The Reality of Marriage…and Divorce
As I’m sure most of you have heard, the statistics for marriage and divorce are pretty grim. To refresh your memory, I’ll give you some information that I learned from Dr. Sirridge in his Family Systems class.
- About 50% of first marriages end in divorce; About 60% for second; About 70% for third
- 7 years is the average length for a marriage
- 40% of divorces involve children
Although these statistics would seem to scare people from getting married, 90% of Americans have been married by the time they’re 50. This shows that marriage is still a very important and desired relationship in people’s lives. In fact, marriage significantly affects how long a person may live. According to research done by Dr. Ilene Siegler, people who were in a stable marriage throughout their adult lives lived twice as long as those who were never married. Even after considering other factors, like risky behavior, marriage was still a determining factor for who lived to be elderly.
So now that we understand the large impact marriage has on our lives, what are some things that can be done to help decrease the level of divorces? Naturally, many people would assume that counseling is one of the only options to save a marriage. Fortunately, it has been found that smaller interventions can lead to an increase in martial satisfaction, according to research done at Northwestern University. The study included 120 couples with a wide range of marriage lengths. Half of the couples were assigned to a reappraisal intervention and half was the control group. Each group was required to report relationship satisfaction, love, intimacy, trust, passion and commitment every four months for two years. They were also required to write a summary of their biggest fight. In year two, the intervention group was given the task of thinking about their disagreements from the perspective of someone outside the couple who only wanted good for the both of them. What they discovered was that although both groups had a decrease in martial satisfaction over year 1, the martial dissatisfaction that the intervention group experienced completely disappeared over year 2. This proves that even the small act of writing about disagreements from the perspective of a third party increases marital satisfaction which therefore leads to a healthier, happier life.
There also seems to be a big misconception about what kinds of things mark the end of a marriage. John Gottman has spent many years doing extensive research on couples to find out the types of behaviors that lead to a successful marriage. What he came up with was seven principles which he explains in his book “The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work”. They range from going back to the basics of having a strong friendship to power struggles. I strongly recommend this book to anyone whether you’re single or have been married for years, have a strong relationship or are struggling quite a bit.
It’s important that research like this continues to be done. Because of the stigma attached to counseling, research that discusses other interventions outside of counseling can provide crucial information to couples that normally wouldn’t get help.