Tag Archives: marriage trends

Reasons for Boomer Divorce Spike, and How to Prevent Late-Life Divorces

This is part 2 of summarizing Wall Street Journal’s research on why we are currently seeing a spike in late-life divorces (and adding my two cents of course). I am interested in hearing your ideas and reaction as well. For background, read part 1—Is Divorce Booming for Boomers?

In addition to some of the risk factors discussed in the above post, professor and sociologist Susan Brown, the author of The Gray Divorce Revolution, says boomers had different marriage expectations than previous generations. The 70s began a period during which, for the first time, marriage was about “needing to make individuals happy,” explains Brown. Previous generations viewed marriage as an economic union, and then in the 1950s and 1960s as a companionate marriage, which was defined by how each spouse fulfilled his or her role. Individualized marriage became more about using marriage to meet personal needs.

For me, that sets up a red flag, because marriage isn’t intended to “make people happy” or to help them “meet their needs.” Individuals are responsible for their personal and spiritual journey towards joy. We can make that journey with our loved ones, but our loved ones can’t bring happiness to us or force us down a particular path. In addition, we’ve chatted here numerous times about how a spouse cannot be responsible for meeting all of our needs. Having that expectation is rather a recipe for disaster, in my humble opinion. (Read Don’t Expect Your Spouse to Meet All Your  Needs.)

Baby boomers were also focused on achieving self-fulfillment, rather than role fulfillment. “For boomers who have had trouble maintaining commitments in the past, hitting the empty nest phase seems to trigger thoughts of mortality—and of vanishing possibility for self-fulfillment,” according to the WSJ’s Susan Gregory Thomas.

They see their last phase of life as an opportunity to achieve self-fulfillment, but often don’t consider the disastrous economic financial implications (which hit women harder) and the consequences of child custody (which impact men harder).  In other words, they don’t anticipate a change in lifestyle or the loss of their children.

So, how do you avoid getting to this point? Marriage advice from The Gottman Institute is similar for this generation as for younger couples. Spouses need to actively respond to each other’s bids for reconnection and avoid criticism, defensiveness, contempt and stonewalling. (Read that sentence again, please.) Turn toward one another, even if you’re busy. Make your spouse a priority. Don’t start over with someone new; start over with your spouse and bring your relationship to a higher level. Instead of looking to someone else to meet your needs, figure out what makes you excited and pursue that. Then share your excitement and positivity with your spouse.

I can empathize that adults in their 50s and 60s are looking at what kind of legacy they may be leaving this world. But honestly, what better legacy could there be than adding to the love in the world, leaving an unfractured family filled with love for you and for one another?  

Lori Lowe’s book First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage is now available on Amazon.com and in all e-book formats at www.LoriDLowe.com.  Lori and her husband of 16 years live in Indianapolis with their two children.

Photo by Photostock courtesy of Freedigitalphotos.net.

Is Divorce Rate Booming for Boomers?

While overall U.S. divorce rates have declined in recent years, the divorce rates have spiked for baby boomers who are in the 50 to 60 age group. The Wall Street Journal calls this trend “gray divorce” and recently analyzed some of the factors contributing to the trend. (Read “The Gray Divorcés” for full details.)

Late in life divorces used to be unusual, but are now more common. In 1990, only one in ten people who got divorced were 50 or older. By 2009, the number was about one in four. More than 600,000 people aged 50 and older got divorced in 1009, according to the WSJ. Divorces in middle age can be financially devastating, says the paper, and those who remarry have to address issues over estates, inheritances, and children from previous marriages.

The WSJ reported on some of the risk factors behind these gray divorces, and says one of the best explanations for the rise in divorce rates for this age group is that more of them have already been divorced once. “Second and subsequent marriages have a 150 percent greater chance of ending in divorce than do first marriages.”

Another risk factor is a more recent marriage. Nearly half of divorced individuals were married fewer than 20 years, while three-fifths of those married more than 30 years stayed together.

Race also impacted boomer divorce rates, with blacks being 75 percent more likely to divorce after age 50, and Hispanics being 21 percent more likely than whites.

Those with a college education had a 17 percent lower probability of divorce than those with only a high school diploma.

In an AARP study asking older individuals about their reasons for divorce, 29 percent cited marital infidelity as a cause, which is similar to the rate in other age groups. Women also initiated 66 percent of the divorces, which is also similar to other age groups.

There have not been comprehensive national studies about other reasons for late divorces. “If there’s a silver lining to the rise in gray divorces, it’s that the rate may fall for subsequent generations,” says the WSJ article. The reason is that with divorce rates declining for those in their 20s, 30s or 40s, the biggest risk factor for divorce (a previous divorce) will be lessened. In addition, the newspaper cited GenXers as having “relatively stable marriages so far” and states they could stay married longer than generations before them.

Next time, I’ll follow up with a final post on this gray divorce trend, including what boomers’ focus on self-fulfillment–as opposed to previous generations’ focus on role fulfillment—may have to do with the increase in the divorce rate.

What do you think are the biggest reasons for the boomers’ booming divorce rate?

Lori Lowe’s book First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage is now available on Amazon.com and in all e-book formats at www.LoriDLowe.com.  Lori and her husband of 16 years live in Indianapolis with their two children.

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Check out this thought-provoking post from Corey Allan, PhD, called “Marriage is Easy.” He says, “If you want your marriage to keep getting better over time and lighten your load rather than add to your burden, you must take responsibility for both how you behave and for what behaviors you accept from your spouse.” Yes, I agree. Working through this kind of conflict may help you get to a better place.

Photo by Photostock courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net.

Acceptance of Interracial Marriage Growing in U.S.

Brandy (left) and Chris (right) Barnes were profiled in First Kiss to Lasting Bliss. Pictured here with their daughter, Summer, in 2007, when they renewed their wedding vows.

Today’s topic is an important marital trend here in the states:  The number of interracial marriages in the U.S. is on the rise, and acceptance of these marriages is also increasing.

CNN reported on a new PEW Study that shows approximately 15 percent of new marriages in the U.S. in 2010 were between spouses of different races or ethnicities. This is double the number from 1980. As a percentage of all marriages, interracial marriages (also called intermarriages) accounted for 8.4 percent in 2010.

About 43 percent of Americans said they believe more intermarriages is a change for the better within society, while only 10 percent believe it is a change for the worse.  More than one-third of American adults reported an immediate family member of close relative is married to someone of a different race. And 63 percent said they would have no problem with a family member marrying outside their racial or ethnic group.  This is in stark contrast to the 1986 study that reported only one-third of the public thought intermarriages were acceptable for everyone.

This issue has some personal significance to me, since my husband is half Chinese (and my children are, therefore, one-quarter Chinese). Thankfully, we haven’t experienced any overt negative comments or hostility during our marriage based on ethnicities. In fact, people tend to be very welcoming of that fact.

However, I interviewed an interracial couple—Chris and Brandy Barnes—for my book, First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage, who faced a great deal of hostility from family, friends, and sometimes strangers. As an African-American man and a fair-skinned, blond Caucasian living in North Carolina, the couple faced criticism from friends prior to their marriage, even though they dated through college and grad school. They also faced a lack of acceptance from his family, which caused stress and conflict in the marriage. They worked through the conflicts and have had to distance themselves from his family as a means of creating boundaries around their new family. They are a happy family, and they have also created standard positive responses they give to individuals (mostly Black women) who make negative comments in public about them or their biracial daughter. Living in the south may contribute to the racism they sometimes see.

Despite negative attitudes that still exit, we have come a long way in this country, where forty-five years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a ban in interracial marriages.

The PEW Study shows the number of intermarriages and the approval of such marriages vary by region, educational levels and ethnicities. For instance, in Western states, one in five people married someone of a different race or ethnicity between 2008 and 2010. In the south, that number drops to 14 percent. Even lower numbers are reported in the Northeast (13 percent) and the Midwest (11 percent).  Hawaii had the most intermarriages with 42 percent.

Higher educational status was sometimes linked to higher rates of intermarriages, with White/Asian unions among the most educated and the highest median combined annual earnings.

The study is primarily based on the PEW Center’s analysis of data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Service in 2008-2010 and on three nationwide telephone surveys. For more details, see the CNN report.  If you want to read more about Chris and Brandy’s story and how they created their happily ever after, check out the book here.

Lori Lowe’s book First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage is now available on Amazon.com and in all e-book formats at www.LoriDLowe.com.  Lori and her husband of 16 years live in Indianapolis with their two children.

Choose Exciting over Pleasant Activities to Boost Marriage

Exciting activities improve marital satisfaction much more than pleasant activities. A new study by the Interpersonal Relationships Laboratory of New York State University showed that a group of couples who spent two hours each week engaging in a new, exciting activity gave a dramatic boost to their marital satisfaction. A second group who engaged in highly pleasant, but only moderately exciting, activities, showed no significant change in their perceived marriage quality.

I found the results interesting, because I would have expected at least some reported improvement in both groups. However, I’m not surprised the first group with their novel experiences created stronger results. This is because previous research has focused on the hormone oxytocin that is released when a couple falls in love, has sex, or shares novel, exciting experiences together. This hormone helps a couple bond and feel all lovey-dovey. In addition, if you are learning about or experiencing something new together, you are united in your goal of accomplishment. It can be exhilarating to enjoy a new experience or learn something challenging together.

As many married couples find it difficult to keep their passion alive, the study is a great reminder to focus at least some of our attention on how to keep things exciting. It can be a bit daunting, however, for those of us who don’t spend much time climbing mountains or exploring underwater caves. So, it’s important to find something you both would find enjoyable, new and exciting.

The study authors had couples make a list of things they would like to do that are exciting. This is a perfect starting point for you. Make a list, and rate each activity 1-10 for pleasantness and excitement. Find something that you both find moderately pleasant but high on the excitement scale.

You might consider:
• Travel to a new, exciting destination
• Learning a new language together
• An outdoor activity, such as zip lining, biking in a challenging terrain, training together for a mini marathon.
• Taking a cooking or dancing class
• Getting a couples massage
• Talking about, and experimenting with new techniques in the bedroom (or buying an enticing, sexy new garment)
• Going to a rock concert or venue you wouldn’t normally attend
• Surprise each other occasionally with a gift or a date night
• Go on a marriage retreat or a weekend getaway
• Brainstorm ideas that fit your interests and area of the world—scuba diving, hiking in the mountains, skiing, camping—but only activities that are NEW for you, not what you find yourself doing over and over again.
• Learning a new skill together—photography, pottery making (remember that scene in Ghost?!), a musical instrument, race car driving, flying an airplane

Married life doesn’t have to be dull. What makes affairs exciting is the notion of getting to know someone attractive and new, going to new places, trying new activities, and having new sexual experiences. Have an affair with your own spouse, and experience these exhilarating feelings in the safety of your own marriage. Maybe you do your hair differently, or put at attractive outfit together. Then, go do something really fun together, and enjoy the boost in your marriage. There’s no excuse for saying married life is boring.

What’s the most exciting thing you have done lately as a couple?

Interesting Links:

Bikinis or briefs? Read a new study that proves bad underwear can ruin your day. Really. So, choose your panties carefully, and it may improve your life and make you feel sexier and more confident. Your hubby may also appreciate this.

Divorce’s Impact on Teens. More than half of American teens (55%) do NOT live with their married mother and father. Using United States Census Bureau data from 2008, a study revealed that 62 percent of Asian-American teens live in two-parent households, compared to 54 percent of whites, 41 percent of multiracial background, 40 percent of Hispanics, 24 percent of American Indians or Alaskan Natives, and 17 percent of African-Americans.

Walk through effects of Divorce. A new program in Britain—the country with the highest divorce rates in Europe—suggests that couples on the brink of divorce confront the realities how divorce would impact their family before taking the next step. It’s based on an educational program in Norway that has been effective at keeping families together.

Do you believe in soul mates? This marital therapist at Psychology Today does not, and says the idea alone contributes to relationship failures. She says too many people leave their marriage then they decide they have finally met their “true” soul mate, who ends up not being so ideal in the end.

Photo credit: © Maxim Petrichuk/PhotoXpress.com

Is the Happy Marriage the ‘Me’ Marriage?

New research suggests a happy marriage is more about focusing on “me” than “we.” I want to share the findings and see if you agree. The gist of the research is that while many couples stay together out of obligation or commitment, they may not find their marriages satisfying and enjoyable. To make the relationship meaningful, we have to grow and expand ourselves as a result of what we learn from our partner.

Arthur Aron, professor and director of the Interpersonal Relationships Laboratory at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, and Gary W. Lewandowski Jr., a professor at Monmouth University in New Jersey, studied how people use their relationships to expand themselves by accumulating knowledge and experiences. The more self-expansion individuals experience from their partner, the more committed and satisfied they are, say researchers. They developed a questionnaire to measure self-expansion and satisfaction in relationships. For example, respondents chose higher ratings if their spouse introduced them to new experiences or taught them new things. Thus, the relationship was deemed more rewarding or satisfying.

The researchers say that focusing on improving ourselves may sound self-serving, but it enhances the relationship. Your partner becomes more important in your life as he or she helps you grow and learn, or even meet new people. By broadening our horizons, our spouse can help us broaden the way we look at ourselves, they say. Read Tara Parker-Pope’s summary of the research in the New York Times.

I’ve shared research in the past about how thinking in terms of “we” rather than “me” is beneficial to the marriage.  (Read The Power of “We” in Relationships. )There’s also a large consensus that says putting your spouse and marriage first is the way to find a lasting marriage. So, how do these apparently disparate results jibe with one another?

I don’t believe they are so disparate after all. When I heard one of the researchers describe the study during a TV interview, he said the basics of a relationship—love, commitment—are primary and need to be met first. Helping one another expand our horizons does improve our satisfaction levels. However, I don’t believe it means we should focus only on ourselves. If I’m only concerned with what I’m getting from my partner, and not what I am bringing to the relationship, I don’t believe it will be very satisfying, meaningful and sustainable. When both partners are eager to share new ideas, new friends, new experiences and knowledge, the relationship will become more exciting and rewarding. In fact, we’ve long known that trying new things together keeps the love hormones (oxytocin) flowing in our relationship.

Further research found couples who were involved in new and interesting experiences together were less likely to report boredom in the relationship, and they were more likely to see their lives as overlapping rather than separate. Dr. Lewandowsky says, “If your partner is helping you become a better person, you become happier and more satisfied in the relationship.”

The helpful part of the research is that it reminds us we need to maintain individual interests and individual growth, and that sharing our thoughts, feelings and experiences should be an important part of our lives as a couple. It’s important to retain our own identify and not lose ourselves while trying to meet another person’s every need. However, by focusing only on our own needs, I think we negate the purpose of marriage and reduce our opportunity for intimacy. It also may lead to the harmful conclusion that our partner is not “doing enough to make us happy.” Instead, we can ask ourselves what are we doing to make our own lives fulfilling and meaningful, and how are we sharing our lives more fully with our spouse.

How are you focusing on your own growth this year? How are you supporting your spouse in his or her efforts to grow and expand this year? How are you sharing your experiences in a meaningful way?

Photo Credit: ©PhotoXpress.com

Risky Business: Woman Marrying Younger Man

File this one under “unfair for women.” You may have heard previous studies that show marriage extends life expectancy for both men and women. That still holds true. Studies have also shown men who marry younger wives live longer. (Also, still true.) It was assumed that women who marry younger men would receive a similar boost in life expectancy. But a new study reveals a surprise result: the opposite is true. Women who have a significant age gap with their spouses—either older or younger—experience a decline in life expectancy.

The study was done by Sven Drefahl of the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research in Rostock, Germany, and included two million Danish couples. The results were published in the May 12 issue of the journal Demography. (A study based on American couples might yield different results.) Drefahl found:

• Women who marry men seven to nine years younger than they are increase their mortality risk by a whopping 20 percent.
• A husband who is seven to nine years older than his wife reduces his mortality risk by 11 percent, compared to couples of the same age. (He lives longer.)
• For women, the greater the age difference with her husband (whether older or younger), the lower her life expectancy.
• Women live longest when they marry a spouse of the same age. An older husband shortens her life, but a younger husband does even more so.

Why is life expectancy reduced for these women?
Women worldwide live a few years longer on average than men, and being married increases life expectancy for both. So all married women have these two advantages. However, Drefahl suggests women who marry men who are significantly different in age have increased life stresses and reduced social support, as a result of the perception of having violated social norms.

His conclusion (thankfully) was much different from my hypothesis of the older wives engaging in dangerous adventures (i.e. skydiving and mountain climbing) and youthful activities in hopes of keeping up with their younger men. If social mores truly impact life expectancy, the question is, will this result change as society becomes more accepting of couples who are different in age? With celebrity couples like Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher, and popular shows like Cougar Town, maybe it’s even becoming glamorous for older women to be with younger men? (I haven’t seen the show, so feel free to comment about cultural influences on the issue.)

I have lots of friends and family who differ in age with their spouses. It doesn’t seem to impact their lives very much. Do you think society still holds negative perceptions when spouses are different ages? Are you surprised by this study’s result?

Are 20-Somethings in a Relational Wasteland With No Courtship?

Chances are you met your mate, dated for a while, fell in love, got engaged, then got married. It’s the “courtship narrative” we were brought up with. But it’s not the case anymore. For many, “this narrative has been disrupted, without being replaced, leaving many 20-somethings in a ‘relational wasteland.’” Sadly, in this super-connected society, true emotional connections are becoming more difficult.

Brad Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project a the University of Virginia, writes in The Washington Post about young people who are Lost in a World Without Courtship.

Why the change? Sexual activity is starting much earlier than in previous generations, but the average age at which people marry is later. This leaves a hormone-filled gap—during which our culture (including parents and churches, according to Wilcox) provides little guidance. Casual sex generally fills the gap, with no discussion of love, and often no dating or courtship. (It’s not uncommon to hear about “sexual favors” being performed casually in elementary and middle school.) Even after graduating from college, many 20-somethings go out in groups and “hook up” as they wish, rather than go out on dates. Occasionally, a couple creates a “relationship,” but marriage is not the next step in their narrative.

Wilcox says young people have evolved their own narrative, and the next step is cohabitation. “For some, it is a test-drive for marriage. For others, it is an easier, low-commitment alternative to marriage.” From 1960 to 2007, cohabitation increased forteenfold. “Serial cohabitation trains people for divorce…and can poison one’s view of the opposite sex,” says Wilcox, adding that engaged couples who cohabit are generally not adversely affected.

The bigger problem for society is when cohabiting couples decide to procreate. “Cohabitation is no place for children,” says Wilcox. Three-fourths of children in such unions see their parents split by age 16, while one-third of children with married parents see them divorce. He says marriage is society’s best tool for binding the parents together in the common interests of the child. Children in single-parent homes are considerably more disadvantaged—financially, physically, mentally and emotionally.

Wilcox suggests the ideal age to marry seems to be in the early to mid-20s. Teen marriages have a much higher divorce rate, and those marrying after 27 are at risk of being too set in their ways or having unrealistically high standards. (Kathleen Quiring has just written a series on why early marriage can be a positive trend in her opinion. Read the series at Project M.)

What’s your story? How did you meet your mate and fall in love? Do you think courtship, romance, dating and love are dying out with the young? How do you think marriage will be affected for the next generation? What do you teach your children about love and sex?

Does Marriage Benefit Adults or Just Children?

Do you believe the institution of marriage has outlived its value in modern society?

As a followup to the post on “Marriage Haves” and “Have Nots”, which cited a data-rich article in National Affairs, researcher David Lapp has drawn some very interesting conclusions to the data in his brief, yet eloquent, column with The Witherspoon Institute called, “Marriage as Friendship.” It is definitely worth the read to understand the answer to his crucial question: Is the institution of marriage good for adults, and if so, why? The answers and evidence are thought-provoking and may surprise you.

While marriage has been shown to be beneficial to children, Lapp considers whether we have evidence that it is also beneficial to adults. He divides marriage into two types. The first is the institutional marriage model, which is a lifelong endeavor that seeks to create “the best kind of friendship” bound together by virtue and common good. The second type is the soul-mate model, which prioritizes the adults’ emotional wellbeing and depends on mutual emotional satisfaction.

Lapp brings up many of the common arguments against marriage to determine if they have merit. Without giving away too much detail, following is one of Lapp’s conclusions:

“The institutional model doesn’t guarantee that every married person will thrive, but it does secure marriage to a more solid foundation than utility or pleasure. For adults searching for love, then, the institutional model of marriage is hardly a sentence to slavery, but rather an invitation to the good life.”

What do you think about the “Marriage as Friendship” model? Are you living what he describes as the good life?

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.

Marriage 101: Is It Teachable?

When I was a 24-year-old bride, I thought my husband should know when I was upset, should apologize when he was wrong and should agree with me when I pointed out why I was right. Ah, young love. The stuff of storybook romances.

The fact is many of us have unrealistic expectations of marriage at the outset. Diane Sollee, who coined the phrase “marriage education” says while people are given instructions on how to court, get engaged and get married, how to have a great honeymoon and get through pregnancy, people are not often educated about what to expect in a normal, good marriage. She founded the Coalition for Marriage, Family and Couples Education in 1995, because she believed there was a fundamental understanding in society of the importance of a complete, biological, intact family.

One common misconception is that there are compatible and incompatible couples. When the industry moved from studying failing marriages to studying successful marriages in the 1980s, they learned there is no compatible couple. “All couples disagree the same amount. Couples have to manage money, children, sex, others and time, and they will disagree about those,” said Sollee in an Examiner.com article. Experts now teach how to effectively manage (not “resolve) conflict, which is found in every marriage.

Sollee’s organization provides an educational web site to provide information helpful to maintaining long, happy marriages. It’s part of the Utah Marriage Initiative launched to help make marriages stronger. Educational articles help fill in the blanks when family role models or personal experience aren’t perfect, or for people who want their marriages to be better than average.

Does is surprise you that Utah has a state-wide initiative? It shouldn’t. Our nation is working at the Federal level to promote two-parent families and discourage out-of-wedlock births, and the government and is measuring states’ performances and linking welfare funds to those objectives. In 1999, Oklahoma Governor Frank Keating launched the nation’s largest marriage initiative to cut that state’s high divorce and out-of-wedlock birth rates. It appears their motivation was at least partly financial, as it followed a 1998 report that showed the state’s economy was suffering as a result of high family breakdown and increasing poverty levels. Utah was spending $276 million per year on unwed childbirth and family fragmentation prior to its initiative.

Religious, professional and political groups are all mobilizing toward the same goal of preventing family breakdown as detailed in this article. Their motivations may be moral, financial, political or seeking to improve the welfare of our nation’s families. All of them have to return to the basics, because the two questions to which many in our society don’t know the answers (especially those who grew up in fragmented families), are “Why should we value marriage?” and, “How can we create a long-term, happy marriage?”

Probably the most compelling answer to the first question for couples who plan to have children is the overwhelming evidence that children do better in all respects when they are raised in an intact family. Research also shows society as a whole benefits when divorce rates and out-of-wedlock rates decline. Marriage and family experts are trying to educate the public to help them answer the second question, but the overall conclusion is that couples can learn how to have more fulfilling, happier marriages if they work at it and have realistic expectations.

Thankfully, I’ve learned from quite a few mistakes during the last nearly 15 years of marriage. Do you think you can learn to be a better spouse, or is marriage unteachable? What can we teach the next generation to help build stronger families?