Despite the silly games and quizzes which serve no other purpose than to pass time in a harmless way, Facebook has many good uses. Not only does it allow old friends and acquaintances to stay in touch, but because people share links to interesting news stories and articles, Facebook can be a gold mine of information too. Fellow lawyer and UP College of Law alumnus Mike Ureta recently shared a link to a news story on an Australian study about factors that affect the longevity of marriage.
The study, entitled “What’s Love Got to Do With It”, followed 2500 married and live-in couples from 2001 through 2007 and concludes that it takes a lot more than love to make a marriage or a relationship last. The factors include money, vices, the desire to have children, children from previous marriages and the marital success of the parents of each spouse.
The curious thing about the study – based, at least, on the news report – is how it equates divorce or separation with a failed marriage or relationship although this can be easily explained by the fact that the study was conducted in a country where divorce is accessible to married couples. The even more curious thing is the implication that longevity means satisfactory relationships.
Naturally, I did wonder whether the implication is simply inside my head or whether the study purposely avoided that very problematic area or even whether the news article simply missed it altogether. Whichever the case may be, if we observe couples we know, and if we read the news everyday, it is quite obvious that not all failed marriages end in divorce and not all failed relationships end in separation – even in countries where divorce is legal and even easily obtainable.
One obvious argument in favor of equating longevity with a satisfactory relationship is that people who stay together are perceived as not having given up on working out their relationship with each other. It’s one angle, yes, and probably a valid one too. But does it apply to all married couples that stay together for most, if not all, of their lives?
In marriage, there are countless reasons why, despite the availability of divorce, couples decide to stay together even when the reasons why they got together in the first place no longer exist. I agree with the study that money is a factor. But I doubt if the study sees money in marriage in the context in which I do. Poverty and unemployment contribute to failed marriages significantly, according to the study, while couples who enjoy financial stability stayed together.
See, there are couples who have built business empires together and splitting what they have built might mean financial ruin – so they stay married. There is also the dependency angle. A wife who has no independent income will think twice before ending a marriage with a philandering husband who provides for all her material needs. And there is the settlement and alimony angle. A husband who wants to marry another woman will think hard because a divorce usually means he’ll have to give up half of what he has put up and probably pay alimony in addition. In short, where money is concerned, couples might opt to stay together only to preserve financial stability and despite unsatisfactory personal relationships with their spouses.
What about children? According to the study, couples with children from previous marriages are more likely to divorce. And where one spouse wants to have children more than the other, the marriage is likely to fail too. But what about couples with children together and none from previous marriages? If they stay together but only for the children’s sake, does it mean their marriage is a good one?
Couples in very conservative cultures have it worse. In a country like the Philippines where marriage is elevated to something spiritual and where separation still carries a social stigma, there are couples who continue to live together even after the relationship has soured and even when one or both spouses have taken up (semi) permanent relationships with other parties. There are also couples who stay together even when one spouse subjects the other to abuse on a regular and sustained basis. And because of the association of marriage with procreation, among couples who have children, it is not uncommon to hear them say that they stay together for the sake of the children despite regular domestic abuse.
Longevity in marriage does not always mean a happy nor satisfactory relationship. There are times when longevity is just an image, a cloak with which a marriage is wrapped to prove that a good relationship still exists even when it has long since vanished. It’s like the opposite of Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak. While the invisibility cloak hides a real person, longevity in marriage provides an outward and perceptible manifestation of a relationship that, in its real and most profound essence, no longer exists.