By Terry Gaspard, MSW, LICSW
Marriage is under intense scrutiny in the media in recent years. As fewer individuals are getting married, it becomes meaningful to ask why marriage is becoming such risky business. Currently, slightly over 50% percent of Americans are married, down from 70% in 1970. Social scientists cite many reasons for the drop in the marriage rate but the culture of divorce is commonly discussed. Previously, we’ve written about how difficult it is to accurately measure the current divorce rate. However, with the divorce rate hovering around 50%, it makes since that many individuals fear that if they tie the knot, their marriage will end in divorce. Daughters of divorce are particularly prone to this mindset as they know firsthand how fragile marriage can be.
Is it possible to overcome fear of relationship failure? Many skeptical people feel marriage is a dying institution and there’s not much we can do to save it. It’s almost as if we are totally powerless against divorce – as if it’s a force too strong to control. Perhaps a healthier perspective would be to examine our own attitudes about love and commitment. This makes perfect sense, especially if you are a daughter of divorce since your risk for divorce is 59% greater than that of a woman raised in an intact home. That being said, let’s take a closer look at how to improve marital success.
Although there aren’t any guarantees, there are some practical suggestions that can increase your probability of having a successful marriage. Keep in mind that you have much more control over the fate of your marriage – if you choose to marry – than you do over many other situations in your life. But adopting a more optimistic view of marriage may be a challenge since the media promotes a disposable view of marriage. In recent years, a phenomenon known as “the starter marriage” has been popularized by the media. This mindset is based on the premise that a marriage like a good meal should always be enjoyable and not come with its share of hard times. Actually, Pamela Paul, in her book The Starter Marriage states that most marriages end in the first ten years – particularly the first five years.
Since divorce is so deeply entrenched in our culture, it’s wise to examine your attitudes about love and marriage. Doing so can help you to develop a healthy respect for commitment. The following are six ways that experts say will stack the odds of a having a successful marriage in your favor:
Take things slowly when you are dating. Date a new partner for at least two years before getting married. Being cautious is a good thing and will give you time to assess how many common interests, beliefs, and values you share with a partner.
Wait until at least your mid-20’s to make a life-long commitment. Marrying young will increase your chances of getting a divorce.
Be aware of how being raised in a divorced home can impact you and/or your partner’s expectations and interactions. Reading and enlisting the help of a skilled therapist can reduce your risks of divorce.
Don’t live together with the idea of a test drive. Although the research is mixed on this topic, co-habitation may increase your risks for divorce unless you share the same goals and expectations.
Stick with a committed relationship for at least ten years.
Be patient and practice persistence. The willingness to work through rough patches and not considering divorce as an option (unless the relationship is abusive) are linked to higher marital success.
Finally, practicing forgiveness and having a sense of humor can go a long way to promoting marital success. Learn to laugh at each other’s shortcomings (we all have them) and to forgive one another. A wise friend of mine, Betsy, who has been happily married for over four decades, shared a great strategy with me recently. “When all else fails and you can’t resolve a dispute with your husband, she said, simply agree to “blame the dog.” The truth is there is no secret to a great marriage but it certainly helps to know what you’re up against and to get help from people who have been there.
I’d love to hear your fears, concerns, and successes regarding commitment and marriage. Be sure to order my new book “Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy, Long-Lasting Relationship.”
Terry Gaspard, MSW, LICSW