In Summary
  • A long marriage is worth working for, but historically it’s always been rare.
  • Until surprisingly recently, the average marriage lasted less than 15 years.

  • Marriage is a skill that can be learnt. Some people are terrible at it, most are average, and others become brilliant.

One way or another, 90 per cent of us marry, though often without realising what we’re getting into.

Until quite recently, weddings were only really for the wealthy. And arranged. Even today, our families and communities are involved in all sorts of complicated ways. It’s at once the most public and most private thing you’ll ever do.

And until surprisingly recently, the average marriage lasted less than 15 years. Not through divorce, but because someone died. From illness, childbirth, war, murder, etc.

If your spouse died, you pretty much had to find someone else because life was so difficult alone. So people often married several times. Marriage has only recently been expected to last. So don’t feel a failure if yours ended in divorce. A long marriage is worth working for, of course. But historically, it’s always been rare.

Divorce rates are higher now. But not because we’re behaving worse than previous generations. It’s because couples are choosing to have fewer children: big families are more stable. And because women are less dependent on their husbands. Divorce rates also increase when the economy is growing.

No matter how carefully you select your spouse, it’s distressingly easy to end up marrying what’s familiar, rather than what you want. Your father was angry? You’ll probably choose someone bad tempered. A needy mum? You’ll likely marry someone who has trouble with independence. A workaholic father? Chances are you’ll marry someone unavailable. Inattentive parents? You’ll get taken for granted in your marriage. The list is endless. But not inevitable.

Marriage is a skill that can be learnt. Some people are terrible at it, most are average, and others become brilliant. Though most people are more interested in self-justification, and full of reasons why “marriage sucks”. Mastery is only achieved by a few.

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