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.