Marriage

If you had an opportunity to start a business yet you knew going into it that you had a 90% chance of failure, would you start it?

Unless you are either overly optimistic or just plain dishonest, the answer would be a resounding no. Sure you might be the lucky 10%…yet not likely.

Yet, for those who are looking to get into this business of marriage, this is the approximate chance your marriage will be successful.

Allow me to explain.

While doing some research on marriage and divorce, I noticed some very interesting facts (a midst some very complicated and difficult-to-decipher statistics). For example:

  • Indeed it may seem at first glance somewhat counter intuitive, the states with the highest divorce rates, as of 2012, are the conservative, “bible belt” states.  For example, Arkansas, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Kentucky and Mississippi have the highest divorce rates of all states in the US, hovering around 4.8 divorces, per year, per 1000 people –translating to over around a 50% divorce rate over the life of the marriage (I did not count Nevada with a whopping divorce rate of 5.5 divorces for every 1000 people because, well, it’s Nevada and people get drunk, marry, divorce on any given weekend).
  • The lowest divorce rates in the US are by far the more liberal, educated states. For example, the lowest divorce rates in the country are New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and Illinois -which has only 2.4 divorces, per year, per 1000 people.
  • The lone curve ball concerning the above data is that the lowest divorce state in the US is Iowa with only 2.2 divorces, per year, per 1000 residents. Go figure.

Now, trust me on this one, there exists mountains of information concerning marriage and divorce statistics, odds, etc… So please allow me to summarize as simply as possible the greatest influence in whether or not a couple will divorce:

By FAR, first and foremost: Education. Sociologist Steve Martin calls this the great divorce divide. Couples with a Bachelors Degree or higher are 30% more like to stay together since 1970. On the other hand, couples with little to no higher education are 6% more likely to divorce since 1970.  Education matters and we could theorize for days as to why…including the fact that those that can stick out an education through thick and thin are far more likely to stick out a relationship when times get tough. In addition, those with an education typically get married at an older age and, statistically, make more money –all things that help a marriage survive. According to National Affairs:

This growing divorce divide means that college-educated married couples are now about half as likely to divorce as their less-educated peers. Well-educated spouses who come from intact families, who enjoy annual incomes over $60,000, and who conceive their first child in ­wedlock — as many college-educated couples do — have exceedingly low rates of divorce.

Other very important factors concern where you live, age when married, income bracket and whether or not your parents are divorced.

So here is my mathematical marriage disaster equation: Odds of getting divorced: 40-50%. Odds of remaining 50-60% remaining true to their marriage vows (read: cheating): Half? 30%? Odds of remaining 30% being truly happy and content in their marriage? 10%? 15%?

This leaves, pending on how nitpicky you would like to get with these numbers, approximately a 10-15% chance of having a fruitful, happy relationship till death do you part.

I believe, by virtue of anyone’s fuzzy divorce math, marriage in 2015 is a total failing institution.  Of course the US is not as bad off as some other countries, Belgium, for example, has a 71% divorce rate –compared to anywhere from 40% to 55% chance of divorce, over one’s life, in the United States.

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And here is what I am not saying:

I am not saying we should do away with marriage, no need to throw the bridal baby out with the nuptial bathwater –I am saying we have a very large social problem and we need to somehow fix it. I do abide by the notion that divorce is a terrible thing for families and society at large. It is a major problem. Thus, when society has a major problem it is in all our best interests to try and solve it.

Yet, I ask, is divorce just an inevitable path for most? Is there anything we can do about it? Not surprisingly, as one who has been pondering this social plague for many years, we do have some possible solutions.

1. Make divorce very difficult to obtain. It used to be very difficult to divorce in the United States –until September 4, 1969 when California Governor Ronald Reagan, who divorced his first wife, Jane Wyman in 1948 when she accused him of mental cruelty and, essentially, wanted to clear his name, signed the first no-fault divorce legislation in the US (a decision he reportedly later regretted). Prior to no-fault divorce, spouses seeking divorce had to prove that their partner was at fault for the marriage breakdown -essentially stripping the couple of power and giving it to the individual. Accepted legal grounds for divorce included (but were not limited to) physical or mental abuse, abandonment, insanity, or lack of sexual intimacy.  There are strong arguments for and against n0-fault divorce –though one thing is for damn certain: Divorce rates skyrocketed after this legislation was enacted –doubled, in fact. The biggest jump in divorce rates has nothing to do with a lack of morality or religious affiliation, for example, it all has to do with how difficult or easy the process is to get a divorce. I say that society is far better off making it very difficult, though not impossible, to break a lifelong vow.

2. Make marriage very difficult to obtain. Let’s think about this for a moment. If you want to put a pool in your backyard, you must pull permits, adhere to strict codes, pay thousands of dollars, all the while being continually inspected by city officials. Want to get married? Walk down to the courtroom, fill out a piece of paper, fork over a few bucks and DONE. Or, better yet, just drive to Vegas. What does it say about our society that it is easier to commit to one person for the rest of your life in an ironclad contract then it is to put a pool in your backyard? If we make divorce difficult to obtain, we should also make marriage equally as difficult.  There are two things our society has completely ass-backwards that we treat with high esteem –two things that any two dumbasses can do: Get married and have children. Why do we celebrate an act that, eventually, makes society a far worse place with its terrible ending? I say we treat those wanting to get married with suspicion and doubt. If you want to really achieve something in this life, get a college degree or start a successful business…making ill-advised commitments and spitting out kids is easy –discipline and self-motivation is not.

3. Marriage contracts. The thing I love most about the idea of marriage contracts is that it forces two people to sit down, negotiate issues and make a plan: The things every couple should do, though, typically, do not. Marriage contracts can come in a variety of forms, including options, buyouts, consequences, finances, time limits, you name it. A customary contract would be a 10 year-deal –at which time two people can sit down and discuss renewing, or not. Do I think marriage contracts are ideal? Hell no. I do believe contracts may dull the sting of two people separating because is there no expectation of “till death do you part.” At the very least marriage contracts do not place unreasonable expectations on a couple…though choosing to not extend a contract may be emotionally difficult for some, at least all things were discussed and laid out prior so there are no surprises. It is not coincidence that professional athletes in their final year of their contract have, by far, their greatest and most successful years? Why would it be any different for relationships that are about to expire? If my contract is about to expire and I want I want to renew? You better believe it is extra time at the gym and a myriad of wonderful floral arrangements on the daily.

4. Do not marry. There is a part of me that wants to make the claim this is the easiest and best route because, as they say, the number one cause of divorce is marriage–so let’s just stop doing it. However, I do believe there is hard wiring in the majority of human nature that drives each of us to pair up with someone and do life together. Therefore we can stop calling it marriage though I believe the partnering phenomena will continue regardless. With the advent of common-law marriage, also known as sui juris marriage, informal marriage, or marriage by habit and repute, where a couple is legally considered married without ever officially getting married, doing away with marriage would have little benefit. Thus, we can stop getting married yet good old Uncle Sam will just automatically do it for us. I, for one, believe the government should have nothing to do with the act of marriage. Of course part of the overall declining divorce rate is due to the fact fewer people are marrying and, if children are not involved, perhaps this is a better route for many to take, common-law marriage be damned.

5. Consider different types of marriage options. Why do you think the more conservative, Christian states have the highest divorce rates? Because, for them, there is only one type of marriage and, for them, divorce is a superior option than thinking outside the marriage box. I could not disagree more. Divorce sucks. There exists plenty of different marriage options outside of traditional ones; so many, in fact, any couple can modify and customize their marriage to make it work best for them. I have met people in freedom-based, polyamorous, child-centric, convenience, open, practical, etc…arrangements that work best for their particular situation. Of course I completely disagree with having only one traditional marriage option….but perhaps that is another blog for a different day.

As a society we can rule with reason or we can rule with emotion. Emotionally, to reconsider the fundamental, traditional act of one of culture’s cornerstone events, marriage, is unthinkable and unbearable, despite what our reason might suggest to the contrary. Of course most of us would rather keep doing what is familiar.

Thoughts? Please discuss.

jimmysintension

7 Comments

  1. Brilliant, as always.

    There’s only one concept that I think should be looked at differently: no-fault divorce. While generally speaking, I agree with your assessment of no-fault divorce, there are some people who need it to get out of a terrible situation. For instance, a woman who’s being abused would have to prove that her husband is abusing her to obtain a divorce. Of course, I think the abuser should be held accountable for his actions, but sometimes the abused spouse’s life is really in danger. No-fault divorce can relieve an abused spouse of the burden that comes with proving the abuse and allows him/her to escape the situation. I only bring up this exception because my mother was in this position when she divorced my father. Had she shown the courts the photos she had of black eyes, broken noses, etc. her life would really have been in danger.

    Additionally, infidelity is oftentimes difficult to give proof of–my father would stay out late, stay at other women’s homes, and even have my mother’s sister over when my mother was away–even with good reason, it’d take a lot to actually prove that my father had cheated on my mother.

    I’m sure you considered these scenarios, and while I agree with you generally about no-fault divorce, there’d have to be some way to protect abused spouses and some leniency on “proving” infidelity.

    • Thank you for the contribution Holli. Actually the very liberal state of New York did NOT have no-fault divorce until 2010…and even now you can still file for a “at-fault” divorce. Even the “no-fault” must have certain criteria to meet, such as having “irreconcilable differences” for a period of at least 6 months. And this is what I really like about the NY law: “But before a court will grant a no-fault divorce, the couple must show that all of their divorce-related issues, such as property division, spousal support, child support, and child custody have been resolved. This can be done between the spouses in a divorce settlement agreement or by a court order.” As with any “good” law there is obviously a “down” side to it…no system is going to work perfectly. In the case of abuse, certainly “at fault” divorce does not mean you cannot report such illegal activity to law enforcement and leave. Thus I do not see this issue having nearly as much with divorce as a crime…in the case of showing the court pics of black eyes and such, don’t you want that asshole in in prison?? It would seem to me that even if you do not show those pics, I would still be scared to death of the guy.

      Feminists are somewhat divided on this issue of no-fault divorce. Marcia Pappas, the National Organization for Women president, argues in the New York Times, “No-fault takes away any bargaining leverage the non-moneyed spouse has.” The non-moneyed spouse is usually the woman, even though housewives and stay-at-home moms aren’t as common as they were when unilateral divorce was first introduced. Pappas says that no-fault divorce makes it easier for the moneyed spouse to leave the other spouse destitute.

      I think you would agree with me that, in theory, there must be a good reason and consequences to breaking a contract of any variety. If all of us can simply go back on our word for ANY reason we choose, we would live in anarchy.

      • Oh yes, in theory I COMPLETELY agree. Courts were a lot different in the early 90s as well, which I think contributed to some of the issues my mother faced. I totally wish my father had been put in prison, but even after he assaulted an officer and hospitalized his second wife, the court ordered that I still had to visit him every weekend.

        I think overall no-fault divorce has done more harm than good, and has ruined the sanctity of marriage, but I wish there were a way for abused spouses to not have to confront their abusers and still have the divorce granted.

        I wasn’t aware of New York’s law–I really like it!! I’m actually surprised it’s so conservative! There is mUch to gain from the six-month stipulation. I am sure I wasn’t super clear, but the sentiments of this post really do resonate with me. Overall, you are right, contracts need to be revered. 🙂

  2. Marriage is beautiful and could be done if only people can put their selfish ways be hide them. Marriage is like a sport, you don’t have to necessary like what the other person does but If you both cooperate with one another the game can be won. People are selfish especial the ones that live in a country’s with lavish things. They want more and more isn’t enough. Don’t stay in a abusive or unhealthy marriage . In most time its because people act like kids in a relationship. Arguing and fighting because they know they can get away with it like a child. I believe if you put two random people in a home , they can learn to live with each other. Its very simple but people choice to make life unpleasant. They want to prove a point but the matter is when you are married, its no longer your point its our point. We become one and sacrifice the things for one another to be come one. People are just lazy and have one too many excuses why he or she isn’t right for me . The only reason why you should divorce is if that person try’s to harm you or cheat on you. If you have a open marriage then be aware that it might be fun at the time but not all the time. One more thing if you have kids, someone needs to stay home either the man or the women.

  3. I don’t agree that marriage is the problem. I also don’t agree that divorce is the problem either – I know so many people including my parents who I wish divorced because of their horrible marriage I’ve witnessed. Likewise, I know people such as my aunt in France who’s divorce turned out to be a much better solution to her marriage and for her 4 kids than staying together “through thick and thin.” I think that people develop communication problems that lead them to the wrong marriage which leads to divorce. Although I agree with your take that marriage should be as difficult to obtain as divorce, I disagree that trying to fix the “marriage” problem is the first step to fixing divorce rate the problem. You referenced a statistic that indicates that the “Bible belt” States have higher divorce rates than the liberal States. It makes perfect sense to me because many people who are “religious” are the ones who have higher expectations going into a marriage than the non-religious or less religious people going into a relationship. Their marriages are likely to fail once those expectations fail to be met after tying the knot which in my opinion is still a communications problem and not an institutionalized union issue. This also brings me to another point: who’s idea of marriage are we talking about? Wasn’t marriage a product of religions? I think that it’s strict religions’ take on “marriage” that has set in stone negative attitudes and unrealistic expectations we have nowadays towards the idea of marriage.

    I think that if you call “marriage” by a different name, a name that has less negative connotations associated with it, then maybe the divorce rate would drop. For example, a classmate yesterday said that in Church she gives “messages” not speeches. But you corrected her by saying that messages and speeches are the same thing, so why does she become nervous when giving a speech but not when giving a message?

  4. Everyone wants to be the exception, everyone thinks that even though so and so didnt work out it doesnt matter because their relationship is different, even if one of the people in the relationship have already been through an unsuccessful marriage, they still think they can be the exception.
    i completely agree with you that marriage as well as divorce should not be such an easy thing to do, now a days a person meet someone else decide they want to get married that day and then they can drive to vegas and boom! they are husband and wife. Or make the divorce process harder! maybe make them go through mandated counseling and exhaust other options before just throwing in the towl and giving up, our society gives up on things so quickly and easily. i like the idea of a contract because it obviously states that the people in the relationship are on the same page. there is truly alot to take in consideration when deciding you want to spend the rest of your life with someone, so i believe that creating a contract is a great way to keep a couple in line.

  5. Jimmy,
    I have always been the one to think I was the exception and that love comes easy. As I grew up to become the 24 year old lady I am today my mind has slowly changed about love and marriage in general. Listening to your stories and learning from your class has opened my eyes completely to how marriage will most likely be for me and for the majority of people. That marriage wont always end with a happy ending. If I did not know you and learn from you I would have completely disagreed with you on marriage. I would have stated that every woman and every man do need each other and that marriage can easily be accomplished with the right significant other. I was and still am aware of complications in relationships but my values have slightly changed to were things to not have to be so traditional. One does not have to get married to be normal and accepted in our society, if they chose that, its their choice. No human being should have to do anything because it is ‘right’. I don’t think I can ever personally be open to have the idea of having an open relationship, but I know now that if one chooses that then I will not judge. As human beings it seems hard in our nature for most to only want relationships with only one person, so cheating usually occurs frequently. So why not make an open relationship if that what two come to agree with. It is better than having to do throw a divorce.

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