Poll: Great Faith in Marriage
Despite Divorce Numbers, 80 Percent of Americans Still Believe in Marriage
People strongly believe in the institution of marriage, even after they have been divorced.
More than 80 percent of divorced Americans still believe in marriage, according to results from a GfK Roper poll. Leading mental health experts said the poll results reflect what they are seeing in their own practices. “Marriage provides continuity, and it gives you another person to share life events with,” said Dr. Scott Haltzman, a psychiatrist who teaches at Brown University. And someone to give your day to day struggles meaning.
The GFK Roper poll, commissioned by Wevorce.com, analyzed a variety of marriage and divorce issues. More than 1,500 people responded to the telephone poll in September. The margin of error for the study is plus or minus 2.6 percent. The results showed that both divorced men and women said they strongly believed in the institution of marriage.When looked at separately, women were slightly stronger in their beliefs, 74 percent of men reported strong positive feelings about marriage, while 86 percent of women did.
Just 5 percent of the respondents said they no longer believed in marriage. When their answers were divided and analyzed, the results showed that 7 percent of women no longer believe in the institution, and 3 percent of men no longer believe. Haltzman said the strong underlying belief in marriage comes from the feelings of confidence and well-being it can provide. “People like the feeling of the safety and security that comes along with a lifetime commitment,” Haltzman said.
There are a variety of reasons that people still appreciate marriage, such as the fact that marriage is encouraged by society, people have a need for companionship, and that people see marriage as a way to solidify that companionship.
“The reasons people support marriage can be complex, but it seems to begin from the fact that marriage is a societal norm”, said
Dennis Lowe, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist and a marriage and family therapist who founded the Center for the Family at Pepperdine University. “People are encouraged to get an education, get married, and have kids, he said. It becomes a part of something that is socially sanctioned, socially encouraged,” Lowe said.
Adding to that societal encouragement is the intrinsic desire for attachment and connection with other people in an intimate way, Lowe said. “One of the most socially-sanctioned ways to do that is in a marital relationship,” he said.
“In fact, marriage is so valued by society that people look at it as a goal in life. And if it doesn’t work the first time, they are willing to try again”, Lowe said. “Sometimes it’s something they dreamed about their whole life,” Lowe said. “After divorce, people may look at the experience as something that failed, but they don’t give up on that goal to be married,” Lowe said.
“If it failed, they might think ‘Maybe we weren’t compatible, but I am not incompatible with marriage,'” Lowe said.
DESIRE FOR COMPANIONSHIP
“Marriage becomes a significant life goal because the desire to be loved is a basic human need”, said Tom Diana, Ph.D., clinical psychologist with Family & Children’s Center in Minnesota. “And marriage has always been a way to achieve that,” Diana said.
“No matter the trouble a relationship may bring”, Diana said, “people are willing to tolerate the negativity to be a part of a partnership. Regardless of the trouble, people miss companionship, they miss having someone to settle in with, some to be with at night,” Diana said.
“That need for companionship is powerfully tied to the basic need for love”, Diana said. “We are social beings, we are social animals, and we need that companionship,” Diana said.
When one finds the person that brings love and companionship, Diana said, the next step is usually considering marriage. “Honestly, I don’t think people go into a marriage, first or second or whatever, that rationally. We tend to choose people who are familiar. familiar as in family. For good and for bad, we make those kinds of choices. I think we tend to pick people who are somehow completing us they have characteristics that we don’t see in ourselves,”Diana said.
Marriage becomes the answer for the yearning to deepen a love relationship, and to feel the solidity of commitment. It is a serious public commitment, rather than just moving in together, Diana said. “It’s more that it’s us in the long haul, not just until we don’t want to live together,” Diana said.
Having a live-in partner is not the same, Haltzman said. The person can leave any time, so he or she does not have to be committed to caring about everything that happens in a partner’s day, he said. “When you are married, you carry your partner’s baggage and he or she carries yours,” Haltzman said.
“As the commitment begins to turn toward beginning a family together, the connection provided by marriage becomes even more necessary”, Haltzman said. “I would say it is universally recognized that the most ideal way is to raise children with their biological mothers and fathers, so the decision to marry is not just about having a life partner. It’s about establishing a life trajectory and putting it on the best track possible,” Haltzman said.
Lowe said that though more and more people choosing to live together without marriage, there is still some sense that the way to further the commitment is to enter into a marital relationship. He said that younger people who have grown up in a culture in which divorce is prevalent are not being scared away from the commitment marriage provides. “Instead, they are looking at the failed relationships around them and believing that theirs will work out differently”, he said.
MAKE IT WORK — WITH SOMEONE ELSE
Even those who have been divorced tend to believe that the match was not right, but marriage will work again. Haltzman said that the desire for marriage was strong enough to try it the first time, so it is likely the desire will remain. “Did their experience prior to the divorce leave them feeling as if marriage as an institution should be avoided, or do they think they married the wrong person?” Haltzman asked. “Generally, it’s the former.”
He said people generally blame the failed marriage on reasons other than the institution itself: they married the someone with whom they were incompatible, or they were too young. “The fact of the matter is, it probably wasn’t that they married the wrong person,” Haltzman said. “They probably didn’t understand all that went into being married.”
One failed marriage does not mean that marriage will never be a success, Haltzman said. It means that the person did not have the skills to make marriage work at the time, he said. “Those skills are learnable, trainable, but they are distinctly unromantic,” Haltzman said.
The skills needed, he said, are communication skills, listening skills and understanding one’s expectations in marriage, he said. “The people who are really happy in marriage, are the ones who put their partner’s needs first,”Haltzman said. “They do it consistently, they do it lovingly, and not with the concern that the partner will reciprocate.”
Lowe said that even if one fails at marriage, the underlying intrinsic needs remain, which means that marriage may again be on the horizon. “That desire for an intimate connection to another person is something that sustains itself even if we have had failed relationships in the past,” Lowe said.
Diana said that when he speaks with his patients, he tells them that it is highly likely that they will remarry. Even if at the moment, they see it as an impossibility, eventually, it is likely, he said. He said he tells them to take care in their choices, and to complete themselves emotionally rather than waiting for someone else to do it.
He said that the idea of trying marriage again after divorce brings to mind the story of author Samuel Johnson who, after hearing a man had remarried after the death of his wife, said “It’s triumph of hope over experience.”
“That always stuck with me.I see that a lot,” Diana said. “We are always hopeful that we are going to better ourselves.That we are going to learn from our mistakes.”
About the author: Michele Bush Kimball has a Ph.D. in mass communication with a specialization in media law.She has spentalmost 15 years in the field of journalism, and she teaches at American University in Washington, D.C. She recently won a national research award for her work.