Marriage is Changing: How to Keep Yours Strong

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By Mike DuBose with Blake DuBose

The institution of marriage has existed for millennia. In fact, it has been recorded as far back as 5,000 years ago in ancient Sumerian texts, and the first book of the Christian Bible, Genesis, mentions the marriage between Adam and Eve! Many of our current wedding traditions have their roots in history, including:

  • “You may now kiss the bride:” In the Roman Empire, marriage was viewed as a contract, and a kiss was a legal bond that sealed contracts.
  • Bridesmaids: In ancient times, bridesmaids dressed in similar gowns to the bride in an effort to confuse rival suitors, evil spirits, and robbers who might want to harm her or steal her away.
  • Breaking glass: Jewish couples break a glass both to commemorate the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem and remind the couple of the fragility of marriage and life. At Italian weddings, the bride and groom will also smash a glass, and it’s said that the number of fragments indicate how long they will be married.

Marriage has served many purposes over the course of its existence, solidifying political alliances, ensuring financial stability, and legitimizing heirs amongst them. In more recent times, however, marriage has become a symbol of the love between two people who commit to spending their lives together, “for better or for worse.” According to national statistics, more than two million people will embark on the journey of matrimony this year alone.

Some marriages will thrive, but some will struggle or ultimately end in divorce. Good marriages can markedly improve the lives of the people who are part of them; in fact, Wake Forest University psychologists found that marriage promotes satisfaction with one’s life more than money, sex, or having children. Unhappy marriages, however, can cause emotional and psychological distress and lead to negative, unhealthy lives. Stress associated with divorce can even weaken the body’s ability to fend off disease!

Marriage will continue to evolve alongside societal norms and values now and into the future. For example, people are getting married later in life than they used to. The average age of today’s bride (at her first marriage) is 27; for the groom, it’s 29 (compare this to 20 for women and 22 for men in 1950). This may be for the best: scientists are now learning that the human brain does not fully mature until a person is in his or her mid-twenties. Therefore, those who wait longer to get married may have an advantage in that their brains are more developed, allowing them to manage their thoughts, actions, and impulses more successfully than those who get married young (and thus avoid divorce).

People who wait longer to get married also have more time to complete their education, save money, travel, learn who they are, and engage in other relationships before settling down with their spouse. This extra time allows them to develop more realistic expectations of what married life should be. In fact, two-thirds of people live with each other prior to marriage nowadays (according to a 2013 USA Today article), which is a radical change from the 1950s!

Another trend: more and more people (especially the Millennial generation, born between 1985 and 2005) are choosing to forgo marriage entirely. As the magazine The Economist reported, “as of December 2011, just 51% of all American adults were married and 28% never had been, down from 72% and up from 15% in 1960.” The year 2014 saw some of the lowest marriage rates in a century, and this pattern can reasonably be expected to carry into the future: a January 2015 New York Times article noted that “a quarter of today’s young adults will have never married by 2030, which would be the highest share in modern history.”

Those who do decide to settle down face divorce rates that are roughly twice as high as they were 50-60 years ago, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported that the divorce rate in 2014 was nearly 52% for people aged 59 and younger and 60% for individuals aged 60 and older! Researchers have noticed sharp increases in the number of divorces occurring in couples nearing or at retirement age as well.

Notably fewer incidences of divorce occur within certain groups, however. According to studies by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, the divorce rate amongst Christians (and other religious believers) is 42%, and for people who attend church weekly, the rate drops to 38%. This does not necessarily mean that all these marriages are happy, but it does show that spirituality has a positive effect on marriages’ staying power!

With divorce becoming more commonplace in the general population, so are second, third, and even fourth marriages. According to data from Bowling State University’s National Center for Family & Marriage Research, 31% of people who were married in 2010 were remarrying.Also, “While 52 percent of U.S. adults have taken the vows of marriage only once,” according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, “17 percent have said ‘I do’ two or more times.” Remarriage comes with its own risks, however: 67% of second marriages end in divorce and nearly 74% of third marriages dissolve.

How do you know if your marriage will become one of these statistics? An effective first step is to determine if you and your partner are standing on a solid foundation or on shaky ground. In the second installment of this series, I’ll share a marriage assessment that was developed by my team. It is based on current research, psychological studies, and decades of experience, and it can help you determine both the relative health of your marriage and specific areas that may need improvement. The third and fourth parts of this series will address common problems that plague marriages today, as well as ways to maximize your union’s health and happiness. 

The bottom line: The institution of marriage has changed greatly since it began, and it will continue to fluctuate as time moves forward. Whatever the future holds, we know that successful marriages are like gardens: they require nourishment, time, work, and ongoing attention to thrive. Look for upcoming articles in this series to help identify potential problems in your marriage (no matter your age or how long ago you were wed), recognize and avoid common marital pitfalls, and foster a happy, lasting union that will improve the lives of both you and your partner. There’s always room for improvement, and it’s never too late!

About the Authors: Our corporate and personal purpose is to “create opportunities to improve lives” by sharing our knowledge, research, experiences, successes, and mistakes.

Mike DuBose is a University of South Carolina graduate, former licensed counselor, and field instructor with USC’s graduate school. He is the author of the book The Art of Building a Great Business. Mike has been in business since 1981 and is the owner of five debt-free corporations, including Columbia Conference Center, Research Associates, The Evaluation Group, and DuBose Fitness Center. Visit his nonprofit website www.mikedubose.com for a free copy of his book and additional business, travel, health, and personal published articles.

Blake DuBose graduated from Newberry College’s Schools of Business and Psychology and is president of DuBose Web Group (www.duboseweb.com).

Katie Beck serves as Director of Communications for the DuBose family of companies. She graduated from the USC School of Journalism and Honors College.

© Copyright 2015 by Mike DuBose—All Rights Reserved. You have permission and we encourage you to forward the full article to friends or colleagues and/or distribute it as part of personal or professional use, providing that the authors are credited. However, no part of this article may be altered or published in any other manner without the written consent of the authors. If you would like written approval to post this information on an appropriate website or to publish this information, please contact Katie Beck at Katie@dubosegroup.com and briefly explain how the article will be used; we will respond promptly. Thank you for honoring our hard work!

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