Friday, September 16, 2011

Examining The Institution of Marriage, Part II

The divorce rate in the United States for a first marriage is 41%; for a second marriage, 60%; and for a third marriage, 73% (per Pretty depressing statistics, especially as they rise with subsequent marriages. Logically, you might think that one would learn some lessons after the first time and use these in a subsequent relationship. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Let’s try to understand why.

As you begin your dating forays, you may encounter many men and women who are divorced after being married for 25 to 30 years. When you inquire what led to this turn of events, even the participants cannot give you a concrete answer. I would venture to guess that they lived in an unsatisfactory or unfulfilling state for a long time in order to give their children a stable upbringing. When the children came of age and left the family nest, these people decided to see if there was anything “more” out there.

The painful truth is that generally they are not able to find more, for it is their attitude towards life, relationships, and love that make them feel lacking or unfulfilled. A new partner will not be able to fill up that hole in their soul. They may experience the exhilaration of a new romantic relationship, but soon the shine will fade and they will be left with the same feeling of melancholy and want.

They are not necessarily to blame, though. Society has programmed its members to think of marriage as the pinnacle of relationship success, while, in fact, it is simply a social institution originally conceived to bring financial comfort and emotional stability to its participants, as well as being a vehicle for having children. As children, we had a romanticized version of marriage ingrained in our brains and so we grow up thinking that our partner will “telepathically know our thoughts; the relationship will be conflict free; and our partner will make us feel fulfilled on all levels.” This leaves most people unprepared for marriage, for it is hard work to live with another person.

There is nothing intrinsically wrong with marriage, although you must look at it realistically. Marriage both “adds things to your life and takes things away.” It is necessary to pick your battles and decide “what part of yourself you’re willing to let go.” At times, you may also need to trade one feeling for another. You must decide which ones are important to you and, when you attain them, not be disappointed by their ramifications. Consider this pyramid of feelings as stated in Marriage Confidential and decide what you want. Is it stability, security and constancy, and, if so, are you willing to give up the highs of excitement sometimes associated with danger or lust?

Despite the high prevalence of divorce, people have not abandoned the institution. Mark Mather and Diana Lavery tell us that “although marriage rates have dropped among young adults, it is important to note that most young adults will go on to marry later in life. The probability of an adult getting married at some point during their lifetime is still nearly 90 percent.”

How can you avoid becoming a statistic?
The best antidote to divorce is to pick your partner well. Take your time to truly get to know your intended. Observe him or her in all types of situations. Discuss the vision of your life before you get married, which includes the possibility of children and finances, to name just two topics. Come to know his/her family and their eccentricities. This is often the best indicator of the type of behavior you can expect from your mate.

Before you step into marriage, it is also imperative to adjust your expectations. Once, women, especially, came to marriage inexperienced and untouched. There may have been arranged marriages or couples married young for convenience and economic reasons. Today, young adults are taking their time getting married and, most probably, have been a participant in other relationships. Women are also self-supporting and can have children without a husband, so the desperate need for marriage to accomplish one’s goals is tempered; instead, one looks for another to enhance his/her life. Yet, despite all these advances, women (and men too) expect marriage to be the answer to their problems. They want it all and may still harbor the thought of attaining the fairytale of romantic love.

Instead, Kristina Zurcher (as quoted by Haag in Marriage Confidential) says that marriages ideally should be “stronger, more lasting and about more than romantic love” which is after all a highly perishable good and may have a short expiry date (aka the honeymoon period).

Don’t get me wrong; I am not negating the romance part of a relationship. I’m all for it and believe you need to find something that makes you fall in love with your partner every day. However, to sustain a relationship for the long term, one must also be realistic and, above all, cultivate patience.

You simply cannot expect to be “happy” (whatever that means to you) every moment of every day. Also, you should not expect your partner to be responsible for your happiness; that is your job! Let go of narcissistic thoughts; it’s not always about you and what you need! Many times you must sublimate your feelings for the good of the relationship. Change is constant, so the wheel will turn and you and your needs will have a chance to be at the top, too.

So, if you are in the midst of a melancholy, low level conflict relationship and asking yourself “Should there be more?” OR “Why don’t I feel happier?” then look within and examine what it is that you think is missing and if you necessarily have to leave your relationship to get it. This constitutes part of the “work” you must do to nurture your relationship. Contrary to popular thought, relationships are not disposable! Open your eyes to the opportunities that always surround you that can help you discover your passion and then bring your enthusiasm back to your relationship vs leaving the relationship in order to pursue it. Your inner excitement can be contagious and rekindle the fire of love with your partner!

Marriages, and relationships in general, do not have to turn into hotbeds of discontent over the long haul, as long as the partners strive to keep it alive and vibrant … and, all the while, BEING NICE to each other.

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