Tag Archives: marriage

We Need to Stop Obsessing About Marriage

 

Pause. Think.

 

How many truly good marriages have you known?

 

Straight, gay, even long-term partnerships. How many have been really happy and respectful?  Yes, of course, relationships over years contain ups and downs, but of the ones that make it through, how many are not just long in years, but healthy?

 

Not many, right?

 

This amusing-but-true Slate article demonstrates what can impel someone to want to blow up their marriage after kids arrive.

 

Beyond sharing the inevitable work that comes with children, there are other reasons for marriage break-up. Two people marry who really shouldn’t. One partner changes so much that the relationship is harmed. Or events outside the marriage impact it terribly. Or mental illness erupts. Or. Or.

 

There are lots of reasons for people not to be joined to each other. And really only one – that they do better together than apart – for them to stay married.

 

Unfortunately, the American obsession with preserving the two-parent family is hurting women who are being abused within their marriage, and their children, as this article demonstrates.

 

Researcher Sara Shoener, from the article: “My point . . . was that when we as a community frame marriage as a universally good thing for families, we bolster the obstacles intimate-partner-violence survivors must overcome to secure safety for themselves and their children, no matter their place in the social structure.”

 

We all know of low-income women who hesitate to leave abuse, who figure they must sacrifice their own health and safety in order to give their children an in-home father figure. Note that the sons of these abusive fathers can grow up to be abusers themselves, that daughters accept more abuse, and that men who abuse their wives are often also assaulting their children in hidden ways.

 

But what of higher-income families? They’re not as violent, right? Not necessarily.

 

Shoener notes, “Since the op-ed ran, I have been inundated with messages from women in upper-middle-class families who have been hiding their partners’ violence. Particularly for women who have dedicated their lives to raising children while their partners were the primary wage earners, leaving a violent marriage would entail an upheaval of their entire social and economic lives. For example, one woman wrote and said she was afraid that if she left her violent husband, she wouldn’t be able to afford her children’s school and extracurricular activities, thereby disadvantaging her children and removing herself from her support network. She described a life filled with tennis lessons, PTA meetings, afternoon play dates, and couples’ activities that would have to be sacrificed. The disadvantages of single motherhood look different for different women, but are frequently a factor in their decision-making.”

 

The reality is that the system, and the US insistence that marriage – any marriage – is better than two single parents, exposes children to violent fathers in order to attempt to buttress unhealthy marriages.

 

Shoener: “I observed a lot of social service and court systems [where] safety considerations were often overlooked . . .. When survivors [of abuse] resisted this arrangement, they risked being considered uncooperative or vindictive. In fact, many attorneys who represent survivors told me that they try not to bring up their clients’ experiences of abuse to avoid being seen as selfish or petty. Abusers could exploit this reality to garner more power.”

 

And the system allows them to do this, thus endangering not only the survivor of abuse, but the children.

 

In fact, men who have been demonstrated to be violent can still have legal access to guns and go on to commit murder, as this article shows. In the US, it happens every day.

 

How to change this marriage obsession in a reality of politicians who extol marriage per se as an intrinsic good rather than placing weight on the quality of the union?

 

“I would absolutely agree that children who are lucky enough to have two loving parents [in the home] are going to fare better on average than those who do not,” Shoener says. “But I’d argue that value is derived, in large measure, from economic and social resources — a house in a good school district, money for extracurricular activities, time to check homework — that single parents have a more difficult time accessing. There’s a large body of research that suggests that abusive relationships drain those resources, rather than contribute to them . . .. In my estimation, we could build a stronger community by better meeting the needs of parents in a variety of family structures, rather than focusing solely on incentivizing one that isn’t going to work for everyone.”

 

If we look at nations that prioritize children’s well-being (the Scandinavian countries, where parents’ marital status is unimportant compared to how they nurture their children), we see that there’s a stark divide between them and us.

 

Prioritize marriage – no matter what – or prioritize kids? It really can’t be both.

Let’s stop regarding a marriage license as proof of family health.

It’s never been that.

 

 

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All Breakdowns Cost . . . Not Just Marital Ones

 

A Telegraph story quotes UK Welfare Minister Lord Freud about couples cohabiting without being married: “Those couples are four times more likely to split when their child is under three than if they are married.” He promises to support marriage (by which he really means heterosexual unions, as being more likely to produce children who need looking after) and reduce payments to single parents – most often, of course, female parents.

 

It’s awfully nice that Lord Freud cares so deeply about children. Would that the rest of the Conservative Party did. If only they had not removed the benefits that married couples received, years ago. If only, too, they acknowledged that marriage, even heterosexual marriage, in undergoing a revolution. It will never again be the 1950s-style union the Tory Party would like to recall, even those Tories who have no memory of the 1950s because they were born after that era.

 

Caring for children, giving them loving guidance, is an essential task of society. So why do the UK and US make it so difficult?

 

The BBC reports here that many parents are paying more for childcare than they are for their average mortgage. Another report here points out that London parents, in particular mothers, cannot afford annual childcare costs of approximately $18,000, so they are leaving work – at a time when many politicians blame non-working parents. Whether there are two parents or one paying hardly matters, when the issue is the high price of quality childcare. Is Lord Freud addressing that? Hardly.

 

In Sweden, many parents are unmarried and stay that way. It is not marriage that keeps them in the home and caring for their children – it is the sense of family, of responsibility and partnership, which are supported by Swedish national policies.

 

When bad marriages create pain, why keep them intact? It is not just spouses that suffer from the evil actions of the adult they’ve married. Children suffer, too.

 

As a child, Sir Patrick Stewart witnessed his father repetitively beat his mother. He has never forgotten. “As a child, I heard in my home doctors and ambulance men say, ‘Mrs. Stewart, you must have done something to provoke him. Mrs. Stewart, it takes two to make an argument.’ Wrong. Wrong! My mother did NOTHING to provoke that — and even if she had, violence is NEVER, ever a choice that a man should make. Ever.”

 

Now that he is, as he says, “an old white man” who will be listened to, he has been speaking out against domestic violence because that kind of breakdown costs. His work for Refuge, a nonprofit that helps women whose husbands and partners mauled them, is proud and essential work. Yes, Sir Patrick survived. He has done well. How many others have not? How many former children never got over the trauma of their parents’ treachery? How many perpetrated violence themselves?

 

That, Lord Freud, is a family breakdown.

 

There are married parents who stay in the home and abuse and rape children, either hiding it from the other parent or threatening the spouse with murder, mayhem, deportation if word leaks out.

 

That is a breakdown of the family.

 

What about the parents – heterosexual, married – who subject their daughters to the horrors and continuing pain of FGM? Who beat their children for talking to a friend of a different religion or caste? Who arrange marriages of underage children to people they have never even met, often much older than they? Who perpetrate or condone dishonorable killings of their own children?

 

Lord Freud, what more horrible evidence of family breakdown is there?

 

You think this does not cost???

 

In terror, in mental illness, increased violence, suicide, intergenerational conflict, arrests, lawsuits, trials, convictions, prison time? In fear, blame, shame, in children wondering where help lies, whom can they trust, dare they tell a teacher?

 

We understand. For you, money is the only counter, and your party does not want to pay for other people’s children. We get it, you think it essential that both biological parents care for all their children within the context of a legal marriage.

 

But seriously, Lord Freud, the lack of marriage is not the problem here. It’s the lack of structure. The lack of hope. It’s a society that has turned its back on loving guidance – both of those words equally stressed. It’s condoning violence within the home, financial shenanigans that remove jobs, unlimited immigration (and in the UK, giving immigrants benefits no other society allows, simply for arriving) that pits very different cultures against each other. It’s the lack of respect for schools and teachers coupled with an economy so shaky that no one knows when they might be downsized or sacked, where entrepreneurship is sometimes the only logical answer.

 

It’s not the lack of marriage alone. If it were, Sweden – with its thousands of unmarried yet diligent parents – would bubble with unrest.

 

 

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Susan Patton, Wise Up!

 

Susan Patton and Princeton — the college whose female undergrads should be grabbing guys.

 

 

The “Princeton mom”, Susan Patton – whose younger son is still in attendance there – has struck again.

 

Her latest salvo is aimed at the same people: Princeton undergraduates who happen to be female. The message is the same: grab your male classmates while you’re still trying to figure out college, so you can make a happy marriage and lots of babies!

 

Susan, Susan, Susan. Wise up. Get real.

 

Slate has a wonderful article here on who should feel more insulted by your words, women or men. Turns out, it’s a tie. Your assumptions on what make us tic – we of either sex – are breathtakingly limited and absurd, and it truly makes us wonder what your own marriage was like to a man who did not graduate from Princeton and therefore, logically, did not share your adoration for the place.

 

Look, it’s a wonderful university. Garners all sorts of awards. Lists on its faculty eminences like John McPhee. But it’s not the only fabulous college in the US, and its students are not uniformly going to reshape the world or even – I realize this is heresy – make the best spouses and parents.

 

While I admire your ability to turn yourself into a quotable brand, your message is lacking in substantial ways.

 

Is that sort of inattention to detail really worthy of a Princeton grad?

 

Here are a few things you manage not to address in your plea to female students:

 

Not every male at Princeton is interested in getting attached so young in life. Most of them, I warrant, are not. They don’t yet know themselves well enough. They are not yet prepared to take on the challenges of the roles: partner, husband, father. They want a chance to stretch their wings, try things out, and, yes, meet other women, as they grow into emotional maturity. Their parents may want that for them, too. I certainly would.

 

(In fact, male Princetonians’ parents ought to be unhappy with you, too. You’re turning their sons – human beings with feelings – into commodities to be grabbed. Did you consider that?)

 

So, even if a woman happens to coax one of these guys into marriage, he won’t be happy. Is that what you want for him? For them? For your own unmarried son?

 

Another thing, Susan. It may come as a shock to you, but statistically speaking, a number of female undergrads are lesbian. A certain different percentage are heterosexual but uninterested in having children, and perhaps even in marriage – at least, traditional marriage. So your message is based on a segment of female undergraduates, not all of them. And, hey, how about unmarried female grad students, whom you don’t mention at all? Are they past their prime? Incapable of married happiness, ever, even if they meet a kind and loving man?

 

Now, let’s get into those fictional heterosexual marriages between two Princeton alums who met while they were under the age of 25, recalling that that’s when brain experts say the frontal lobe finally matures, meaning a crucial choice made before that time could be the immature decision of a still-under-construction brain.

 

We know that Princeton students are not angels. (We know that, right?) So, again statistically, a certain percentage of those marriages you laud will suffer the pain of alcoholism, drug addiction, infidelity, violence, abuse of various sorts, shall we go on? Marrying a Princeton guy is no guarantee of a happy marriage. Your opinion that had you married a fellow student, your life would have been blissful, is but a fantasy. Your life may well have been worse. (If you survived domestic violence and abuse from your ex, I’m so glad you left. But it wasn’t his education that incited his attacks, it was his attitude.)

 

Even the best, most ethical, of Princeton men can change over time. Had you married one, the two of you might by now quite naturally have grown apart and have led separate lives while technically staying wed. Or a man may reveal a secret his wife simply cannot accept. That he is gay, for example, or he gambles online with their retirement money, or he sexually abuses children. His status as a Princeton alum will not transform a superficial, “lookin’ good” marriage into one both spouses find vibrant and healthy.

 

The woman who marries a fellow student who plays football or soccer (all those headers) for Princeton may find herself, years later, with a smashed jaw caused by her husband’s concussion-induced brain changes. Or a Princeton alumnus might, in two decades, demonstrate the start-up symptoms of early-onset dementia. In neither of these scenarios does the diploma prevent tragedy.

 

It’s impossible, too, to discover all the skeletons in the family closet before marriage. People run this risk every day. Oops, there’s a paternal history of infidelity. Gosh, there was some horrible abuse decades ago. Oh, that addiction gene! Even in premarital counseling – you do support that, don’t you, Susan? – people hide family secrets, especially from someone not yet a member of the family. No Princeton years, however, will camouflage the truth when it finally reveals itself.

 

Just as you advise, I wed a college classmate. We should not have married. Aside from our children – wonderful, bright, loving people – and despite extraordinarily similar educations, we really had little in common. That included our unspoken views of our union. One of us saw it as a marriage of convenience, the other was all-in. I leave it to you, Susan, to winkle out which was which. The point is that despite our age at marriage (mid-20s) and formal education (nearly identical grad degrees), we really did not know ourselves that well, and hence we were ill-matched. Our shared alma mater was nothing – repeat, nothing – but mutual acquaintance and history.

 

Susan, that coveted Princeton diploma no more guarantees a high-quality person than a degree from the local state university. Quality guarantees a high-quality person, and that can only be discovered over time, through the myriad decisions a person makes in relationships and in the daily choice to love, and to do a good job at it.

 

Be kind to your daughter-in-law, hug your sons, and stop telling female undergraduates what to do with their valuable hearts and lives. Like all of us, if they choose to marry they deserve the best possible spouse . . . and “best” for each woman will not necessarily bear the label, “Made in Princeton”.

 

Most importantly, Susan, it’s time to wise up.

 

 

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First Comes Love. After That?

 

Marriage. Or, as in The Princess Bride, mawwige

 

We pretty much think we know what marriage is. It’s that time that happens after the wedding, be it ornate or a few mumbled words in a registry office, the months and years together. Sometimes apart. With children or not, through choice or impossibility.

 

We often think it’s a man-woman thing. Or a woman-man thing. In some places, it can also be a woman-woman or man-man thing.

 

Among people of certain religions, it can be a man+multiple women thing. Much less frequently does it involve one woman and more than one man, although anecdotal evidence out of India and China indicate that such marriages, usually involving brothers, are increasing and will continue to do so as the “lost girls” phenomenon (abortion of female fetuses) continues.

 

A lot of people, like this Washington Post columnist, think marriage is a state to be desired for all single people. Tell that to the women assaulted and murdered by their husbands, or the spouses of both sexes married to the insane, the emotionally cold, the manipulative, the sociopathic.

 

Marriage does not carry the cachet it did a generation ago, and with good reason. As divorce became easier, it grew apparent that what we need is a better way to be matched with a loving spouse.

 

It’s no wonder that in some Western societies, people intentionally have children before they marry. Sometimes they never marry. Swedish children are more likely to be raised by two unmarried parents than American children are to be raised by two parents still married to each other. As we know in rearing kids, healthy presence counts.

 

This Australian article mentions the thoughtfulness that the current crop of young-and-in-loves bring to the question of to marry or not.

 

“Australian Institute of Family Studies senior researcher Lixia Qu attributed the decline in the divorce rate to the fact more than 80 per cent of marriages were preceded by couples living together these days and couples marrying later in life. ‘People are quite cautious nowadays about marriage,’ Ms. Qu said. ‘When they do get married, they’re older, they’re a bit more mature, they’ve experienced a sort of weeding-out process.’”

 

They’re also doing less hormone-driven thinking. In the US, studies show that the divorce rate is higher where people are encouraged to marry young and have children right away. When they wait, they are more likely to have healthier marriages.

 

The Guardian interviewed 20 young adults from different nations to learn their takes on marriage. Yes, no, maybe so? Their responses varied from “oh, yes” to “probably not” and several stops in between. What was most interesting were their approaches. Thoughtful, measured, and in this era, with a definite eye toward economics.

 

Which is not to say that the heart has no say. Indeed it does, as well as a concern for both spouses’ well-being. This lovely article lists ten alternative wedding vows, genuinely meaningful ones.

 

“I promise to nurture your goals and ambitions; to support you through misfortune and celebrate your triumphs” – that’s #6 on the list. What a fantastic promise to make and to keep.

 

As the reasons for marriage have altered through the centuries (who in contemporary Western society marries in order to connect adjoining parcels of land? – a common course in the Middle Ages), so our taste for marriage waxes and wanes. If parenthood is no longer as important as in the past, if remaining with a partner is the most essential thing, including tax advantages, emergency care and passports, then we will still marry. We will still risk. Perhaps we will weigh the risks and marry not from obligation or temporary passion, but out of a loving friendship.

 

While searching for a photo, I found this lovely statement:
“If I had my life to live over again, next time I would find you sooner so I could love you longer.”

 

Says it all, really.

 

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