Monday, July 03, 2006

Will This Marriage Last? - How to Improve Your Odds

From Po:

By now, all these risk factors probably seem overwhelming. Looking at my own marriage, we have some things going for us and some strikes against us. I'm educated, I have money, et cetera. But my parents divorced when I was young (I don't remember if they were High-Conflict yellers before the marriage or Low-Conflict whisperers - I just know there was 20 years of conflict after they divorced). Plus, our current marriage is our second marriage, for both of us. Michele and I both met someone young and married young (before that crucial age of 25), and so it's no surprise by these odds that those marriages ended.

When I've explained these risks factors to Michele, she picked up on a wife's relationship to her father being important. Michele had a fantastic relationship with her father. Though he died when she was 17.

I think about how we moved in together before we married. Was it to "try it out"? In my mind, it was a test. (That's bad, say the statistics.) I wasn't ready to remarry just yet. But we moved into a house we had just bought, together. That implies a commitment and an intent. (That's good, say the statistics.)

So, let's see ... the odds of us seeing our 15th wedding anniversary are 57% - 14% + 7% + 3% - 2% + 5% - 4% + 11% - 6% ... I'm not sure you can really add these factors to get a final score. There's no way to know how these factors comingle.

So let's cut to the chase.

Let's stop talking about the past, and talk about factors that we actually have some control over. You can't reverse your parents' divorce, and you may not be able to elevate your financial status overnight, but it's not all a fait accompli. There are many things a couple can do to improve their odds.

First, for the guys: help with the housework. Honestly. Whether a guy helps with the cooking and cleaning is one of the strongest predictors of all. We're not saying it's the direct cause - let's say it's a partial cause of marital happiness, and it's also a correlator to lots of other factors measuring husband involvement. It's especially a predictor of whether a man will be involved in childrearing when he becomes a father. The more involved in his family life a man is, the lower his odds of divorce. So learn to roast a chicken and change a diaper. It's not that hard.

Second, attend premarital classes or counseling. Couples who have done so reduce their odds of divorce by about 30 percent. (So if they started with an average 43% risk of divorce, they knocked that risk down to 29%). Premarital counseling is a proven predictor. Mind you, we can't say for sure that the classes work. It's possible there's self-selection going on. Couples who value their communication in the first place are likelier to sign up for premarital classes. At the same time, as Ashley explained in her post: better communication may overcome a couple's fundamental differences. So programs to work on communications skills, like premarital counseling, might be the best wedding gift any newlywed can receive.

And if a bride has a poor relationship with her father, her fate's not sealed either. She has an increased risk of divorce, but she can knock it back down by having a strong bond with her husband's family. I suppose what these numbers tell us is that a woman needs a family's support - but it doesn't matter which family is giving it to her.

The easiest risk factor to control is age at time of marriage. If you're 21, wait a few years.

I can't say buying house will save your marriage, because it won't. But having assets that are permanent does increase marital stability. It's about permanence and concretizing your commitment to each other. It's also about the pain-in-the-ass factor of divorcing when you've got a house and other things to fight over: it just isn't that easy to leave, so people try to work things out. So if you're one of those couples who has his and her bank accounts, you think in terms of "his money" and "your money" – you might want to think again.

For those who are already married, one thing you might want to be aware of is how you change the important things that you shared as a couple when you got married. You don't have to accept that you've just grown apart. Instead, try to figure out a way to get those commonalities back, or find new ones. For example, if you married him because you both understood everything the other said, then he went to college or grad school so you lost your shared language, that can be a problem, and you might consider going back to school yourself, to reacquire a common language and frame of reference.

The truth is, your marriage probably has much better odds of surviving than 50/50. The fact you're even reading this suggests you have some education and that you're a person sensitive to the needs of marriage. That's something to remember, when you see a risk factor that scares you.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Po, interesting article. I wonder if the factors of a successful marriage also includes the individual personalities?

Has there been any MBTI studies of successful marriages? I am referring to Meyers Briggs Type Indicator tests.

Some personality types do not mix as well as other personality types.

7:41 PM  
Blogger Po Bronson said...

That's a great question. Certainly personality types matter. The only question is whether they can study it properly. I did not see such a report or journal article, but I might scan around again for that. The trick is, these marriage and divorce studies use huge numbers in order to prove and reprove a factor's significance. So a sociologist would have to find a huge data set of couples' MBTI scores. While one employer might have such scores on their employees, they don't have it for the employees' spouses. Thus they'd probably have to create the study, test everyone on a personality exam, and watch the results for 15 years (which they've done with some other risk factors). I will look again. Thanks for the prompt.

12:21 PM  
Blogger Pam said...

I've been married 14 years, and I think the real pressure point comes after having kids. That's when the who-does-what arguments really kick in. That's when the money pressures intensify.
Getting premarital counseling isn't going to help you with that. The fact is, most of us can't imagine how our lives and mindset will change when we have kids, especially if we're in our 20s when we marry.
How do you get through the tough times? I think it's all the cliched stuff--communication, spending time together, etc. No magic bullets. That's why people say a good marriage requires work.

8:56 AM  
Blogger bacwoodz said...

This was a great post. I am in the middle of reading "Why Do I Love These People" and really it has prompted me to think hard about marrige and family in general. One thing I have heard about marriage is that you don't need to be in a bad one to want a really good one. With that said - in my own marriage I don't want to wait for it to get to the point where it is ever bad before we talk about how it can be better. For me, (married 13 years) my marriage has been a changing entity. All of the sudden you realize that what you wanted out of it may have changed. You grow and mature as does your marriage.
One of the things that I have noticed is that the way my husband and I feel loved can be very different. It is communicating this clearly that makes it work for us.
I also think that all relationships take care, and especially after the kids, I have found it important to try and be considerate of what my husband needs and try not to take him for granted as well as expressing what my own needs and wants are. We are not all mind readers ;-)

12:11 PM  
Blogger Hari said... the first comment >
About Personality types and MBTI studies. I personally don't think they do anything other than creating an illusion or a facade and giving a false assurance.

Please read this to get a different perspective on Meyers Briggs and MBTi type tests>

6:45 PM  
Anonymous Love and Relationships said...

Very interesting article? No it's more than an article...

Most of the times, people will simply keep going in the same direction when things are going in a wrong direction with the hope that things work themselves out. The result is generally negative.

Rather, listen to your gut feelings, your inner instincts. If you believe that something is bothering your spouse or not right in your relationship, keep it between you and your spouse and work things out as a couple.

5:45 AM  

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