Marriage – Till Death or Divorce Do We Part

In all cultures, marriage is considered an institution. Sociology defines an institution as a human system that is a relatively stable and predictable arrangement which emerges over time to meet human needs. As per sociology, it serves a number of functions, such as regulating sexual behavior, population restoration, and socialization of the young. In the US, about 95% of us take the plunge. Even if some of us divorce (40 to 45%), 7 of 10 of us remarry per the US Census Bureau. Divorce is now the number one cause of marital fractures, not death. But, by in large, marriage is popularly embraced and positively sanctioned across the globe.

Over the past decade or so, the American trend is to marry later than previous generations. And living together before marriage is much more common than before. This article takes a brief look at some of the mediating factors that keep us together and those that drive us apart.

Gottman and colleagues in the so-called “love lab” are teaching us a lot about the importance of relationship communication, particularly those messages which occur at the non-verbal level — the unconscious processes. They indicate that if for every one positive exchange between the partners, there occur five negative ones, and the odds of parting are over 90%. Further, they indicate that the three strongest predictors of marital failure are the emotions of disgust and contempt, and the male partner’s marital dissatisfaction.

In my work with marital couples, mainly heterosexuals, I have found three additional factors to be also important. One, is the degree of compatibility or lack thereof. A second, is what I refer to as psychosocial development levels. We are often initially attracted to those who we see as more like us; and are more likely to maintain these connections. I often think about the clinical global assessment of functioning (GAF) as one measure of psychosocial development. Persons in the 90’s connect with others in the 90’s; persons in the 70’s connect, and so on. An often overlooked component is that of power. Shared power tends to sustain us over the long-run. A third frame which I find helpful is my modification of the business exchange model. That is, I consider the return on four core investments: materials, energy, expectations, and time (MEET). When consistently met by each partner in the pair, couples are more likely to endure. At times, some of the returns maybe exceeded! When they are consistently not met, the couple spins downward into a state of “psychosocial bankruptcy.”

Well, what about the presence of children? How much does the presence of children cement our marital connection? Benin and Robinson conducted an investigation in this regard. They measured marital satisfaction before children, the years raising children, and the years following the launch of their brood. The findings indicate a relatively high satisfaction level for each partner before the advent of children. The first years with offspring show a peak of satisfaction. However, over time, satisfaction levels fall significantly. The all-time low is achieved during the adolescent years. After launching, marital satisfaction spikes to an all-time high for husbands and wives!

I’ve been married to the same partner for over 40 years. I consider this time with my mate, to be the enduring “honeymoon.” It is way different than the honeymoon at the onset of our union!


Benin MH and Robinson LB. 1997. Marital Happiness across the Family Life Cycle: A Longitudinal Analysis.

Ferrante J. Sociology: A Global Perspective. 7th ed. Thompson/Wadsworth. 2008.

B. Carey. For better or worse: Marriage by the numbers. Los Angeles Times, May 1, 2003.

U.S. Census Bureau. Marriage statistics. 2006.

Richard Kensinger, MSW

Richard Kensinger, MSW, has over forty years of clinical experience in behavioral healthcare as a psychotherapist, trainer, consultant, and faculty member in the Psychology Department, Mount Aloysius College. He has also taught at Penn State, University of Pittsburgh, and Temple University. He is also a lover of "football", known in the USA as soccer. He is currently associated for over 30 years with youth "football", 26 as a referee.
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