12 Years, 12 Lessons

Another post from the surprisingly insightful editors at Huffington Post.  Huff may not be your cup of team when it comes to politics, but they run some great articles on the subject of marriage.  Even with the secular bent, there are useful tips here.

Parents and kidsHere are some comments on the lessons that resonate with me:

  • 50/50 expectations inevitably lead to keeping score.  We have argued here that a 60/40 balance, where each spouse is willing to give 60% in exchange for 40% (and an equity position in the marriage) reduces score-keeping which, in turn, reduces arguments over who is carrying the load and who is slacking.  If your spouse is slacking big time–usually the husband, in my opinion–you need to address it, but in a friendly, non-confrontational manner.
  • Courtship cannot end when she says, “I do.”  Even in this age of liberated women (most of whom seem to be in their 40’s and older) husbands are well-advised to go the extra mile to keep the home fires burning, as it were.  Planning and executing rejuvenating date nights is harder than it was pre-kids, but you need to do it anyway. And wives, please don’t forget that your husbands still relish the thought of being seduced by you every now and again.  Just sayin’.
  • Digging in when it gets hard.  Marriage is pretty easy when things are going well, but when life throws us a curve or, worse yet, a beanball, couples need to lean into one another with resolve to weather the storm.  This compares to a previous essay describing the attitude of millennials toward marriage, in which it seems preferable to be able to just wash one’s hands and walk away into a new relationship.
  • Being here now–proximity does not equal presence.  If the two of you spend couple on cell phonesyour time at a romantic little restaurant on your phones, you’re missing out.  Establishing boundaries, such as turning off your phone when you get home from work, will enhance the intimacy in your relationship.  The job stuff will always be there tomorrow; the same cannot be said of your spouse.
  • My wife Nancy facilitates Bible study and recently drew a comparison between attendees who consume Bible study versus those who create it.  Applying the same contrast to marriage, if we are to manage a successful long term relationship we must do more than simply consume the benefits.  We must create, through curiosity, conversation, comfort and consideration, an environment in which both spouses enjoy the pleasures of an intimate relationship with one another. Guys, here’s a news flash–being happily married is not simply her job.
  • As Christians, we are called to forgive one another, even our enemies and those who wish us harm.  Forgiving one another, graciously and completely, is an important element of marriage.  If we are to forgive sworn enemies, are we not to forgive our best friend, our closest confidant, our lover and life partner?  Some marriages, in which cheating, lying, addictions and violence are routine, may exist outside the boundaries of forgiveness, in need of dissolution/annulment.  But in the majority of marriages, we should emulate God, be slow to anger and quick to forgive.

WeddingValentine’s Day is coming soon.  What are YOU planning to show your spouse how much you love being married?

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The Beta Marriage: How Millennials Approach ‘I Do’

I’m about to do something here I’ve not done before.  I am cutting and pasting an entire article from Time magazine into this space.  The reason is that I’m so completely appalled by the content that I fear readers of this blog might not click on the link and actually read the article.  Here goes.  I’ll have a few observations at the end of the article.

We are a generation reared on technology and choice. Why wouldn’t we want to test a lifelong relationship first? How millennials are redefining “forever.”

You could say I beta-tested my relationship.​

It began with a platform migration ​(a cross-country move) and a bandwidth challenge (cohabitation in a 450-sq.-ft. apartment). There was a false start (botched marriage proposal). Then, an emergency de-glitching (couples therapy). We tried to take the product public before we were ready (I wrote about our relationship in Newsweek). And then, finally, we abandoned launch. There were simply too many bugs.

It’s a joke, kind of — except that when it comes to millennials and marriage, the beta test may be par for the course. And really, why wouldn’t it be? For a generation reared on technology, overwhelmed by choice, feedback and constant FOMO (fear of missing out), isn’t testing a marriage, like we test a username, simply … well, logical?

The findings of a new survey certainly reveal so. In conjunction with a new television dramaSatisfaction, which premiered on USA Network last week, trend researchers asked 1,000 people about their attitudes toward marriage. They found all sorts of things: among them, that people cheat on the Internet (uh huh), that young people don’t think their relationships are like their parents’ (of course), and that everyone seems to have taken to the term uncoupling (yuck).

They also uncovered a surprising gem. Buried in the data was the revelation that almost half of millennials (43%, and higher among the youngest subset) said they would support a marriage model that involved a two-year trial — at which point the union could be either formalized or dissolved, no divorce or paperwork required. Thirty-three percent said they’d be open to trying what researchers dubbed the “real estate” approach — marriage licenses granted on a five-, seven-, 10- or 30-year ARM, after which the terms must be renegotiated. And 21% said they’d give the “presidential” method a try, whereby marriage vows last for four years but after eight you can elect to choose a new partner.

marriageIn total, nearly half of all of those surveyed, ages 18 to 49 — and 53% of millennials — thought marriage vows should be renewed, and nearly 40% said they believed the “till death do us part” vow should be abolished. In other words: Beta marriages! Unions you can test and deglitch, work out kinks or simply abandon course without consequence. “This is a generation that is used to this idea that everything is in beta, that life is a work in progress, so the idea of a beta marriage makes sense,” the study’s author, Melissa Lavigne-Delville, tells me. “It’s not that they’re entirely noncommittal, it’s just that they’re nimble and open to change.”

It’s not a new concept, entirely. In the 1970s, the anthropologist Margaret Mead predicted the growing popularity of “serial monogamy,” involving a string of monogamous marriages. Helen Fisher, the biological anthropologist, has advocated for much of the same: she believes humans aren’t meant to be together forever, but in short-term, monogamous relationships of three or four years. Stephanie Coontz, the author of Marriage: A History, has advised a marriage contract “re-up” every five years — or before every major transition in life — “with a new set of vows that reflect what the couple has learned.”

More recently, Mexico City lawmakers proposed (unsuccessfully) a “renewable” marriage concept, whereby couples could simply renew or dissolve their unions after a period of two years. It’s not so unlike the setup described by a young writer in a Modern Love column in the New York Times last month, about how she overcomes “marriage anxiety” by renewing her vows with her husband every year like clockwork. “I think people are indeed trying to avoid failure,” says Andrew Cherlin, the author of The Marriage-Go-Round.

And, why wouldn’t they? The U.S. has the highest divorce rate in the Western world. The data show clearly that the longer we wait to get married the more successful our marriages will be. And it’s not like we can’t move in together in the meantime: the rate of unmarried cohabitation has risen 1,000% over the past four decades. Not all of our marriages will work, no — but when they do, they’ll work better than at any other time in history, say scholars. And when they don’t, why not simply avoid the hassle of a drawn-out divorce?

“Millennials aren’t scared of commitment — we’re just trying to do commitment more wisely,” says Cristen Conger, a 29-year-old unmarried but cohabitating podcast host in Atlanta. “We rigorously craft our social media and online dating profiles to maximize our chances of getting a first date, and ‘beta testing’ is just an extension of us trying to strategize for future romantic success.”

In an era where, according to the survey, 56% of women and men think a marriage can be successful even if it doesn’t last forever, that might just make sense. Scholars have observed for some time that attitudes toward divorce have become more favorable over the past decade. Millennials in particular are more likely to view divorce as a good solution to matrimonial strife, according to the sociologist Philip Cohen — and more likely to believe it should be easier to obtain.

And, of course, it’s easy to understand why. We’re cynical. We are a generation raised on a wedding industry that could fund a small nation, but marriages that end before the ink has dried. (As one 29-year-old survey respondent put it: “We don’t trust that institution.”) We are also less religious than any other generation, meaning we don’t enter (or stay) committed simply for God. We feel less bound to tradition as a whole (no bouquet tosses here).

And while we have among the highest standards when it comes to a partner — we want somebody who can be a best friend, a business partner, a soul mate — we are a generation that is overwhelmed by options, in everything from college and first jobs to who we should choose for a partner. “This is a generation who has not had to make as many long-term commitments as previous generations, so the idea of not having an out feels a little stringent,” says Lavigne-Delville. “Divorce has happened for a long time. Maybe we should rethink the rules.”

Indeed, at the end of the day, whatever you want to say about the hookup generation, or millennials’ inability to commit, the vast majority (69%, according to Pew) of millennials still want to get married. We simply need a little extra time to work out the kinks.

“Getting married is so much more weighted today, I get the impulse to want to test it,” says Hannah Seligson, the 31-year-old married author of A Little Bit Married, about 20-somethings and long-term unmarried relationships. At the same time, she adds, “I wonder if this is a false control study in a way. Yes, marriage terrifying, it’s probably the biggest leap of faith you’ll ever make. But you’ll never be able to peer into a crystal ball — or map it out on a spreadsheet.”

Jessica Bennett is a contributing columnist at TIME.com covering the intersection of gender, sexuality, business and pop culture. A former Newsweek senior writer and executive editor of Tumblr, she is also a contributing editor for Sheryl Sandberg’s women’s foundation, Lean In. 

So, what are the likely consequences of these attitudes toward marriage?  How likely will couples be to have children in these models?  How likely is it that when these folks finally grow old (not necessarily up) and inconvenient that they will have someone there to care for them?  Where is the discernment, the rapture of discovering your life partner, when there is always some greener grass on a distant hill?  The concept of commitment has been displaced, and instead we see people kicking tires and going for 18 month test drives, constantly on the lookout for the Next Great Hookup. 

Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of all of this is that this generation, as described herein, is accustomed to having the new product or the new release be a radical improvement over the previous one, creating a mentality of “commitment aversion” tied to the FOMO.  Who wants to get stuck with Jennifer 3.0 when Caroline 4.0 might be waiting at the next Starbucks?

We boomers have, admittedly, a pretty terrible track record of making lifelong commitments that provide happiness, stability, well-adjusted children and tenderness that lasts “until death do us part.”  We are aware of how human life has become disposable, though we generally don’t discuss abortion or euthanasia in those terms.  We seem to be seeing marriage being added to the growing list of institutions that have outlived their utility.

Our next post will excerpt some comforting ideas from couples who have been married forever and share their secrets of making love last.