Sex, Love, Marriage, and Middle Children
Want a long and happy relationship? Maybe you should marry a middle.
Posted Oct 26, 2012
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, and yet many people are skeptical about the 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, if 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.
- 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 (including sharing chores or religious beliefs). This means that middleborns are actually better poised than other birth orders to achieve longevity in their marriages. Why is that? A study by birth-order researcher Dr. Catherine Salmon showed that middles are significantly less likely than others to cheat in a long-term romantic relationship—80 percent said they never strayed, compared to 65 percent of firstborns, and 53 percent of last-borns. If you want a good marriage, do like middles: Place a high value on dependability and commitment.
- Having a Happy Sexual Relationship Is Critical to Marital Success
Sex matters. Studies show that when couples are intimate frequently they're happier. Salmon conducted groundbreaking research comparing sexual attitudes to actual behavior, with some astonishing results: Middleborns are less judgmental of other's sexual interests and more willing to experiment in the bedroom. Yet this permissive attitude to sex doesn't lead them into hot water; quite the contrary. Not only are middles less likely to cheat than others; separate studies suggest that middles, and the people married to them, are more satisfied overall in their marriages.
- Singles Do Still Care About Matrimony
The most recent U.S. 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 did not. 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. It could be that their selfless tendencies make middles even-keeled partners, and help them sustain long and happy marriages.
- Negotiating Skills and a Willingness to Compromise Lead to Excellent Partnerships
Because they may have been "squeezed" in their families as kids, middles develop great strong negotiation skills, as well as 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. As two Israeli researchers concluded, "Middles are like type O blood; they work for everyone."
Although the rules are changing rapidly, it remains the case that a majority of Americans prefer being paired in lasting relationships than living alone. Looking at the qualities that middles embody—loyalty, generosity, openness, and flexibility, to name just a few—we can all learn a thing or two from them about how to turn the dream of 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.