Whatever You Do, Stop Sliding In(to) Marriage

How deliberate decisions make for better marriages

Posted Sep 07, 2015

What makes committed relationships work? Different people will give different answers, but I find it fascinating what general tendencies scientific studies and surveys reveal. For example, marriages are on average more successful when the partners are older at the time of entering a commitment, which, of course, does not mean that chronological age causesthis success. Maturity, however, does seem to help.

Recently I have come across a survey from the National Marriage Project1, that gave me pause. It stated that when couples have big weddings -- 150 guests and more -- they are more likely to have successful and happy marriages. As I enjoy simplicity and intimacy very much, this sounds odd. Certainly, there cannot be a causal relationship here, otherwise you, upon reading this, could simply write more invitations the day before your wedding and enjoy a measurable advantage in your marriage, for years to come. The authors suggest that the more public your commitment, the more pressure you find yourself under to make your relationship work. Hmmm. Once again, I felt puzzled. Since when is pressure on a couple a good thing? And is a pressured couple happier?

Also, the survey states that having a baby before you tie the knot can be quite a disadvantage. Here the interpretation is more plausible, namely that couples with babies would not always marry if it was not for the fact that they were pregnant. Maybe we tend to accept or tolerate what we ordinarily would not if we find ourselves in a vulnerable position.

The authors of the Marriage Project, Galena K. Rhoades and Scott M. Stanley, also suggest something with which I do resonate: couples would be better off not sliding into a committed relationship but making deliberate decisions. This would include planning the conception of a baby and having a seriously thought-out, maybe costly, highly public wedding. The authors state that too many adults drift unintentionally into parenthood, without assuring a good future for themselves and their children.2

This rings true to me. Instead of letting events just happen to us, we ought to take a cool-headed stance, choose carefully and negotiate the terms of our engagement. There are times when we have no control and may simply surrender and enjoy whatever there is to enjoy. And there are times when we need to look out, speak out and come out in order to build a good foundation that won’t make our relationship tip over like the tower of Pisa.

What you can take home may be this: If you are about to enter a committed relationship, stop sliding and assert that little bit of control in life that you have. And if you are in a committed relationship, stop sliding if you do. Reinstate your power, reflect on what you need and expect, define rules and boundaries while inviting your partner to do the same. It is rarely too late to make improvements in a relationship.3

© 2015 Andrea F. Polard, Psy.D. All Rights Reserved

References

1)   Galena K. Rhoades and Scott M. Stanley (2014). Before “I Do”: What Do Premarital Experiences Have to Do with Marital Quality Among Today’s Young Adults. National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia. See http://nationalmarriageproject.org/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/NMP-BeforeIDoReport-Final.pdf

2)   Ibid.

3)   See Chapter Six: “Connection” in A Unified Theory of Happiness