Because what you read about is how the divorce rate has climbed, and because another of those annual marriage milestones has come round once more for me, I’ve undertaken yet another informal and occasional survey of the institution. It’s not a tough chore.
Marriage is a relentlessly probed and prodded subject for researchers. Even the Center for Disease Control (CDC) gathers the data and publishes reports, as if wedlock were a fungus or a surprising e-coli strain.
Making a bet on marriage is always a dicey thing, by most reports — riskier if you’re young, you don’t have a job, you’re living with your inlaws, or you’re stubborn and stupid, which many of us are on occasion. Still, the evidence is clear that human beings will try clinging together in almost every imaginable bilateral combination, not confined to the enduring man-woman thing called marriage. Hope and yearning persist.
Eighty-one percent of American men will very likely marry by age 40, and 79 percent of women will do the same, according to the CDC. This suggests some eagerness by the male of the species, but it tails off. Seventy-one percent of men and 79 percent of women will take the plunge during their lifetimes. The women apparently bide their time, until the time is right.
The rate at which Americans exchange vows declined between 2007 and 2009, from 7.3 per thousand to 6.8 per thousand, but so did the rate at which they divorced over the period, from 3.6 per thousand to 3.4 per thousand.
There are in the CDC statistics good reasons to be optimistic about the chances that marriage has made a place for itself among humankind. The evidence shows that enduring husband and wife relationships can help both partners to be healthier, wealthier, happier, and even wiser.
Ben Franklin, in 1745, without the benefit of statistical or demographic analysis, made the point this way:
“It is the man and woman united that make the compleat human being. Separate, she wants his force of body and strength of reason; he, her softness, sensibility and acute discernment. Together they are more likely to succeed in the world. A single man … resembles the odd half of a pair of scissors. If you get a prudent, healthy wife, your industry in your profession, with her good economy, will be a fortune sufficient.”
All right, you might say, but still, sometimes it just doesn’t work out. The thing is, when it does, how does it? That’s what you want to know.
So, I’ve done some research and, yes, I’ve added a thought or two of my own. The perspective is not cross-gender, but the lessons seem to go both ways, if you know what I mean. For sure, if you take these precepts to heart, you too may be a member of the serene majority.
Remember that the rabbi said, “Every man receives the wife he deserves.” (He probably said the same thing about women, though the historical record is silent on the point. Today, he might add that every man gets the man he deserves, and every woman the woman. Or, he might not.) Anyway, if your spouse is gone off a bit, you’ll have to raise your own game to another level in order to deserve some improvement.
If you don’t know the answer, ask her/him.
Kids are kids, but she’s the one for you.
At each fork in the road, ask yourself, “Right, but what will I lose?”
When you say, “I’ll get to that this weekend,” do it. (On occasion I haven’t, and the consequences have been brutal.)
Don’t arrive at home after work with a tale of workplace woe. Instead, begin the evening this way: “How was your day, harrowing?”
Read the books she suggests you read. (You can skim them if you must.)
Try to learn how the washer/dryer works. And separate, separate, separate.
Don’t say, “I don’t know” when your helpmeet asks a question. The indicated response is “Now, there’s a question.”
Keep a careful inventory of all the partners you might have been manacled to for life, as in, “There’s another man/woman I’m glad I’m not married to.” Do a little dance when it dawns on you how you dodged that bullet.
Choose someone better than you. That way, you’ll always be running to catch up, which will keep you moving. All by itself that can have an improving effect.
When it’s clear as a north wind day that you’ve screwed up, try getting on all fours and wagging your tail. It might avert a tragedy, and if the situation is reversed some day, who knows what pleasures you’ll enjoy.
Never overlook an anniversary. There won’t be enough of them.