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In my book, “Thriving After Divorce,” I tell a story, once told to me, of a man and woman in their nineties who went before a judge at the local courthouse to get their final divorce decree. The judge, peering over the bench, couldn’t believe it when he saw them. Groping for words, he paused, scratched his head and said, “Tell me… why would two people your age, who have been together for as long as you have, get a divorce?” “Well…” the man said, “we had to wait for all the kids to die. We didn’t wanna upset ‘em.”
Divorce, at any age, is a bracing decision. There are some recent statistics out, however, that point to a shift in our society. The University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School published a longitudinal research study in 2010 that states the divorce rate is falling in certain parts of the population: college graduates who marry when they are over the age of 26.
Of the college-educated couples in the 1980s that were over 26 when they married, 82% of them are still together. For those who waited until they were over 35 to marry, the divorce rate drops significantly further.
Of those college grads that married before they were 26, only 65% of them are still wed.
But the more disheartening part to this study, however, found that the less educated, lower income couples have a rising divorce rate. Between the two extremes of the college-educated vs. non-college-educated groups, the national divorce rate then balances out to remain …at almost 50%.
What exactly has brought this shift in this part of our society?
Waiting to marry at a later age brings greater maturity…which affords people the possibility of seeing each other more realistically. Since no one is who they appear to be when they first meet each other, the key is to look behind the façade and listen for the back-story. You can only do that if you have developed some insight, skills in taking care of yourself, and a life you are proud of. College-educated people over 26 who are on a career path tend not to marry in haste as much as those who are younger.
Understanding and using boundaries has been as fundamental to the strength of a relationship as the foundation of a home. If you don’t comprehend boundaries, you’re standing on sand. Without them, all your relationships will be plagued with you feeling like you are misunderstood and taken advantage of. The next important step in preserving marriages is to understand how to DELIVER the message about the boundary. If you are a person who has always had poor lines of defense, the first time you set a boundary with someone –guaranteed—you will feel guilty. It takes practice to learn how to implement your personal rules and expectations with a smile, a bit of humor, some compassion… and the backbone to walk away from people or situations that aren’t good for you. You walk because some part of your values have been violated and there is no realistic change, apology, or “get it” forthcoming from the trespasser. The interesting part of being strong enough to walk away is that, if you can—you probably won’t have to.
Somewhere in our collective enlightenment over the past twenty years, someone explained and demonstrated the “win-win” consciousness. This concept is now built into the art of negotiation. In other words, whatever agreements we arrive at in our relationship, it’s got to work for both of us. If both of us are not satisfied, no one will be happy. When love relationships changed from a win-lose game to one of mutual agreement and neither person having the upper hand, people could work through their differences with less heat and more dignity … and stay together.
In the 1930s, Henry Luce, (1898-1967) the publisher of LIFE, FORTUNE, and TIME MAGAZINES, shared his belief with his wife, Clare Boothe Luce, that love can only exist between equals. He wanted their marriage to last. Therefore, he encouraged and supported her to become a writer, politician, and U.S. Ambassador to Italy, among many other accomplishments. He was a wise man. Today it seems that the rest of the population has caught up with this philosophy…and it contributes to better marriages. The college-educated-over-26 people share more equality in education, intelligence, and success than couples did in the past, and champion each other’s careers and goals.
For people who did not have the opportunity, finances, support or desire to go to college, and who also made a success of their lives and marriages, it is highly likely that they subscribed to some of the above qualities. Most importantly, if they chose a partner who had similar values, they found a way to work out misunderstandings, disappointments, and differences.