Modern life – we strive for progress in so many different ways as a society. When it comes to marriage – how are we progressing, in the realm of the most intimate of human relations? If we measured purely by divorce rates, prevailing folk lore might have us believe that divorce rates only continue to climb.
The truth is, divorce rates do vary wildly from country to country, based on many factors. A perusal of some regions with higher rates, such as parts of Europe (recent surveys show Belgium, Luxembourg, France, Czech Republic and Portugal with rates over 60%, Belgium a whopping 73%!), indicate that lack of societal stability, modest standards for grounds of divorce, are just a few factors in play. While the U.S. remains top 10 in world divorce rate, overall rates have actually been falling since a divorce boom in the 70s/80s; higher education seems the highest correspondent buffering factor; those at or below the poverty line are most at risk.
Divorces are initiated by women too
William Doherty, U of Minnesota Psychologist, notes that in his estimation, about 2/3 of divorces are initiated by women, so when we consider the issue of divorce, he says, we are considering the issue of women’s changing expectations – an insightful consideration worth exploring further. Since the early to mid 20th century, marriage attitudes and ethics have continually evolved; as always, some for the better, perhaps some not. Whereas 50 years ago, you married for life, and that’s just how it was. Now, we are prone to consider all options; indeed, our modern cultural ethos and psyche, I would argue, has shifted more away from unquestioning role devotion, once married (a real positive).
However, as a societal emphasis on personal happiness and gratification has become part of our collective psyche, I would say it we are prevailingly caught up in the question, “What’s in it for me?” We are ever more aware of our rights, our options, and our pursuit of happiness. Good on us. It’s just, coming back to the age old question – what is real happiness, where is it found? Peruse Psychology Today’s content, which has many excellent articles, however you will notice strands of themes about finding personal gratification.
So what insights and measures can safeguard marriage?
What do we apply here? I’d like to apply what M. Scott Peck said in the first line of his classic title, The Road Less Traveled. “Life is difficult”. He goes on to say, many end up in therapy, or in the problems we do, because we avoid the harder work of solving our problems. We want short cuts. Investing takes work. It doesn’t fit the mentality of our increasingly instant gratification culture, does it, to suffer unmet needs.
No relationship will ever meet all of our needs, all of the time. But, when you find yourself feeling unsatisfied, it is easy, and I would argue, maybe even instinctive, to check out, when you are feeling diminish returns with your spouse. Peck said, and others have said it other ways: laziness is love’s opposite. Perhaps defaulting to becoming wrapped up in our own happiness belies a major part of where things go wrong.
If our societal ethos is beginning to sell us the idea that, maybe “things won’t last forever – even if you stay together”, (thank you Sheryl Crow) – if we begin to buy into that thinking – then instead of doubling down when pangs of discontent arise, we may be very enticed to embrace romantic notions of freedom and of new love, or at least ejecting what we perceive as the source of our ache.
The promise of love
Maybe it is in the very promise of unconditional love, that something lasting can live. If you’re not feeling it, maybe trapped between a) notions of longing for or being enticed by something else, vs. b) feeling you must settle or suffer, my I propose a road to a 3rd, ultimately more satisfying notion, one that I fully believe is increasingly counter culture?
Invest. Invest more
It is said we love something we invest in. Heck, even in dysfunctional relationships, it is said we are sometimes “chasing our investment, trying to get back our returns. Now I speak not of unhealthy, dysfunctional marriages where there is no reciprocation whatsoever. Maybe you are with a partner who is checking out. Like this advice, more than one tool is often required for the job. I have at times worked with a client on disruptive ways to get their partner’s attention, maybe even pulling back their give in a certain way, for a certain time, with a specific purpose or goal. Obsessing too much on our own unmet needs, will absolutely strangle our affections. We hear of others trying the road of separating, or someone validates our aches, and we may internally hit the destruct button.
But if the connection is dropping, maybe the signal needs a boost.
Go out of your way to be thoughtful; do some things for your partner that really shows them your love. And commit to it for a time – give it at least a spell of weeks, so your mate can experience the difference. Don’t go chasing their acknowledgment. Just do it. Be steady; cook for them. Make life easier. Ask them about themselves and their cares. Consider how you meet their needs. Think in your private thoughts, about the traits you do esteem and appreciate about them.
Recent research says nostalgia is a most effective romantic cue for survival. Nurture some daily inner gratitude for this person you elected to the highest seat in your life. If they have not been the person you feel like loving, consider what if any forces of life may have affected them. We may not even stop to fathom a depression, anxiety or grief stage, medical issue, or life transition struggle. They are struggles, if we’re honest we might also face ourselves. What kind of climate for marriage are we building if we buy into the idea of walking away when it gets tough? One client story I heard recently colloquially said their therapist’s comment on why some couples make it, while others don’t? “For some, divorce is just not an option.”
And one more thing: maybe it feels giving isn’t enough, or going to cut it.
Many leave their marriage precisely because of unmet needs; however many I meet have given up on, or all too often, not stopped to really ask in a clear enough way, for their needs to be met, to really give their mate a chance to step up. Maybe your investment in your spouse, is to do that very thing – stop and ask for your needs to be met. It costs us vulnerability; it costs us investing enough to wait on them, but also to give them a chance. And yes, we may even need to patient, as we consider any life load they may be burdened with. The golden rule – it’s so easy to get back, in the glow of something new. The steady flame of a kept fire, affords an altogether different glow.