For Better: The Science of a Good Marriage is an incredible book that should be assigned not just to people who are currently married, but newlyweds and, really, anyone who thinks they might want to get married one day. Tara Parker-Pope set out to figure out why her long-term marriage ended in divorce. Her research explodes many pop culture ideas about marriage. It also offers a lot of practical ideas and exercises for rebuilding stressed relationships that have genuine merit.
The first thing to know about divorce statistics is that they are reported very poorly based on badly designed studies. It is not true that half of marriages end in divorce. Essentially, some people are “risky prospects” who get married and divorced repeatedly. Baby Boomers are more likely to get divorced than any other generation. Longer lifespans increase the length of the average marriage, skewing the statistics. Divorce is more common in the first five years of marriage, and anyone who makes it past that point has a much better shot at a long-term marriage. Parker-Pope wonders if circumstances would change if couples had better information on which marriages are more or less likely to end in divorce.
Surely this is true! I got married at 22 (one red flag) to a man with whom I did not share attitudes about money (second red flag), and we were divorced after three years. If I had read this book when we were first dating, I wouldn’t have been able to avoid noticing at least a dozen other issues predicted by research. Partly because he did his fair share of housework and most of the cooking, I felt like I had snagged a “good catch.” I never saw it coming.
(I share that because if you’re unhappy in your relationship, and you think everything would be perfect if only he took the initiative to clean the house, well, it’s not enough. That’s probably not your real problem).
I remarried another divorced person. We’re about to celebrate our ten-year wedding anniversary. We did a few of the quizzes in For Better together, and it’s a good sign that he found them as interesting as I did. I learned that he is more romantic than I am! We scored about even in how possessive, playful, and unselfish we are, while I ranked higher in the ‘logical’ and ‘best friends’ areas. I shared that research shows men are more upset by arguments in marriage, and was touched to learn that he agreed.
Something I found very interesting was that there are five styles of marriage, and that the type most commonly depicted in romance novels is THE most likely type to divorce. Aha! I have always felt that romance novels are toxic, and, while I know several mega-mega fans of the genre, not a single one of them is happily married. I have yet to find a romance novel or rom-com movie that resembles my marriage in any way, shape, or form. Something tells me that romance fans would be confused or bored by a story like mine, even though, after thirteen years together, my hubby and I still sometimes fall asleep holding hands.
For Better is a practical book that both parties can read together. There is a lot here that can make you feel better about choosing each other. There’s also a lot on dealing with power imbalances and disputes. The information in this book deserves to be widely shared, to make it clear that it is indeed possible to stay married for the long term.
The bottom line: If you solve your money problems, you’ll go a long way toward solving—or preventing—marital problems.
Couples who assume fighting is their biggest problem may discover that the real issue isn’t conflict but an imbalance of power and an overall feeling of unfairness in the relationship.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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