Every Friday my syndicated column appears in a number of papers. Here's this week's, on the latest marriage research:
I find it hilarious when magazines feature Julia Roberts on “What I’ve Learned About Love”, or Angelina Jolie with her tips on making love last. Stars who have been married multiple times and cheated on their spouses, or stole other people’s spouses, hardly seem like experts on how to experience a lifetime of love.
Instead of relying on them for marriage advice, then, I thought I’d take a look at some recent studies that put much of what we think we know about marriage on its head.
For instance, we all know it’s important to marry one’s equal, right? Turns out it depends how you define the word “equal”. A Europoean study called “Optimising the Marriage Market” followed 1500 couples for five years. They found that women who marry men at least five years older than they are experience divorce about six times less frequently. And here’s a weird fact: couples are more secure if the woman is more educated than the husband. Maybe educated women know what they want, and work harder to get it! Finally, a woman should choose a man who has never been divorced before. Previous relationships can endanger present ones.
What to make of all this? Women, I think, tend to be more mature than men, if one can judge by the appreciation, or lack thereof, of fart jokes. Marrying an older man, then, can be a wise choice.
Here’s another one: you definitely shouldn’t get married unless you’ve “tried each
other out first”, right? Most couples believe this one, since up to 70% of couples cohabit before they marry. Yet these couples may actually be endangering their future security. According to a study published in the February edition of the Journal of Family Psychology, testing the relationship first tends to lead to negative communication patterns, more fighting, and more breakups. When you begin a relationship always testing the person—does he make me happy? Does she fulfill my needs?—then the partner is always under scrutiny. You’re judging them, rather than asking, “Am I fulfilling his/her needs?”
Besides, once you’re living together, it’s easy to slip into marriage because it’s the next logical step. You’ve already developed this sense of intimacy, but it doesn’t necessarily last. A better idea, then, might be to figure out if the one you love is marriage material before you rent that U-Haul.
Finally, you should definitely wait until you’re established and you’ve played the field, right? Well, yes. And no. Getting married as a teenager is not a good idea, according to most statisticians. But getting married in your early twenties, according to Norval Glenn at the University of Texas, tends to be better than marrying in your late twenties or early thirties. You can have children when you’re younger and more energetic. You can establish yourselves together, rather than trying to blend two very separate households. And you tend to stick together. Speaking as one who tied the knot at 21, and never regretted it, I think early marriages can be wonderful—as long as both parties are mature. Now that I have teens, it’s fun being the “young mom”. And it’s so rewarding having such a rich history with my husband. Nevertheless, you still need to find someone who's compatible. Don't just marry young for the sake of marrying young. But if you have found that person, perhaps we shouldn't hesitate so much.
Of course, if you violate any of these rules, it doesn’t mean your marriage is doomed. These are generalizations, not specifics, and any one couple can beat the odds. But perhaps it’s time to face up to what actually works, and encourage our kids in the right direction.
Marry younger, marry men who are slightly older, and don’t live together first. It goes against common wisdom. But perhaps what we commonly believe isn’t actually so wise after all.
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Labels: columns, marriage