State of the Union

Realism, not romance, is what can save your relationship


Jay Walljasper | April 2005 issue

There are signs everywhere today, especially in North America, that marriage is thriving as much as ever.

Wedding magazines are now thicker than big city phone books, packed with hundreds of pages of ads and articles about how to pull off the perfect nuptial celebration. Excited couples and their families shell out thousands and thousands of dollars for rings, dresses, tuxedoes, flowers, banquet halls, caterers, photographers, and rounds of parties that can go on for days. It’s estimated that in the U.S. alone, weddings account for $70 billion dollars of business each year.

U.S. President George W. Bush wants to make promoting marriage a cornerstone of American domestic policy, and, in a time of war and painful budget cuts, asked Congress to spend $1.5 billion on programs to train low-income people in the interpersonal skills that will help them get and stay married.

Meanwhile, in an avalanche of recent studies, social scientists have calculated that married people are healthier, wealthier, happier, and more sexually satisfied than their single brethren. And the benefits of marriage extend beyond the couples themselves. Toronto writer Wendy Dennis notes that, “a huge and compelling body of social science research points unequivocally to the conclusion that, in almost every way, divorce is bad for children and society.”

Even gays and lesbians, who once cherished their roles as sexual outsiders, are eager to get in on the act. Commitment ceremonies have emerged in recent years as a popular same-sex version of wedding bells, many times being conducted in churches and synagogues. Denmark, the Netherlands, Canada, and other places have legalized some form of unions between same-sex couples. And discussion of gay marriage, of course, became a pivotal issue in last year’s U.S. presidential elections. And the marriage plans of Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles grabbed headlines around the world.

In fact, marriage seems to be thriving almost everywhere except among married people. For all the sociological, political, religious, economic and activist support for matrimony, half of all North American marriages end in divorce. In Europe, where social and family pressure to marry is less intense, a high divorce rate still prevails.

Even gloomier news comes in a study from Rutgers University in the U.S., which reports that even couples who stay together aren’t necessarily satisfied with their marriages. Only 38 percent of people in their first marriage described themselves as “actually happy” with their relationship. And Wendy Dennis, writing in the Canadian magazine Walrus (December 2004), notes that statistics reveal fifteen to twenty percent of American marriages today are virtually “sexless”(engaging in sex ten times a year or less)—and that the true numbers may be far higher since people are reluctant to admit bedroom problems to researchers.

The persistence of a high divorce rate confounds many observers, who assumed the steep rise in divorce beginning in the 1970s could be explained by the fact that many couples were simply liberating themselves from ill-advised marriages that in earlier generations they would have been forced to endure. With a loosening of moral strictures on pre-marital sex and new economic opportunities for women who were no longer forced into marriage for financial security, it was assumed that people would wed more wisely and the number of divorces would tumble. But that never happened. The divorce rate in North America has stubbornly remained at fifty percent for several decades. In fact, it turns out that living together before marriage, which half of North American couples now do and even more Europeans, doesn’t improve a marriage’s chances. These couples, when they marry, are more likely to divorce.

Trying to square all the widespread enthusiasm for matrimony with actual data on the state of marriage unions today, Dennis asks, “If marriage is such a hot deal, then why are so many people fleeing?”

The answer to that question, according to a special section in Psychology Today (March/April 2004), may actually be linked with the increasing glorification of marriage as the answer to all our needs. Paul Amato, sociology professor at Pennsylvania State University, notes that as recently as the 1950s, most young people told researchers they wanted to get married so they could start a family and own a home. Now, love is the overwhelming reason, according to studies. “This increased emphasis on emotional fulfillment within marriage,” Psychology Today notes, “ leaves couples ill-prepared for the realities they will probably face.

“We once prized the institution [of marriage] for the practical pairing of a cash-producing father and a home-building mother. Now we want it all—a partner who reflects our taste and status, who sees us for who we are, who loves us for all the ‘right’ reasons, who helps us become the person we want to be. We’ve done away with a rigid social order, adopting instead an even more onerous obligation: the mandate to find a perfect match.”

This leaves us discontent in our relationships, and always scanning the horizon for that “soul mate” we believe is out there. And when finally finding him or her, we believe, there will never be quarrels, sex will always be romantic fireworks, and we’ll live happily ever after. But that’s about as likely to happen, psychologists say, as kissing a frog to find a handsome prince.

Research conclusively shows that people who stay together over the long haul, disagree about things just as much as couples who divorce. “All marriages are incompatible,” notes Frank Pittman, a psychologist in Atlanta, Georgia. “All marriages are between people from different families, people who have a different view of things.”

The secret of a happy and enduring relationship seems to be maintaining realistic expectations about what’s possible in romance, and cultivating the skills to work things out with your partner. Conflict can’t be avoided; the key to marital and relationship success is overcoming the inevitable problems in a loving way.

Wendy Dennis, examining what’s gone wrong in her three long-term relationships and those of many of her friends, comes up with unlikely role models of a good marriage: Bill and Hillary Clinton. “Whatever your views on fidelity, I think it is impossible not to sense the presence of some aliveness, some kinetic energy in the marriage….Whatever its limitations, it seems apparent that both of the individuals who inhabit this marriage find something of great depth and renewal there.” And the same might be said for England’s heir apparent and his sometime mistress of 35 years. Throughout marriages, divorces, and scandals, the two of them have maintained an abiding attraction for and interest in each other.

Solution News Source

State of the Union

Realism, not romance, is what can save your relationship


Jay Walljasper | April 2005 issue

There are signs everywhere today, especially in North America, that marriage is thriving as much as ever.

Wedding magazines are now thicker than big city phone books, packed with hundreds of pages of ads and articles about how to pull off the perfect nuptial celebration. Excited couples and their families shell out thousands and thousands of dollars for rings, dresses, tuxedoes, flowers, banquet halls, caterers, photographers, and rounds of parties that can go on for days. It’s estimated that in the U.S. alone, weddings account for $70 billion dollars of business each year.

U.S. President George W. Bush wants to make promoting marriage a cornerstone of American domestic policy, and, in a time of war and painful budget cuts, asked Congress to spend $1.5 billion on programs to train low-income people in the interpersonal skills that will help them get and stay married.

Meanwhile, in an avalanche of recent studies, social scientists have calculated that married people are healthier, wealthier, happier, and more sexually satisfied than their single brethren. And the benefits of marriage extend beyond the couples themselves. Toronto writer Wendy Dennis notes that, “a huge and compelling body of social science research points unequivocally to the conclusion that, in almost every way, divorce is bad for children and society.”

Even gays and lesbians, who once cherished their roles as sexual outsiders, are eager to get in on the act. Commitment ceremonies have emerged in recent years as a popular same-sex version of wedding bells, many times being conducted in churches and synagogues. Denmark, the Netherlands, Canada, and other places have legalized some form of unions between same-sex couples. And discussion of gay marriage, of course, became a pivotal issue in last year’s U.S. presidential elections. And the marriage plans of Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles grabbed headlines around the world.

In fact, marriage seems to be thriving almost everywhere except among married people. For all the sociological, political, religious, economic and activist support for matrimony, half of all North American marriages end in divorce. In Europe, where social and family pressure to marry is less intense, a high divorce rate still prevails.

Even gloomier news comes in a study from Rutgers University in the U.S., which reports that even couples who stay together aren’t necessarily satisfied with their marriages. Only 38 percent of people in their first marriage described themselves as “actually happy” with their relationship. And Wendy Dennis, writing in the Canadian magazine Walrus (December 2004), notes that statistics reveal fifteen to twenty percent of American marriages today are virtually “sexless”(engaging in sex ten times a year or less)—and that the true numbers may be far higher since people are reluctant to admit bedroom problems to researchers.

The persistence of a high divorce rate confounds many observers, who assumed the steep rise in divorce beginning in the 1970s could be explained by the fact that many couples were simply liberating themselves from ill-advised marriages that in earlier generations they would have been forced to endure. With a loosening of moral strictures on pre-marital sex and new economic opportunities for women who were no longer forced into marriage for financial security, it was assumed that people would wed more wisely and the number of divorces would tumble. But that never happened. The divorce rate in North America has stubbornly remained at fifty percent for several decades. In fact, it turns out that living together before marriage, which half of North American couples now do and even more Europeans, doesn’t improve a marriage’s chances. These couples, when they marry, are more likely to divorce.

Trying to square all the widespread enthusiasm for matrimony with actual data on the state of marriage unions today, Dennis asks, “If marriage is such a hot deal, then why are so many people fleeing?”

The answer to that question, according to a special section in Psychology Today (March/April 2004), may actually be linked with the increasing glorification of marriage as the answer to all our needs. Paul Amato, sociology professor at Pennsylvania State University, notes that as recently as the 1950s, most young people told researchers they wanted to get married so they could start a family and own a home. Now, love is the overwhelming reason, according to studies. “This increased emphasis on emotional fulfillment within marriage,” Psychology Today notes, “ leaves couples ill-prepared for the realities they will probably face.

“We once prized the institution [of marriage] for the practical pairing of a cash-producing father and a home-building mother. Now we want it all—a partner who reflects our taste and status, who sees us for who we are, who loves us for all the ‘right’ reasons, who helps us become the person we want to be. We’ve done away with a rigid social order, adopting instead an even more onerous obligation: the mandate to find a perfect match.”

This leaves us discontent in our relationships, and always scanning the horizon for that “soul mate” we believe is out there. And when finally finding him or her, we believe, there will never be quarrels, sex will always be romantic fireworks, and we’ll live happily ever after. But that’s about as likely to happen, psychologists say, as kissing a frog to find a handsome prince.

Research conclusively shows that people who stay together over the long haul, disagree about things just as much as couples who divorce. “All marriages are incompatible,” notes Frank Pittman, a psychologist in Atlanta, Georgia. “All marriages are between people from different families, people who have a different view of things.”

The secret of a happy and enduring relationship seems to be maintaining realistic expectations about what’s possible in romance, and cultivating the skills to work things out with your partner. Conflict can’t be avoided; the key to marital and relationship success is overcoming the inevitable problems in a loving way.

Wendy Dennis, examining what’s gone wrong in her three long-term relationships and those of many of her friends, comes up with unlikely role models of a good marriage: Bill and Hillary Clinton. “Whatever your views on fidelity, I think it is impossible not to sense the presence of some aliveness, some kinetic energy in the marriage….Whatever its limitations, it seems apparent that both of the individuals who inhabit this marriage find something of great depth and renewal there.” And the same might be said for England’s heir apparent and his sometime mistress of 35 years. Throughout marriages, divorces, and scandals, the two of them have maintained an abiding attraction for and interest in each other.

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