Family Practice: Marriage, Part III: Unsolicited adviceWritten by Shannon Szyperski | | email@example.com
Part 1: Meet the parents
Part 2: Our story
I find it interesting that the U.S. Census Bureau is not the keeper of marriage and divorce statistics in the United States; the National Center for Health Statistics is. Further digging quickly gives an answer as to why. There is a documented relationship between marital status and health. Research shows that it’s healthier to be married than to be single. However, it is also healthier to remain single for life than to find yourself single once again after the loss of a spouse through death or divorce.
Considering the U.S. divorce rate continues to teeter around the 50 percent mark, marriage preservation does not seem to be our strong suit. Yet, as the marriage of gay couples settles into acceptance, adding legions of new members to our club, it is as important as ever to find a way to make marriage work. When taking the health benefits of partnering up for a lifetime into account, coupled with the fact that we’re not the healthiest bunch around, the issue seems even more urgent.
While marriage veteran status used to take 25, 40 or 50 years to establish, I feel comfortable declaring myself as such after only 13 successful years, given our country’s current state of marital underachievement. Although I truly believe that every marriage is unique and that different strokes work for different folks, there are some key elements that can set a healthy pulse for a good marriage.
Go all in: At a time when it is acceptable, and even sometimes suggested, that married people keep separate bank accounts, maintain their own last names and sleep in different quarters, there is still something to be said for forming a truly joint venture. Founding a marriage as a co-op demonstrates that we are invested in the relationship as a team rather than as individuals. Maintaining independence from the start may make it easier to separate if things don’t work out, but a willingness to put it all on the line at the outset says you’re in it to win it.
Expect change, accept more of the same: Entering marriage with the belief that you will be changing the things you don’t necessarily like about your partner is to set yourself up for certain defeat. People do change over time and having a spouse offers us a unique opportunity to remodel certain behaviors, hopefully for the better. However, it is best to pair a willingness to embrace change as it comes with a pledge to also accept your spouse as he or she was when you first married. Personal transformation often comes in unexpected forms and keeping our expectations open allows us the greatest chance of growing together instead of apart.
Don’t bow to peer pressure: It doesn’t seem to make many “How to Have a Happy Marriage” lists, but surrounding yourself with other happily married couples is statistically the safer way to keep your own marriage rock solid. While one study found that someone with a divorced sibling is 22 percent more likely to get divorced, multiple studies have found that having divorced friends increases your odds even more. One study pegged your risk at a 75 percent increase while another study found friends of a divorcee to be 147 percent more likely to get divorced themselves. This so-called “social contagion” affects even married friends two degrees of separation from the divorced couple and can result in divorce clusters.
Build a support system: Don’t just surround yourself with other married couples, learn from them together and lean on them. Take note of couples who are already ahead of you in the game and doing well. Find out what works for them and figure out how to incorporate their best advice into your own relationship. As a culture we spend at least 12 to 20 years preparing for our intellectual pursuits but very little time preparing for marriage. Yet a troubled marriage can make our intellectual successes suddenly lose meaning and significance. An institution that carries so much weight in other aspects of our lives is no doubt worthy of constant attention and improvement.
I’m not convinced marriage is harder than it ever was, but I do believe we are now often ill-prepared to make the most of it, unsure about how to fix it or unwilling to fix it when it breaks down and too quick to give up on it. For something that is such a consequential part of our physical, mental and emotional health, not only as individuals but as a culture, batting .500 is simply not acceptable.
Shannon and her husband, Michael, are raising three children in Sylvania. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.