Monday, August 1, 2016

Marital Fitness

In this day and age, with the divorce rate around 50%, and having remained steady at that level for many, many years, it seems that a reconfiguration of the entire concept of marriage may be in order.  Or, more specifically, it may be that we need to reconsider where we put our energy, in regards to how we think of marriage.  In the 'good old days,' theoretically speaking, when a couple made a commitment to marry, it was generally accepted that the marriage would last, and that each person in the relationship would honor their commitment for a lifetime.  However, this is not necessarily the case anymore, and it seems that, at best, the odds of a couple honoring their commitment for a lifetime are 50/50.

In addition to the distress caused by a failed union, which we will discuss in more detail in a following paragraph, it is also important to consider the other ramifications of a failed union.  If one were to visit a financial advisor, prior to taking the vow of marriage, it is likely they would advise against the marriage, simply because of the fact that it is a gamble with 1:1 odds.  And, this gamble is not an empty gamble, from a financial point of view.  When someone agrees to marry, they accept, informed or not, the potential liability involved with a failed marriage.  Specifically, they agree to be indemnified for a claim for alimony that may be filed against them, as well as a claim for child support that may be filed against them.  Additionally, they agree to potentially giving up half or more of their retirement, and agree to potentially giving up half or more of any assets they own.

In addition to the financial risks involved with making a marital commitment, there is the emotional risk involved.  When one makes a commitment to marriage, they are bonding themselves with another individual, emotionally, and are essentially agreeing to going through any emotional difficulties their mate may have, and their mate is agreeing to go through any emotional difficulties the other is going through.  As well, they are committing to the emotional stress inherent in the joining of two souls; the insecurities, the worries, the jealousy, the hurt, the losses, etc.  And, should the marriage fail, they are agreeing to going through the fallout that follows a failed union; the sadness, the sense of loss, the feeling that the rug has been pulled out from under you, the feeling that of failure, the anger at the other, and potentially other emotions.

And, in addition to the emotional trauma a person experiences with a failed marriage, there is the emotional trauma on the children.  Children are fairly resilient, in many instances, and thus, some may be affected more than others.  For those who are affected, the damage can be substantial.  The child may feel anxiety about their own relationship with either or both of the parents, because they see how a supposedly solid relationship can end, meaning perhaps the relationship with one or both of the parents could end, for them, as well.  There is the sense of loss of a family unit, which can be very important for some children.  As well, there is the mourning of the loss of a mother and father who are together, which turns out to be very important to many children.  As well, there is the emotional stress of adapting to a two-household situation, and the emotional stress of adapting to a step-parent.  Further, many parents, once divorced, cannot stop themselves from attempting to convince the child or children that the other parent is horrible in one way or another, or not worthy of respect, or fatally flawed in one or more ways, etc, and the stress to the child is tremendous.

With everything just noted, it is a wonder that the idea of marriage is still so highly thought of, and it is a wonder that people keep getting into marriages blindly.  If this were a financial investment, and you were told that there was an equal chance that you could increase your financial security, or that you could lose it all, how many would jump at the chance?  What is it about marriage that is so attractive that so many people get into it, despite the poor odds?  Simply put, in my opinion, it is that idea of pure love, and that idea of the perfect family.  The possibility of achieving that pure love, and the idea of achieving the perfect family is so enticing that people are willing to take the (very high) chance that their relationship will not work out well.

When a smart person decides to take a risk, they tend to choose educated risks.  'Educated risks' are those risks that one takes that are based on collecting as much information as possible prior to taking the risk.  That is easy enough to do if you are investing money, or if you are deciding on buy a new business, or if you are choosing to purchase a house, or a car, or anything else relatively major.  All you have to do is look up information on the item, which you can find online, or in a book, etc.  Once you have collected all of the information you can, you then can make a decision on the risk based on the facts that you have collected.  But, what about when making a decision on a marriage?

What information is needed in order to make an educated decision on a marriage?  According to The Daily Beast (5/2010), some of the identified factors that increase the risk of divorce include:  weekly or more frequent arguments over finances, coming from parents of divorce, coming from parents who remarried after a divorce, one being a smoker while the other is not, if both you and your partner have had previous marriages, if you are a woman 2 or more years older than your husband, if you are below average intelligence, if you have twins or triplets, if you are a female serial cohabiter (lived with more than one mate prior to marriage), and if you are in a same sex marriage (particularly female-female).  According to Good, values and money are two of the main things that couples fight about, and regular church goers and those who made more than $125K/year had much lower divorce rates.  Another factor that predicted higher divorce rates was how important one or both thought their partners' appearance was.  Other factors, interestingly, according to Mary Gillen on, included how many people were at the wedding, with weddings including 150 or more people lowering the chance of divorce greatly.  As well, good communication was important.  Further, how many times someone has been the one to end a relationship was, not surprisingly, another factor.  According to Michael Fulwiler, quoting work done by Dr. Gottman, harsh, 'grinding down' sort of arguments, coupled with failed attempts to recover from them, and a build-up of bad memories about the other, or the relationship, are predictors of divorce.  It seems likely that harsh arguments are more likely to occur in situations in which values do not match up, there are huge stressors occurring in the relationship, or the behavior of one or both of the spouses is a cause for concern.  Also, it has been reported that if there are significant issues in the dating relationship, prior to the marriage, the marriage is much more likely to fail.  And, longer courtships seem to be predictive of a lower divorce rate.  According to Grover, et al. (1985),  "a longer period of dating was associated with a higher probability of a happy marriage."

In the final analysis, then, it seems that the necessary advice for a couple contemplating marriage and wanting to know whether their union will be successful, is the following:

Date for a long time (i.e., preferably more than 2 years).

Make sure you have similar values, and no values that are very important AND opposed to the other

Make sure you and your future spouse will be financially stable, and that you will have sufficient income to prevent disaster.

If you are dating someone who comes from a previous marriage, or marriages, tread carefully...they may have commitment problems.  You should probably insure that you date for a long time before making the leap.

If you are dating someone who comes from a family of divorce, be forewarned:  They may value commitment and the longevity of marriage less, and may be more likely to 'jump ship.'  Take your time, date for a long time, and really get to know their values in that area.

If you are dating someone who has always been, or has almost always been the one to end the relationship with those they have been with in the past, be forewarned:  These individuals likely take commitment less seriously, and are more likely to repeat their pattern than to change strategies.

If you are not attracted to your partner, or if your attraction waxes and wanes, AND attraction is an important value for you, do not make any long-term commitments; it is unlikely that you will be motivated to keep the commitment.

If you have significant stress in the relationship, before marriage, don't up the commitment level.  The chances that it will work out are much lower.  If you are determined to make the relationship work, insure that you have had a substantial amount of time (i.e., 1, 2,  or more years) without any significant stress, before going to the next level.

If both you and your partner are socially isolated, or if one of you is, and the other is not, understand that this is a risk factor:  People who are more socially isolated have less access to support from loved ones, and are more likely to be overly dependent on the relationship for their support. And, there may be a reason they are socially isolated, such as that they do not play well with others, which may be an indication of how things are going to go with you.

If you cannot resolve conflict well with the other person, do not make any long-term commitments until that is no longer the case, and has no longer been the case for a long time (i.e., 1 or 2 years minimum).

Also, if you want to know how your partner is going to be with you, your best predictor is how they were with the partners before you.  Yes, people can change, but often they don't, and they are much less likely to change if they think they were the victim.

And, consider Murphy's Law:  If it seems to good to be true, it probably is.

If you would be interested in an assessment of your relationship, contact me on my website:


Anneli Rufus. (May 19, 2010).

Zawn Villines. (October 14, 2014).

Mary Gillen.

Michael Fulwiler. October 10, 2014.

Kaja Perina.  May 1, 2003.

Kelly J. Grover, Candyce S. Russell, Walter R. Schumm and Lois A. Paff-Bergen.    Mate Selection Processes and Marital Satisfaction.  Family Relations.  Vol. 34, No. 3 (Jul., 1985), pp. 383-386

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