Finding the path to a lasting relationship
Dismayed by the high divorce rate, some people are proposing strategies for choosing a marriage partner.
Neil Clark Warren has been a marriage counselor for 35 years long enough to help couples confront just about every domestic difficulty imaginable. On the personal side, he's consoled six close friends as they went through three divorces each. His own marriage, happily, has lasted 43 years and he and his wife, Marylyn, have raised three daughters who also enjoy wedded bliss.Skip to next paragraph
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So, suffice it to say that Dr. Warren knows a fair bit about marriage from his practice, his friends, his own experience, and from his parents, who still liked to hold hands after 70 years together. And he thinks he knows what it is that makes or breaks a marriage.
The key, he says, is not necessarily family background, or chemistry, or even how old people are when they marry. It's ... are you ready? ... choosing wisely in the first place.
"This choice has more to do with the eventual success of your marriage than everything else combined that you do after you get married," says this voice of experience. "If you choose someone who is highly compatible, it feels almost effortless; if you are mismatched, it's all hard work and good intentions."
OK. Hm-m-m. Seems kind of, well, obvious. But if it's so simple, why do so many couples a lot of them college-educated, smart people end up divorced?
In homes across America indeed, around the globe couples are splitting up. The data on divorce tell all: 55 percent of all first marriages in the US end in separation or divorce, 65 percent of second marriages do, 75 percent of third, and so on. So Elizabeth Taylor, while perhaps the world's most famous divorcée, is in pretty good company.
Why can't people from your child's teacher to Tom Cruise get it right the first time or even sometimes the second, third, or fourth times?
It all comes down to ignorance; people have never been taught how to intelligently choose a life partner. It's probably the most significant decision of their lives, and they are essentially clueless.
Some professionals in the business of helping couples and families are keenly aware of this, and they are rushing to fill the void, even proposing specific strategies to put divorce on America's endangered list.
Warren, for one, has come up with a list of not five or even 10 but 29 essential ingredients for a happy union.
"It just grieves my heart to see marriages breaking up in America," he says. His distress compelled him to devote five years to researching marriage, including interviews with 2,000 married people with various degrees of contentment. From his findings, he compiled his list, which is the basis for his latest book "Date ... or Soul Mate?" and his online-matchmaking service, eharmony.com.
These key ingredients, or "dimensions," as he calls them, aren't what you might think. Yes, chemistry matters, he says, as does appearance, but those are not the most important, says Warren. "In fact," he explains, "75 to 80 percent of all chemistry evaporates within six to eight months unless the relationship is significantly undergirded by deeper and more durable compatibility."
Intellect, spirituality, kindness, and most of all character are the most critical areas, he says. "No marriage will ever thrive if one of the partners is not of good character." He explains that a "character disorder" refers to the tendency of a person to "lie, cheat, and steal in an effort to gain personal advantage." Emotional health is equally important, he adds. "No marriage can ever be stronger than the emotional health of the least healthy partner."