Sunday, November 7, 2010

DAY 33 – Marriage: So Romantic, but Such Poor Odds

Most folks really want to be married; happily married. Even of those who divorce, many continue to try again and again. The draw to be half of a couple is potent.

At age five, marriage was not on my mind, I know because I remember asking my Mom if I could stay with her forever. She assured me that I could. Somewhere between there and my first girlfriend at age 14, something changed. I don’t think that it was a thought process; cuz I don’t remember thinking about it. Whatever happened, it was powerful, because 5 years later I was married at 19. (photo above)

Surely, there are many factors that, like the Sirens sweetly singing, draw us to marriage,  but what I am interested in here is not what calls us to marriage, but why, with such potent forces moving us, we fail so consistently to stay married.

It is commonly said that 50% of marriages end in divorce. Data from the Centers for Disease Control show that in 2009 there were 2,077,000 marriages in the US, and 1, 038,500 divorces. If that trend were to hold, then the 50% figure is bang on.

Years ago, finding marriage and failed marriage fascinating, I began asking young engaged couples a single question: “Given that your desire is to remain married until death do you part, and given that 50% of marriages end in divorce, what is your plan for being in the staying-together 50%?”

Most couples I interviewed had no answer; apparently having given it no thought.

Of those that did have an answer, a common one was that the partners would remain married because they really loved one another. I don’t know how convincing that is for you, but I would call that answer romantic at best.

Some couples had clearly given it some thought, and believed that their commitment to maintain open communication would carry them through. While an important and undoubtedly critical part of a successful marriage, I have seen a lot of marriages with the same spoken commitment, go up in flames.

My advice for those considering, or embarking on what they hope will be a satisfying, lifelong relationship, is as follows:
1)     Understand that creating and maintaining a healthy marriage is not easy; it is not like falling off a log,
2)     Consider routine maintenance counseling throughout your marriage; even when it seems like nothing is wrong,
3)     Learn about, and dedicate some time and energy to practicing Nonviolent Communication (NVC). It could be the difference between getting what you want, and wishing you had.
4)     Romance is beautiful and powerful, but on its own, gives poor odds.


  1. i'd add that it's important for us to remember we have obligations to those in our lives and we must responsibly uphold them. this means sacrificing (preferably joyfully) some or many of our own interests in favor of another's.

  2. I love Robert's comment and had a similar thought myself. I'm so grateful that my parents raised me in a church that taught me from a very young age that we are to put other's needs above my own and be joyful in it. Many failed marriages I have witnessed have had much to do about selfishness. Without getting too churchy here, I've been taught that God is to be the focus of marriage. If we as a couple stay focused on serving Him and others, we are rewarded in countless ways. We are part of a much bigger picture.
    'Til death do us part means just that. If people would honor their commitment to one another, and themselves be honorable, there would be a much higher rate of success. If divorce weren't an option (mentally) people might spend more time on selecting the right partner. They'd have much better odds of succeeding. I do believe that there is a call for divorce, in cases of abuse, addiction or adultery...but those things can be avoided if we (again) put the needs of our spouse and family before our own.
    Life is unpredictable and extremely challenging. I'm so grateful to have had someone "on my team" through the last 12 years. It has enhanced my life in ways I can't describe.

  3. Thank you for this. As a newly engaged person who has also just watched her parents' marriage implode/explode/redefine acts of plosion, I've been wrestling with these issues a lot. I clicked on the link for nonviolent communication, but I am perplexed; how does one (do I) practice NVC if one does (I do) have so much anger in one's (my) heart? -Jen E

  4. Robert,
    Indeed, valuing others as we would value ourselves, makes sense to me!

  5. Alissa,
    Yeah, a loving, sharing partner is a joy and a blessing!
    I think you are right, a little more work on and commitment to marriage might well have a better outcome. Knowing more would help too.
    For me, I don't think of other's needs being greater than mine, but equal.

  6. Jen,
    What a valuable question!
    I would love to have the time to talk with you about that. Since I don't, I suggest that you read some of Rosenberg's writings on NVC.
    The simple answer is that NVC doesn't come out of anger. I bet you will come to not be angry.
    Whatever you do, don't give up.