Providing a Catholic framework on the truth and meaning of sexuality, love, and family

Marriage Revisited

by Vicki ThornHaving just celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary, marriage is on my mind. Some of the people celebrating with us were old friends also married for many years who, through trials and tribulations, had found joy in their unions.We were all in our early 20s when we got married. There are those today who would say, “Ah, but that was another time.” And there are those who observe how difficult it is to forge a marriage when you have been single and independent for many years. (Yet learning to share a life is always a challenge!) The definition of early marriage is unclear. What’s early? 18, 22, 27, 32? There seems to be no agreement. But perhaps research can shed some surprising light on this.The current issue of Psychology Today (July 5, 2011) has an article called “Marriage with a Twist,” by Amy Rosenburg.  One of the couples featured in the article married young by today’s standards, after he proposed their final year of college. Unsurprisingly, they got many comments about being too young. They are now 23 and 24; he is a teacher, and she works in public relations.Yet, Diane Sollee, founder and director of the Coalition for Marriage, Family and Couples Education, believes that “the best way to ensure a passionate marriage is, in fact, to marry young.”  She adds that some sociologists who are looking at marriage statistics say the optimal age to marry is 22 to 25. Sollee says, “When you’re still growing and you can grow with another person, you get to have experiences together that will bring you closer. You can travel the world together when you’re still impressionable, you can find out who you are within the context of your relationship. That creates a very powerful attachment that aids long term stability. It’s a myth that you have to find yourself first, or establish a career first, before you marry.”Later I stumbled on another piece of fascinating research in a book called Premarital Sex in America, by Mark Regnerus and Jeremy Uecker, which reinforces what is said in the Psychology Today article. The authors cite research from the 2002 National Study of Family Growth, which turns contemporary wisdom on the ideal age for marriage on its head. On one end of the spectrum, they do note that marrying at too young an age can be detrimental:Men and women who marry at or before age 20 are by far the worst bets for long-term success. The likelihood of a marriage (either a man’s or a woman’s) lasting 10 years stably exceeds 60 percent beginning at age 21. Starting around age 23 (until at least 29), the likelihood of a woman’s marriage lasting 10 years improves by about three percent with each added year of waiting. However, no such linear “improvement” pattern appears among men.Addressing the question, though, of whether it’s better to delay marriage until after your 20s, the authors quote Tim Heaton, a sociologist who notes that “increasing the age at marriage from 22 to 30 would not have much effect on marital stability.” They continue a discussion of what they call a “good marriage” and say that women who marry “at ages 20-27 report higher levels of marital success” than those marrying before 20 and after 27:Men who marry before 20 appear to have only a small chance at a successful marriage, while those who  marry between age 20 and 22, or after age 27 face less daunting—but still acute—challenges for a successful marriage. The best odds of men are in the middle, at ages 23-27.The myth that 50% of marriages end in divorce gets dragged out. We’ve all heard it, and yet surveys indicate that 63% of those who are married have never been divorced. The chapter “Beyond Mythology: The Statistics of Marriage in the book Beyond A House Divided: The Moral Consensus Ignored by Washington, Wall Street and the Media by Carl Anderson paints a very different picture of marriage statistics and the state of marital unions in America. According to Anderson, polling that was done in July 2010 “found that 91% or married Americans were either very happy (58 percent) or happy (33 percent) with their marriages.”Another new book entitled The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin may shed some light on why the vast majority of married couples are happy. Having found in her research that a good marriage is one of the factors most strongly associated with happiness, she decided to work on hers. Realizing that she was hardest on the person she loved the most – her husband – she gave up expecting praise, quit nagging and focused on love. She began showing more affection towards her husband even in little ways, such as telling her husband she loved him often, sending him emails with the same message at the end, and hugging him more often, as well as her children. “Happiness has a particularly strong influence in marriage, because spouses pick up each other’s moods to easily,” Rubin writer. “A 30 per cent increase in on spouse’s happiness boosts the others spouse’s happiness, while a drop in one spouse’s happiness drags the other down.” This certainly seems like wise advice.No matter at what age you enter into it, marriage is hard. But it’s also an adventure, with challenges, tragedies and joy. Working to make our marriages happier is a gift we give to ourselves and each other. And as they walk this path together, young married couples especially need to have our encouragement and support.pastedGraphic.pdf(The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Headline Bistro or the Knights of Columbus.)

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