the idea that adults should expect both companionship and passion surfaced. But what about in the 21st century?
We are still trying to define what we should expect from our committed relationships in this new century. To some degree, we are a very self-centered generation. We wake up in the morning and wonder--"What have you done for ME recently!" This does not foster cooperation, collaboration, or communication.
Furthermore, we are inundated with possibility and opportunity. I remember when my kids were teenagers they waited until the last minute to make plans for Saturday night. They were always on the lookout for the "best" opportunity--loyalty to their friends was less valued. Certainly a big change from my generation.
So how do adults evaluate their relationships? How do you have realistic expectations of partnership--not shooting too high or too low? What kind of compass should you use?
Go from me to we. Start thinking about yourself as a "we" not just a "me". This may help you find greater balance in your connection. Try to look at yourself and ask the question--"Do I have a good balance of my needs and our needs”? This may help you look more clearly at yourself. Some individuals are overboard on the "we" equation, and they forget about their own needs. This can also cause problems. Others are out of balance in the other direction.
Ask yourself--what can I do to improve my relationship? This is a very good starting point for making things better for both of you. If both partners ask themselves this question, they will both pull harder on their respective oars.
Cooperate, collaborate, and most importantly, communicate. Disappointments and resentment that fester can eat away at your personal and collective happiness. Bring up your concerns when they first surface--don't wait until they grow large. Most of us are unprepared for the amount and quality of communication that is necessary for a committed relationship!