Is marriage longevity a thing of the past?

by Richard S. Winer, M.D. | Relationships

June may indeed be the month when the kids are out of school and the summer fun begins. To many, June is also the month when weddings are held and anniversaries eventually celebrated. Having now been married for thirty-two years, it is interesting to look back to the beginning of our marriage and how things have changed with the state of relationships during that time.

Over three decades ago, the idea of getting married soon after completing college or even before that time seemed to be more the norm rather than the exception. Were we more mature then compared to young people presently in that age group? Not necessarily, and the increasing divorce rate in this country over that time would probably reflect that answer.

It’s rather amazing that marriage has become essentially a 50-50 proposition. The average length of a marriage is fairly comparable to the average duration of a player’s career in the NFL and that’s only around three years. What has happened?

One might think that the idea of young people waiting longer to make their decisions to get married would actually improve the divorce rate in this country. But, that does not seem to be the case. It is uncanny how often I see patients who have been married multiple times with no single relationship lasting more than a couple of years. Patients quite a bit older than me have not been married thirty-two years – even when they add together the number of years in all of their marriages.

There were more expectations in our generation and certainly even more expectations in the prior generation that it was “Til death do us part.”  Now, it’s more like “Let’s part from this slow death” and move on to someone else. It reminds me of the way people in technology fields during the tech boom would just pick up and move to another company just because it seemed like a better deal.

Loyalty has become more of a thing of the past along with such things as the age of chivalry. There was a cigarette commercial years ago – when cigarette companies could advertise – that carried the tag line “I’d rather fight than switch.”  Now, it seems like people would more easily switch than “fight” to maintain a relationship.

The sad part of the story is that so many then move on to a new relationship that ends up being no better, and often worse, than the previous relationship because nothing was done to try to improve upon the original difficulties. This just brings on more frustration and unhappiness along with a sense of not really being able to trust one’s own judgment.

There are studies that would indicate the key to an enduring relationship is the willingness of one party to say “Yes, dear” to the other party. I think that is a bit simplistic. Sure, compromise is important – so are concepts like respecting each other, accentuating the positive, accepting each person’s flaws, being willing to endure through difficult times and finding humor even when life is throwing you a curve ball.

Maybe I am one of the lucky ones who found the right person early on and still know that it was the right decision. When I think back to my wedding day, it feels like only yesterday. When I think about everything that has happened since then, it feels like thirty-two years – or maybe more.

Thirty-two years and three children later, I can only hope that more people will seek happiness individually and as couples so that they too may find meaningful relationships that can last for decades.

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