Should we Beta Test Marriages to Avoid Divorce?

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Should we Beta Test Marriages to Avoid Divorce?

A beta test, for those outside the computer world, is testing a product before its commercial release. The idea is to work out all the bugs to make sure things go smoothly when it’s ready for launch. So should we beta test marriages in order to avoid divorce? Millennials seem to think so. A recent survey of 1,000 adults found that almost half of Millennials support the idea of a trial period during which they could test drive a marriage to work the kinks out, or walk away if it wasn’t right for them. The older generation may be horrified, as they were infused with the idea that “’til death do you part” as gospel. But people are living much longer nowadays. Lots of generation Y and Millennials came from divorced parents. What’s more, their environment in the technical landscape is constantly changing, so being locked down to one person after marriage seems like a concept from the primordial past. This generation has more choices for dating and in all other aspects than people have ever had before. So 20-somethings are wary, anxious and skeptical of the idea of traditional marriage and so are finding other options, ones that work for their culture and social environment.

Jessica Bennett of Time says that this generation who has seen tremendous changes in society and are poised to see many more, especially in the realm of technology, should be given the freedom to revamp marriage and make it work for the modern world. This isn’t the first time we’ve heard this however. Anthropologist Margaret Mead back in the 1970’s forecasted “serial monogamy.” That is marrying one person, getting divorced and marrying again, or being in long-term relationships one after another. Biologist and anthropologist Helen Fisher also believes that two people aren’t necessarily meant to be together forever. Generally speaking the honeymoon period lasts around four years. This equates according to Dr. Fisher with the time it takes to raise a child from infant until it can start walking and being more independent. After that time early humans, Dr. Fisher believes, handed over the children to be raised by the entire village. Men and women therefore were free to pursue foraging, hunting and other relationships. These were serial, short-term monogamous relationships in order to produce children in a healthy manner. Lots of Millennials nowadays, and many others and some divorced baby boomers and gen X and Y, are living together long-term. There are Millennials today shirking marriage altogether preferring long-term cohabitation to tying the knot. Many say they want to avoid the excruciating emotional and financial consequences should they be facing divorce.

There are those proposing open marriages, and others who say practicing a marriage that is “monogamish,” meaning partners can stray over pre-agreed upon conditions, can help to keep marriage going. Some are saying no matter what changes occur this is the beginning of the end of the institution. Others are not so extreme. Author Stephanie Coontz has an idea to help prolong the institution; five year contracts. Couples would consciously decide to “reup” every five years. A transition period in life or a major life event may also prompt a reup. This renewal would include “… new set of vows that reflect what the couple has learned.” Certainly it’s important to note that America has the highest divorce rate of all the countries in the West. What’s more, research has shown that the longer one waits to get married the higher the chance that the couple will stay together. In the last 40 years cohabitation has increased 1,000%. Many scholars believe that merely changing and updating marriage for the circumstances of the modern world can preserve it. Though these new practicalities may save the institution, it doesn’t help us make decisions in our love life in the first place. In fact, it may make decisions even harder to make. Researcher Melissa Lavigne-Delville says, “This is a generation who has not had to make as many long-term commitments as previous generations, so the idea of not having an out feels a little stringent.” But Lavigne-Delville admits “Divorce has happened for a long time. Maybe we should rethink the rules.” To learn more about marriage and how it’s changed read, Marriage: A History by Stephanie Coontz.

Can Living Together before Marriage Prevent Divorce?

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Can Living Together before Marriage Prevent Divorce?

7.5 million U.S. couples, mostly 20-somethings are cohabitating today as a way to make sure they’ll stay together, in hopes of preventing future divorce. The reason is most of them grew up in the 1980’s when a lot of divorces took place. Millennials and Generation Y growing up in the 1970’s and 1980’s for the first time saw a record number of divorces due to a chipping away at the stigma and, what’s more, no fault divorce laws coming into vogue across the nation. These generations want to stave off marriage in hopes of making sure the person they are living with is the one for them. Divorce is of course a financially and emotionally shattering event in one’s life. But there seems to be some controversy in whether or not living together before marriage prevents divorce. According to Clinical Psychologist Dr. Meg Jay of the University of Virginia, who in a New York Times article wrote of what she calls the “cohabitation effect,” a phenomenon of cohabitating couples getting married and becoming less satisfied than those who did not live together, and so are more prone to divorce. According to Dr. Jay instead of getting married 20-something couples merely move into the direction of cohabitation instead of making it a point to focus on, discuss and decide on their relationship and where it is going, what she’s termed “sliding, not deciding,” meaning couples just drift into cohabitation rather than making it a serious decision as perhaps couples in past generations might have.

Sliding works like this: sex leads to leaving a tooth brush at someone’s place, then some personal care products and sooner or later the couple has moved in together. “Mission creep” is another term used for the same phenomenon. The couple seems naturally to fall into cohabitation. But according to Dr. Jay research has shown that the sexes view cohabitation differently. Women see it as an avenue to marriage while men see it as a way to have a relationship. What’s more, Dr. Jay says that the standards they hold for a spouse aren’t as high as one they hold for a cohabitating partner. As the relationship develops a new stage will sooner or later crop up, what Dr. Jay calls “lock-in” which she defines as, “the decreased likelihood to search for or change to another option once an initial investment has been made.” Once the couple is established, they are splitting the bills, have a group of friends, and even have pets. It is harder to extricate one’s self. Also, entering into dating after you’ve been lodged into this type of relationship is scary. If the relationship at home is of a lower quality than one would have if one were looking for a marriage partner, it seems as though it’s easier to settle for what you have at home than to get rid of that person and set out to seek a spouse. So people in this group settle for what they already have, says Jay.

Jay argues that 20-somethings and others stay in mediocre relationships for years, not being really happy simply out of convenience and a fear of the unknown. She says relationships that would have lasted only a few months now drag on for years, and so in her view wastes those 20-something years. Still, cohabitation seems likely to stay, not only for social reasons, or fear of divorce, but also financial ones. Lots of 20-somethings having to forgo marriage for longer bouts of education just to be marketable in the job market have staved off marriage for career. Some 20-somethings are so overburdened with work and school that they don’t have time to develop their love lives. In this sense, a default mode or staying in a non-traditional or even a non-monogamous relationship in order to get one’s needs met while still keeping one’s grades up and earning a paycheck could be more practical for 20-somethings. A whole shift in how people engage in their love lives is not based merely on the younger generation experiencing their parent’s divorce but in shifts in our economic system and other factors as well. People are also living longer today. Being married to one person for the rest of one’s life is looking less and less like an attractive option. What once only lasted a few decades can now go on and on for even half a century or more. There are many more options open today for young people due to the proliferation of internet dating and dating apps. What’s more, a generation of young women, college educated and able to support themselves are in a peculiar situation. Many don’t see themselves supporting a man. They aren’t tethered to men for financial support and so can choose and steer the course of their own romantic relationship with far less of the stigma that once occurred in the past. Dr. Jay may be on to something in one sense. But there also may be many more factors at play complicating the issue. Some psychologists and others are calling this the end of marriage. Others believe marriage will only change. Some are proposing different scenarios such as an open marriage, marriages that expire after a certain number of years but that can be renewed, even situations such as “monogamish” where couples have a few rules about when they can stray outside of the marriage. How marriage plays out in America in the future is anyone’s guess. One thing is clear, we are at the beginning of a tremendous transformation in this category of life that isn’t projected to change anytime soon. For more pick up a copy of the book, The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter- and How to Make the Most of Them Now by Dr. Megan Jay.