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?