When it comes to social issues, like abortion and gay marriage, the tide has been running mostly in one direction for the last 50 years: towards more liberal attitudes. That’s why social conservatives have been getting louder and more angry: they’ve been getting left behind by public opinion as a whole, particularly the opinions of younger adults.
So it might come as a surprise to learn that in one area opinions are actually becoming a bit less tolerant. It seems as though people are becoming a bit less tolerant of the idea that “Divorce is usually the best solution when a couple can’t seem to work out their marriage problems.”
Acceptance of this idea has fallen by 8.7 percentage points among women and by 4.4 percentage points among men. Now that’s not a huge plunge, nor can we read a trend into it.
But still, it’s intriguing: why would there be this hardening in attitudes against divorce when the reason for the breakup is “We can’t work out our problems”? Isn’t that exactly why people leave their marriages?
Well, it turns out there is an explanation for this increase in intolerance. People are waiting longer and longer to get married. They are putting themselves through what seems to them to be a long process of vetting potential mates. So their attitude is, “Hey, if you’ve worked hard and sacrificed a lot to make sure you’ve found just the right person, then it’s kind of stupid to give up on your marriage just because you’re having trouble working out your problems. Just work harder.”
Which is, I have to say, a bit like saying, “I’m kinda pissed that you feel free to breakup when I’m feeling I’ve invested so much in this marriage that I can’t let it go.”
So it’s time to tell the truth, based on actual evidence.
Truth #1. People do NOT get divorced without a long period of anguish and struggle to find a solution to their problems.
Now you may have thought things were OK in your friends marriage, so it came as a big surprise when they announced they were getting a divorce. And so it may have seemed to you that they were moving too quickly and easily to divorce.
But in fact it’s almost certain that they were working on their marriage, working hard. You just didn’t know about it.
Truth #2. People may work hard and long on their relationships, but they too often don’t work smart.
When people are left to their own devices, “working on the relationship” usually means long go-nowhere conversations, date nights, trial separations, reading the latest popular couples book, and getting advice from friends. And maybe a venture with couples therapy which they stop after they’re unhappy with it for some reason.
This is like trying to remodel your kitchen by buying a raft of countertop gadgets.
And to make things worse, people typically wait WAY too long before getting professional help.
If your marriage has problems, don’t delay. Get good help fast. Begin by getting a good solid book like Our Love Is Too Good to Feel So Bad. Beware of faddish books that oversimplify the problem and make the solution seem too easy. And then do what the book says.
If the book doesn’t make as big a difference as you’d hoped, find a good couples therapist. Don’t make the mistake of staying too long with someone who doesn’t seem to be accomplishing much or who seems biased or who has hobby horses. But if you do find someone good, stick with it even if it’s uncomfortable. Real change sometimes takes a while.
Truth #3. People may think they’ve worked long and hard to find their partner, but they very likely haven’t worked smart.
What most people do is look for quirky things or else they give too much weight to one or two characteristics.
But in fact the key is balance. If you were opening a restaurant you’d hire different people with different strengths, based on the job they were going to do. Well, taking someone on board to be your life partner means you have to choose a person who has all the strengths you need. He or she doesn’t need a perfect score in each area, but he or she does need a passing grade in ALL the areas.
What areas? There are five main ones.
- It should feel easy for the two of you to get close.
- You should respect each other for who you really are now, not who you might be some day.
- You should share a similar concept of what it means to have fun, and it should feel pretty likely that you will have fun together.
- You should feel safe with each other. This means WAY more than not being physically hurt. It means more than not being lied to, verbally attacked, emotionally manipulated, or abandoned. It also means that the other person is really smart, sane, balanced, and has a good temperament.
- You should have good physical chemistry. Not just when it comes to love making, but also things like kissing, hugging, hand holding. He or she should smell good and feel good to touch.
And again, you don’t need A’s in each of these areas, but you do need a passing grade in all of them. (For more info, do check out our book Is He Mr. Right?, even if you’re a guy!: the guidance is really the same for both genders and all sexual orientations.)
And you know what?
If you hold out for this, you’ll be surprised at how unlikely it is that your marriage won’t work out!