Marriage in America Today

marriage

Marriage in America Today

The number of people getting married is declining. Experts say the marriage rate today is lower than it was in 1880, another time when extreme differences in income affected the social landscape. Though marriage is touted in America and many societies as helping to preserve the social order, the atmosphere with which we operate is far from conducive in promoting it. In the original Gilded Age as Mark Twain called it, a new class of industrialists slashed wages and with it the prospects of workers of marrying age, mostly male factory workers. Sociologist Andrew J. Cherlin at John Hopkins University wrote that one difference today is many are choosing to cohabitate and have children without a marriage license filed away in the family home. That would never do in the 19th century. But today it’s quite common.

One problem is the gatekeepers to pop culture, the TV and movie writers, musical artists and others have failed to keep up and give us an image we can hang onto for this new state of affairs in how long-term love should be.  Zoë Heller at the New York Review of Books says films today and other cultural milieu are filled with simplistic plots and clichés about love, without delving into the complicated minutia of modern relationships and how best to navigate them. They don’t reflect what people are actually experiencing, nor do they give a strategy for which to encounter the prickly paradigm of modern love. Supporters of traditional values decry the end of marriage as it once was. But couples staying together longer show greater stability, know each other better and perhaps can best negotiate differences. The expense of a wedding, weakening norms and lack of financial benefit may result in a further decline in marriage, experts believe. On the upshot for advocates, statistics show that those who are getting married stay together longer. Also, the divorce rate has dropped dramatically. In fact, since the 1980’s, divorce has been in deep decline. 70% of those who married in the 1990s celebrate their 15th wedding anniversary today. That’s 5% higher than those who married in the 70’s and 80’s. Those who tied the knot in the new millennium have an even lower divorce rate.

According to economist Justin Wolfer at the University of Michigan, two-thirds of married couples today stay together. For those cases where divorce does occur, two-thirds of the time it’s the wife who wants it. The reason is women’s expectations for marriage have vastly changed. Gender roles in America saw a dramatic paradigm shift over the past two decades due to the Feminist movement. This in turn affected how both sexes interact with one another. Today, marriage isn’t only about raising a family or having financial support. It’s about love and partnership. People also want someone who will help lead them into personal growth. They want to grow and better themselves and they look to their partner to help them complete their metamorphosis. A lot of times, when we feel as though we are in a stale relationship and the well has gone dry, we feel it’s time to move on. The baby boomer generation remains the one with the highest rate of divorce. People are living older nowadays, and so when the children have moved out and they still have decades of life left, they want to make the most of it. That sometimes means leaving someone they no longer connect with in order to enjoy those years with someone they do. For more on this topic read, The Marriage-Go-Round: The State of Marriage and the Family in America Today by Andrew J. Cherlin.

Divorce Rate among Older Americans Increased Significantly

GRAY-DIVORCE

Divorce Rate among Older Americans Increased Significantly

A new report by sociologists at Bowling Green State University, found that since 1990, the divorce rate among Americans 50 years old and up has doubled. For those over 65, it has more than doubled. While other age brackets have seen a leveling off or even a decline in divorce rates, 25% of those getting divorced today are 50 and up. 10% are 65 and over. Susan L. Brown and I-Fen Li are the authors of the report. What these researchers found is that this trend stands in contrast from the majority of divorces that take place. 50% of divorces by younger people are among those who have not acquired a college education. But for older people, education level is not a factor. In younger generations, primary marriages last the longest. Second marriages are generally not as stable. But in older Americans, primary marriages have a 50% chance of ending. 55% of divorces take place between those who have spent two decades or more together. Brown said, “We found that flabbergasting.” Many of these older marriages do not come to divorce over constant arguing. They quite simply have grown apart. What researchers have failed to pin down in the document is why the older generation is filing for divorce in such record numbers. Still, no matter what demographic, the majority of those asking for a divorce are women.

Brown said, “It’s not as if marital quality has suddenly declined. Instead, I think we have higher expectations now for what constitutes a successful marriage. We expect spouses to be best friends and marriage a source of happiness and fulfillment.” She added, “As women achieve more financial independence and autonomy, frankly, they can afford to get divorced. And after you’ve launched your children and retire, people may realize, ‘Boy, we don’t have much in common, and I could live another 20 years.’ That’s a long time to live with someone you may not be that into anymore.” Since the social stigma has worn off in most places, people are not likely to stick together for tradition’s sake. As a consequence, there has been tremendous growth in the number of older Americans cohabitating. A multitude of new dating websites targeted toward older Americans has cropped us as a consequence.  For those in a good financial situation and strapping health, a divorce could mean a new lease on life. It will allow more independence, freedom, and opportunities. For those who lack resources, a divorce increases their chances of becoming impoverished. Older married couples have 80% more wealth on average than the older divorced. The financial well-being of the widowed 50 and over is double what these sociologists have dubbed the “gray divorced.”

“Now that they no longer have a spouse, divorced older people have less social support. Relationships with their older children could be compromised as a result of the divorce,” Brown said. “As they age and experience health declines, who’s going to take care of them? Especially if they’re not able to afford the level of care that others with more economic resources have?” This is not only an American phenomenon. According to a senior researcher at the Paris School of Economics, Elena Stancanelli, the same thing is happening in France. Brown wonders if the trend occurring now with the baby boomer generation will hold true when their children, Generation X and Millennials, get older. “As marriage becomes more selective, and more tied to education than in the past, that could help stabilize marriages,” Brown said. She believes these latter generations might save a little time for their partner rather than throwing all they have into career and child rearing, and so be more connected when they get older, rather than not recognizing the person they married, when the couple becomes empty nesters. If you find yourself divorcing and in the upper tiers of life it may be useful to pick up a copy of, Divorce After 50: Your Guide to the Unique Legal & Financial Challenges by Janice Green.

Young People aren’t the Only Ones Cohabitating but not Getting Married

 

OLDER-COUPLE-ON-DATE

Young People aren’t the Only Ones Cohabitating but not Getting Married

Young people aren’t the only ones cohabitating but not getting married. Believe it or not seniors are doing it too. AARP recently took a survey of 1,670 people over 44. 78% didn’t find non-marital sex wrong. In 1999 the number was 59%. Americans have let go of the idea that martial sex be the only socially acceptable avenue. According to the AARP findings, single people have more sex than married couples. And singles are more satisfied with their sex lives. What could be the motivating factor when it comes to seniors? Financial considerations are certainly part of it. Seniors certainly don’t want to stop receiving social security or retirement benefits. They worry about what their children will inherit once they leave this earth and don’t want a marriage making that process more complicated either. Another consideration is the family one. Often even adult children have a hard time accepting their parent’s remarriage. Perhaps they don’t want to give their adult children any trauma.

They may feel that they don’t want to get married and make a big social occasion out of it. They feel that they don’t want to be the center of attention. They had their wedding in their youth and that was enough for them. Women also outlive men. So heterosexual women of a certain age may only find so many available men in their vicinity. Men do often seek younger partners as well. Being practical and open-minded may be the best option if she desires a love life. Cohabitation is much easier for empty nesters and seniors. If they live alone, or in a community of people around the same age, who is to know really what is happening in whose love life? But the point is, no matter what age you are, seek happiness. Weddings are great. But there are far more important things in a relationship than a piece of paper, a party and recognition by the state and perhaps a religious institution. What really matters is how the couple feels about one another and treats one another. Do they support and love one another? Is there a closeness and intimacy? Is there affection? Do they hold each other up or hold one another back? These are the important things. Love is an active state where each participant decides its course moment to moment and breath to breath. Whatever your state, make it a good one from one moment to the next. For more advice on cohabitating read, Unmarried to Each Other: The Essential Guide to Living Together as an Unmarried Couple by Dorian Solot and Marshall Miller.

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.

Why First Marriages Often End in Divorce

Divorce-Proceedings

Why First Marriages Often End in Divorce

With such longer lifespans nowadays, “Until death do you part” may mean 80 years altogether for the average couple, rather than the 30 it used to mean in the past. Today, young people are staving off marriage to get more education and develop their careers. What’s more, many wonder with so much time in their life whether it’s possible nowadays to stay with one person for the rest of their lives. This is true, too, given the fact that so many young people today grew up in households that endured contentious divorces in the 1970’s and 80’s, and so are more wary of the institution in general. Americans today it now seems are becoming serial monogamists. For late baby boomers and below, two or even three marriages in a lifetime is not uncommon. Long-term partnership through cohabitation without getting married is becoming much more common today than it was in the past. So the days of marrying your high school sweetheart, though nostalgic, are probably gone. It’s probably for the best, too since those relationships certainly were not the most solid. Though this is a good time to form the basis for what it means to be in an adult relationship, the criteria adolescence use for choosing their partner is quite a bit different than adults use when selecting a life partner.

The problem is some have carried these immature patterns into adult relationships. Being whiny, condescending, passive aggressive or outright aggressive is certainly adolescent relationship behavior. Of course we are all human and take part in such interactions from time to time. But many marriages are consumed by these. There are many other reasons why first marriages often end in divorce, too. Another issue is unrealistic expectations. Lots of people enter into that first year of marriage thinking that everything will fall into place all by itself. They think that “Happily ever after” is how life really is. But anyone who has ever been in a real marriage realizes that there is a lot of energy, time and effort that has to be put into a marriage to keep it alive and to make it grow and thrive. Otherwise it can get stale, old and your connection can fall apart. There are those who enter into marriage seeing it as a way to edify themselves, but they don’t realize that it’s important to hold up and support their spouse and at times, step out of the lime light to let their spouse be the star of the show. Each person in the relationship should be important. It should be a union of equals. What’s more, each person should hold up and support their partner for that person’s own unique set of talents, help them to thrive and celebrate their growth. Today, we seek partners who help us grow. If our partner inhibits that growth, it’s sayonara, and this does happen in a lot of first marriages. This shaping one another into their ideal selves is called the Michelangelo phenomenon by psychological researcher Carol Rusbult, and has been called “a defining characteristic of mature love,” by Associate Professor of Psychology at California State University Kelly Campbell, Ph.D. in an article in Psychology Today.

While immature love grasps for one’s self, mature love holds the beloved up so that they can fly. Though we live in an individualistic society where we often put our own needs and desires ahead of others, counterintuitively it’s when we put our partner’s needs first that we ourselves thrive. For they, if they are worth your time, will invest the same amount of energy in making sure that we succeed and develop and grow accordingly. If you are in a first marriage or any marriage and want your relationship to last, support your spouse. Show them how much gratitude and affection you have for them. Don’t react with being defensive if your partner needs a change, or asks you to change. Listen deeply. Internalize their concerns. See where they are coming from. Talk it out without any shame or blame but just what is happening and what all the moving parts are. Once you’ve got a good handle on the situation you both can come up with novel solutions that can satisfy both of you, or at least compromise on something you can both live with. Always edify and hold them up and they should do the same for you. For more, pick up a copy of Why Marriages Succeed or Fail: And How You Can Make Yours Last by John Gottman, Ph.D.