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Staying Together: A Gen X Thing?

Is you marriage better than your mom's?

Is your marriage better than your mom's?

My husband and I have had better weeks. Truth be told, we’ve had better years. Seven of them. Six months past our seventh anniversary, I have a painful new understanding of what the “seven-year-itch” is all about.

That’s hardly surprising. As I noted months ago, statistically speaking my marriage is doomed. I’m a child of divorce, married to a man on his second marriage. We’re a blended family. I’m a survivor of sexual violence. These are all risk factors for divorce, even before you start talking about who eats the last of the cereal and puts the empty box back in the cupboard.

We may have one statistic on our side though: our generation. The divorce rate has been falling steadily for decades. The divorce rate for college-educated Gen X mamas like myself is a mere 16%, according to Tara Parker-Pope’s wonderful book For Better.

Why are our marriages surviving when our parents’ didn’t? Part of the answer lies with the gains of feminism. Women have more power at home and at work. More equitable marriages tend to be happier ones, driving fewer women to seek out greener pastures. That matters a lot, since women initiate 75% of divorces.

We’re also survivors of our parents generation of broken marriages. Many of us learned from their mistakes, and as a generation we’ve gotten better at marriage. New science shows us what works and what doesn’t in relationships, and we’re applying those lessons in our own lives.

For instance, I might be tempted to roll my eyes when my husband forgets to pay a bill for the fourth time. But I restrain the urge because I know from John Gottman‘s marriage research that eye-rolling is a major symptom of a failing marriage. Rather than just pegging Wednesday nights as date nights, my husband and I have date nights and household meetings, so we can keep the messy business side of running a family off the table when we go out for dinner.

Will these new and improved marriages stand the test of time? I’d like to believe in a happy ending for mine, even though I know I’m betting against the odds. My peers’ marriages are, statistically, faring better than our parents’ ones did. That suggests something is working. Is it science, a cultural shift, new relationship skills or just luck in love?

What do you think? What holds your marriage together? What pulls it apart? Has your marriage outlasted your parents’?

Photo: Ed Yourdon

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