A recent poll by the nonprofit Pew Research Center shows that the nature of marriage is changing to become less child-centric and more oriented toward “mutual happiness and fulfillment.” The top predictors of a successful marriage did not include any child-related issues, but were instead:
– good sex
– equitable sharing of household chores
– economic stability
– common religious beliefs
– shared tastes and interests
Only one-quarter of adults said that the bearing and raising of children was the primary purpose of marriage. This is a major change even since 1990. Not ever having had children as a primary purpose of my relationships, it’s hard for me to judge exactly what this means to the American psyche and our social structure. But I do think it’s interesting from the standpoint of all the soul-searching I’m doing now about the purpose and structure of a primary partnership and whether marriage has any place in that.
Could it be that marriage as the tradition I’ve always known is going through a fundamental change, which may mean I’m not as far out of the mainstream as I’ve thought? Lately it seems in the discussions I’m having with others, there is a general agreement that we need more latitude for change throughout our lives. There needs to be some recognition that we are not the same people at 50 that we are at 25 or at 75, and our partnerships may need to grow, change, or even end and begin anew.
The cataclysmic tragedies we suffer as we learn that our life-long vows are inadequate perhaps could be alleviated by a shift in how we view marriage to begin with. Yes, this carries a risk that we will not be as committed to our partners – at least in theory. I am not sure whether this would really be true – something like whether or not teaching teenagers about birth control really leads them to have more sex.
Instead, I think it might encourage more realistic expectations of marriage and one’s partner, and perhaps less taking each other for granted and more open dialogue as we go along of what is working and what isn’t and what might need to change. This would have helped my marriage a great deal. An understanding that we have choices and may have several primary partnerships during the course of our lifetimes may actually make us work harder to keep one that we value, as well as free us mentally to move on and make the most of our lives and relationships if one is not working.
The further down the path of life I go, the more I think that an openness to change and flexibility are key to making the most of life and relationships. Of course, that’s the very thing that most of us are most afraid of, losing the one we love. Yet how often do we lose them, or end up having to walk away, because the need for change was not acknowledged?