When monogamy runs counter to our instincts do we stick it out or make a break for it?
As a culture we’ve become increasingly acclimated to change; the desire to progress, to find the “latest and greatest”, to be on the cutting edge. Initially this phenomenon was apparent in places where change was welcome, e.g. the frequent purchasing of new technology; the trading in of cars, homes or even careers. As we’ve continued to embrace it, however, change has crept into aspects of our lives where tradition once reigned and consistency was paramount.
Take the example of marriage: Whether monogamy runs counter to our instincts or not, most of us invest a great deal of time and emotion in finding a “soul mate”. The average marriage in the United States lasts approximately 8 years, with 41% of first marriages ending in divorce; an average that increases in second and third marriages and is projected to reach 50% in the near future.
I strongly believe in marriage. When it is broken it’s important to invest time and effort in fixing it rather than heading directly to divorce court. There are instances, however, where separation is actually the smarter choice. With people working well beyond “retirement age” and having access to a greater variety of experiences (thanks to advances in technology and medicine), they sometimes grow beyond the scope of their marriages. In such cases staying together may become toxic for married individuals who’ve found themselves on divergent paths.
Two famous examples are Al and Tipper Gore and, more recently, Heidi Klum and Seal. The Gores were both at turning points in their respective careers when they announced their separation, after many years of marriage and grown children. Klum’s business has burgeoned in recent months, and her focus on career over marriage reportedly factored into the couple’s decision to divorce.
Here are some signs that when it comes to your marriage you may need to break tradition:
• You’ve stopped communicating: It’s normal to go through phases where you talk to your spouse or partner less, but when “catching up” becomes a download on the last 3 weeks of your life, it may indicate that your relationship is becoming less and less of a priority for you.
• You’re “too busy” to make time for one another: If other plans always get in the way of time together it could be a sign that you are avoiding the relationship altogether.
• Your desire to be independent supersedes your desire to be part of a couple: We should all strive to have lives outside our marriages. When your “outside life” becomes something you can’t share with your partner, however, or serves as an escape from the relationship, it might be time to reassess your marriage.
• Your life and career choices take a direction that’s no longer compatible with your partner’s: Sometimes the desire for separation is a practical one stemming from professional goals that aren’t in keeping with the lifestyle maintained by your partner. If ignoring those instincts means neglecting your passion it could lead to resentment and marital troubles down the line.
• Conversations and differences of opinion all-too-quickly become arguments: It’s normal for couples to experience rough patches where arguing is more frequent, but when everything routinely becomes the other person’s fault it’s not a good sign for the health of a marriage.
It’s an ever-evolving world and as we avail ourselves of different experiences outside of our marriages these can affect who we are within them. The strongest couples grow together in these situations, but there are many for whom this is impossible.
Before letting your desire for change get the better of you, however, seek professional help for your relationship. Even in today’s world there is tremendous value in the tradition of marriage.