Each generation grows up with its own world view and challenges. The generation that experienced WWII seems quaint in some regards. In general, dating was a group activity. Couples married young and planned on being married until death. They were far less knowledgeable about sexuality, role equality in a marriage and didn't learn the lessons on how to argue constructively.
They also didn't marry thinking that this may be the first in a series of marriages. In contrast today, the number of couples who decide not to formalize their relationships keeps growing. There are many sociological explanations for this. Previously, religious and cultural norms strongly looked down on divorce. Two-parent families were much more central to society. Sexual norms were such that premarital sex, when it occurred, was kept hidden and pregnant teens were often sent away to have their babies out of sight.
Are today's marriages, or any committed relationship that may be considered it's equivalent, doing better? We supposedly are more sensitized to issues such as spousal abuse: physical, verbal or emotional. Divorce statistics are said to represent the fact that women are no longer passive. They expect real companionship and to be treated with respect. If a husband does not meet their needs will find himself being divorced.
Are these reasons enough to justify the increase in rates of divorce or relationship breakup? I don't have statistics to prove my conclusion, but I highly doubt that. Sadly, much of what passes for recent feminist achievement among entertainers, seems to require their self-sexploitation. Simultaneously, as women enjoy more power than ever before, they are also often less clothed than ever before. In such a culture, will women have the self-confidence to prevent abuse (including, for instance, fat-shaming and body-shaming)? I hope so. Furthermore, if women were more outspoken, would it be possible for the latest generation of songs from men, especially rappers, that reduce women to mere body parts and objects for the male's very lowest level satisfaction to become so popular?
So, what am I concluding? Despite the increased availability of professional support and decreased stigma in seeking it, our relationships are failing in huge numbers because:
- We don't have sufficient social support from family and friends.
- We don't know how to keep a commitment. We want what we want and we want it now.
This last point is where I want to focus. Commitment. It is strongly related to integrity. Unfortunately, integrity is sadly lacking in much of today's world. For many, one's word no longer carries the weight it once did. By and large, handshake agreements are a thing of the past and, unfortunately, wisely so. Likewise, many marriages build on the foundation of a prenuptial agreement with an exit strategy clearly and legally in place before the words 'I do' are spoken. Why should couples embarking on a lifelong commitment put safeguards in place in case they dissolve their marriage? 1: Marriages have a poor long term track record today, and 2: the spouses we 'trust' in the present can't necessarily be counted on to be trustworthy in fairly and amicably settling a divorce in the future, if the occasion arises.
Too many of us care more about 'what's in it for me' and winning in the short term than in the long term work of giving love and blessings to our partners and receiving satisfaction in return. It's why advertisers target immediate and short term interests over longer term investments and sustainability. It's a buy now, pay later, money back guarantee world. It's why greed dominates.
It's also why marriages aren't being formalized. Why give when I want to take? Why commit when the next person may be 'new and improved' by comparison? What is being missed is that it is in the long term struggle to build and maintain a marriage that greatness is produced. We try to build good relationships on solid foundations. But we all mess up and make mistakes. If we mean well and are truly committed, we will experience and note what does and doesn't work. Then, instead of thinking, "OK, I'm tired of you; next, please," we will say, "'Wow! I need to improve."
When you marry, you don't only commit to your beloved. You also commit to yourself. With a generous spirit, you will forgive your partner's foibles and your own. Both spouses will continue to work on personal growth for themselves individually and the benefit of the whole, the couple. But if someone isn't willing to make the commitment to grow, how can they take the chance on formalizing their relationship? Intuitively, they know that it probably won't work out. It takes time and consistent practice to learn how to build and enjoy a successful marriage. Giving themselves the chance to get it right will take time and effort; great marriages are neither instant nor continually easy.
Should someone say that the decrease in numbers of people formalizing their relationships correlates with a decrease in religiosity in general, I would agree. But I would also argue that what is often missing from social analysis is the realization that without there being greater consequences to our actions, people tend to become more superficial. Just imagine if someone from 70 years ago would step into your kitchen as you were about to throw out your toaster. "What's wrong with it?" they would ask. "It's broken, so I need another one," you would answer. "So, take it to be fixed," they would counter. And what would you say? "What for? I can get a new one for less that it would cost me to fix this one." After a few moments, your guest might tease: "Hey, my spouse has been broken for years, can I replace them?" "Of course," you say, not realizing they're joking.
Commitment means that you are willing to admit that you are imperfect and not only want to but will keep learning and trying to improve. It means you're in it for the long haul, ready to grow, compromise and accept the challenges along with the benefits. Ultimately, commitment is the wondrous and powerful manifestation of 'I do AND I will.'
May these thoughts be a blessing for the memory of my father, Sidney Brody, o.b.m.