Yesterday my friend Pat sent me a link to an article in the New York Times she knew I’d like called The All-or-Nothing Marriage. It asks the question, “Are marriages today better or worse than they used to be?” Writer Eli J. Finkel writes,
“This vexing question is usually answered in one of two ways. According to the marital decline camp, marriage has weakened: Higher divorce rates reflect a lack of commitment and a decline of moral character that have harmed adults, children and society in general. But according to the marital resilience camp, though marriage has experienced disruptive changes like higher divorce rates, such developments are a sign that the institution has evolved to better respect individual autonomy, particularly for women. The true harm, by these lights, would have been for marriage to remain as confining as it was half a century ago.”
After studying the scholarly literature on marriage, Finkel offers a third view.
“Perhaps the most striking thing I learned is that the answer to whether today’s marriages are better or worse is “both”: The average marriage today is weaker than the average marriage of yore, in terms of both satisfaction and divorce rate, but the best marriages today are much stronger, in terms of both satisfaction and personal well-being, than the best marriages of yore.”
The reason for the success of the best marriages comes as no surprise to me: “Those individuals who can invest enough time and energy in their partnership are seeing unprecedented benefits.” So Finkel’s magic formula for a successful marriage is T (time) + E (energy) = SM (successful marriage.)
Synchronistically, today is my husband’s birthday and I read this article immediately after wrapping his presents and signing his birthday card. I don’t think he’ll mind if I share what I wrote with you: “I can’t believe you’re 70, my darling. Our love feels so much younger than that! Perhaps it’s because we’re just starting to get it right!!” His response after reading it this morning was, “We are, aren’t we?”
As I wrote to Pat, obviously I didn’t mean ‘younger’ as in, naïve, unformed or immature (we were certainly that, having married at 20 and 21!), but light, youthful, rejuvenating, hopeful, free. As someone who has worked hard at my marriage and myself, I can tell you that both endeavors are paying off in a deeply satisfying way at this stage of my life.
When Fred and I met we could hardly have been more different. He’s Irish/Italian, I’m Dutch/English. He was an extraverted, socially confident jock; I was an introverted, serious-minded student. He was an outspoken “bad boy” who always said exactly what he thought; I was a quiet and reserved “good girl” who kept my feelings and opinions to myself.
A recipe for disaster? Many people probably thought so, yet here we are in our 70th year on Earth preparing to celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary this summer. So what’s our secret? Part of it has to do with Finkel’s findings about the importance of Time and Energy to devote to our relationship. Somehow we both found work we love that gives us enough time to share a lifestyle we both enjoy. Likewise, we both lucked into good health and plenty of energy. Believe me, we know how fortunate we are. As Finkel notes, so many people don’t have these luxuries!
But I’d like to add two more ingredients to Finkel’s equation that have been essential to us. Despite our differences, the one thing we both share is a deep ‘Commitment’ to each other and our relationship. Second, in mid-life I devoted my remaining years to a search for self-knowledge via a regular program of Inner Work. So what’s my magic formula for a Successful Marriage?
T & E + C & IW = SM
As Finkel writes,
“The bad news is that insofar as socioeconomic circumstances or individual choices undermine the investment of time and energy in our relationships, our marriages are likely to fall short of our era’s expectations. The good news is that our marriages can flourish today like never before. They just can’t do it on their own.”
This one’s for you, Fred. Happy Birthday.
Photo Credit: Amy Smith Photography