May 30, 2007

Marriage

Do Purple WomenTM and their male (or female) counterparts have higher relationship success rate? It has been pondered. We do not have the added pressures of raising the next generation after all. I wonder what a study would reveal if one could be put together. Alas, we, the childfree, are too small a subset to examine, but I have been reflecting lately on marriages.

Last fall, my husband and I re-entered life our former life in Norther California and have been busy reconnecting with our intimate friends since. Perhaps being out of the coutry has shielded us from the reality, but many relationships around us are failing. We all know the divorce rate is uncomfortably high in the U.S. Love brings us together, somethimes it produces a baby, sometimes not...but what keeps us together?

I honestly do not know. I read an article recently in which the CEO of a professtional matchmaker firm was talking about why people should use an expensive service like hers instead of relying on a web-based site like Match.com. One woman wrote a seven page essay on her ideal mate. The CEO was encouraging of this. It made me think about how little effort I put into my social life and still I got lucky and found my Tom. Did our two souls just know each other from a previous life? Somehow we found each other in the primordial soup of this life.

A friend of ours whose wife just left him after only one year said to me:

"You need to be a happy on your own first, You cannot depend on or expect your mate to be responsible for how you feel. You have to live in the moment."

He was determined not to let this crush him emotionally. I think he was trying to say that it important to take responsiblity for your own happiness. If you are not happy, you have to look for yourself first. It does require a certain self-reliance and introspection. This sounds a lot like a Buddhist tennet of accepting responsibility for your outcomes, in a universally kharmic sense. Not unlike the aboriginal boomarang, what you put out there just may come back to you. Not unlike the Christian's belief that "God helps those who help themselves".

I believe a successfull relationship has more to do with this attitude and acceptance of yourself and your mate than the decision to have or not to have children.

What do you think?

Flickr photo by switchpack (cc)

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19 comments:

Jill said...

I think sometimes people go into marriage thinking that all the work is done. Of course, dating is hard work. You try to impress the person who you want to be with. Hopefully you spend some effort making sure that you are compatible. Planning a wedding can be actual work as well. And then there is the initial work of molding that life that you hope you will share for the rest of your lives.

After the wedding, I think some couples think they are home free and now they can just coast through. But marriage is hard work. Circumstances change our lives and sometimes you have to work harder to make things work. I don't think every marraige falls apart just when it gets rough, but many don't seem to recover from the hard times because it does take effort.

Another thing I think people forget is that love is a verb. I realize this may be very cliche, but I think it's also a very good point. Love has to be actively engaged in by both sides...and sometimes it's easier than other times.

Just some random thoughts.

LauraS said...

Jill
Thank you for reminding us that love is a verb.

Surveys have shown that women and,to a lesser degree, men report a decrease in marital satisfaction after the birth of the first child. I suspect that has to do with the stressors and added pressures that come with a child, as Teri suggested. Perhaps it has to do with disagreements over division of labor, or lack of sleep, sex, whatever.

We, too, feel like the last couple standing. Our social calendar is packed because we now have to schedule separate nights to visit with our divorced friends--no double dating anymore.

We have disagreements and stressors too but at the end of the day we have more time together to work things out than our friends with kids and more time to focus on our relationship. I once walked nine holes of golf with a couple who came regularly for a "date" of golf--two hours out of their busy life to relax and play a game they had come to love.

We chatted about our lack of golf skills, a trip they were planning for Chicago, and their love for Italian food. At the ninth hole, the husband looked at the wife and said, "Do you realize this is the first time we've come out here where we haven't spent the whole time talking about the kids?"

I realized then how my life was different.

frieda said...

I agree marriage can be hard work. It's kind of like having children in a way. With parenting it seems like you're doing the primary work at first with the pregnancy and birthing process (like dating and finding the right person is to marriage), but that's nothing compared to all the years of childrearing that come next.

My husband and I have been together 13 years, so we've argued and made up many many times. It's not a pretty process, and sometimes I imagine how it would be if we had a child who was stuck witnessing it. I feel bad for my dog when it happens! She feels the tension when we're not getting along.

We made a deal long ago that neither of us would ever walk out of the room in the middle of an argument. No matter how unpleasant it is, we both stick it out until we can resolve it, or at least agree to disagree and still be together. Often someone finally thinks of a joke to make and the tension is relieved. I think that process is simplified since we're not distracted by children and can focus on each other.

WendyDarling said...

From "All You Need is Love & Other Lies About Marriage: How to Save Your Marriage Before It's Too Late" by John W. Jacobs, M.D.

"Chapter 6

Lie: Children Solidify a Marriage
Truth: Your Children Are a Serious Threat to Your Marriage

...

Very few of us are willing to acknowledge fully that the presence of children is perhaps the single greatest stressor in most marriages and a major reason that couples divorce."

Emphasis with bolded italics is mine. The * character is my way of showing that author included footnote for the "longitudinal study" he refers to, conducted by John M. Gottman and Clifford I. Notarius, "Marial Research in the 20th Century and a Research Agenda for the 21st Century."

Sorry for the plodding data, but I never feel right without citing my sources.

The book was on the bargain table of my local bookstore, but that is no reflection on its quality of writing or wisdom. I found it be very helpful and insightful--particularly for someone who will soon enter (and blindly navigate) the nefarious terrian of marriage.

My fiance gave that same tired dreck about "who's gonna take care of us when we're old, blah blah blah" when I told him I didn't want to have kids. I think after he observed how exhausted his co-worker was after having a kid, he started having second thoughts. Then, I made the point, "So you want to do it everyday? If I'm getting 2-3 hours of sleep a night, we'll be luck if we do it bi-weekly."

WendyDarling said...

Also, I have to give props to this blog's owner: this is by FAR the classiest discussion forum I've poked around in a long time. I'm new, but I've seen very little toxicity from your posters. I'm glad to finally see that people can be civilized--even from the emboldening anonymity of the Internet!

CFT said...

I just started reading The Childless Revolution and one of the women interviewed said that the reason for her successful marriage was a matter of numbers: 1 bed, 2 bathrooms, 0 children.

I do believe that we have to be happy with ourselves first and that no one and nothing outside of us can make us happier. My husband is a great compliment to me as a person. It's a choice for me and for us everyday to be in love with each other, to stay together and to be committed.

Will being childfree help us stay together? No, maybe not, but in some ways, it is what unifies us as well. To have kids or not is a BIG choice and for some, a big dealbreaker. Knowing that my husband and I are on the same page makes me feel just that much more secure in my choice of him as my life partner. It's one less fight I know that we will have in the future.

Anonymous said...

I think the decision not to have children has a lot to do with being happy on your own and
taking responsibility for your own happiness. I know many friends that thought they were ”missing” something in their life, so they had children or thought they would be “missing” something if they did not have children. Or how many people thought their marriage was missing something, so they added children. I believe children can add a lot of joy to some people’s life; however, as you cannot depend on or expect your mate to be responsible for how you feel, you also cannot place that burden on your children. It is not a child’s job to make their parents happy, and I think what some parents find out is now they have to continue to try to make themselves happy (find what is missing), and they also have a new job of trying to make their children happy and fulfilled.

So while being childfree and having a successful marriage may not be linked, being childfree and taking ownership for you own happiness may be. And I agree a successful relationship has more to do with this attitude and acceptance of yourself, which maybe more common in childfree individuals.

WendyDarling said...

Children are great stressors on a marriage, to sum up the essential point of my first post here. Mentally, physically, and emotionally.

Kate said...

The anon. poster (9:17 am) makes a really good point -- I think having children can be a great distraction for people who feel unfulfilled. I see the schedules of some of my friends and coworkers who are parents and wonder if they have time to even breathe.

But children don't and shouldn't be responsible for fixing anyone's life or marriage. That's not fair.

I still don't understand how a couple with a troubled relationship thinks that bringing a baby into the mix will help anything. Let's see. 9 months + of raging horomones. Another 9+ months of irregular sleeping. Personally, I know I'm unbearable after one bad night of sleep, so I wouldn't try to fix any problem with months of it. And yes, I do know people who have tried to "fix" broken relationships with a child.

Even for those in stable relationships, wendydarling and her sources make a good point -- parenting is stressful. More people should acknowledge that out loud.

Britgirl said...

Well, I met my sweetie on match.com and we celebrated four fantastic years of marriage yesterday. We met in 1999 on-line, I lived in England, he in Canada and as I posted on my blog I still marvel that I met such a great guy and that from living on different continents we've together made something wonderful. I personally believe that us being childfree has been a big and positive factor in our relationship. And I know we weighed up the potential effect kids might have on it.

My husband and I focus on developing our relationship instead of having it fractured and driven by kids. I think people underestimate or fail to acknowledge the amount of strain children bring to a relationship and think that kids bring you closer. Maybe they do, but in many cases the opposite happens.

Neither of us felt we needed children to complete each other or our family and we're very happy we don't have them.

At the time I met my husband, I was very comfortable being on my own. I thought if it happened it happened, and if not, then so be it. Meanhwile, most of my friends were getting married, and having kids led, no doubt by their biological clock. It is very important to be happy in and off yourself and to resist all the myths and pressure from society to mate and pro-create... that's a recipe for disaster for all - and I know personal examples.

Teri said...

Jill, Freida, Wendy, Kate, Laura and BritGirl, and Anonymous --
Great to hear from all of you.

Posted this one from the road and I am glad to see it is so well received. I just had a golf get-away with two women friends. I've know Jane since middle school. She has a daughter, now two, and her husband was gracious enough to take charge of her so we could do this. I admire Jane so much. She had her daughter at age 39, and she says if that would not have been possible, she would have been totally okay with being a childfree couple. She is confident that she she could have been happy either way. Now you know why I like to spend time with her.

I am SO encouraged to see such a great dialogue here. Thanks to all of you for weighing in on a very important topic. I am further encouraged to be reading comments from new people. I hope you all establish blogs of your own (if you haven't already), or at least create a Blogger profile at some point, if you decide to become a frequent visitor our Purple space.

You can see that if we had more than one Anonymous commenter, it would be rather difficult to keep track of who is writing what!

Cheers,
Teri

And, remember, love is a VERB!

Robin said...

I think a lot of people get married for the wrong reasons and have children for the wrong reasons. If you don't have a solid relationship already a child will only tear you apart more.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately childless/childfree (pick your terminology) couples are more likely to divorce than their parent counterparts. This finding has been reported in a number of societies. Search under "childless" and "divorce rate."

Teri said...

Dear Anonymous - Yes, I am paying attention. I would love to know your sources. This is news to me.

Anonymous said...

To Teri,

Here are some studies:

(Russia)www.demogr.mpg.de/papers/working/wp-2007-025.pdf

(China)
www.demographic-research.org/Volumes/Vol7/11/7-11.pdf

(Norway)
paa2007.princeton.edu/download.aspx?submissionId=70418

(Ethiopia)
journals.cambridge.org/production/action/cjoGetFulltext?fulltextid=53068

(Canada)
www.statcan.ca/english/freepub/11-008-XIE/2006001/main_death.htm
(Here is a quote from the article: Having children significantly reduces the predicted risk of first marriage failure: it is 73% lower than that for married partners without children, after controlling for all other variables in the model. This finding bolsters the fact that, although children can put a strain on the adult relationship, marriage dissolution is actually less likely to occur among couples with than without children, an observation which is true across most societies and cultures.)

I've tried to include both Western and non-Western societies. I remember reading a childfree board where almost all the participants were talking about how children destroy marriages. Then one woman, who had just been deserted by her husband, said, "You're less likely to break up if you have kids... feelings are funny, mercurial and finicky. One day your DH is the love of your life and you can't imagine leaving him for the next Brad Pitt or Orlando Bloom. Then he says something hurtful to you and you wish you'd never met the SOB. I think for better or worse, kids protect against the manic ups and downs of marriage." Her words had a genuine pathos... sometimes life is not beautiful, contrary to the movie.

Anonymous said...

Just wanted to say: These findings I reported do NOT mean a couple in a turbulent relationship should have a child to save the marriage. That is unfair to the child and ultimately to the couple themselves.

LauraS said...

Anonymous is right that there is a higher rate of divorce for childless couples. Childless and childfree couples have no reason to stay married (other than for financial or religious considerations) if the marriage is not healthy. Also some childless marriages break up because one person wants a child and the other does not.

You have to read these studies carefully because most of these studies do not distinguish between couples who are childless by choice and couples who are childless couples by circumstance. I was reading a study on marital satisfaction that concluded that parents reported higher marital satisfation than childless couples. Reading further I realized the data they used for the study didn't distinguish between voluntarily childless and involuntarily childless couples. Duh. If you are in a childless marriage but you really want kids you are unlikely to report that you are "very satisfied" with your marriage.

Anonymous said...

Here's a thought. Maybe some couples stay together ONLY for the sake of the kids when really they shouldn't!
When you are childfree if you are unhappy I imagine it would be easier to leave. Not EASY, NEVER easy, but easIER.
I have read a lot of posts and letters from women in terrible marriages staying in them ONLY because of the kids. And many times I've read this: "I'm so unhappy. I want to leave him BUT CAN'T BECAUSE OF THE KIDS."
And I think sometimes women even stay in abusive relationships because of the kids. (Not saying that's the ONLY reason, not at ALL!)
We are freer if the s hits the f to walk away.
So, perhaps that accounts for some of the breakups too? (Not ALL, of course!)
ATHENA

Anonymous said...

Hi! This is the anonymous person who first posted (my name is Emilia, by the way). It is true that childless couples have an easier time getting out of not-so-great marriages. Sometimes it's a good thing if, say, the husband is abusive or if the spouses are arguing all the time (in which cases I don't think it's even good for the kids if the marriage continues). On the other hand, maybe the presence of children might prevent the breakup of couples who might simply not find their marriage "exciting" at a certain point but who in the end would do better to remain in it, not only for the children but for the husband and wife themselves. It's a tough call.

Also, it's hard to untangle the cause and effect pattern of divorce and childlessness. Sometimes couples whose marriage is shaky will refrain from having children because they don't want to expose any kids to a troubled relationship and they would find it harder to exit their marriage with children in the picture. So maybe childlessness doesn't cause divorce but divorce causes childlessness in such a case.