I have been a fan of marriage for a long time because I have been married for longer than half a century to two wonderful men. Why did I marry twice?
My first husband died at age 49 from a type of skin cancer, called malignant melanoma. I was fortunate to meet John Anderson when he came to Philadelphia to become CEO of an academic publishing company, and we married when our respective daughters were 13, 16, and 18.
As an intimacy expert, I'm interested in the research on marriage. I'm happy to report findings from a research study, headed by Dr. David Popenoe. The research is interesting to me, particularly, because I have been a couples' psychotherapist for a long time.
For the last 40 years, I have helped couples transform their marriages, from feeling tortured by painful emotional trauma to enjoying ongoing mutual respect and dignity.
When do you cut your losses before marriage, and how can you marry more wisely to avoid divorce? Let’s look at three questions readers ask me about marriage. These issues impact both whether and when you marry someone you have come to know.
Perhaps, the most frequent question I get when I work with successful single adults, as part of their growth in psychotherapy, is, “Where in the world do I meet other people that I might become interested in and want to couple with?"
Have you asked yourself why this is hard? Our society has shifted from meeting and greeting through church suppers and book clubs, to meeting online. We are no longer as interpersonally direct, and as we get older, we lose the opportunity to meet new people because we tend to remain in the communities we know - women go out with girlfriends, rather than risking unhappiness by meeting men they do not know.
It is also true that a successful marriage is often built between partners who did not meet each other entirely by accident. They were introduced by mutual friends, or the partners “went shopping” online to see whom they might want to get to know.
When I began my practice, in the 1980s, it was unheard of to meet and greet a stranger, unless you shared a common neighbor or friend. With the onset of computer dating, the landscape of dating has changed dramatically, which makes it easy to “shop around” for friends who later become more.
The result is that marriage is anything but a throwing of the dice and seeing where they land, so there are deep advantages to the progress in meeting and greeting that the internet offers us all.
Research informs us that a choice in marriage partners is not dependent on luck of the draw. There are predictions we can make, that result in more successful long term marriages. I invite you to tuck these three tips away, and share them with unmarried friends who seek partners:
1. Wait until you are older to marry. Research tells us that teen marriages are more likely to end in an unhappy divorce than marriages that begin when people are in their 20s, or older. This makes perfect sense because we all need years of living life to understand what we need, how we can differentiate between the fabulous energy of meeting someone that is so enthralling for us and the level of maturity required for the deep commitment that can happen when people can plan their lives successfully together.
Research tells us that moving into your 20s and 30s before you marry allows for a level of life experience, which will benefit you, your partner and children.
2. Knowing people in common when you meet is often a reliable predictor of a solid married life. I knew my first husband because we were both psychologists, and met while attending a conference together. He was on a scholarship, from Europe, and was easily traceable.
It makes common sense to remember that knowing people from school or your community gives you something in common, which is likely to be beneficial. About 60% of people who marry are introduced by family, friends, or another part of a deep social network. It makes sense because we tend to trust the people we know.
3. More education contributes to a successful marriage. The third finding may surprise you.
College-educated people tend to feel more successful in their marriages, as time goes on, than people who have less education. I don't think that means that someone needs a four-year liberal arts education to marry. Instead, I think it means that maturity is present in the way we understand the wise universe, and it may require more than a high school diploma to reach that stage of life where we have collected sufficient wisdom about our self and the world. Graduating high school, and beyond, is likely to teach us to ask these mature questions to ourselves and each other.
To consider: What does this research mean for you and those you love? I encourage you to share these results with those you know and love and think about their relationship in your own life. Knowing what research tells us leads to marital success. I wish you, and those who you love, a successful married life, if that is your choice.
To explore: David Popenoe, Ph.D. The National Marriage Project (NMP) is a nonpartisan, nonsectarian, and interdisciplinary initiative, whose mission is to provide research and analysis on the health of marriage in America, analyze the social and cultural forces shaping contemporary marriage, and identify strategies to increase marital quality and stability.
ED. NOTE: Dr. Coche practices clinical psychology in Stone Harbor and Philadelphia. She invites responses through her website, www.cochecenter.com.