Valentines Day is here and I was particularly struck by how virulent our distrust of romance, relationships and marriage has become.
I recently came across an article by Eric Bartels of the Portland Tribune that really captured the ambivalence that our society has regarding marriage. And, he tentatively quotes local sociologist Johanna Brenner regarding some of the relatively good news about marriage. One of the things that caught my eye was that people are waiting longer to get into marriage, they cohabit more outside of marriage and that the divorce rate has leveled out over the last 20 years.
Unfortunately, Dr. Brenner seems to be propagating the myth that cohabitation is a good way to “practice” for marriage. However, research has demonstrated that those couples who cohabit before marriage actually have a higher subsequent chance of divorce than those who do not. See: http://marriage.rutgers.edu/Publications/pubtoptenmyths.htm#1.
If there is good news in all of this, it is certainly that the divorce rate has leveled out. I suspect that the children who grew up with baby-boomer parents are using their own experiences growing up in these “enlightened” families and are determined not to wreak the same havoc on their kids. I’m not sure that the readiness to wait longer to get into marriage or the ease at which people co-habit are necessarily an indication of a wiser or more mature populace. If anything, the couples who come to see me are simply more gun-shy.
Mary Morley, a local Portland e-zine editor for CitySearch wrote an article called: “The Trouble with Love Is…” (http://by106fd.bay106.hotmail.msn.com/cgi-bin/getmsg?msg=46165C6B-8A1F-4D45-988A-936BD162F3D5&start=0&len=20279&msgread=1&imgsafe=n&curmbox=00000000%2d0000%2d0000%2d0000%2d000000000002&a=c46998fc4f9203d336148cee4cd4ea835fac6503fe6c81584e3d82fe6b6cdb92). articulately expressed her and our cultures ambivalence regarding romance, providing tips on how to ignore Valentines Day. Another local columnist for the Oregonian, S. Renee Mitchell named her column: “Single sisters, be your own darn valentine”. She firmly states: “Statistics are clear. Single women can no longer base their happiness on finding a life partner.”
Yet, what is equally clear from the statistics is that most of us will attempt to find and make a relationship work. I have noticed in my own work over the last four years that from about now until the summer wedding season is over, I’ll see an increase of couples seeking premarital counseling. Many of these will be young adults who are making the leap of faith into their first marriage. However, the larger number of premarital counseling cases I’ll see will be those gun shy couples who have been divorced and are looking at the possibility of a second marriage, curious to know what they did wrong and what they need to do to get it right. These are mostly individuals who have taken responsibility for their previous mistakes and have decided to make different choices. I’m always struck by the fact that most of my premarital couples are folks who are aware that the odds are against them, but want to arm themselves against the difficult times they know will arrive.
Fortunately, some of us realize that living a life alone without a partner is not a workable option for most of us. These couples who have chosen the route of premarital counseling have decided to make conscious choices. Will their second marriages work? The statistics are not that hopeful. My experience has been that most people in second marriages simply repeat the mistakes of their first. However this brings up another question. How many of us seriously go through the emotional work that is required to figure out what went wrong? Not many.
Think about this. If you know the odds are against you if you just follow the crowd, do you want to do the same things that everyone else is doing? Sometimes common sense is no sense at all.