^ MARRIAGE: HAPPY EVER AFTER?
Explain what we know about cohabitation outside the United States.
Approximately 50% of straight couples who live together will marry within 5 years, 40% will break up, and 10% will continue to live together (Cummins, 2002).
Throughout history, people have had a long-standing love-hate relationship with the institution of marriage. Writers have often cursed it and praised it, but no matter what their attitude toward it, almost all have done it. Even today, the majority of young people say they are planning and expecting to marry at some point in their lives (Thornton & Young-DeMarco, 2001). In fact, compared to the 1970s, young men and women in the United States were more committed to a good marriage in the 1990s, and men reported an increased desire for marriage. Moreover, 93% of Americans say that a happy marriage is one of their most important life goals (M. Gallagher & Waite, 2000). A survey in 2000 found that marriages in the United States are as happy today as they were 20 years ago (Amato et al., 2003).
In almost all societies on Earth, women are more likely to marry partners older than themselves, whereas men are more likely to marry younger women (Mackay, 2000). In adolescence, these age preferences are less strong, but they increase as one ages. Evolutionary explanations suggest that men want to ensure conception and pregnancy (more likely with a younger, healthy wife), whereas women want to be sure they will be taken care of (more likely with an older, more established husband). Sociological models say instead that social gender roles value wealth and power in men (more likely in older men) and physical beauty in women (more likely in younger women).
Over the last 30 years, the age at first marriage has been increasing, though this number leveled off in the 1990s (Fields & Casper, 2001; see Figure 9.1). In 1970, the median age for first marriage for men and women was 23 and 21, respectively. In 2002 the age at first marriage went to 27 and 25 for men and women, respectively.
What do married couples think is important for a good marriage? Marital satisfaction for men has been found to be related to the frequency of pleasurable activities (doing fun things together) in the relationship, whereas for women it was related to the frequency of pleasurable activities that focus on emotional closeness. Other important variables, including being able to talk to each other and self-disclose, physical and emotional intimacy, and personality similarities, are all instrumental in achieving greater relationship quality.
John Gottman, whom we discussed in Chapter 7, found that the quality of the friendship with one’s spouse is the most important factor in marital satisfaction for both men and women (Gottman & Silver, 2000). High rewards, such as emotional support and a satisfying sex life, and low costs (such as arguing, conflicts, and financial burdens) are also important in marital satisfaction (Impett et al., 2001). If a marriage has high costs but low rewards, a person might end the relationship or look outside the marriage for alternative rewards. We will discuss Gottman’s research more in Chapter 10.
Question: What is a "prenuptial" agreement?
If a couple divorces, their marriage contract is governed by state law, which determines how assets are divided. However, some couples decide to implement nuptial agreements, or financial plans that couples agree on in marriage, that supersede state laws (Philadelphia, 2000). These agreements can be either prenuptial (drawn up before a marriage) or postnuptial (drawn up after a couple has wed). It is estimated that 20% of couples who plan to marry pursue a prenuptial agreement (A. Dickinson, 2001). These agreements are more common in second marriages (Freedman, 2001). A postnuptial agreement is usually drawn up when there is a major change in finances, such as an inheritance.
Some couples feel prenuptials are unromantic and don’t want to implement one before they are married, but decide to wait until after the wedding to implement a postnuptial agreement. Prenuptial agreements also have a predetermined expiration date, and couples will update their original plans with a postnuptial agreement. All of these nuptial agreements should be revised if a couple moves to a new state.
Proponents of prenuptial agreements believe that because many couples have a hard time talking about financial issues, a prenuptial agreement can help them to sort through these important issues before marriage (Daragahi & Dubin, 2001). However, these types of agreements can also cause problems because they are often initiated by the financially stronger partner and may involve issues of power (Margulies, 2003).
Marital quality tends to peak in the first few years of a marriage and then declines until midlife, when it rises again (Weigel & Ballard-Reisch, 1999). This often leads to a decline in marital satisfaction in the early years of marriage, which is primarily due to the fact that couples tend to work harder early in the marriage to maintain a high level of satisfaction (Kurdek, 1999).
Over time these maintenance behaviors decrease. Ragsdale (1996) found that couples married more than 25 years were less likely to be open and use positive affirmations than couples who had been married only a few years. Long-time married couples also spend less time and energy on communication strategies with their partners because they have developed unique “relational codes” to help them communicate nonverbally (Sillars & Wilmot, 1989). One woman who has been married 10 years comments:
I know when he’s not in a good mood because I can see it in his eyes. He looks at me a little differently and his look tells me to “stay away.” When this happens I just wait for him to come around. It took me a few years of marriage to really realize this, but now it’s not a big deal at all. (Author’s files)
The majority of married couples report that their marriages are happy and satisfying. In fact, in one study more than 60% of couples reported that their marriages were happy (Greeley, 1991). This study also found that slightly more women than men report being happy in their marriages, although the difference has been declining since the early 1970s.
Why do some marriages last, whereas others end in divorce? Lauer et al. (1990) asked 351 married couples why their marriages have lasted. They found that marriages seem to last most when both partners have a positive attitude toward the marriage, view their partner as a best friend, and like their partner as a person. Another important aspect of marriage is the belief that marriage is a long-term commitment. To make it work, couples need to be willing to work through the difficulties that are part of any relationship. Relationships are a challenge and take work to succeed. Disagreements and misunderstandings are a part of all relationships.
As we discussed in Chapter 7, researchers have found that marriage is good for a person’s health. People who are married tend to be happier and healthier and have longer lives than either widowed or divorced persons of the same age (Zheng & Hart, 2002). Marriage has also been found to reduce the impact of several potentially traumatic events, including job loss, retirement, and illness. In single men, suicide rates are twice
as high as those of married men, and single men have been found to experience more psychological problems, such as depression and nightmares (Faludi, 1991).
Overall, marriage provides more health benefits to men than women. For instance, although married men have better physical and mental health and more self-reported happiness and experience fewer psychological problems than either divorced, single, or widowed men (Joung et al., 1995), married women tend to be less healthy than married men (Benokraitis, 1993). This may be because women have multiple role responsibilities; for example, working women still tend to do the bulk of the housework and disproportionately take care of the children. Men’s improved health in marriage may also have to do with the fact that married women are more likely to monitor their husbands’ health behaviors than vice versa (Depner & Ingersoll-Dayton, 1985). One final note deserves mention here: Over the last few years there has been a trend in the mental health benefits of marriage applying equally to men and women (R. W. Simon, 2002). This is probably a result of an increased equality in marriages today.