Dear New Shrink,
I am engaged and in the process of planning my wedding. Most of my friends have already gotten married but a number of them also have already split up. Some of them have young children that they are already arguing over. It’s really sad.
I just don’t understand it and it worries me. Am I headed down the same path? Why do so many marriages end so quickly?
Worried about marriage
Great question and I hope to be helpful. Unfortunately it is true, at least here in the U.S.; close to half of all first marriages end in divorce and there are even higher rates of divorce for second and third marriages.
Divorces are more likely in the young i.e., those who marry before the age of 25. They are still high but decline in percentage between ages 25 to 30 and the rates go way down after the age 30.
In our country there is no question that for most people there is a great deal more maturity after 25 and then certainly after 30. We are generally much more aware of what we want in our late 20s and early 30s. Actually, our brains don’t even stop growing until age 25.
So I would say that part of the problem is that it is easy to fall in love, especially when we are young, but it is not so easy to stay in love. We call it “falling” into love because that is what it is, a falling into something. However, when the dust settles and we are faced with the realities of what we are, who our partners are and the differences and problems that exist in all relationships, the only easy falling is out.
It is now time for work, building a relationship that will work for both partners and can sustain the ebb and flow that always occurs in a relationship. This work seems so difficult for us to do. We have become used to getting what we want and having instant results and answers, and divorce has also become OK with many of us. It no longer carries the stigma that is use to do.
We are not taking the time to develop our patience, our characters and to really work on the problems that face us. We are used to the Internet and finding quick solutions and easy answers. But relationships are different because as human beings we are complex, have feelings and relationships require process. Conflict is inherent; relationships are never going to be instant and easy.
We can make them easier by taking marriage seriously and doing some premarital counseling. This is short term, maybe six to eight sessions, and examines our internalized views of family and our role expectations for our partners and ourselves. For example, we usually have ideas about what makes a good wife and what makes for a good husband. There are two sets of expectations making for the possibility of very different ideas about what is right or wrong.
In premarital work, you figure out what these expectations are and how closely they match. If they don’t, then you have the opportunity to work it out in advance or perhaps you decide you are not as well suited for each other as you thought.
It is easy to talk about goals and feelings and what you want going forward. But who will take out the trash, which one will be responsible for the social calendar, the bills, meals and the many things that go with having children are not topics most folks think about or work out in advance. There can be some very hurt feelings and big resentments when things don’t go as expected. Working this out in advance may not sound very romantic but it definitely can save a lot of heartache down the road.
There is another thing to note and that is while there are more divorces among the childless, it is with the birth of the first child that a lot of marital problems begin. This is because we go from being a romantic dyad to a triangle. Triangles are difficult to negotiate and infants cannot be negotiated. The relationship that we have become accustomed to changes and if we are not prepared for it dads can feel left out, hurt and angry and look for solace elsewhere like work, alcohol or infidelity. Moms can easily feel abandoned if their husbands are suddenly not as available when they need them the most. Often couples start fighting and don’t even know what they are fighting about. Lack of sleep does contribute to it, but the point is that if they don’t start talking and figure it out, they are headed for a fall into the divorce pool.
Good news is that this can all be prevented with education, a thorough understanding of what can happen and ideally, some quick helpful premarital counseling.
Good luck with your wedding and marriage.
Dr. JoAnne Barge is a licensed psychologist and a licensed marriage and family therapist with offices in Brentwood. Visit her at www.drbarge.com or send your anonymous inquires and responses to firstname.lastname@example.org. Got something on your mind? Let us help you with your life matters.