Despite recent assertions that "50% of all marriages in the US end in divorce," according to a report published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, at 3.6 out of 1,000 marriages, the divorce rate is actually “at its lowest level since 1970” (Matthew, 2007). There are several reasons for the decline: increased use of family planning; higher income and greater education opportunities for women; and skewed data interpretation, among others.
One major reason divorce rates are declining is that the number of marriages has also declined (Stevenson & Wolfers, 2007) and more couples are postponing the decision to legally “tie the knot”. It goes without saying that the better you know your partner before taking your relationship to the next level, the less likely you are to part ways unhappily further down the road. I consulted with a group of empowered women about the topic of marriage and they indicated that in order to truly get to know one another, there are several experiences couples should share before considering marriage. Feel free to comment on the list – in the interest of maintaining a low divorce rate in the U.S., we will all benefit from your opinions.
1. Live together.
This is possibly the most common-sense piece of advice on the list. In addition to becoming accustomed to your partner’s everyday habits and any odd idiosyncrasies that weren’t apparent before you were sharing a bathroom, living together also allows you to witness his/her financial philosophies and decision-making skills. If your significant other is prone to extravagant, superfluous purchases, or if he/she is incapable of making important life decisions, these are things you will want to know before committing “til death do you part”. Because money issues motivate a large percentage of disagreements between partners, understanding the manner in which your beloved prioritizes spending, saving and sharing is very important.
2. Travel together.
Vacations can be fun, relaxing and a chance to escape the monotony of everyday scheduling, but they can also be disastrous downward spirals into stress and general unhappiness. When you are traveling with a partner these two extremes can be magnified, sometimes allowing you to see how he/she responds to a crisis. When everything goes wrong can they contribute to problem-solving or do they shut down and give up? Do they blow up in anger or look at the funny side of the adventure that you are sharing? It is likely these reactions will translate to future situations – whether travel-related or not - that you and your partner share.
3. Try long distance.
Just as living together is helpful in getting to know your potential life-mate’s habits, an extended time apart is similarly revealing of his/her communication skills and transition-making abilities. Sometimes a relationship that seems to work effortlessly can quickly fall apart when the aspect of physical contact is removed and you must rely only on verbal interaction. A strong partnership functions in each scenario, while a bond that has been hiding communication problems will be exhumed more quickly in the long distance setting.
4. Have Sex
Perhaps I am putting myself at the mercy of offended religious fanatics, but there are tremendous benefits to experimenting with sexual intimacy before deciding to marry. Not only will you be able to connect through intimacy, learn your partner’s needs and boundaries, and physically feel whether you are a compatible pairing, but you will also ensure that you are getting married for the right reasons. Marriages before the age of 24 are the most likely to end in divorce (http://www.divorcerate.org/), and more often than not, these young unions are motivated by a desire to have sex when religious or political customs dictate that a couple waits until after the matrimonial ceremony.
So be rational! Do your research before making any decisions and gather as much information as possible – through whatever means necessary. You won’t regret it.
Davis, Matthew. (November 2007) “The Changing Nature of Marriage and Divorce.” National Bureau of Economic Research. http://www.nber.org/digest/nov07/w12944.html
Stevenson, Betsey & Wolfers, Justin. (Spring 2007) "Marriage and Divorce: Changes and their Driving Forces," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 21(2); 27-52. http://www.nber.org/papers/w12944
Edited by Alison Stanton