Can Love Last?
Is Marriage Obsolete?
In the beginning, we all believe our love is unique and will last forever. Even if we have seen few long term marriages, our hope is that we will be the exception and that we will happily grow old together.
The Statistics -- But then, at some point, we look over our shoulder at the ominous shadow of the statistics. In 2009, the U.S. marriage rate was 6.8 for every 1,000 people. The divorce rate was 3.4 – exactly half of the number of marriages that year. A study released in 2010 by the US Department of Health and Human Services reported that the proportion of men and women who had been married two or more times reached 27% for women and 26% for men at ages 40–44. The percentage of couples who reach their 25th wedding anniversary is 33%.
According to The State of Our Unions 2005, a report issued by the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University, only 63% of American children grow up with both biological parents -- the lowest figure in the Western world.
Should We Cohabit Instead? -- Figures like these prompt some people to give up on marriage and to simply live together instead. Estimates suggest that about two-fifths of all children will spend some time in a cohabiting household before 16 years of age. Unfortunately, the probability of women remaining in their first cohabiting union for 3 years or more was 31%; for men it was 24%.
Studies have found that persons who cohabit prior to marriage are more likely to have their marriages dissolve than those who did not cohabit premarital. Studies comparing child academic outcomes and behaviors in cohabiting and married parent households conclude that children living in families where the mother is cohabiting do not fare as well as those where the mother is married.
Married But Unhappy -- And, of course, there are the statistics on the number of married or co-habiting couples who stay together but are unhappy with the relationship. By the 2000’s, 69 percent of highly educated married adults reported that they were very happy, but only 57 percent of moderately educated married adults (high school but less than a bachelors college degree – 58% of the population) and 52 percent of the least educated (who make up 12 percent of the adult population) reported the same. In other words, only half the people who get married stay married and of those who do, between 31 and 48% are unhappy in their marriage.
Does all of this mean that love can’t last
and believing that it can is sheer insanity?
Maybe no one should get married and we all should live as single people. Except that the children in such families have negative life outcomes—including abuse, depression, school failure, and delinquency—at two to three times the rate of children in married, two-parent families.
And even if there were no children, most of us have an intrinsic and powerful need to find a life partner -- someone to share our lives, to support and nurture us in the hard times, to celebrate and enjoy the good times, someone we can trust and with whom we can take off the mask we show the world and just be ourselves. An intimate connection where we are safe, valued, and loved. Is that dream impossible?
What Have We Learned? -- As it turns out, we have learned a lot about what makes a successful relationship. People like Dr. John Gottman, who has conducted 40 years of research on what makes marriage work, says,” What's usually missing are relationship skills not gained in the course of our everyday lives. Once these techniques are learned and put to use, amazing things happen.”
The ability to resolve conflicts without yelling, insults or inflicting emotional pain, to communicate effectively and to understand very different male/female needs and wants helps create an arena where problems can be solved and love can continue to grow.
Ideally, these skills are learned from observing our parents’ relationship, but many (most?) of us did not have parents who knew how to model these skills. Never-the-less, they can be learned at any age. If adolescents were educated in these areas when they first began to date, so much pain and so many scars could be prevented. Pre-marital counseling is another pivotal point for learning. Couples at any stage of their relationship can profit from such knowledge. Once there are problems in the relationship, additional marital counseling may be needed, too.
Don't Wait -- So often, couples come to me for therapy only when it is too late. So much damage has been done that one or both have already decided to give up and are no longer open to repairing the marriage. At such a point, couples therapy is a way to save them from guilty feelings and they can say, “I tried everything,” although they were not really interested in making a sincere effort. Marriage counseling can work, but it needs to take place as early as possible.
The best time to receive relationship training is BEFORE the first hurtful fight occurs. If it’s too late for that, the second best time is NOW.
LOVE CAN LAST
and you and your partner can acquire the ability to make it happen.
Marriage and Cohabitation in the United States: A Statistical Portrait Based on Cycle 6 (2002) of the National Survey of Family Growth. (DHHS publication ; no. PHS 2010-1980) (Vital and health statistics ; Series 23, no. 28) ISBN 0-8406-0636-2
The State of Our Unions 2005, a report issued by the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University.
(Sources: U.S. Census Bureau, National Center for Health Statistics, Americans for Divorce Reform, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Institute for Equality in Marriage, American Association for Single People, Ameristat, Public Agenda)
The Gottman Relationship Institute, http://www.gottman.com/