Tag Archives: benefits of marriage

70% of Americans Optimistic about Marriage, Family

The headlines in most of the nation’s major newspapers last week blared, “Nearly 40% say marriage is becoming obsolete.” As usual, the media helps shape our view of reality simply by the way in which the story is reported. I encourage you to read the full report, which is quite a bit more optimistic than the “sky is falling” headlines.

Does it discourage you to hear about national surveys discussing how marriage may be becoming obsolete? If you read (in the words of Paul Harvey) “the rest of the story”, you may find the reporting was somewhat sensationalized, as I did. It may also help to know that divorced and cohabiting couples were overrepresented in the survey (because researchers rightly wanted to include people in different family types), and that these individuals were more likely to believe marriage is becoming obsolete. That’s not surprising considering their life experience. If you ask a married person if marriage is obsolete, they’ll likely say, “No, marriage is important.” Someone who chooses not to marry will likely respond, “Yes, marriage is obsolete.” It’s not rocket science. Also, some who agreed that marriage is becoming obsolete said marriage is important and they are troubled by the trends.

I could even accept the headline having a negative slant, because, let’s face it, they’re trying to sell papers, and controversy sells. However, the positive sides of the study weren’t reported. For example, the Pew Report acknowledges the changing state of families then says, “In the midst of all this change, the public maintains a positive outlook about the future of the family. When asked if they feel generally optimistic or pessimistic about the institution of marriage and the family, 67% said they were optimistic, 27% said they are pessimistic, and 6% were unsure.

Lamar Tyler, co-founder of BlackandMarriedwithKids pulled other encouraging results from the study as well, including:

Americans are more upbeat about the future of marriage and family (67%) than they are about the future of our educational system (50% are optimistic), it’s economic system (46% are optimistic), or its morals and ethics (41% are optimistic). Of course, that doesn’t speak well for the latter three areas.

More couples think their marriages/relationships are better than their parents’ marriages; 51% say they have a closer relationship, 43% say it’s similar to their parents’ marriage, and 5% say their relationship is less close than their parents’ relationship.

I sometimes read or hear men or women saying they don’t want the financial strain of being in a marriage, but 35% of surveyed respondents said being financially secure comes easier for married couples while 11% say it’s easier for singles. Half say there is no difference. (Research has shown us married couples do indeed have more financial security than singles or cohabiting couples.)

Respondents also said they believed having a fulfilling sexual life, finding happiness and having social status were easier for married people, and 77% said raising a family was easier for a married person. (Again, research confirms that married people do benefit from a better sex life, more happiness and greater social status. Search this blog for lots of posts on marriage benefits.)

I’m not so optimistic as to say there is nothing to the trends saying marriage is unimportant in our society. As much as I understand and believe in the benefits of marriage for children and adults financially, emotionally, and physically, I recognize there is a large part of our culture that believes marriage is an outdated model. Some women are saying, “I am more educated than the men I’m dating, I can earn my own money, and I don’t need a man.” Well, OK, don’t get married, but you may lose out on the chance at an intimate, lifelong bond with another human being. Or the men saying, “I wouldn’t want the financial burden of a wife and children.” A man with this viewpoint should not marry, but will he be happy at the end of his life with a full bank account and an empty house?

Even though research clearly shows children are at a great disadvantage when raised without both parents, one in four children are raised by a single parent. A larger number are raised by unmarried parents. Couples with lower levels of education and lower incomes often feel they must have economic security before marriage, so they postpone marriage, along with the benefits they and their children would have received. These trends have implications for our society, not just for the individuals involved.

First there are individuals who have expectations that are unrealistically high. Those who long for an intimate connection with a partner but have never seen how this plays out, modeled by happily married couples, may think loving couples never argue or disagree. They have a “happier ever after” mentality that means marriage shouldn’t take daily effort, and it should be based on constant, loving feelings. They wonder, will I ever find the perfect mate who loves me constantly and unconditionally? They think their jobs and lives should also be perfect before the wedding day.

Others have extraordinarily low expectations of marriage, fed by personal experiences and messages from media and the greater culture that marriage is a sham and an impossible ideal. Few people are taught to have high standards and realistic expectations for marriage. Too many haven’t had a personal witness or experience with a long-lasting, supportive marriage that was positive enough to convince them of the value of the institution of marriage. They may come to believe that true love doesn’t exist, nor does loyalty. 

Children of divorce, like me, can sometimes struggle with belief that a loving marriage can last, be happy and secure. Many children were forced to grow up quickly and learned to be very self-sufficient and independent. Why would they trust another person and give up their independence? They wonder, is it even possible to have a long-lasting, loving marriage? Is it worth the risk of trying?

I can certainly understand that these are important questions, and that those who haven’t resolved these struggles should probably remain single. But if you have a marriage worth modeling, what are you doing to mentor the next generation of marriages? If you value marriage, do you talk about it? Do you praise your spouse publicly? If all we hear are negative voices about marriage in our culture, the positive messages will be drowned out.

We don’t know what goes on inside other people’s marriages, so we can only speak from our own experience. My experience is that marriage has been a tremendous gift to me for the last 15 years. I have found tht it is possible to overcome human frailty and continue to love someone despite each of our faults, annoyances and life stresses. If you’re looking for tips to achieve a satisfying, long-lasting marriage, that’s what this blog is about. Thanks for reading and for sharing your experiences.

If you’re interested in reading more on this topic, one of the best columns I have seen in response to the study is this one by Stephanie Coontz at CNN.

Photo credit: @Pavel Losevsky/PhotoXpress.com

Who’s Marrying for Money?

In previous generations, marriage was the path for women to find financial security. In 2010, it may be men who are receiving the economic boost for marriage.

  • American women have outpaced men in education and income growth during the last 40 years.
  • Compared to the 1970s, many of today’s husbands are married to women with earnings and education that surpass theirs.
  • More women today are married to men with incomes and education below theirs.

A Pew Research Center report focused on U.S. couples aged 30 to 44. It was the first age group in which more women than men have college degrees. It’s considered a gender reversal, because in 1970, men were generally more educated than their wives, and now the opposite is true. About half have similar education levels. Only 4% of wives in 1970 out-earned their husbands, while in 2007, 22% of wives earned more.

From 1970 to 2007, women’s incomes have increased 44%, and men’s incomes have risen just 6%. However, a gap in earnings still exists. While women in the 70s earned only 52% of what men earned, they still earn about 78% of men’s salaries. Women made further inroads in earnings due the recession, with men losing more jobs than women. Details were reported by the Associated Press.

Do you think it’s important in a marriage who has more education or who earns more money?

Celebrate National Marriage Week: Be a Marriage Advocate –Part II

We continue our discussion with Susan Dutton Freund, Executive Director of thinkmarriage.org, on why marriage is relevant and important in 2010…Read Part I here.

“Marriage is worth fighting for as a society and personally,” says Susan, who draws parallels to other causes that were meant to help society—anti-smoking campaigns, drunk-driving campaigns, fighting for civil rights and for the environment. She says with all the well-documented evidence for marriage, we should all advocate for healthy marriages. “When it’s not working, people suffer, especially children who are helpless to keep their own homes together. Adults become helpless, too, when the court divides assets and children.”

“In this country, we think relationships and marriage are all about adults’ happiness.  This is very short-sighted and self-centered. It’s not that adults shouldn’t be happy, but we know they can learn skills to be quite successful in marriage. They need to have patience and perseverance to pursue that, and not throw it away,” says Susan. This leads to thinkmarriage.org’s new campaign:

Go green with your relationships. Don’t throw away your marriage; recycle it. Don’t’ pollute the human environment with unhealthy interactions and poor communication.

Susan suggests we can all become marriage advocates and champions by entering the public debate, by standing up for marriage, and by educating others about why it is important. The web site thinkmarriage.org offers a free Myth Busters Guide about marriage, which can be offered to others when you hear common myths, such as “children are resilient after a divorce,” Susan says. In reality, she says research shows divorce has lifelong effects on children, “so it’s worth trying really hard before you choose that option.”

While 70% of divorces are from low-conflict marriages, Susan warns that not all marriages can or should survive. There are three cases in which a marriage needs professional intervention, such as medical/psychological help, or therapy, for a chance at survival:

  1. Physical abuse—as well as serious verbal or emotional abuse
  2. Mental health issues—true mental health issues make it very difficult to have a healthy relationship
  3. An active, ongoing addiction—to a substance, pornography or sexual addiction, or gambling—addictive behaviors make an individual unable to sustain a healthy relationship

 However, she adds, “The vast majority of divorces are not as a result of these difficult circumstances, and 40 percent of children are now born outside of marriage, so we are out of balance.” Where’s the solution? “We all need to take part in a movement to restore marriage to the centerpiece of American life,” she says.

What do you think? Is advocating for marriage is difficult in today’s society? Do you feel like you’re forcing your viewpoints on others when you speak highly of marriage? Is it possible to support single parents and children/families who have experienced divorce, while also raising awareness about healthy marriages?

Celebrate National Marriage Week: Be a Marriage Advocate –Part I

In honor of National Marriage Week, which is celebrated this year from Feb. 7th to Valentine’s Day, I wanted to share a recent interview I had with Susan Dutton Freund, Executive Director of thinkmarriage.org. Her organization, based in Wisconsin, provides education, online tools and local programs to build healthier relationships. Susan is also part of a national movement to support healthy marriages.

Susan believes marriage education is “more important than ever.” She should know, after growing up in a high-conflict marriage, marrying and divorcing at a young age and raising two children on her own, and finally building a healthy and stable marriage in which to raise a family the second time around. She says our society isn’t preparing individuals for relationships as it did a century ago, when manners were taught in tight-knit communities by positive role models. “Today we live in a mobile society and are loosely networked,” Susan says. “There’s less emphasis on social mores, a do-your-own-thing mentality, separation from extended family, and an easy exit from marriage.”

Despite these challenges, a couple who works on their relationship can be successful, she says. “With a little time, thought, and effort, you can see really great things happen in your relationships.” Susan says a love letter is a tiny example of what should be in a good marriage—“pouring yourself and your affirmation, love and encouragement into another person.” She adds that a love letter not only makes your mate feel good, it also reminds you of your partner’s great attributes. That’s why her organization is offering interactive love letter kits for a nominal donation of $1.99. What a great idea for Valentine’s Day!

Susan says her organization teaches three positive messages, which she says have resonated within her community, and on a broader scale:

  1. Marriage is a public good that is beneficial to both adults and children. Research has shown married adults have more wealth, greater happiness and psychological wellbeing, lower rates of chemical abuse/addictions, less physical violence, better sex life, longer life, and better health. Children within intact families have greater academic achievement, greater lifetime earnings, lower rates of drug use, lower rates of teen pregnancy, higher physical health, emotional health, and fewer problematic behaviors.
  2. Divorce is preventable when you learn skills. Susan says two truly critical marriage skills are positive communication and conflict resolution. If a couple has these, they can manage other areas of conflict, such as finances, sex, housework and childcare. She adds that marriage retreats, seminars and courses are offered around the country to help couples improve these two skills.
  3. Children need both of their parents in their home to do their best. “As long as humanity keeps producing children, marriage will always be relevant,” says Susan. “Family is the building block of society, and when the family fractures, society fractures.”

 Stay tuned for Part II of our discussion tomorrow.

 How do you plan to celebrate Valentine’s Day and National Marriage Week? 

The Marriage “Haves” and “Have Nots”

I’ve posted a guest post today at The Marry Blogger about the societal divide of marriage in the United States. Here’s the intro:

College educated married couples are about half as likely to divorce as their less educated peers. Americans have seen divorce rates drop by about 30 percent since the early 1980s, but Americans without college degrees saw their divorce rates rise 6 percent.

This has created a social class divide in our society where the marriage “haves” (along with their children) receive the proven benefits of marriage, while the “have nots” fall further behind, economically, emotionally and socially, according to The Evolution of Divorce from National Affairs magazine’s fall 2009 issue.

To read the entire article, to go The Marry Blogger.

Your Emotional Health Affects Your Heart Health

Since heart disease is the #1 killer of both men and women in this country, you should be very concerned about the health of your heart and your partner’s heart. Barbara Bush is recovering from heart surgery today, and Robin Williams is about to have the same surgery. Former President George Bush nearly broke down providing an update, showing his deep care and concern for wife of 65 years. Most families have some history with the disease.

In a just-released research report, researchers from the University of Utah show that in addition to known risk factors, such as blood pressure and cholesterol, the quality of emotional lives impacts our risk of heart disease.

One fact suggested by the data is that a history of divorce is linked to heart disease. Another is that an unhappy or strained marriage can lead to high blood pressure, obesity and high blood sugar, particularly in women. This can put them at higher risk for heart disease, stroke and diabetes. Hormonal affects of stress appear to contribute to health problems.

The researchers say that “women appear to be more sensitive and responsive to relationship problems than men” … and that “those problems could harm their health.” The fact that women are more sensitive shouldn’t come as a surprise to us, but I do wonder if more sensitive men are equally affected. In any case, here are some conclusions we should have known all along:

News flash to all husbands: Your wives are sensitive and should be treated with care.
News flash to all couples: harboring anger and frequently arguing is bad for your health.

A study released last year seems to show the flip side of this, that daily cortisol patterns (an indicator of stress) are linked to marital satisfaction for women but not men,” said co-author Rena Repetti, a UCLA professor in the department of psychology.

Men showed their cortisol levels drop dramatically after a busy day. Happily married women saw this benefit, but unhappily married women did not.

“Past research has found that men appear to get a health and longevity boost from marriage, while for women, being married is only beneficial insofar as the marriage is high-quality,” Repetti said. “This study is the first to point to daily cortisol fluctuations as a specific pathway through which marital quality affects health for women but not men.”

Repetti explains, “It may be that a chronically unhappy marriage creates multiple occasions everyday when the wife needs to mount a stress response, putting her cortisol levels on a kind of roller coaster ride. The system is under more wear and tear. It’s like driving a car in traffic conditions that are constantly stop and go. You need to repeatedly step on the gas and apply the brakes, step on the gas, apply the breaks. Over time, you create a less reliable system. You don’t stop and re-accelerate as quickly. You don’t recover as quickly.”

My thought is that women frequently care for those around them and don’t prioritize their own needs. Don’t let a heart attack be the first sign that you need to take better care of yourself and your emotional health. If you feel you have an unhappy marriage, please seek out a good marriage counselor.

What do you think about this connection between emotional health and heart health? You’ve heard of people who died of a broken heart—is your emotional heart closely connected with your heart health? What do you need to do to improve your emotional health and reduce stress levels?

Sources: News reports at CBC News, MSNBC.com and Scientific Blogging.

Show Me the Money!

This seems to be the mantra of many married couples. Couples report that what they argue most about is money, followed by children. You will find “financial problems” among the top five reasons marriages fail (along with lack of commitment to the marriage, poor communication, a dramatic change in priorities and infidelity).

It seems everyone is talking about financial concerns and struggles due to the economic downturn. Money is causing even more stress in many marriages, with less coming in and more going out. How did we get here and how can we turn things around?

I recently interviewed a couple who have been married more than 30 years and who have been through some incredibly challenging times. Among their many challenges, a financial crisis was one of the easiest things they overcame together. The key was being on the same team, working together to solve the problem. Early in their marriage, arguments about money were really about who had the power to decide how money was spent. Later in their marriage, money was a tool to help them live the life they wanted. When a financial crisis came, they put all hands on deck to solve it. It took many years to get out of debt, but it actually strengthened, rather than weakened, their marriage.

Another couple I talked to has been married more than 60 years. They say money was never a cause of arguments in their long marriage. You see, they were raised during the Great Depression. They know about hard times, and they know how important it is to save. So they worked hard, saved well and lived a very simple lifestyle. We’re a long way from that ideal in today’s America.

How did we get here?

One of the reason so many couples are in financial difficulty is because the rate of savings has declined tremendously in recent decades, from about 11% in 1982 to less than zero today, meaning on average people are spending more than they are making. Of course, debt causes stress in all areas of our lives. Add to the lack of savings weaker job prospects, lower earnings and a steep decline in our retirement accounts. (Reportedly, half of boomers don’t have retirement accounts to worry about.) For more insight about why we can’t seem to save and how our culture has contributed to this trend, read:

http://moneycentral.msn.com/content/Savinganddebt/Savemoney/P145775.asp

What now?

Ask yourself what is really important to you. If money is a constant source of conflict, be aware that it can whittle away at your marriage. I once had a friend who said she couldn’t afford marriage counseling. Less than two years later, she was divorced, losing her house and filing for bankruptcy with two children to care for. Can you afford not to resolve the issue?

The silver lining to the economic downturn is that more people are deciding (by choice or necessity) to adjust their lifestyle and find ways to enjoy family life without spending money. There are tons of resources available to help you do that. Hopefully in a few years, instead of “Show me the money!” more Americans will be saying, “Show me the love!”

Sources:

 Making Marriage Last,” published by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers

www.divorcereform.org