While he was driving to work one day last week, a former neighbor and old friend called to confide in me about some marital concerns. It seems, he reported, his wife’s idea of them spending time together consists of simply lounging in front of the television watching old westerns. A newly acquired position on his job now allows him weekends free and that provides a chance for quality time with his wife. But, he said, she never wants to do anything, “I’m off on the weekends and that’s a chance for us to get out the house and do some of the things we couldn’t do when the kids were small.” As he reported for work, my newly assigned patient pointed out the fact he and his wife have been married twenty-eight years prompting a response from me, “Well, forever is still a long way off,” to conclude our conversation.
Though he’d assured me there were no major obstacles threatening their union, I was sill compelled to check a few statistics on the current U.S. divorce rate. Oddly enough, many unofficial calculations having the dreaded divorce statistics in this country hovering around fifty percent were found to be untrue. In actuality, the rate of divorce in America has been on a steady decline since the year 2002 and currently stands at an estimated 3.1 per 1,000 married couples which is relatively good.
According to an article in the New York Times roughly 70% of marriages began in the 1990s celebrated their 15th year anniversary which is up five percent from those in the 70s and 80s. Couples who married in the 2000s are recorded as divorcing at even lower rates. As stated by economists Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfer, the feminist movement of the 1970s played a considerable role in the current divorce rate. With more women entering the work force and gaining reproductive rights, the institution of marriage began to evolve into its modern form; based on love and shared passions or interests.
The degrees of more mature marriages and the result of people choosing to marry later in life have also helped matters as well. During the 1950s the median age of marriage for men was 23 and 20 for women. In comparison, by the year 2004 the median age for men was 27 and 26 for women and if the numbers continue to decline, according to Wolfer, sixty-six percent of marriages will never end in divorce.
Though more recent statistics are rather encouraging, that still doesn’t mean being married is as easy as many would choose to believe. The simple truth is that a marriage requires hard work and shouldn’t be entered into lightly. I recently attended a wedding when the best man offered a toast during which he commented to the groom, “You’ve made it. Man, your work is finally over.” Following the ceremony however, I had an opportunity to speak with the man of honor and offered a bit of correction pointing out the fact his real work was only just beginning.
It is truly unfortunate that in today’s “microwave society,” when most anything and everything can be accomplished with minimal effort, for better or for worse simply means until I change my mind. There is so much emphasis placed on the process of getting married and relatively little thought given to the sacred act of actually being married.
At a monumental price of over $40,000 for the total cost of their ceremony and honeymoon, a couple who exchanged vows eighteen months ago informed me last month of their intent to call an end to the marriage. Ironically enough, responsibility for the cost of the wedding is one of the ugliest issues being argued in their divorce settlement. When asked about the possibility of counseling, the husband reported they’ve been actively seeking a professional resolution for six months but he’s realized there are differences that simply can’t be overcome. What I really wanted to ask him was, “Didn’t you see any of those red flags during the nine months of dating?” but it proved beneficial for me to hold my tongue.
It seems marriage vows have become less significant with more focus and attention given to the overall process. What ever happened to the old fashioned staple of a man courting the woman, getting to know her, and approaching the father (or mother) for permission to have the daughter’s hand in marriage? Maybe I’m a hopeless romantic trapped in the void that exists between a time that used to be and what’s currently accepted. It seems to me most everything existing prior to the age of modern technology was much better constructed and lasted a lot longer, including matrimony. I could be wrong but it’s just something to consider.