Social psychologist Eli Finkel offers one perfectly understandable explanation, and it's easy to fix.
At the end of 2016, Time magazine reported that the divorce rate had dropped “to its lowest point in nearly 40 years,” and better still, according to data gathered by the National Center for Family and Marriage Research at Bowling Green State University, it looks like marriage rates are on the rise. All promising news indeed. However, with still too many marriages ending in divorce — around 50 percent in figures released by the CDC — there’s still a long way to go.
So when The Atlantic recently published an interview with Eli Finkel, who is a professor of social psychology at Northwestern University and author of The All-or-Nothing Marriage, we had to take a look and see if he could shed any light on why lots of couples are not lasting “’til death us do part.”
To sum up Finkel’s theory, it all boils down to one word: expectations. Couples getting married these days are looking for the Mr. or Miss Perfect who has a whole number of boxes to tick. Not only does there have to be the physical and mental attraction, there’s also the added pressure to make sure that they have the right job, the right income, be handy with a hammer, and equally adept at feeding a toddler while emailing their boss.
However, it’s not finished; on top of all that, a spouse must have the ability to make their partner feel fulfilled. As Finkel states, the old “expectation that we’re going to love and cherish our spouse” has developed into an “expectation that our spouse will help us grow, help us become a better version of ourselves, a more authentic version of ourselves.” That’s got to be hard on any couple trying to juggle a job, a home, and any kids that might be keeping them up at night.
Finkel says it’s not unusual these days to hear the common gripe: “He’s a wonderful man and a loving father and I like and respect him, but I feel really stagnant in the relationship.” He says couples may complain: “I feel like I’m not growing and I’m not willing to stay in a marriage where I feel stagnant for the next 30 years.”
Quite honestly, “a wonderful man and a loving father” should be enough to make any woman think her husband is a gem. Yet, it seems we’re looking to our spouse to complete us in a way that isn’t feasible. When do we take responsibility for our own happiness? Is it right to rely solely on one person to help us grow, or to affirm everything we do, or are?
Although Finkel goes into more detail, and the complete interview is worth reading, there’s one suggestion he makes regarding marriage that is a must-read:
I would just urge everybody, think about what you’re looking for from this one relationship and decide, are these expectations realistic in light of who I am, who my partner is, what the dynamics that we have together are? If so, how are we going to achieve all of these things together? Or alternatively, how can we relinquish some of these roles that we play in each others’ lives, and outsource them to, say, another member of your social network?
Finkel summarizes the findings of a study by Elaine Cheung at Northwestern University that found: “People who have more diversified social portfolios, that is, a larger number of people that they go to for different sorts of emotions, those people tend to have overall higher-quality life.” So with the onus of keeping a spouse emotionally satisfied no longer being the burden of one person, there will be less strain and demands within the marriage. With a higher-quality life we’re going to feel more fulfilled, and therefore less-likely to reach for divorce papers during more stressful times.
So this is where we need to look to our community. We need to reach out for a shoulder to cry on, someone to laugh with, and to ask for help, as well as offer it. If we think of past generations, when the majority of wives stayed at home, women would often seek solace and companionship with their neighbors in a similar situation. Of course times have changed, but even if we just took the time look to those in our neighborhood or church community, we would have the much-needed support to get through the daily grind, and be less likely to feel our spouse was not enough.
However, we can also turn to another man in our lives: Jesus. Not only does He hear all our worries and doubts, He gives us faith to get through the tough times. He knows us, His love is unquestioning, and he is available 24/7! To top it all off, He expects us to need him throughout our lives, and it’s an expectation we can hold on to and cherish.
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