[Geek Pride welcomes guest blogger Katrin Schumann, co-author of The Secret Power of Middle Children: How Middleborns Can Harness Their Unexpected and Remarkable Abilities, which recently came out in paperback.]
The way we view our most fundamental intimate relationships is undergoing a seismic shift. Politicians and voters are locked in contentious debates about gay marriage and who has the right to marry whom--yet many people are skeptical about the very institution of marriage itself. They're waiting longer and longer to marry, and heading for the divorce courts at the first sign of trouble.
So... what are Americans looking for in a long-term relationship? What makes them work? Do we still value loyalty--just not the legal document that binds us to our promises? Surprisingly, we can learn a lot about what makes us happy in our couplings from, of all people, middle children.
1) In Marriage, Americans Value Fidelity Above all Else
When asked in 2010 by the Pew Research Center, "What a makes marriage work?" people listed faithfulness above all other traits (such as sharing chores or religious beliefs). This means that middleborns are actually better off than other birth orders in terms of finding longevity in their marriages. Why is that? A study of birth order researcher Dr. Catherine Salmon's showed that middles are significantly less likely than other birth orders to cheat in a long-term romantic relationship--80 percent said they never strayed (compared to 65 percent of firsts, and 53 percent of lasts). If you want a good marriage, do like middles: place high value on dependability and commitment.
2) Having a "Happy Sexual Relationship" is Critical to Marital Success
Sex matters; studies show that when couples are intimate frequently they're happier. Dr. Salmon conducted groundbreaking research comparing sexual attitudes to actual behavior, with some astonishing results. Middles are less judgmental of other's sexual interests and more willing to experiment in the bedroom. But this permissive attitude to sex doesn't lead them into hot water--on the contrary. Middles are actually less likely to cheat than other birth orders. Other studies have also suggested that middles, and people married to middles, are more satisfied overall by their marriages.
3) Singles Do Still Care About Matrimony
The most recent Census data reveals some stark new numbers about marriage: in 1960, 72 percent of all adults ages 18 and older were married, compared to only 51 percent today. But even though fewer Americans are getting hitched, people still yearn for deep and lasting connections to others: Pew Research found that 61 percent of people who never married would like to do so one day, and only 12 percent said no thanks. Middle children rank highest--by far--among birth orders for their generosity and loyalty, and are the least likely of all birth orders to seek marriage counseling, need therapy, or be neurotic. Could it be their selfless tendencies that make middles such even-keeled partners, and help them sustain long and happy marriages?
4) Negotiating Skills and a Willingness to Compromise Lead to Excellent Partnerships
Because of being "squeezed" in their families as kids, middles develop great skills in negotiation, empathy, and openness. They also place high value on strong social ties and support, often showing greater loyalty and connection to "chosen family" than to their actual families. These traits are highly valuable in managing romantic relationships (as well as friendships) outside the family. As two Israeli researchers concluded, "middles are like type O blood, they work for everyone."
Clearly, marriage as an institution is undergoing seismic change these days. Though the rules are changing rapidly, it remains the case that the majority of Americans prefer being paired in lasting relationships than living alone. Looking at the qualities middles embody--loyalty, generosity, openness and flexibility, to name just a few--we can all learn a thing or two about how to turn the dream of this kind of lasting commitment into a reality, regardless of our birth order.
Katrin Schumann is co-author of The Secret Power of Middle Children
(Penguin, 2011) and Mothers Need Time Outs, Too
(McGraw Hill, 2008). A founder of Every Day Matters: Open Conversations on Modern Parenting, she has been researching and writing about family dynamics for the past ten years. In addition, she works as a freelance editor and book doctor. An instructor at Grub Street Writers
in Boston, Schumann helped design and run their program for debut authors, "The Launch Lab." Through PEN New England, she runs writing classes in the Massachusetts prison system. She is a recipient of the Kogan Media Award for her work at National Public Radio. For more info: www.katrinschumann.com