What people believe about marriage may surprise you.
At the 2019 NARME Summit in Nashville, Dr. Scott Stanley shared what people really think about marriage using the latest marriage and cohabitation research.
If you’ve heard that married couples have a 50% chance of eventually divorcing, did you know that this statistic pertains specifically to Baby Boomers - the most divorcing generation ever in U.S. history? The news is better for those marrying today - their lifetime risk for divorce is only around 38%.
Before you get too excited about the divorce rate decrease though, it would be important to know that the marriage rate has also decreased.
WHAT MARRIAGE LOOKS LIKE TODAY
According to Stanley, demographers and sociologists wonder whether people are marrying later or if a historic number of younger people just won’t marry. Some think marriage will bounce back, while others think the younger generations are afraid of or disinterested in marriage.
This is quite perplexing when research, including the U.S. General Social Survey, indicates that around 95% of people say they are “pretty happy” or “very happy” in their marriage. Stanley says it’s possible that people are happy, but that when things go south, they may do so very quickly.
The average age of first marriage is currently 30 for men and 28 for women, but many who have young adult children or grandchildren are often puzzled by this delay in marriage. Boomers and Gen Xers reflect on their own young adulthood and realize that not only were they married in their early to mid-20s, but they also had children and jobs.
So what’s up with the delay? Stanley likens it to people milling around the airport who aren’t all there for the same reason.
THREE TYPES OF SINGLES
- Seekers: Some are there seeking the one perfect person who will be perfectly attuned to them. Stanley cautions these seekers to examine if they are unrealistically seeking perfection from someone when they aren’t perfect themselves.
- Determined Delayers: The “determined delayers” at the airport might eventually be seeking “the one,” but are uninterested in finding them, at least for now. They say they want to get married - but maybe in five years or so. These delayers are either having fun trying out several relationships or are enjoying being uninvolved romantically.
- Wanderers: Then there are the wanderers, who aren’t looking for a relationship or preventing one either. If they get into a relationship and it works, they could easily end up married.
It’s when a seeker starts dating a determined delayer and doesn’t know it that things can get complicated. Stanley says ambiguity can lead one person in the dating relationship to believe that the other is more interested in marriage than they really are.
THE COMPETITION TO COMMITMENT
According to Stanley, the number one competitor to commitment in a relationship is how good your alternatives are and your awareness of them. People who carry a lot of relationship experience into marriage tend to think, “I hope this works, but if it doesn’t, there are other fish in the sea.”
“Marriage for many people has moved from being a cornerstone to your life to a capstone,” Stanley shares. “Instead of being foundational, it is a major achievement as a status symbol.”
Yet, the 2018 American Family Survey (AFS) indicates that 64 percent of us believe that marriage makes families and children better off financially. A large majority believes that marriage is needed to create strong families, and that society is better off when more people are married. The percentage of people who believe marriage is old-fashioned and outdated hovers in the mid-teens.
- If there is a benefit in delaying marriage, Stanley believes that perhaps people are self-insuring to protect themselves from potential loss. However, the downside of that means they are doubling down on individualism versus interdependence.
- Friends used to connect their friends to their future mate, but the data shows that more people are meeting online instead. If people wisely use these online systems to look for someone who is a better fit instead of being limited to only the people in their community, this is good news for relationships. Stanley says people need to think about what they are looking for and intentionally surround themselves with people who share their values.
- People are wrestling with the idea of marriage for various reasons. When the AFS asked what was essential to living a fulfilled life, marriage was the lowest thing on the list. A good living, education and a rewarding job were at the top. It could be that people are thinking if they have those three things, their chances of making marriage work are greater, but no one knows for sure.
In The Atlantic piece, What You Lose When You Gain a Spouse, Mandy Len Catron contends that marriage is socially isolating, marriage is no longer what many want, there is too much emphasis on marriage and commitment is really the main thing, not marriage.
Research does indicate singles are more socially connected than marrieds, and they tend to have a broader community. When people marry, they do tend to invest their time and energy into their marriage. However, couples who know that marriage could become socially isolating can be intentional about building social connectedness and community.
THREE QUESTIONS TO CLARIFY COMMITMENT IN A RELATIONSHIP OUTSIDE OF MARRIAGE
For those who align with Mandy Len Catron, Stanley offers three questions that are important to ask.
- Have you both agreed to a lifetime of commitment to each other?
- Have you publicly declared the depth of your commitment to those who matter most in your lives?
- Have you agreed to be faithful to each other for the rest of your lives?
The answers to these questions can help determine the trajectory of the relationship, for better or for worse.
This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on August 9, 2019.