An opinion piece in the New York Times asks the question, “Are marriages today better or worse than they used have been?” The author’s answer is a resounding… yes. Marriages are both better AND worse off than in the past and, unsurprisingly, kids play a role in the equation.
We learn from the article that, on average, Americans are spending less time with their spouses than in the past. Couples without kids spent 26% less time together in 2003 than they did in 1975; those with kids reduced their time together by 31%. And parents had less time to give up to begin with — in 1975, parents spent just 13 hours a week together as a couple; non-parents spent 35 hours together each week.
I’ve found in my own interviews with childfree couples that many value their time together as a couple, recognize that the relationship takes work, and choose not to have kids in part so that they can put their energy into nurturing their bond with each other. I describe this aspect of childfree couples’ relationships in a chapter on childfree families in the forthcoming second edition of Families as They Really Are.
One key take-away from this article is that for a marriage to succeed, partners must have the time, energy, and opportunity to care for their connection with each other. That seems like an important reminder for us all, childfree or parent.
The All-or-Nothing Marriage
By ELI J. FINKEL
ARE marriages today better or worse than they used to be?
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.
As a psychological researcher who studies human relationships, I would like to offer a third view. Over the past year I immersed myself in the scholarly literature on marriage: not just the psychological studies but also work from sociologists, economists and historians. 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.
Read the full article here