In many ways, it is ironic that so many people choose to get married each and every year. Especially since, it is no secret that divorce rates are at all times high. Regardless of where you look in mainstream society, whether it be to the media or to your neighbor down the street there is evidence that the hopes and dreams of matrimony seem to be little more than short lasting dreams fueled by passion. Today, it is estimated that over half of all marriages will end in the first ten years, and an additional 25% will end in 20 years. And while there is no sound and solid statistics on how many people are actually happily married chances are these numbers are even more depressing.
Sanity tells us to take pause and ask, is marriage for life a realistic expectation?
Evolutionary biologist, David Barsh wrote two books on the matter entitled Strange Bedfellows and The Myth of Monogamy, which both take a deep look into the reality of monogamy for human beings. The end result seems to be that most people are capable of monogamy, meaning maintaining a relationship with one person long term, however that ‘one person,’ can change several times during a lifetime. In other words, marriage for life to one singular person, while possible is not an evidence driven reality of the human spirit. Interestingly, it makes sense.
For one thing, today, the average age of persons getting married is 24 years of age. This is up by 7 years from just two decade ago. With people getting married so young, it is only natural that maturity levels, life goals and future outlooks will change the ideals of a perfect partner. Every human being is in a constant state of growth and growing that not only involves the body and mind, but the emotions as well. Suffice it to say that just like you aren’t the same person at 24 that you were at 14 you won’t be the same person at 44, that you are 24. And this quite simply, changes what you look for in a partner, what satisfies you in a life partner, and ultimately who your life partner is.
Another more modern manifestation of ideals that seems to sink the idea of marriage for life, is that divorce is becoming mainstream and most importantly, accepted by society as a whole. For numerous reasons in the past, couples that were unhappy caged their emotions, engaged in extra marital affairs yet remained married because they felt they didn’t have a choice and didn’t want to be ostracized from society. Today, at the first sign of unhappiness or discontent couples are more than willing to uproot their marital ties and move on. Most often to another person. And this secondary relationship, while monogamous and perhaps resulting in marriage has even less of a chance of lasting, according to statistics, as the first one did.
For many people the answer to marriage for life, is accepting the fact that human beings are not monogamous creatures by nature and engaging in what is considered an ‘open marriage.’ In open marriages, also called polyamory couples stay together and have all the benefits of marriage, but are honest and up front about relationships with other members of the opposite (or same) sex. Marriage therapists are on the fence over whether this is healthy or not, although admit that most of the couples participating openly in open marriage seem to have happier, more fulfilled lives. Most couples who participate in open marriages or swinging, admit that while they love their spouse as a life partner and do not want to end the marriage they accept the fact that they need a wide range of emotional, physical and even sexual contact with others that just one person cannot provide.
For obvious reasons, polyamory is not widely accepted among society although it is estimated that around 10% of all marriages are secretly ‘open.’ And relationship experts who have studied couples in these relationships cannot deny the fact that while these marriages may be different, the participants seem to have better communication skills, and happier lives than many other monogamous couples. According to a website geared toward making open marriages work, most couples (around 87%) who participate in open marriages have very trusting and loving relationships that seem to defy today’s divorce statistics.
Marriage however, is both a religious and cultural vow that two people make to one another. One of the reasons that so many couples struggle to stay together is because they go into marriage with unrealistic expectations and are driven by intense love and passion, which is certain to fade over time. For many people, it is this initial feeling of love and passion, that makes them feel alive in a relationship. When that disappears and becomes friendship and compromise, they may feel like the marriage is dying or the spark has ended and will no doubt be unhappy in monogamous relationships. If more people knew the truth about marriage, what to expect in 5, 10 and 15 years and were allowed to see the honest side of what it feels like to be married to just one person for life, they might put more stake in their decision or, they might be more inclined to fight for the marriage and make it work.
The argument is definitely not whether being married for life, to just one person is possible or not. We all know that it is. But is it the best way to live? Are people who stay married for life the happiest? There is no doubt that marriage, as we know it will change drastically over the next 50 years, just as it did in the last 50 years. As people become more desire driven, and less chained by expectations, ‘old-fashioned,’ and even religious constraints that fuel the way they feel about marriage, chances are marriage for life will become even rarer.