Once it was simple. You got married, had kids, worked the land, and stayed
married whether you could stand each other or not. The concept of "a happy
marriage" was no more
relevant than the idea of "a pretty tractor."
"That has changed over time as marriage has become more
independent," says Steven Nock, a professor of sociology who studies
marriage at the University of Virginia and author of Marriage in Men's
Lives. "Couples don't need each other for quite as many things as they
once did. If you're running a farm with someone, it doesn't matter if you're
pissed at her or not. You need her labor as much as she needs yours. The couple
is more or less equally dependent on each other."
Life provides men with an endless supply of things to get angry about.
There’s the sullen waitress who refuses to look in your direction while you
wave desperately for the check. There’s the oaf who drifts across the road
without ever using his blinker. There’s the dropped call, the tepid shower, the
gum on the bottom of the shoe.
While it’s perfectly natural to get angry about any of these things, anger
comes to some men more naturally than others. For the hot-tempered, the
Chances are, though, if you are reading this, you are not running a farm
with your mate. And if you are, you are probably doing it out of choice, not
necessity. As a recent Washington Post story pointed out, "As
marriage with children becomes the exception rather than the norm, social
scientists say it is also becoming the self-selected province of the
college-educated and the affluent." Marriage in America is becoming more
like a luxury car ―― in other words a BMW, not a Harvester.
This doesn't necessarily mean modern marriages are happy marriages.
According to the latest U.S. Census data, the overall divorce rate has declined
as couples get married later in life, often after living together. But the
divorce rate for first marriages is still about 47%.
Having a happy marriage today means thinking of reasons to be
"From my perspective, the hardest thing is issues of commitment and
trust," says Nock, who has followed couples over time and conducted
interviews with 6,000 married men since 1979. What does commitment mean to the
modern husband? "I'm going to behave myself because I'm committed to this
relationship," is how Nock describes it. Because people have left the farm,
and because women have achieved financial parity, married people need new
reasons to stay together.
"I have studied what people imagine would happen to them if their
marriage were to end," says Nock. "If you don't think horrible things
will happen, you are a different kind of spouse than if you think they will. In
my work, it is a very strong predictor of divorce." In other words, if you
can see yourself taking that next step and can visualize yourself as single,
you are more likely to be stepping outside the marriage.
A key to happy marriage: Keeping separate lives
While too much independence ― the kind that leads to infidelity or workaholism ― is a marriage breaker, too
much dependence isn't the answer either. "Every good marriage is based on
an awful lot of separation," Nock says. "People need to have a separate
life and existence to feel validated as individuals. They can't live solely as