What Makes Marriages Last (Or Not)
I’ve been getting into it recently with some readers who have a slightly different take on when people should get engaged. Hey, different strokes for different folks.
One reader on my Facebook page wrote: “When a man’s in love he wants to propose as soon as he can.”
Needless to say, I disagree with that. Wait. It’s not that I disagree with that. There are MANY men who propose as soon as they can when they’re in love. But are they making the wise decision? That’s something else entirely.
Another reader – who was attempting to shoot down my assertion that you should ideally wait 2-3 years before getting engaged – sent me a link to a super-informative article. In it, Professor Ted Huston studies 168 couples for ten years. Not a big sample size, but an interesting result.
“Researchers saw some typical changes that take place in all marriages during the first couple of years: fewer overt displays of affection; less sex; and fewer leisure activities together, as the relationship evolves from a romantic, recreational relationship to something like a working partnership.”
This is all normal and predictable, says the married dating coach. If you expect your marriage to be otherwise, you’ve got a big surprise waiting for you.
“The fact of a couple moving quickly toward marriage is not in and of itself a problem as much as what is driving the speed. (The average length of courtships in the study was two years, four months)…Speed can become a problem when it is driven by romance and fantasy because, unless one is extraordinarily lucky, the suitors discover that the partner was not as lovely as they had imagined. Long courtships, Huston argues, are rarely long because the partners are exercising due caution. If a couple is still finding lots of reasons not to marry after four or more years, then that’s usually because they’re subconsciously picking up on problems or even thinking that they themselves aren’t suitable for marriage, ever.”
Makes perfect sense to me. Which is why I’m going to double down on my theory that you shouldn’t get engaged before at least two years (like most couples already do) and you shouldn’t marry when you’re caught up in those giddy feelings. By the same token, if one party is really delaying marriage (going beyond 4 years), then it’s not a matter of being cautious, it’s a sign that he/she doesn’t really want to get married.
Other useful takeaways:
-Happily married couples shared many traits, including courtships that progressed smoothly toward marriage with little drama; their courtships had a quiet, romantic feeling, but as important, they sensed they were marrying someone who could be a good friend.
-Unhappily married couples had low-key courtships that moved forward slowly because either one or both of the partners lacked much warmth or had difficult personalities.
-Early exiters (what Huston calls “Country Music Romances”) divorced very quickly, within two to seven years of marrying. They have very long courtships and appeared to marry with the hope that it would “improve” the relationship, though they’re well aware that they have major problems.
-Delayed-action divorces (“Hollywood Romance Group”) had highly romantic courtships, but their affection declined considerably over the first few years of marriage. They were labeled “delayed-action” divorcers because they stayed married for at least seven years, long after the passion that led them to marry had dissipated.
-Women who sense future problems while they are courting generally find out after they are married that their concern was well-founded.
-Whether a marriage will be happy or whether it is headed for the divorce court can be foretold from the courtship.
-Couples who are passionately enamored as newlyweds are likely to divorce.
-Men with traits stereotyped as “feminine” make better husbands.
-The extent of differences in tastes and ideas among couples does not predict divorce. Some couples bury their concerns over such differences; others brood over them. Those who brood are more likely to divorce.
-Anxiety, moodiness, and emotional swings in the wife or the husband do not preordain divorce, but they are related to unhappiness in marriage.
-The birth of a child transforms couples’ lifestyles, but it does not change the feelings husbands or wives have about each other.
-All marriages, even those that are happy in the long run, show declines over the first two years in marriage in the following categories: sex, overt displays of affection, and leisure activities spent together.
It’s a really great article. But everything you read there, you could also have read here. I’m just sayin’.
My biggest takeaway is that if the courtship is smooth, the marriage will be as well.
Please share your thoughts about any of the central premises of this piece. Do you disagree because you have this one friend who met her soulmate, married him in six weeks and they’re still together twenty years later and they have sex twice a day? If so, God help you.