Can a marriage last? Yes, there is hope for marriage: It truly is possible to succeed.
You are likely exploring the idea or reality of marriage at a time when marriage is often devalued, and cohabitation and divorce seem common. It is likely that friends or family have gone through divorces or relationship breakups after considering marriage. The character quality of “commitment” is often seen as difficult or scary.
We want guarantees about how things will turn out. I think that’s part of why weddings are often so lavish these days – we think we can control the outcome of a wedding…the outcome of a marriage seems far more difficult and uncertain. Perhaps it’s not really true.
New, Hopeful Research
There is more scientific research and information available confirming the value of marriage and how to have a successful marriage than at any time in history. Studying the needed knowledge and skills is a journey of learning and growing.
Shaunti Feldhahn, a colleague who is a researcher, was puzzled by all the bad news about marriage. She spent years talking to researchers, reviewing the original data, and coming to different conclusions than the media has portrayed [See her book “The Good News About Marriage”]. It turns out that the so-called 50 percent divorce rate was a forecast, not a fact. As far as she could determine, the actual rate is closer to 20-25 percent for first marriages and 31 percent for all marriages. She also found that:
- About 80 percent of marriages are happy
- Those who act on their faith have a lower divorce rate
- Remarriages are only seeing about 35 percent failure (vs. over 60 percent as reported in the media).
One more piece of encouraging news from Shaunti is that “most marriage problems are not caused by big-ticket issues, and simple changes can make a big difference.” [See her book “The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages”]
Succeeding at Marriage
It takes effort, sacrifice, wisdom, and selflessness to create a unified and harmonious marriage. Creating a marriage requires intentionality and focus. It requires both parties to put in the time and attention needed to stay connected, to consult about all matters, to have common goals, and to work through challenges (with outside help as needed). Marriage includes thoughtful service to each other delivered with loving-kindness. Including these types of behaviors in marriage contributes to its joy, most particularly when both parties commit to it and carry it out. Education in the process is important: We study many subjects in-depth in our lives – relationships and marriage can be part of that.
My current working definition of wisdom, as mentioned above, is “making good choices based upon knowledge gained from careful listening, observation, education, and experiences, as well as through insights from reflecting that help to determine whether it is best to speak, remain silent, act, or be inactive.” This definition focuses on individuals, but my experience has been that there is also a “couple wisdom” that develops. For example, I have learned that daily prayer together with my husband helps prevent conflict and criticism from arising!
I see selfless service in my relationship with my husband Phil. When I’ve had a tough day, he brings home my favorite yellow flowers. I contribute to his well-being by sending him to work with a bag of healthy snacks. He sees when I need to run away from my desk for a couple of hours. We both notice when it’s time for a date. I spot quotations and articles that will help him in his work, and cartoons to help him laugh. He rubs ointment into my neck when it’s hurting. We help each other with physical touch. We make prayer requests and raise topics with each other regularly for consultation, a necessary sacrifice of time.
This last year has been difficult, as I’ve been away from home a lot with an aging ill mother and dying best friend. He has been amazingly supportive of me being where I need to be. And…I ease the pain of separation as best as I can with pre-prepared meals, regular phone/Skype calls, and getting home as soon as I can. We are in a constant dynamic of checking in with each other’s well-being and seeing how we can be of service. I love one of his regular questions, “How can I help?”.
Service helps us avoid selfishness and an over-focus on ourselves, something that seems to derail marriages. There is a lovely book called “Why Good Things Happen to Good People” by Stephen Post and Jill Neimark. The authors talk about building the capacity of “generativity” as a way to have a happy, successful life. They define it as “an act of giving that enables another person to manifest his or her own strengths and gifts through love.” They say this giving protects our mental and physical health.
Post and Neimark say, “When we nurture others, we nurture ourselves.” They cite studies that show teens who learn generativity retain it as a lifetime lifestyle. Generativity links to life success, spirituality, warm family relations, better health habits, and social competence. It’s good evidence to support helping teens and young adults engaging in service to others and improving society. Generativity is also a good foundation for marriage.
Please Share the Hope for Marriage [Forward this posting please!]
Please spread that there is hope for marriage. Engaging in relationship and marriage education helps to provide hope and encouragement. It helps participants to see that marriage is possible.
For more information about Shaunti Feldhahn’s work, please see her website: www.shaunti.com.
For more information about relationship and marriage education, please see www.marriagetransformation.com.