Tuesday, May 08, 2018

Would You Encourage Your Child to Gamble?

It's a sad, brutal fact of life that the odds are literally against the average/random person having a lasting, happy marriage. Put another way, most marriages are not successful, if your definition of success is that the marriages last until death and are generally happy ones.

Let's consider the specific facts:

1) 33-40% of first marriages end in divorce. Subsequent marriages have a much higher divorce rate.

2) Of the marriages that don't legally divorce, easily at least 20% (and probably much higher) fall under one of the following scenarios:
  a) legal separation
  b) physical separation (some people stay legally married for decades after they've split, even if they haven't seen each other in years)
  c) one spouse murders the other, whether or not they then kill themselves (other than the person who claims to have found the body, the default suspect in the murder of a married person is their spouse... what does that tell you???)
 d) the marriage would have ended in divorce, but before that could happen one or both spouses died (whether from suicide, overdose, illness, accident, disaster, violent crime, etc.)
 e) the spouses are miserable, but don't divorce for whatever reason (chicken, habit, masochism)

So, 33 (which is a lowball) and 20 (which is also lowball) add up to 53% of marriages being "failed" marriages. Add in...

3) A small (but I'm sure rapidly growing) percentage of people never marry.

Those facts all add up to mean that we can literally say most marriages are not lasting, happy marriages and most people will not get married and stay happily married for life.

So, when we talk to, and treat, our children or any children like we expect that they will marry and stay happily married, aren't we setting them up for failure or disappointment, according to the odds? Aren't we encouraging them to gamble with their life? Aren't we encouraging boys to bet half of everything they'll earn, their time, their freedom and so much more, on something that will, according to the odds, be a bad bet? Marriage is a risk for men. Divorce is even worse. In some respects, especially financially, it is better to never have married than to marry and divorce.

Granted, you can argue it is different than playing a slot machine because you can control some of the factors. Yes, you can. But you can't control the other person. You can choose wisely and treat kindly ...and they could have hid who they were or they could get a bump in the head and everything changes. A good chunk - even most - of the people who divorced or wound up in bad marriages were fairly certain when they married that they were going to have a lasting, happy marriage. Some of those people were bright, paid close attention to their spouse-to-be, were prepared to be good a good spouse, and were optimistic about their future together.

So even if you marry in your late 20s, to someone who is close in age, shares major goals, has no kids, has never been married, and you are together 18-24 months before marrying and do 6-9 months of intense premarital counseling with a LMFT, and do all of the other things that correlate to lasting, happy marriages, it still might not turn out to be a lasting, happy marriage.

Even happy, lasting marriages take a lot of effort, compromise, and sacrifice, even the people trying to sell others on marriage will frequently remind us. Some people may find that even a successful marriage may not be worth it, specially when they can get everything they want without being married. Personally, even if my marriage is generally good from this moment forward, I probably won't be able to say it was a good thing in and of itself or by itself, because of all of the trouble it has been for me and the trade offs. The great unknowns at this point are my children. If they turn out to be good, productive people, then there is some level of redemption there. I can see that happening, but I can also see the possibility for disaster. If my children turn out to be criminals or rotten people or die young without having done something heroic, then the marriage will pretty much have been a total loss.

So what should we do then?

How about stopping with the statements and behaviors that assume most people, especially our own children, should or will marry? Oh, sure, some of you are obligated by your religious authorities to browbeat your kids into marrying. I understand that. Still, your kids should be able to reject that abomination our states now call marriage even as they religiously take on a spouse. (They'll need some sort of customized legal agreement, whether a prenup or a cohabitation agreement or something else family law attorneys can arrange.)

Let's raise children to become independent adults, capable of taking care of themselves. If they have suitable personalities and they develop good interpersonal skills, they might want to religiously marry, or if they aren't religious, marry in a social sense. It would be best if they only do so after they have stood up for themselves, been honest in assessing themselves to see if marriage is really what they want and they can be a good spouse, and been extremely discerning and selective. You might say "Well, of course they should be discerning and selective." But clearly, a lot of people aren't, because a lot of people marry when they shouldn't marry at all, or marry someone who is wrong for them (and possibly wrong for anyone).

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