Marriage means different things to different people. For some, marriage is just a piece of paper. (In fact, the Pew Research Center found that almost 4 in 10 Americans think marriage is obsolete.) For others, marriage is a nice but perhaps unreachable ideal. And for others still, marriage is desirable but just hasn’t happened yet. (More Pew Research data found that about 6 in 10 unmarried Americans want to get married.)
Regardless of what people think about marriage, here’s the question: Does marriage really matter? Is the institution of marriage obsolete, or is it something that can benefit individuals, families, and society as a whole?
Here are a *few reasons why social science suggests that marriage really does matter.
1. Marriage Strengthens Families
While non-traditional families can still have a great deal of love, social science research shows that marriage promotes even stronger relationships. For example, according to the Institute for American Values, when parents are married, they’re more likely to have positive relationships with their children.
Marriage also provides a more stable family environment for kids. An international report from the Social Trends Institute found that children born to cohabiting parents are “more likely to see their parents split by age 12 than children born into married families.”
2. Marriage Improves the Economy
Marriage may have great benefits for families, but it’s not just the families that benefit. Research shows that marriage does a lot to improve the economy! Marriage both reduces poverty and increases wealth. In fact, the Heritage Foundation says that marriage may be “America’s greatest weapon against child poverty”!
3. Marriage Helps with Physical Health
Surprisingly enough, having a healthy marriage can lead to physical health benefits too! One meta-analysis explains that the physical health benefits of marriage “may be as large as the benefit from giving up smoking.”
Read that sentence again. Yeah, you read it right! Marriage may do as much for your health as it would to quit smoking. That’s a pretty big health benefit right there.
Marriage may also lead to not just a healthier life, but also a longer one. Research shows that on average, married people live longer than unmarried people do.
4. Marriage Helps with Mental Health
Marriage does more than just help your physical health; it can help your mental health too! One international study found that married couples are happier overall, even compared to couples who live together. And as marriage researcher Paul Amato explained it, married people “report fewer symptoms of depression and are less likely to think about suicide.”
5. Marriage Reduces Crime and Domestic Violence
Healthy marriages can help reduce crime for both parents and children. Studies show that married women are much less likely to experience domestic abuse. Not only this, but kids who grow up with married parents are less likely to become involved in criminal activity. (Check out the US Department of Justice’s report on how family life affects crime here!)
If marriage really does matter so much, then what should you do about it? Here are some things to consider.
- Share the facts. People in the world today don’t always realize just how great or important marriage is. So share it with them! (You can start by sharing this article. 😉 )
- Teach your children. Because much of the world says marriage isn’t important (remember that Pew survey?), your kids won’t see why marriage matters unless you tell them. And perhaps more important than telling them is showing them.
- Strengthen your marriage. These benefits are found most in healthy marriages. So do what you can to strengthen your marriage, and you’ll be much more likely to see the plus side of marriage.
Now you may be wondering, is marriage the magical cure-all for personal and societal problems? Unfortunately, it’s not quite that simple. Most of these benefits are associated with healthy marriages, which takes work and effort. (For example, check out Dr. Rob’s article about the importance of being intentional in marriage.) But as we try our best to improve our marriages, we’ll have happier, healthier families and a happier, healthier world.
*The idea for this article came from the Institute for American Value’s publication, Why Marriage Matters: Thirty Conclusions from the Social Sciences. Check out the summary of it in their PDF here.
“I could barely function. My home quickly became a disaster. Dirty dishes were stacked in my sink for days while the cockroaches multiplied. I couldn’t sleep. I had no appetite and lost over five pounds in my second trimester of pregnancy. I threw my toddler in front of the TV for more hours than I would like to admit. … The first month after his disclosure we ate fast food almost every night and the second month we ate frozen food. …Anytime I talked to friends I would think, If only you knew what my life was really like. On the outside it seemed like I had everything together, but I felt like my life was falling apart.”
Discovering Pornography Addiction
The discovery of your spouse’s pornography addiction will cause a variety of mental, emotional and physical responses. From anxiety, depression, and overwhelming doubts and fears; to feelings of undesirability, decreased self-worth, migraines, fatigue, nausea, and cold sweats, the response is as varied as the spouses who experience it.
Research shows that pornography addiction is viewed as infidelity, and is often described by the spouse or partner as “betrayal,” “cheating,” or an “affair.” Just because your spouse hasn’t been with someone else physically, it doesn’t hurt any less. In fact, it’s still called betrayal trauma.
According to the book Love and Betrayal: Stories of Hope, betrayal trauma “refers to the damage that is caused when someone experiences a betrayal in their primary relationship that damages the trust, safety and security of the bond they have with their partner,” and is truly trauma in every sense of the word.
Clearly, the disruption this event causes in your life can have no other description than trauma. And just as any other traumatic event, it leaves wounded people behind, in need of care and attention. When it is your spouse’s pornography addiction, you are the wounded. Because of this, you need to experience your own healing too!
With that in mind, and while there isn’t a one-size-fits-all remedy, here are a few points that will assist you as you seek additional help in this journey.
1. It’s Not Your Fault
The most important thing to realize is that the addiction of your spouse is not your fault. There isn’t a thing that could be further from the truth! The guilt-trip-go-around will not fix your spouse, it will not help you heal, and it will only make your personal suffering worse.
Wondering where you went wrong or blaming yourself for not being enough will only make you lose more sleep at night. Instead please, please know it is not your fault, and dismiss that dialogue from your head.
2. Time and Space to Grieve
While it isn’t your fault, you are not immune from the effects of your spouse’s addiction. Naturally, your spouse’s disclosure may leave you feeling unsafe and vulnerable. Because of this, you likely need time and space to grieve.
Creating space can help you find feelings of safety and deal with what you’ve just been told. This may include a literal separation from your spouse for a time, be it sleeping in different rooms, staying in different living places, or simply spending time away from each other. During this time, avoid making major decisions about whether or not you and your spouse should permanently stay together. The point is to give yourself time and space to deal with the new information and cope with your changing relationship.
3. Practice Self-Care
After the disclosure of addiction, it feels like your world has been shattered. Getting up in the morning feels impossible, and easy tasks now require incredible effort. While you may take a few days off from work, or have the kids stay with grandma for a time, you can’t check out of life forever.
You need to find healing yourself, and part of getting better is practicing self-care. Self-care constitutes the things you do for your mental, physical, spiritual and emotional health to feel well. Even if you can only do one thing, like go for a daily walk, do it!
Other ideas for self-care include reading a favorite book, taking a nap, eating healthy foods, exercise, having a hot bath, listening to relaxing music, etc. The point of this is to begin healing you by focusing on you. Practicing self-care will help you to take care of you and what you need so that you can cope with the issue at hand.
4. Find Your Support Team
Though this is your personal healing journey you are on, you shouldn’t undertake it simply on your own. You need support! While there may be a member of your family or a good friend that is willing to listen and offer support, this may not be sufficient. Support groups for spouses can be an invaluable resource for you. Also, finding a credible therapist, coach or peer specialist will help you work through your experience and help you develop new skills to help you thrive.
Please note, whether your additional help be through a counselor, coach, peer specialist, therapist and/or support group, you should seek professional help.
The Healing Journey
The journey through discovery, disclosure, betrayal and trauma is not an easy road. Nor is it a road for just your spouse to walk. You too need to work through and heal from the aftermath of a pornography addiction: the lying, broken promises, shattered expectations, emotional loss. You are worth every investment you make on yourself, and you need healing as much as your spouse does.
*Sarah’s story is told in the book Love and Betrayal: Stories of Hope. While this is her story, it represents many other spouses with similar experiences.
I check my watch again: 3:45 am, and I’m wide awake. Exhausted, but awake.
Part of it is because I’m 8 months pregnant and my body hurts all over. (I think my body is practicing the no sleep thing for when the baby comes. 😛 )
But part of it is because I can’t stop thinking about my Facebook feed yesterday.
At first, I was confused by the two word status updates popping up everywhere: “Me too.” But then one friend wrote a little explanation along with it. She said, “If all the people who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote “Me too.” as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem. Please copy and paste if you feel so inclined.”
As more and more of my friends joined in with their “Me too,” my heart ached. I didn’t know whether to click like, love, or sad. I was so proud of these brave women for speaking out, but so sad that we live in a world full of so much sexual harassment.
While sexual violence has fallen significantly since 1993, it’s still a huge problem today. In fact, statistics show that every 98 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted. And if you’re a woman, you have about a 1 in 5 chance of being raped at some point in your life.
Everyone is affected by sexual harassment or assault a little bit differently. But often there are both physical and mental consequences. In addition to the risk of STIs and pregnancy, victims of sexual assault often struggle with PTSD, depression, and even suicidal thoughts. It can also cause more general emotional challenges, like difficulty trusting others or feelings of fear and helplessness.
One month from today, our baby girl is due to come into this world. I can’t help but worrying, will she have to post “me too” one day? Will she end up being part of the almost 20% of women who get raped in their lifetime? Will she have to struggle with the fear and pain that comes from being a victim of sexual harassment or assault?
I sincerely hope not.
While I’m grateful for the many women and men who are fighting against this plague of sexual violence, there are some aspects of our society today that seem to contribute in a negative way.
Many people are pushing back against sexual violence, but some of these same people are also advocating strongly for sexual exploration and freedom. This March while visiting the UN Commission on the Status of women, I heard many voices advocating for sexual rights of all kinds.
And to some extent, I’m grateful for the work that’s been done so far. I’m grateful that I can decide when I want to marry and have children, that I have control over my sex life.
On the other hand, it seems that the push for sexual freedom has had some unforeseen consequences. Dr. Leslie C. Bell explains it well:
“Today’s 20-something women have more freedom than their grandmothers could have imagined – educational, professional, and personal. But while this freedom has engendered a great deal of opportunity, it hasn’t necessarily resulted in women having good sex and satisfying relationships in their twenties.”
Much of the push for sexual freedom has placed an emphasis on our own personal fulfillment. Do whatever you want, whatever makes you feel good physically. Sex is about you, not about anyone else, today’s media seems to say.
Unfortunately, that emphasis on personal fulfillment may have had the opposite effect.
With all this sexual freedom, pursuing whatever you want physically, you may think it would lead to better sex. But according to research from Dr. John Gottman, perhaps the biggest key to sexual fulfillment is your friendship. While casual sex can be fun and exciting, one survey found that the happiest couples are those who communicate and build up the intimacy that is foundational for fulfilling sex. When sex is about your relationship, not just about you, it becomes a whole lot better.
So in actuality, it turns out that sexual fulfillment isn’t just about the physical. And it certainly isn’t just about you.
If we aren’t careful, the way we promote sexual freedom can also promote sexual selfishness. This selfishness will not only lead to less fulfilling sex, but it also can be dangerous. This line of thinking that says “Sex is all about me” is one that ignores the other person involved.
I’m sure those who rape or sexually assault others are, in a twisted way, seeking their own sexual pleasure. They have decided to use their sexual freedom selfishly. And unfortunately, they do this at a great cost to those around them.
Sexual Freedom Isn’t Free
In teaching our kids about their sexuality, we must help them realize that sexuality isn’t just about them. Other people are involved, people who deserve to be loved and respected.
As we push not just for sexual freedom but for mutual love and respect, we can achieve sexual freedom without promoting sexual selfishness. We can help our kids see that sexual freedom isn’t really free, because with these rights come great responsibilities.
Getting ready to welcome our baby girl into the world has put this all in a new light for me. I hope the numbers of sexual harassment and assault can continue to decline. I hope sincerely that she doesn’t become a part of the statistics. And I hope that one day, nobody has to say “Me too.”
Question #1 – Do your marital expectations harm or enhance your marriage?
Harm – You and / or your spouse have unrealistic expectations, assuming your marriage will automatically be “happily ever after.”
Unfortunately, the media does a fantastic job portraying the dangerous myth that marital bliss is immediate and effortless. Have you bought into this myth? While marriage offers the opportunity for extraordinary happiness (and I intentionally stress the word opportunity), this takes consistent effort!
Harm – You have resigned yourself to always having a sub-par marriage.
This mindset will poison your relationship. Our expectations – good or bad – frequently influence our decisions. Regardless of how happy you are presently in your marriage, you won’t achieve the healthiest version of your marriage without first understanding that the possibility of marital happiness exists for every couple!
Enhance – You recognize that a healthy marriage is possible and that it is worth every effort to achieve such a relationship. You also realize that there is no shortcut to marital happiness. Finally, you recognize that destiny and soulmates aren’t the ingredients to marital happiness (sorry Hollywood), rather friendship, forgiveness, and hard work!
Every successful marriage for every happy couple in the world is the result of intentionality and hard work. In all of my years studying marriage and observing couples, I am yet to see an exception to this rule.
Question #2 – Are you following the blueprints to build a marriage shack or a marriage mansion?
Marriage Shack – Not to be confused with The B-52’s song “Love Shack,” if your goal is to build a marriage shack you really need set better goals [Symbol]. As you know, a shack is either haphazardly constructed of cheap materials or refers to a structure that may have once been nice but has since fallen into disrepair.
If either of these analogies describes your current marriage, you need to tear up those blue prints and create a much better design. Why have a shack when you could have a mansion?
Marriage Mansion – Admittedly, I have never lived in a mansion. But I’ve visited a few! Usually, they seem to be beautifully decorated and meticulously maintained with plenty of space.
This applies to marriages as well. The happiest of relationships are built on a beautiful friendship. These couples pay meticulous attention to each other’s needs, hopes, fears, and desires. And these couples nurture their marriage by spending ample time together.
You may not feel like your marriage resembles a mansion just yet. But if you ever hope to have that marriage mansion, it is critical that you follow the right blueprint. Marital mansions are constructed with kindness, selflessness, forgiveness, resilience, and emotional and physical intimacy. Further healthy communication and sufficient time together are always necessary to construct such a marriage.
Like me, you also may never actually live in an actual mansion (not a huge tragedy). But missing out on the opportunity to construct this type of a marriage really is a tragedy.
I encourage each of you to carefully evaluate your expectations for your marriage as well as your current blueprint for maximizing the happiness in this relationship. Remember, a truly happy marriage is worth every effort!
When I first got married, I’m pretty sure that everyone and their dog wanted to give me marriage advice. Some advice was practical. Some was silly. And some was just plain wise!
As the advice poured in, I began to notice a simple but common theme: communication. The need to communicate openly, to talk about emotions, to make decisions together, to speak kindly to each other — these and more came up as important needs to address in marriage.
Most people who gave me advice had little to no qualifications (other than being married themselves). But perhaps not surprisingly, research backs up the importance of communication in marriage! A 2014 study found that both how much couples communicate as well as how they communicate can really affect relationship satisfaction.
Through one longitudinal study, Dr. John Gottman found four communication patterns that can be really damaging to a marriage and even lead to divorce. Watch this *short video clip from the Gottman Institute for an intro to them:
No matter how wonderful your spouse is, you’ll probably always find things you could complain about. Maybe they forgot to take out the trash, maybe they leave their socks on the floor, or maybe they forgot to tell you they’d be home late. Whatever it is, you’ve probably had something come up that rubs you the wrong way.
While complaining isn’t the healthiest of practices, it can be outright damaging when you let it shift into the realm of criticism. In The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, Dr. Gottman explains that while complaining “focuses on a specific behavior or event,” criticizing “expresses negative feelings or opinions about the other’s character or personality”. A complaint would say, “I’m upset that you didn’t take out the trash like we agreed.” On the other hand, a criticism blows up the issue by making it a personal attack, saying something like, “You never remember to take out the trash! I have to do everything around here.”
So how can we avoid this damaging criticism in our marriages?
The Antidote: Express your needs and feelings using “I” statements.
Instead of criticizing your spouse, try to let him or her know what your needs are. Next time you’re feeling frustrated about the garbage (or anything else, for that matter), say something like, “I’m feeling a little overwhelmed and it would really help if you could take the garbage out. Can we figure out a plan together?” It’s okay to tell your spouse what you need; what’s not okay is turning your frustration into an attack.
If criticism goes unchecked, it can turn into outright contempt for your spouse. Dr. Gottman says that when issues go unresolved in a marriage, you’re more likely to experience these negative thoughts that have boiled up.
In the garbage example, let’s say your spouse continues to forget to take out the trash. You started out complaining, then criticizing. As the issue isn’t addressed properly, you start to view your spouse differently. When your spouse tries to suggest a solution to the garbage problem, you just laugh and say, “Oh, like that’s going to change things! You’ll never step up and help.” This contemptuous response shows a level of disrespect and a lack of affection.
Clearly, contempt isn’t a healthy communication pattern to have. So what’s the best way to prevent contempt from seeping into our relationship?
The Antidote: Treat each other with respect and show appreciation.
Instead of rolling your eyes or answering sarcastically when your spouse suggests a solution, take a moment to acknowledge his or her efforts. Remember, your spouse is a person too and deserves the same respect you do!
I think most of us are familiar with the deadly horseman of defensiveness. It can be all too easy to respond defensively, especially if we’re feeling belittled or hurt. Being defensive is a natural way to respond to criticism or contempt in an effort to protect ourselves.
In the garbage scenario, a criticism such as, “You never remember to take out the trash!” may be met with a defensive response such as, “Well if you didn’t keep nagging me all the time about it, maybe we wouldn’t have a problem!” Defensiveness only escalates the problem and pushes blame onto your spouse.
But what can we do instead when we start feeling defensive?
The Antidote: Accept responsibility for your part.
This antidote takes a huge amount of humility. While it doesn’t always seem like it, most problems aren’t caused by just one person. Your spouse may be freaking out too much about the trash, but you can take a deep breath and acknowledge your part in the conflict: “I’m sorry, I should have taken out the trash today. I totally forgot.”
The last of the four horsemen is perhaps the most deadly. After a long time of repeated negative patterns, a partner can get really overwhelmed. In fact, one study shows that damaging communication can lead a partner to become emotionally flooded, leading the partner to try to avoid the conflict altogether. In order to steer clear of a total explosion, the partner may simply withdraw and disengage completely.
If this garbage scenario has been going on for long enough, along with frequent use of the other horsemen in communication, then stonewalling could become a problem. When one partner tries to bring up the issue, the other partner may turn on the TV or just tune out altogether.
While taking a break can be good, stonewalling isolates partners from each other and can get in the way of healthy and positive communication. So how can we overcome stonewalling?
The Antidote: Take a break and cool off, then come back to the conversation.
When a situation gets too emotionally charged, taking a break is a good thing. Let your spouse know you need to calm down a little, but that you do want to figure out how to solve the problem together. Odds are, a break will help both of you.
It turns out that no couple has perfect communication all the time — even those people who gave me marriage advice. But as you look for the four horsemen in your own communication and try to use the antidotes instead, your communication can improve. And better communication really just means a better marriage!
In order to really benefit from what you learned, how about some practice? This week, keep a log of the four horsemen in your marriage. Keeping track of when you fall into those patterns will help you be aware and start to make those changes.
The Family Good Things team would love to hear about your experiences! Comment below to let us know how this homework goes for you.
*Watch the rest of the video here for an explanation of the four horsemen and their antidotes according to the Gottman Institute.
Be honest: how many movies have you seen where the culminating event, the anticipated conclusion, or the “happy ending” was a wedding? Why is that? What is it deep within us that yearns not just for marriage, but for a tremendously happy marriage?
While we may believe that Aladdin and Jasmine (or countless other fictional couples) deserve marital bliss, do we believe that such a “happily ever after” exists in real life? And do you believe that this can happen for your own marriage?
For those who have a serious desire to improve your marriage (a noble goal even if your union is already good), let me first share a few helpful tips.
1. Remember that marriage is largely effort based.
One of the reasons that I love being a marriage educator is that we all have the ability to be a good spouse. You may notice that I often use the word “intentional” in my posts. If you truly want to improve your marriage, decide now (or recommit) to be more intentional in how much effort you give to this sacred relationship. This may require a change in priorities, a reduction in hobbies, or genuinely forgiving your spouse for their humanness. Have the courage to do so! You have the potential to make immediate changes that can bless your relationship.
Years ago I played basketball in high school. While I was a good shooter, I didn’t put as much effort into playing defense. I can still picture my coach exclaiming “Stewart, defense is 1% technique, and 99% ‘wanna wanna’!”
In some ways, marriage is similar. For instance, there are techniques that can help us communicate better, improve the management of our finances, and even argue in a way that is less damaging to the relationship (these techniques and more will be covered in future posts). But most importantly, you have to “wanna wanna” give the necessary effort to nourish your marriage.
2. Be patient with your spouse (and don’t nag).
Change can take time (for you and your spouse), so exercise a lot of patience! Admittedly, it may be easier to have patience with a spouse who struggles with punctuality than one fighting with some type of addiction. However, consider ways in which intentionally being more patient could bless your relationship.
Not only that, but nagging just doesn’t work! Recent research suggests that when one spouse begins to nag the other spouse begins to withdraw (and thus becomes even less likely to change their behavior). In fact, I am not convinced that nagging has even improved one single marriage or inspired one person to change their behavior It just doesn’t work!. However, I am aware of instances where the reduction of nagging has actually led to a change in the desired behavior.
3. Shoot for the stars!
I fear we sometimes set the bar way too low with regard to marriage. While it is an accomplishment, especially today, to be married for 50 years, should simply surviving marriage be our main objective? What about the quality of the relationship?
While expecting perfection in yourself, your spouse, or your marriage can be very damaging, the happiest couples not only expect marital happiness, but they intentionally work at their marriage until they have such happiness. You can too! The reward is sweet and so very worth it!