In my lifetime, I have been exposed to three generations of strong, committed relationships ranging between my grandparents, my parents, and my personal relationships. Marriage is a universal symbol of commitment between two partners that is technically thought to last until death do they part. In recent years, death is not the only way to end a marriage; divorce has served as the next best thing. By witnessing the relationships between my family members as well as partnerships amongst my peers, I have come to believe that because divorce is so easily obtained lately, marriages are rushed and that a lack of communication is ultimately what concludes the marriages in divorce. Most of what we learn comes through doing and observing; the same applies when it comes to romantic relationships. We watch our parents in their marriage and learn what and what not to do in our own partnerships. Through experience and observing other relationships, we begin to develop an identity script in said partnerships. Growing up we develop fantasies about what we hope our adult lives will look like – what car we will drive, what kind of job we will have, and even whom we could potentially spend the rest of our lives with. The identities we portray and the rules we live our lives by are known as identity scripts. While the basic idea of identity scripts remains unchanged for marriage, there have been changes through the generations.
It’s a Family Thing
In the 1960’s it was almost expected to marry and start a family young, which is exactly what my grandparents did. Once you were married, toughing it out through the good and bad was also expected of you. They were high school sweethearts and were married by the ages of 18 and 19. By the time they were in college at the ages of 20 and 21, they had already birthed my mother and her brother. I admired them for being able to maintain a strong marriage, build a family, and complete their college educations so young. It was not until a few years ago that it was brought to my attention, that my grandparents’ strong marriage did have its fair share of problems. 20 years into their vows, my grandmother took it upon herself to redefine her own identity as a woman by separating herself from her family for close to 6 years. She, like the rest of the women in her graduating class had spousal and motherly responsibilities to fulfill. However, living under the titles of being a mother and wife, my grandmother needed to find her own independence. “In our 20s, sometimes we don’t have a strong sense of who we are as an individual.” Since my grandfather was then forced to live on his own, he had no choice but to learn how to maintain a household which was something most men from his generation left up to the women. While they experienced turmoil and tribulation throughout their marriage, divorce was not really an option for my grandparents or their generation for that matter. During the summer of 2010 amongst close friends and family, we celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary.
My parents, on the other hand, did not meet until they were both out of college and in their late 20’s. Their relationship blossomed over the course of a year before they were married. While the identity scripts of marriage were the same, my parents had the advantage of being able to claim their own identities before getting caught up in the responsibilities of being a spouse or parent. I was the first born child close to 4 years after my parents wedding, and my sister came along 3 years after I did. The marriage between my parents has always been pretty concrete and solid, but there have been times that were harder than others. For their generation though, if a marriage is not working out as planned, divorce has been a more desired option than fighting and working things out. While my parents are still married and continue to work on their marriage, I have seen many of my friends’ families shattered by divorce. “Nearly 50 percent of all marriages end in divorce and according to the National Center for Health Statistics, about 60 percent of couples who marry between 20 and 25 are destined for divorce.” While marriage is still an institution, the options for how to manage marital stress and tension can also include divorce, which many are taking advantage of.
Monkey See, Monkey Do?
Being that I am in the generation to next step up to the plate and eventually get married, I have taken it upon myself to be observant and patient when it comes to picking my own personal relationships. This generation is influenced by the relationships of our families. A 2010 study was conducted, surveying unmarried college students and their views and thoughts about their own personal relationships after having witnessed their parents’ happy marriages of lack thereof. Of the students surveyed, 74% believed that their parents’ relationships have influenced their own. However, 31% of those students admitted to being negatively influenced by their parents’ relationships. There is a good chance that out of the 31% of students who were negatively affected by their parents’ relationships, some of them will experience divorce. In other words, because I was raised with happily married parents who strive for a solid relationship, I have been taught to handle my personal relationships in similar ways. However, I have known peers who come from families of divorce who are “learning” from their role models and are following in that path. While this may not be true for every child that comes from a divorced family, the chances of them getting into a healthy, positive relationship could be more challenging since their parents were not the best role models. “Children of divorced parents are themselves more likely to divorce…people who grew up in houses where their parents fought frequently were more likely to divorce if their parents remained together.” Our parents’ relationships will undoubtedly have an effect on our partnerships, but it is up to us on how much influence they have.
Building a Relationship
There are three main components to forming committed romantic relationships: growth, navigation, and deterioration. During the growth stage, the relationship is just starting out mainly through increasing levels of communication. Each partner is still considered their own individual and is maintaining their personal identity scripts. For instance, in my grandparents’ relationship, the growth stage would be when they were in high school together. Although they were a year apart, the school was small and they would see each other often which sparked their interest in one another. As communication and feelings progress, the relationship intensifies and the individual partners become an individual couple – each partner’s identity ends up turning into the couple’s identity which sparks the navigation stage of the relationship. It is in this phase that weeks of being together turn into months, even years of being in a couple. While things are generally going pretty steady, there could be the few arguments here and there that could cause rockiness within the relationship. Despite the hiccups, the couple decides to stay committed to each other and the relationship. But each argument can leave gray area and tension behind that can add up, causing the relationship to deteriorate and maybe come to an end. When my grandparents separated, they could have chosen to leave the marriage and children high and dry, but they fought through their differences and ultimately stayed committed to their vows.
Seeing Eye to Eye
“Men and women in their twenties have the highest divorce rate of all age groups”. There are many reasons that cause marriages to end in divorce or relationships come to a screeching halt. One of the main reasons, and in my opinion the first, that relationships end is due to a lack of communication. In order for effective communication in a partnership or marriage, both parties must be able to engage in dual perspective, or being able to completely understand our partner’s thoughts and feelings as well as our own. Being able to exercise this communication skill helps in decreasing tension after an argument because each party is able to put everything on the table and be understood. While they were separated, my grandparents were able to see each others point of view; my grandfather had to take on the responsibilities of the house while my grandmother was learning how to be an independent individual. Through this learning process, they were able to meet in the middle and work through their differences which helped them to reach their 50th wedding anniversary. It is through dual perspective that my parents have been able to work through conflict within their marriage, and a technique I will carry into my own marriage one day.
While some characteristics of marriage have changed through the generations, the general concept remains concrete; to marry happily and create a family with your partner. It is through identity scripts that we learn how to approach our personal relationships whether it be through learning from the examples modeled in our childhoods, or from experience in our own. We have the option to create an enjoyable or hectic environment for our relationships through the components of growth, navigation, and deterioration. But it is ultimately through dual perspective that we really learn how to manage our relationships in a way that will hopefully make them last, and not end in divorce.
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