A recent column, “What are the odds?,” noted that about 41% of first marriages, 60% of second marriages, and 73% of third marriages end in divorce or separation. A Dunwoody Crier reader asked, “How about a column on marriages that last?” He and his wife are celebrating 61 years together!
While many believe that divorce rates in general approach 50%, the good news is that the divorce rate has been going down for decades, recognizing that divorce rates are hard to measure, and different numbers float around. The key is, if you are contemplating marriage, or are married, how do you increase the odds of marital success? In taking our dear reader up on his request, please note that marriage counseling is not in my consulting wheelhouse. My comments are based on personal and family life experience and years of financial counseling and client observation.
Growing up, lessons were learned as a stormy, stressful relationship between my mother and stepfather ultimately led to divorce. Long before I met the lovely lady who is the mother of our two grown children, I resolved not to make the same mistakes my parents did. When I married, it would be “I do,” not, “Well, maybe, as long as it’s fun.” We celebrated our 52nd wedding anniversary September 2nd. Marriage is not one long date. Challenges and struggles arise along the way. Life transitions of any kind often are difficult.
When you take a job you ask for a “job description.” In coaching business owners, it’s noted that a “role description” is different from a job description. How many married or engaged couples think about role descriptions? There are distinct roles in a union that unfold over time─breadwinner, homemaker, parent, child nurturer, shopper, caregiver, chauffeur, money and finance manager, handyman/handywoman, animal care, etc. Who does what? What roles and duties do you assume? What responsibilities do you share? What does your partner do? How many marriages blow up because one partner thinks the other is not holding up his or her end?
It also helps if both partners agree on the sanctity and enduring nature of marriage and family, matters of faith.
Money fights and financial stress are leading causes of divorce. Seeing money pressures in my family growing up and the toll it took, young couples are counseled to work to accumulate sufficient capital so that your family can go at least a year with no income. A “Freedom Fund” is peace of mind, because “stuff happens.” Career interruptions, accidents, illness, special needs children, caring for the elderly. A comprehensive insurance package to cover health, disability, liability, and premature death is key to family well-being given “What if?” Up-to-date wills and powers of attorney are basic.
Two-income households are the norm more than the exception. An over-controlling spouse relative to money matters can be deadly. Who pays for what? What’s your thinking on spending, saving, debt management? If one has to hide things from the other, trouble is certain. Openness and trust count.
Opposites attract. Your partner is quite different from you. If you were too much alike, battles would ensue. God endowed each of you with particular strengths and talents. At conception you were hard wired with an internal modus operandi (MO), a particular way that you process information and respond to challenge, stress, or difficulty. In working with individuals, certain diagnostic assessments are useful in determining what one seeks to avoid, what one will accommodate, and where and how one will initiate action. Gallup Strengths Finder, Kolbe, and the Keirsey Temperament Sorter are useful tools in seeing how people take action. Recognizing that your spouse has an entirely different makeup can avoid fights and strife when facing difficulties and seeking solutions and resolution.
Understanding the unique strengths and talents that you possess, and how to apply them to work and professional choices can enhance career progress and earning capabilities. Acting in strength is important to success and peace of mind in any endeavor, family, business, community, and spiritual, and any of the roles noted above, whether son, daughter, spouse, parent, grandparent, caregiver, breadwinner, homemaker, etc. Living your strengths enhances confidence, fortitude, patience, and faith in your ability to overcome.
Responding, “Yes dear,” doesn’t hurt, either. To my reader friend, congratulations on 61 years of marriage. As they say in Australia, “Good on ya!”
By Lewis J. Walker, CFP®