by: Jim Duzak JD
DEAR JIM: I’ve been going with a guy for nearly three years. I’m 35, he’s 39 and neither of us has ever been married (although he once lived with a woman for four years). He spends most weekends at my home.
I really like him and could see myself marrying him, but whenever I bring up the idea of marriage he says we shouldn’t rock the boat. He keeps referring to the fifty percent divorce rate and says he would never want to go through a divorce or subject himself to the misery of the divorce process. His parents were divorced when he was young, so I can understand him being gun-shy about marriage, but I honestly feel we could make it work. Is there anything I can say that might convince him that he’s worried about nothing? (“M.J.”)
DEAR M.J.: I do have some things you could say, but I’m not sure they will convince your boyfriend. I say that because I think he’s using a fear of divorce to disguise what is really a fear of commitment. Your boyfriend is, of course, correct that way too many marriages end in divorce (although the “fifty percent divorce rate” he talks about is not entirely accurate; more on that in a minute). But it’s not as if divorce is a random event or something that we have no power over.
In fact, every couple has all the power in the world to prevent their own marriage from ending in divorce. It starts with marrying the right person. If a husband and wife have similar---or at least complementary---attitudes and values with respect to money, family, work, sex and sexual fidelity, and communication, they’re going to feel part of a team, and teamwork is crucial in marriage. They don’t have to be clones of each other, but they have to have common goals.
Conversely, when a couple lacks shared values and goals, everything they do will be an uphill fight. Instead of it being about “us,” it will always be about “you” and “me,” and---not surprisingly, “you” will always be at fault for everything that goes wrong. Of course, even well-matched couples can get lazy, or get so bogged down in the details of daily life that they forget to do the little things that reinforce their bond and make married life satisfying. Thus, married people have to make an ongoing effort to look good, smile more, listen closely, be affectionate, do fun things, express gratitude and, when necessary, apologize.
If a married couple can do these things, they can bring the level of satisfaction high enough to keep divorce off their radar screen entirely. I hope you’ll discuss these ideas with your boyfriend but, as I said, I have a feeling he’s trying to create a logical-sounding opposition to marriage when it’s really the idea of a lifelong commitment he’s uncomfortable with. That doesn’t make him a bad guy, but it could mean he’s not the right guy for you, if marriage is truly what you want.
By the way, the divorce rate has never been more than about forty percent for first-time marriages. Because the divorce rates for second and third marriages have always been much higher than for first marriages (it’s over seventy percent for third marriages), the fifty percent figure is conveniently used as an average. But, as I say, divorce statistics aren’t a predictor of what will happen in any given marriage. If the two people are well-matched and care enough to give their best effort, their marriage will not only survive but thrive. Good luck!
Jim is a graduate of Boston College Law School, and practiced divorce law in Boston for over twenty years. After moving to Arizona, he became a full-time mediator for the family and divorce court in Phoenix.
His experience in working with divorcing couples, plus his own life experiences---he was a 20 year-old husband and father and a single father for several years after his divorce---prompted Jim to write a book entitled, Mid-Life Divorce and the Rebirth of Commitment, that helps people avoid divorce by teaching better ways to communicate and resolve disputes.
Jim is currently an advice columnist, relationship writer, and personal coach. He is a contributing expert at HopeAfterDivorce.org, FamilyShare.com, and LAFamily.com. He also puts on workshops dealing with marriage, divorce, post-divorce dating, and other aspects of men-women relationships. His website is attorneyatlove.com.
Jim is a former divorce lawyer and mediator. His columns are not intended to constitute legal advice and are not a substitute for marriage counseling or other professional services.