Has divorce lost acceptability in recent years as its frequency declines, particularly among those who have been to college? This question is answered affirmatively in the “Styles” section of today’s New York Times newspaper.
My personal and professional experience indicates that the normative influence of someone’s social milieu directly affects their willingness to divorce and the reaction of their close friends. If few cohorts are divorcing, a separation will be more cautious and friends’ reactions will appear more guarded. Curiously, if a couple divorces it is 75% more likely that their close friends will do so as well. Woody Allen directed a movie demonstrating this; marital dissonance spread rapidly from one couple to another.
It is reported in the article today that marriages are most likely to dissolve in their first decade. There are many reasons I can think of for this to be true.
Cohabitation is a learned behavior involving active listening, self-sacrifice and doing for others. The internalized portion of a relationship with someone else is differentiating individual desires from “must-haves,” and tolerating delayed gratification of some things while permanently writing off others.
This personal training takes place in the context of the other person doing their own sorting and balancing, sharing some values and activities while trading with you for their right to separately maintain others. Introducing a child into the equation requires that all these concessions, collaborations and painstakingly honed tolerance levels be re-calculated.
There is no doubt in my mind: Making a marriage work is harder than walking away. If a livable pattern of interaction gets established, I would expect to see it within the first ten years of marriage. Not always, but most of the time.
For many years, my opinion has been that counseling should be a prerequisite to issuance of a marriage license, in the same way that we require prospective drivers study a manual before earning the privilege of operating a motor vehicle. Why can’t couples learn a few basic skills before they wed, the same way we require familiarity with rules of the road before issuing a driver’s license?
Pre-marital study topics might include how to create a budget, balance a checkbook, set personal boundaries and priorities, communicate feelings rather than criticism, resolve conflict through negotiation, notice a partner’s emotions underlying their statements and conduct; and share and pay attention. I believe a little preventive maintenance on the front end would go a long way to reducing the trauma, therapy visits, litigation and expense for families when relationships fall apart. It might even preserve some marriages!