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disposable marriage
not an issue for the oldest generation
by lucy lediaev

Recently, I had dinner with five seniors from age 76 to age 93. The group included three women and two men. All were widowed. Most remarkable was each of them had been married to the same person from 44 to 67 years. At the age of 67, I was by far the youngest one there and the only one out of six who had been divorced. I would place all of these people in my parents’ generation; it’s interesting to note that my parents had been married to each other for over 60 years when my father passed away.

These remarkable seniors got me thinking about what was different about my generation and theirs when it comes to the longevity of marriage to the same person. As I contemplated the differences, it became clear that there is no simple answer. I also examined the failure of my own marriage and looked at some of the issues that contributed to its breakdown. Here’s a short list of some of the issues that contribute to the success or failure of marriages.

  1. In my parents’ generation, people expected to be married to the same person for life. The words of traditional marriage ceremony, “to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love, honor, and cherish, 'til death do us part…” were taken literally. Today, with the frequency of divorce and the ease in obtaining a divorce, expectations for a lifelong marriage are not so firmly embedded in current culture. Thus, couples are not prepared to work as hard to sustain a marriage—for themselves or for their offspring.

  2. People tended to marry within the same religious group within a community. This led to less dissonance when it came to child raising, spiritual and ethical values, and church attendance (or not). Today, people not only marry across cultural and ethnic groups, they marry outside of the religion of their parents.

  3. Women tended to work at home and, if they did work outside the home, they filled traditionally female jobs, such as teaching and nursing—jobs that were in many ways extensions of the role of wife and mother. Women tended to “serve” their families, while men were the primary bread winners. Now it is not unusual for women to be the primary bread winner and even to earn more than the male partner. The wife’s absence from the home and issues over earnings is yet another source of friction.

  4. Both verbal and physical abuse were more likely to be tolerated during the early part of the 20th Century. Women blamed themselves and felt that abuse was something shameful they could not share with their friends and family. Despite the fact that some of the stigma of abuse still remains, women are now better informed and encouraged to report abuse and to leave it behind them.

There are many other elements that affect a marriage, but the difference from one generation to another is quite striking. The shift in male and female roles, with women taking a more dominant role within the family and in the workface, certainly is important. However, the most important issue is probably an increasing difference in cultural, ethnic, and religious backgrounds that affect basic spiritual, moral, and ethical values. The more difference the harder it is to maintain a successful relationship. Add to that the ease of divorce and expectations that marriage is disposable and the result is a much higher rate of dissolution of marriage—sometimes quite early in the relationship.


A freelance writer and full-time grandma, Lucy Lediaev retired recently from a position as web master, tech writer, and copy writer in a biotech firm. She is enjoying retirment more than she ever dreamed and is now writing about topics that are, for the most part, interesting and fun. She also has time to pursue some of her long-time interests, such as crafts, reading, sewing, baking, cooking, and the like.

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juli mccarthy
12.6.11 @ 12:46p

When my husband and I married 22 years ago, one thing we agreed on from the very beginning was that the word "divorce" was off the table, period. We had two other options, then: work out our differences, or resort to murder.

Yes, that's a little flippant, but it is interesting that we made it 19 years before a HUGE fight that ended with me saying, "Get a therapist, or get an attorney. NOW." It's not that we were stifling our issues prior to that, but that what came up was a really major issue that neither of us was equipped to cope with.

We did make it through, with outside help for both of us, but I honestly think we wouldn't have if we hadn't both regarded divorce as out-of-the-question. When it did come up, there was no question that things had gotten SERIOUS.

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