By Dayna Mason
Marriage has evolved over the last century. We’ve gone from a union based on economic benefits for the immediate families to love-based unions whose main purpose was to raise a family, to a new generation that may be opting out of both marriage and children altogether. So, what does this mean for the future of matrimony?
Is Marriage obsolete?
According to Pew Research, in 1960 72% of adults, age 18 and over, were married. Today that number is 50%. The younger generation is choosing to marry later in life, if at all, and some are opting out of becoming parents. So, is marriage becoming obsolete? With over 2 million weddings occurring each year in the U.S. alone, no, marriages are not obsolete. Have the reasons for getting and staying married changed? Definitely.
Divorce and long-term commitment
Pew Research also reported that 41% of adults are either unsure or don’t want to marry. But this doesn’t mean they don’t want to be in a long-term relationship. A Wedding Wire survey done in 2019 found that 72% of engaged couples lived together before marriage. Many couples are choosing to live together to make sure they want to spend the rest of their lives with each other. And some are choosing to stay together without joining the ranks of a government recognized institution. In 2013, the National Center for Family & Marriage Research found that “Cohabitation has usurped marriage as the most common relationship experience in young adulthood.”
The divorce rate is declining as well, even after taking into account the declining rate of marriage. Young couples marrying later in life are more ready, emotionally and financially, for a long-term commitment, making marriage rarer and more stable than it was in the past.
But while Millennials are driving the overall declining divorce trend, the divorce rate for older generations has actually increased. According to the Pew Research Center, the rate of divorce since 1990 has doubled for those over 50 and has almost tripled for those 65 and older—a phenomenon labeled, “gray” divorce.
Why get married?
Americans tell us that love tops their list of the three most important reasons they get married, followed closely by desire for a life-long commitment, and companionship.
Psychology tells us that the primary reason people get married is for security. When we make it official, we make it harder to leave when challenges arise. And while this may be one of the underlying reasons, there is another benefit to publicly recognizing this commitment with ceremony. Ceremonies have been used throughout history to mark life transitions—graduations, birthdays, funerals, weddings, etc. In performing these rituals, we are bringing an idea or concept into the physical—creating a visible sign of an invisible marker. We are recognizing a transition from the past into a new future.
Specifically, a wedding is an opportunity to gather together our closest friends and family and share with them our beliefs about marriage and the commitment we are choosing to make. Then, going forward, those special guests are equipped to support us and remind us of the promises we made to each other on that special day.
Whether we get legally married or not, sharing our vow with others in a formal way offers a type of gravity to the commitment. And if we stay together 25 years or more, a long-term relationship offers a unique type of companionship.
The 25 Year Itch
We’re all familiar with the “7 Year Itch” in a relationship. A time when happiness often declines in a relationship and can lead to its ending. But there is another tumultuous phase in long-term relationships that happens at approximately the 25-30 year mark. This may explain the “gray” divorce trend.
Our late 50s into our 70s mark a phase of life some call, “liberation.” It’s a time of experimentation and innovation. During this phase, we are no longer willing to simply comply and are more willing to take risks. We ask ourselves, “If not now, when?” And instead of asking, “Why?” we ask, “Why not?”
If we’ve been married for more than a couple of decades when this phase of life shows up, we may look at our relationship with more scrutiny. After 25 years together there is bound to be some history, some unresolved issues, losses, and disappointments that may have gotten overlooked during the busyness of the first half of marriage. But in the second half, those issues demand resolution. And with divorce no longer stigmatized as a fate worse than death, it’s easier to contemplate leaving.
But if couples make it through this phase, there is something truly beautiful waiting on the other side, the very thing most Americans say is the reason they get married in the first place — love, life-long commitment and companionship. After 30-35 years together, we’ve finally reached the acceptance or commitment phase of relationship and have a real partner and friend. There is no longer a question mark hovering over the marriage. We know who our partner is, weaknesses and all. Yet we make a conscious choice to be with this person in spite of all of those things (and in some cases, because of them). We have someone in our life who knows us better than anyone else and provides a safe place for our hearts.
What does it take to nurture a long-term relationship?
Adaptability. A long-term relationship is an exercise in adaptability. If we are growing and evolving as individuals, the relationship will need to adapt.
Respect. How we treat our partner is everything. We must both give and expect to be treated with love, kindness, compassion, and respect. Respect is defined as, “due regard for the feelings, wishes, rights, or traditions of others.” We must respect our partner’s independence and believe in them and their right to make their own choices. We must honor their decisions, even if we don’t understand them. If those decisions encroach on our wellbeing, then we may need to make a decision for ourselves about what we want to do about it. But we still must respect their right to make even bad decisions for themselves.
Trust. We must trust that our partner is doing their best and avoid doubting their intentions. When we judge and criticize, we withhold love. Distrust creates an unsafe environment for the relationship and ultimately leads to its ending.
Support. We don’t have to have everything in common with our partner to have a long-lasting bond. But we do need to be supportive of our partner’s interests, even if we don’t want to participate.
Tracy, married 37 years, says the following about being married for over three decades:
“We are so different from each other and our interests are so different from each other that we have learned to just support whatever the other person is up to. One of my favorite modern philosophers, Werner Earhart, said, ‘People don’t need to have the same commitments to be satisfied together; they only need to be committed to each other’s commitments.’ We have taken this to heart. Give your spouse a push out into the world to do the things they love even if you don’t understand it.”
Serena, married 39 years, says:
“Sharing a lifetime of experiences together has resulted in a deep, foundational intimacy forged in mutual forgiveness through faith, hope and love. No question marks anymore. Just peace.”
In marriage, we are going to share every outcome. Because we are on the same team, in conflict, there is never a winner and a loser, we either win together or we lose together.
Good relationships provide a safe place to grow as individuals and a respite during life’s storms. In our partner we have someone who, with time, knows us better than anyone else, and therefore is in a unique position to encourage us to explore our world in our own way and our own time, and to be there when we fail.
Whether we are already in a committed relationship, or wish to be in one someday, rather than look at a partner as someone to check certain boxes for us, our goal could be to seek to truly know them and to be known by them.
In etymology, the Old English definition of friend is “one attached to another by feelings of personal regard and preference.”
In long-term committed relationship, in marriage, we have the ultimate, life-long, friend.
Wedding and Marriage Resources:
Free tools to help married couples overcome conflict:
Prepare-Enrich Couples Checkup Assessment:
Answer a questionnaire and review the report with a facilitator to better understand problematic areas of your relationship and gain tools for easier resolution.
Book – “Do-It-Yourself Wedding Ceremony: Create and Officiate Your Unforgettable Ceremony Third Edition” by Dayna Reid
Whether you want to write your own vows or choose all the words spoken for your ceremony, you’ll find a wealth of wording and ceremony selections, both spiritual and non-spiritual to express your beliefs about marriage and the promises you wish to make.
More info about Dayna here: www.DaynaJo.com or at https://www.facebook.com/daynajoauthor/