In the last three decades, far fewer Americans are getting married. In fact, the recently released 2011 State of our Unions report from the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia reported that there has been a 50 percent decrease in marriage from 1970 to 2010. This may be due partly to more people living together, but even more so to an increase in lifelong singlehood.
This seems curious to us, since research conducted annually by the Institute of Social Research shows that teenagers of both sexes over this same period of time still say that “a good marriage and family life” are “extremely important” to them. Empirical evidence over the years consistently shows marked personal and social benefits of marriage over singlehood or cohabitation. In spite of this evidence and the reported desire for a committed relationship, people’s faith in marriage has fallen over the last 30 years. Some even entertain the notion that finding one particular person to love forever has become obsolete.
Is this dramatic drop in marriage and the faith in the institution happening because more people are finding it harder to find a committed life partner, or that fewer people are sticking it out, or that some people don’t even want to be in a relationship? With the divorce rate well over 50 percent and many people who stay married being unhappy, one can certainly understand why people might shy away from marriage. After all, who would get on an airplane if a pilot said you had only a 50 percent chance of landing successfully? But do fewer people really reject marriage, or are many of them just saying that they prefer being single when consciously or unconsciously they may be hiding from the pain of not having the relationship they truly want? We psychologists call this way of thinking “cognitive dissonance,” avoiding discomfort about what you are doing by justifying that you wouldn’t be doing that unless you had a good reason for it. People stop fixing you up with dates, because they believe you really prefer being single, even if you don’t really want to be. While some may be perfectly happy being single, for others, it may not be that they don’t want a relationship but that they haven’t figured out a way to have one that is fulfilling. Fortunately, while it is not necessarily easy to make a relationship work, there are some simple ways to create and maintain a fulfilling long term partnership. So don’t give up yet!
If the problem is the first possibility, that is, finding it harder to find a committed partner, maybe people are looking in the wrong places. They may be looking for the right partner to meet their own needs rather than looking for someone with whom to create the right relationship to meet both partners’ needs. If they become dissatisfied with their partner, they may give up too soon rather than continuing to work together on the relationship. If it’s that fewer couples are sticking with it, it may be that they don’t have the tools or the confidence to make a relationship last. Our more than 30 years of work with couples has shown us that such tools are available and that they are effective. These tools fit into four simple tasks that are required to create and maintain a fulfilling lifelong relationship.
The four major components, what we call “the four C’s of lifelong love,” are: commitment, cooperation, communication and community. Let’s start with the crucial first step of commitment. By this, we mean commitment to the relationship as an entity, separate from and beyond just the two individuals. The couple is then greater than the sum of the parts. It is something that two partners create together, like a child, and commit to nurture together. In every area of life, people who establish a clear vision are more likely to fulfill on it. Businesses know that and always create a mission statement for important projects. Couples are no different.
Just envisioning yourselves as a committed couple is not enough, however. Once the challenges of jobs and kids and everyday life come along, it requires having some tools to keep you on track. One of these tools is creating a statement of your vision to serve as a reminder of your commitment. Like marriage vows, this statement or “couple proclamation,” allows you to see the power you have together, couple power —greater than just one person or parent alone. Couple proclamations, like “We are a winning team” or “We are one” recited daily serve as a powerful reminder of your commitment and help define the two of you as one entity. This entity, what we call “Couple," is not just a thing to achieve or be committed to. It is a way of being, for life.
We will share more tools and the other three components of lifelong love and how they apply to parenthood and related issues in subsequent blogs. Stay tuned—and stay Couple! The rewards are well worth the effort—for you, your relationship, and your family:
In a long-term relationship, there develops familiarity, a deeper connection, a mirror in which to see yourself reflected, all of which have stood the test of time and events. Enduring relationships…encompass and surpass both friendship and love: they are unique entities unto themselves. (From Lifelong Love: 4 Steps to Creating and Maintaining an Extraordinary Relationship by Phyllis Koch-Sheras, PhD and Peter Sheras, PhD, Harlequin, 2012)
Copyright Phyllis Koch-Sheras and Peter Sheras