Till death do us part?

28 April 2016

If we make the same promise today as our grandparents did – getting married till death us do part – we’ll be committing to a much longer time spent together than in earlier generations.

A Guardian article at the weekend pointed out that getting married ‘for life’ used to be a promise of 40 years. But, with increased life expectancy, it asked, can our love go the distance?

These days, when we find ourselves on the brink of a lifelong commitment, poised to make the same promise made by our parents, our grandparents and our great-grandparents, stretching back as far as our family trees will go…. we’re making a commitment to more like 60 years thanks to improvements in healthcare and life expectancy (currently 79 for men and 83 for women in England and Wales, and set to rise).

Moreover, as our life expectancy improves (more than one-third of babies born today could live to 100), so do our expectations: we want a marriage to be great, not just good enough, all the way to the end.

Dr Helen Fisher has been researching this issue for 40 years. “The focus of modern marriage is not stability, it’s love,” she says. “A century ago, a woman wouldn’t have ended a marriage that was satisfactory, but a recent survey shows that one-third of people would leave a satisfactory marriage if they weren’t in love with their partner.

“Today, we want it all, and we’ll walk away if we don’t have it.”

And so follows the rise of the ‘grey divorce’. Figures from the Office for National Statistics show divorce is falling in all age groups in the UK – except for among the over-50s, among whom it has risen by nearly 11% in a decade.

Nearly 60,400 people in this demographic divorced in England and Wales in 2013, while the overall number of divorces fell to a 40-year low.

The same trend has also been observed in the US, where in 2014 those aged 50 and over were twice as likely to divorce than in 1990; the increase was even higher for those over 64.

For many, it seems, decade upon decade of marriage can simply bring boredom.

A Relate counsellor is quoted in the article as saying: “Women and men are feeling so much younger than they did in previous generations, and they fervently believe they have 30 more years after retirement.

“Some think, why stick with the same old, same old if you might be able to find someone better?”

Another Relate voice is also quoted. “I would argue that the best option is a happy partnership, but the next best option is happy singledom,” she says. “I’ve known many friends and clients who are much happier now that they’re not in their relationship.

“Of course, there are single people who are unhappy without a companion, but from what I’ve seen, the unhappiest option is an unhappy marriage, because you don’t just have yourself to cope with.”

The Relate counsellor explains in the Guardian article: “There are quite a few mothers and fathers who can’t get used to being a couple after children have left home and they have stopped working, when they’re under each other’s feet all day. Either the marriage crumbles or they find a new way to be together.”

A divorce lawyer quoted in the article says: “The main trend I have seen is couples divorcing due to the realisation that there is more in life. They sometimes describe their marriage as tedious, and many feel trapped in a routine. They often care very much for their spouse, but the differences between them seem more apparent. They see divorce as a way to gain some independence and live life to the full.”

So what can you do about it if instead you want to stay together? See: ‘How to stay together forever’ among these news items.

If you’d like to talk through some of the issues in your relationship, give our friendly appointments team a call on 01234 356350

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