16 Relationship Secrets to Steal From Couples Married for 50+ Years
Fifty years ago, marriage looked pretty different: The average age for saying "I Do" was lower (20 for women and 23 for men in 1965, versus 27 and 30 today) and the percentage of people getting hitched was higher (70% to our 50%). But the fact that sharing a life together is both challenging and rewarding hasn't changed. Here's how a few still-going-strong couples have made their love last.
Every couple is different. While your perfect date night out might be a raucous night on the town, that could be another Netflix-loving couple's nightmare. But no matter your personal tastes and past times, our experts say that the happiest couples do these things every day.
Marriage is a beautiful thing — but it can also be a challenging experience — one that requires work and commitment. To save you from the minor (and major) pitfalls of it all as you embark on the most amazing journey of your lives, six women share their stories of how they turned their marriages around when all seemed lost.
Couples enter marriage with high expectations, but the pressures of careers, family, and even technology can derail the best intentions and send them seeking help. Here, top marriage therapists from across the U.S. offer suggestions for getting the most out of counseling sessions.
15 Things A Divorce Lawyer Wants All Married People To Know
Marriages go up and down with the economy
Tough times makes for tough relationships, says Robert J. Lewis, Esq., a divorce lawyer at Davidoff Hutcher & Citron LLP, in New York City. 'Finances are one of the main stresses on a relationship and I saw a lot of fights over money during the recession of 2008,' he explains. But paradoxically this may offer some protection to fragile relationships as divorce rates declined slightly in the America during the Great Recession of the last decade. Why? It's simple, Lewis says: Two households are always more expensive than one and in tough times practically trumps love. Pay attention to these secret signs your marriage could be headed for divorce.
Divorce can indeed be a sh*tshow, but there is also good that comes from it. Sometimes there is so much good, that you can't help but call divorce a blessing . . . even when there is heartache to account for.
Sometimes, people don't want to say how good divorce can be for fear of sounding harsh or belittling to marriage. The fact is, not every marriage is meant to have a fairytale ending. Sometimes, they are meant to be "necessary endings" in order to flesh out bright and beautiful beginnings.
For multi-national families, breaking up can lead to tragedy
Parents can face lengthy court battles, or become permanently estranged from their children
Feb 15th 2017
KATE BAGGOTT and her two children live in a tiny converted attic in a village near Frankfurt. Ms Baggott, who is Canadian, has a temporary residence permit and cannot work or receive benefits. The trio arrived in Germany in October, after a Canadian court order gave them a day’s notice to get on the plane. Ms Baggott’s ex-husband, a Canadian living in Germany, had revoked his permission for the children’s move to Canada after they had been there nearly a year, alleging “parental child abduction”. A German court has given Ms Baggott full custody, but she must stay until an appeal is over.
Such ordeals are becoming more common as the number of multi-national and footloose families grows. Across the European Union, for example, one in seven births is to a woman who is a foreign citizen. In London, a whopping two-thirds of newborns in 2015 had at least one parent who was born abroad. In Denmark, Spain and Sweden more than a tenth of divorces end marriages in which at least one partner is a non-citizen.
The first question in a cross-border break-up is which country’s laws apply. When lots of money is at stake there is an incentive to “forum-shop”. Some jurisdictions are friendlier to the richer partner. Germany and Sweden exclude assets owned before the marriage from any settlement. Ongoing financial support of one partner by the other is rare in France and Texas—and ruled out in another American state, Georgia, if the spouse seeking support was adulterous.
Under English law, by contrast, family fortunes are generally split evenly, including anything owned before the marriage. Prenuptial agreements, especially if drawn up by a lawyer representing both spouses, are often ignored. The wife of a Russian oligarch or a Malaysian tycoon can file for divorce in London if she can persuade a judge that she has sufficient links to England. A judge, says David Hodson, a family lawyer in London, might be presented with a list of supporting items, which may be as trivial as which sports team the husband roots for, or where the family poodle gets a trim.
Across the European Union, until recently the rule has been that the courts of the country in which divorce papers are filed first gets to hear the case. Couples often rushed to file rather than attempting to fix marital problems. But in some countries that is changing: last year Estonia became the 17th EU country since 2010 to sign an agreement known as Rome III that specifies how to decide which country’s law applies (usually the couple’s most recent country of residence, unless they agree otherwise). Though the deal brings welcome clarity, one downside is that courts in one country may have to apply another country’s unfamiliar laws. And one spouse may be tricked or bullied into agreeing to a divorce in the country that best suits the other.
The bitterest battles, though, are about children, not money. Approaches to custody vary wildly from place to place. Getting children back if an ex-partner has taken them abroad can be impossible. And when a cross-border marriage ends one partner’s right to stay in the country where the couple lived may end too, if it depended on the other’s nationality or visa.
Treasures of the heart
Under the Hague Abduction Convention, a treaty signed by 95 countries, decisions about custody and relocation fall to courts in the child’s country of “habitual residence”. If one parent takes a child abroad without the other’s consent or a court order, that counts as child abduction. The destination country must arrange the child’s return.
But plenty of countries have not signed, including Egypt, India and Nigeria. They can be havens for abducting parents. Around 1,800 children are abducted from EU countries each year. More than 600 were taken from America in 2015; about 500 abductions are reported to American authorities each year the other way round.
Some countries, including Australia and New Zealand, often regard themselves as a child’s “habitual residence” from the moment the child arrives. The EU sets the threshold at three months. America differs from state to state: six months’ residence is usually what counts. GlobalARRK, a British charity that helps parents like Ms Baggott, is campaigning for information on such rules to be included among the documents issued to families for their move abroad. It also lobbies for a standard threshold of one year for habitual residence and advises parents to sign a pre-move contract stating that the child can go home at any time. Though such contracts are not watertight, they would at least alert parents to the issue.
Britain is comparatively helpful to foreign parents who seek a child’s return: it provides help with legal advice and translation. But plenty of countries do little or nothing. Family judges in many places favour their compatriots, though they may dress up their decisions as being in the child’s interests. Parents who can no longer pay their way through foreign courts may never see their children again.
Some parents do not realise they are committing a crime when they abscond with the children, says Alison Shalaby of Reunite, a British charity that supports families involved in cross-border custody disputes. Even the authorities may not know the law. Michael, whose former partner took their children from Britain to France in 2015, was told by police that no crime had been committed. After he arranged for Reunite to brief them, it took more than five months to get a French court order for the children’s return.
Other countries are slower still, often because there are no designated judges familiar with international laws. Over a third of abductions from America to Brazil, for example, drag on for at least 18 months. When a case is eventually heard the children may be well settled, and the judge reluctant to order their return.
A renewed push is under way to cut the number of child abductions, and to resolve cases quickly. The EU is considering setting an 18-week deadline for the completion of all return proceedings and making the process cheaper by abolishing various court fees. And more countries are signing up to the Hague Convention: Pakistan, where about 40 to 50 British children are taken each year, will sign next month. India, one of the main destinations for abducting parents, recently launched a public consultation on whether to sign up too.
But the convention has a big flaw: it makes no mention of domestic violence. Many of the parents it classifies as abductors are women fleeing abusive partners. One eastern European woman who moved to Britain shortly before giving birth and fled her violent fiancé four months later, says she was turned away by women’s shelters and denied benefits because she had lived in Britain for such a short time. For the past year she has lived off friends’ charity. The police have taken her passport to stop her leaving Britain with the baby. Another European woman, living in New Zealand, says she fears being deported without her toddlers when her visa expires in a few months. She fled domestic abuse with the children and a bag of clothes in December, and has been moving from one friend’s house to another ever since.
Child abduction is often a desperate parent’s move of last resort, says GlobalARRK’s founder, Roz Osborne. One parent, who has residence rights, may have been granted sole or joint custody, meaning the children cannot be taken abroad without permission. But the other parent may have entered on a spousal visa which lapses when the marriage ends. Even if permission to remain is granted, it may be without the right to work or receive state benefits. In such cases, the decision of a family court guaranteeing visiting rights or joint custody can be close to meaningless.
Britain’s departure from the EU could mean many more divorcing parents find themselves in this desperate state. Around 3.3m citizens of other EU countries live in Britain, and 1.2m Britons have moved in the opposite direction; so far it is unclear whether they will continue to have the right to stay put and work. And in America, says Jeremy Morley, a lawyer in New York who specialises in international family law, immigration issues are increasingly used as weapons in child-custody cases. Judges in family courts, he says, often pay little attention to immigration issues when ruling on custody, because they know few people are deported solely because their visas have expired. But under Donald Trump, that may change.
Many parents have no idea what they sign up for when they agree to follow a spouse abroad, says Ms Osborne. They may mistakenly believe that if things do not work out, they can simply bring the children back home. Ms Baggott’s move to Germany was supposed to be a five-year adventure, the duration of her husband’s work visa. Instead, she says, she endured “a decade of hell”.
India bans a Muslim practice of instant divorce
Muslim women will applaud
India’s supreme court ruled on August 22nd to outlaw “triple talaq”, a tradition whereby Muslim men could annul a marriage simply by saying “I divorce you” three times (an Indian Muslim bride is pictured). Most Muslim-majority countries long ago abandoned the practice for being sexist or questionable under religious law. But politicians in Hindu-majority India had kept it going to win conservative Muslim votes. Hindu nationalists hailed the ruling as a blow to the “appeasement” of minorities. Muslim liberals and women’s groups that have long opposed the practice also welcomed the decision. Yet the ruling was narrow: three judges to two. Constitutional experts said their legal reasoning fell short of upholding personal rights over religious laws. The judgment did not ban other forms of Muslim divorce that favour men, only the instant kind.
For example, on Tuesday one of America’s leading marriage researchers, Eli J. Finkel, publishes an important book called “The All-or-Nothing Marriage.” It’s quite a good book, full of interesting insights on contemporary marriage. But it conceives marriage completely within the Maslow frame.
In this conception, a marriage exists to support the individual self-actualization of each of the partners. In a marriage, the psychologist Otto Rank wrote, “one individual is helping the other to develop and grow, without infringing too much on the other’s personality.” You should choose the spouse who will help you elicit the best version of yourself. Spouses coach each other as each seeks to realize his or her most authentic self.
“Increasingly,” Finkel writes, “Americans view this definition as a crucial component of the marital relationship.”
Now I confess, this strikes me as a cold and detached conception of marriage. If you go into marriage seeking self-actualization, you will always feel frustrated because marriage, and especially parenting, will constantly be dragging you away from the goals of self.
In the Four Happiness frame, by contrast, marriage can be a school in joy. You might go into marriage in a fit of passion, but, if all works out, pretty soon you’re chopping vegetables side by side in the kitchen, chasing a naked toddler as he careens giddily down the hall after bath -time, staying up nights anxiously waiting for your absent teenager, and every once in a while looking out over a picnic table at the whole crew on some summer evening, feeling a wave of gratitude sweep over you, and experiencing a joy that is greater than anything you could feel as a “self.”
And it all happens precisely because the self melded into a single unit called the marriage. Your identity changed. The distinction between giving and receiving, altruism and selfishness faded away because in giving to the unit you are giving to a piece of yourself.
Islam, marriage and the law
How best to help women caught between different kinds of family law
No easy answer to the conundrums posed by religious marital law
AS IS reported by The Economist in this week’s print edition, almost everybody can agree that there are acute difficulties at the interface between Islamic family law and the liberal West. Especially for married Muslim women, living in a kind of limbo between the Islamic world and the secular world can be exceptionally tough. So far, so much consensus. What people don’t agree on, however, is how to improve this situation.
Start with England, which presents an extreme case of the pathologies facing Muslim minorities in the West. In no other country have so many “sharia councils” sprung up to adjudicate the affairs of Muslim people, especially women who are trapped in unhappy marriages and want a religious divorce. (Some say these councils should be regulated, others want them abolished.) And in no other country is it so common for young Muslim couples to have religious-only marriages or nikahs which are never registered with the state, so that in the event of a breakdown the financially vulnerable partner, usually female, has few entitlements.
Aina Khan, a London-based lawyer who specialises in family law, is prime mover of a campaign called “Register Our Marriage”, which aspires both to change the law and to make Muslims, especially women, more conscious of the dire consequences of a religious-only rite.
The campaign wants to close the gap between faith-based and civil wedding ceremonies by making it easy, virtually automatic and indeed compulsory for religious nuptials to be registered in the eyes of the state. In other words, all faiths would acquire the status (and the corresponding obligations) long enjoyed by the Anglicans, Jews and Quakers.
As the website puts it:
This Petition is to reform outdated English marriage law, which is no longer “fit for purpose.” We need to reform the Marriage Act 1949 as it is 70 years out of date. Make it compulsory for every faith to register marriages, not just three faiths….100,000s have no legal rights in an unregistered religious marriage and this figure is rising yearly.
A different view is taken by Sadikur Rahman, a London solicitor who is also a supporter of the National Secular Society. He agrees that there is an anomaly in treating Anglicans, Jews and Quakers differently from other faiths. But he wrote in a recent article that according civil status to all Muslim marriages would be “highly problematic” for several reasons. As he argues:
The question of “what is a Muslim marriage” is a vexed one. Muslim marriage encompasses a range of unions which would not be acceptable on the basis that they may be discriminatory or open to abuse. For example polygamous marriages, temporary marriages amongst Shia Muslims and nowadays young Muslims of all sects…[and] marriages between adults and children.
On the other hand, Mr Rahman adds:
If we start debating what is and is not a Muslim marriage and go down the route of...siding with Islamic reformers in not accepting the above types as Muslim marriages at all, then the state would be entering into a religious theological debate which is no position for a secular state to be in. It is not for the state to start defining what is and is not a Muslim marriage.
The best approach, in Mr Rahman’s view, is for the state to be blind to all forms of marriage except the civil sort. That would involve stripping the Anglican, Jewish and Quaker faiths of their current privileged status and insisting that adherents of those faiths must register their nuptials with the state as a separate act if they want any legal status for their union.
Mr Rahman’s view highlights one of the paradoxes of rigorous secularism. If secularism is understood to mean that the state does not interfere in theological matters, then this can leave a large social space in which religions and sub-cultures can act according to their own traditions, which may be pretty conservative.
The Netherlands has, on the face of the things, an approach that is quite secularist but also addresses the problems identified by Ms Khan that occur when civil and religious nuptials drift apart. Dutch law says that a religious wedding cannot take place unless a civil union has also been contracted. But the country still has the problem of “marital captivity”—in other words, the dire situation of women whose husbands will not give them a religious divorce.
Kathalijna Buitenweg, a prominent Green member of the Dutch parliament, is lobbying the government for a change in civil law that would make it easier and more routine for judges to compel reluctant husbands to release their wives from the religious bonds of a dead marriage.
Thanks to the efforts of Shirin Musa, a campaigner, keeping a woman in such “marital captivity” is notionally a criminal offence under Dutch law. But that provision is so draconian that it will hardly be used in practice. A few civil-law cases, including Ms Musa’s own personal case, have been pursued successfully against reluctant husbands. But if Ms Buitenweg gets her way, civil-law cases will become much easier.
But here is a paradox. By the lights of strict secularism, using civil law to bring about religious divorce is problematic. Since religious marriages do not exist in the eyes of a rigorously secular state, it makes no difference to the state whether or not they are terminated. But by the lights of common decency, some would say, a woman caught inside a traditionalist sub-culture who wants to restart her life does needs help and should get it.
OLYMPIA, Wash. — Especially around Valentine’s Day, it’s easy to find advice about sustaining a successful marriage, with suggestions for “date nights” and romantic dinners for two.
But as we spend more and more of our lives outside marriage, it’s equally important to cultivate the skills of successful singlehood. And doing that doesn’t benefit just people who never marry. It can also make for more satisfying marriages.
A Quiet Revolution: More Women Seek Divorces in Conservative West Africa
Frustrated by their husbands’ inability to earn a living, and in a society where basic views on relationships have changed, women are asserting more control over their marriages.
For centuries, women have been expected to endure bad marriages in many conservative pockets of West Africa. Divorce happened, but most often the husbands were the ones casting off their partners. Tradition has bound women so tightly that spouses are sometimes chosen for babies in the womb.
“It’s the end of the world when a husband and wife don’t stay together,” said Ms. Amadou’s mother, Halima Amadou.
But here in Niger, a place where women have less education, lower living standards and less equality with men than just about anywhere else in the world, a quiet revolution is playing out.
Many women like Ms. Amadou come to this sidewalk court every month to push for a divorce, frustrated not only by their husbands’ inability to earn a living during a time of economic hardship, but also because their basic views on relationships have changed.
They want to choose whom and when to marry, not be pushed into marriages like so many generations of women before them. They demand respect and, better yet, love, speaking openly of wanting a healthy sex life. And when their husbands fall short, women are the ones driving this new culture of breakups.
The 30 real reasons why couples end their marriage
Sometimes marriages work, and sometimes they don’t. There are many causes of divorce. And often, an accumulation of things will cause a marriage to break down. Here are some of the real reasons why couples get divorced, according to relationship experts.
Husband and wife married for 70 years die a day apart
A New York couple married for more than 70 years died just a day apart from one another.
Joan Sell Chapple, 87, died Sunday, and her husband, Warren Chapple, 93, died Monday.
Joan Chapple had suffered from Alzheimer's for years. She moved into a nursing home seven years ago after her Alzheimer’s progressively worsened, where her husband would visit her every day, the Times Union reported.
Every day for the last two years, Warren Chapple would drive 10 miles to feed his wife breakfast and sit with her, then return home. Hours later, he would make the 10-mile drive once more to feed his wife dinner, and sit with her for three hours until she went to bed.
Warren Chapple suffered from esophageal cancer, which progressively worsened toward the end of January. Jan. 28 was the last time he was able to visit his wife, who died Sunday at Van Rensselaer Manor.
Warren Chapple asked his son Marc about his wife’s condition after she had passed.
“She’s gone,” said Marc, as reported by the Times Union. “You can go now.”
Warren Chapple died on Monday, just a day after his wife passed.
Scientific studies have showed the “widowhood effect” is strongest three months after a person’s spouse dies — meaning couples can often feel stress or grief that causes them to get sick, and they can die.
According to the University of Michigan Health and Retirement Study, couples have a 66% greater chance of dying within three months of a spouse’s death. A number of factors can contribute to a couple’s death, but stress and grief can cause a spouse to literally “die of a broken heart.”
It’s unclear if the couple knowing about one another caused their deaths, but the couple’s family spoke of their love and undeniable connection.
"He lived for my mother," the Chapple’s son, Marc told the Times Union.
"He kept her alive with that love," Marc's wife, Pattie said.
For the last 34 years, the couple have called West Sand Lake home, according to the couple’s obituary.
Joan Chapple, who was born in Eaton Rapids, Mich., worked as a seamstress and homemaker. Her husband, born in Plattsburgh, was a Navy veteran and Mets fan. He worked as a service technician until he retired 30 years ago.
The couple also owned Chapple’s Woodworking and Doll Company, and operated the business together for years.
Together, Joan and Warren Chapple had two sons — and had a family that grew to include three grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. Warren has a brother, Emerson Chapple, who is still alive, and the couple has several surviving nieces and nephews.
After seven decades of marriage, the couple gave new meaning to the vow “until death do us part.”
"They were always together," Pattie told Western Union of her parents-in-law. "They're still together."
Every successful relationship is successful for the same exact reasons
Hey, guess what? I got married two weeks ago. And like most people, I asked some of the older and wiser folks around me for a couple quick words of advice from their own marriages to make sure my wife and I didn’t shit the (same) bed. I think most newlyweds do this, especially after a few cocktails from the open bar they just paid way too much money for.
But, of course, not being satisfied with just a few wise words, I had to take it a step further.
See, I have access to hundreds of thousands of smart, amazing people through my site. So why not consult them? Why not ask them for their best relationship/marriage advice? Why not synthesize all of their wisdom and experience into something straightforward and immediately applicable to any relationship, no matter who you are?
Why not crowdsource THE ULTIMATE RELATIONSHIP GUIDE TO END ALL RELATIONSHIP GUIDES™ from the sea of smart and savvy partners and lovers here?
So, that’s what I did. I sent out the call the week before my wedding: anyone who has been married for 10+ years and is still happy in their relationship, what lessons would you pass down to others if you could? What is working for you and your partner? And if you’re divorced, what didn’t work previously?
The response was overwhelming. Almost 1,500 people replied, many of whom sent in responses measured in pages, not paragraphs. It took almost two weeks to comb through them all, but I did. And what I found stunned me…
They were incredibly repetitive.
That’s not an insult or anything. Actually, it’s kind of the opposite. These were all smart and well-spoken people from all walks of life, from all around the world, all with their own histories, tragedies, mistakes, and triumphs…
And yet they were all saying pretty much the same dozen things.
Which means that those dozen or so things must be pretty damn important… and more importantly, they work.
Despite a surfeit of men and growing female empowerment, grooms still have more clout
The word for dowry in Bangladesh is an English one: “demand”. It is the price, in other words, that the groom’s family demands in order to admit the bride to their household. In theory, such transactions are illegal in both Bangladesh and India, and limited in value by law in Pakistan. The legislators who enacted these rules (in 1961 in the case of India) thought dowries would go the way of sati, the horrific practice in which Hindu widows were encouraged to throw themselves on their husband’s funeral pyre to show their devotion.
Economics militates against dowries, too. India has 37m more males than females, so it ought to be women, not men, who are paid to marry (if they wish to marry at all). Moreover, recent decades have seen a sharp rise in levels of female employment in Bangladesh and Pakistan, at least, undermining the notional justification for a dowry: to defray the cost of providing for the bride.
A Pakistani American artist is working to revive the Islamic tradition of decorated nikahnamas, or stylized marriage contracts. Nushmia Khan opened a nikahnama store in 2019, and has created illuminated contracts for couples around the world.
But Khan's project is about more than making beautiful objects couples can hang on their wall. Her designs aim to draw couples' attention to the writing of the actual contract, a space where couples can negotiate everything from money to location to the women's rights to education and work. Contractual stipulations are often discussed by Muslims as an important tool to protect women's interest in marriage.
Khan has seen a lot of Muslim couples sign their contract thoughtlessly, missing an opportunity to address potential marital problems. She hopes her work will make Muslim couples think about their marriage more intentionally.
Marriage Surpasses Cohabitation in Relationship Quality, But Most Americans Don’t Seem to Know It
Pew surveyed U.S. adults about the trust they felt in their partner’s faithfulness, honesty, financial responsibility, communication skills, and whether a partner or spouse will “act in your best interest.” The results are telling. “By double digits,” as the report puts it, higher shares of married adults expressed trust in their partner’s faithfulness, honesty, and financial responsibility, and believed that their partners would act in their best interest, compared to cohabitors. For example, 84% of married adults said they trust their spouse to be faithful, versus 71% of cohabiters. And 68% of married adults believed their spouse to be truthful, compared to 52% of cohabiting adults.
Testing a Relationship Is Probably the Worst Reason to Cohabit
What about testing? As with our national data set, men were more likely than their partners (all women) to report cohabiting in order to test the relationship. We examined the personal and relationship characteristics of both men and women who reported testing, and found that:
“For men, higher levels of depressive symptoms, generalized anxiety symptoms, difficulty depending on others, and anxiety about abandonment were significantly associated with higher scores on testing.” (p. 247)
“For women, . . . greater abandonment anxiety was significantly associated with higher testing scores.” (p. 247)
“For both men and women, greater negative interaction and psychological aggression and lower relationship confidence and adjustment were significantly associated with higher scores on the testing subscale. For men only, greater physical aggression and lower levels of dedication were significantly associated with testing the relationship.”
These findings suggest that cohabiting to test a relationship is associated with many kinds of negatives. Does that mean that cohabitation causes those negatives? Probably not. There is a lot more evidence that those negatives were largely there before cohabiting.
We think of these findings this way. If you are considering whether or not to move in with someone to test the relationship, it’s likely not the wisest thing to do. In fact, it seems to us that many people who are thinking about testing their relationship by cohabiting already know, on some level, what the grade of that test may be; but they are hoping that the answer looks better over time.
If you are considering whether or not to move in with someone to test the relationship, it’s likely not the wisest thing to do.
She’s 105. He’s 106. The world’s oldest living couple celebrates 80 years of marriage.
It all started in a zoology class in 1934. Students were seated alphabetically in the tiered lecture hall, so John Henderson, 21, sat directly behind Charlotte Curtis. When he looked down, he liked the shy 20-year-old he saw in front of him.
“I thought he was just a fine fella, and I didn’t mind his looking over my shoulder,” she told The Washington Post in an interview.
On Dec. 22, the couple — she’s 105; he’s 106 — will celebrate their 80th wedding anniversary. The Guinness World Records have recognized the longevity of their love by naming the Hendersons the oldest living married couple.
Same-sex spouses feel more satisfied with their partners than heterosexual ones. What’s the secret?
It’s been legal across the country for nearly five years now, and same-sex marriage hasn’t yet killed heterosexual marriage. In fact, it appears that many different-sex couples would have happier and more satisfying marriages if they took a few lessons from their same-sex counterparts.
Researchers recently asked three sets of legally married couples — heterosexual, gay and lesbian — to keep daily diaries recording their experiences of marital strain and distress. Women in different-sex marriages reported the highest levels of psychological distress. Men in same-sex marriages reported the lowest. Men married to women and women married to women were in the middle, recording similar levels of distress.
What’s striking, says the lead author of the study, Michael Garcia, is that earlier research had concluded that women in general were likely to report the most relationship distress. But it turns out that’s only women married to men.
There are powerful historical reasons heterosexual marriages are subject to more tension, miscommunication and resentment than same-sex relationships. What distinguished heterosexual marriage through the ages was not how many people were in it but the sharp distinctions it mandated regarding the duties and authority of its members.
Sometimes one husband exercised authority over the work of one wife, sometimes over two or more. Occasionally, as in many of the 80-plus societies known to have practiced polyandry, several husbands exercised power over one wife. Right up to the 1970s, when an American woman married, her husband took charge of her sexuality and most of her finances, property and behavior.
By that time, though, many Americans were already rejecting traditional marriage. During the 1970s and 1980s, wives won legal equality with husbands and courts redefined the responsibilities of spouses in gender-neutral terms. By 1994 a majority of Americans repudiated the necessity for gender-specialized roles in marriage, saying instead that shared responsibilities should be the ideal.
That’s what American social and pop culture taught me.
The Mrs. Files looks at history through a contemporary lens to see what the honorific “Mrs.” means to women and their identity.
Growing up, my parents — immigrants from India — emphasized school and career before marriage. They wanted me to be ambitious, get good grades and make good money (and stop asking them for some).
“You have to be financially independent,” my mother would say.
American social and pop culture taught me otherwise: Girls were to work toward one goal — getting married. I experienced it on TV shows like “The Nanny” and “Sex and the City,” that ended with the female protagonists married or heading that way; in women’s magazines (remember Glamour’s Engagement Chicken recipe, which was said to secure any man?); and in songs about romance that occupy many a wedding playlist.
That notion pervaded my upbringing, too. On the playground, the order of life was prescribed in nursery rhymes: “First comes love. Then comes marriage. Then comes the baby in the baby carriage.”
At sleepovers when I was 12, friends would bring out magazines and catalogs of wedding dresses so we could circle our favorite ones.
And there was a time when women were told to go to college not for a B.A. or a B.S. but for an “MRS. Degree,” with the expectation of walking right off the graduation stage and down the aisle.
Fewer and fewer women are letting those messages dictate how they live their adult lives, including when — or whether — to marry. The number of American women who had never been married was 30 percent in 2019, up from 23 percent in 1990, according to U.S. News and World Report. The median age for women who got married was 28 in 2019, up from 20 in 1956.
The Pew Research Center found in 2019 that 57 percent of women surveyed felt that marriage, while important, was not the key to living a fulfilling life; career enjoyment, on the other hand, was essential.
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