Marriage and Gambling

Many young adults today seem to see marriage as being like a Steve Wynn casino. Too risky, too expensive, “meant for other kinds of people.” Why else would so many folks stand out on the fringes, just “living together” rather than joining forces in wedlock? Why else would so many fathers be absent from the lives of their sons and daughters? Face it: we have an epidemic of out-of-wedlock births and divorces promoting parents as singles.

What’s to be done about this? One small step might be to pass along information that might improve people’s odds of success at the betting tables. Give folks a sense that they know what their risks really are, what the likelihoods are that their bets on loving commitments may finally pay off, could help people to feel more confident about gambling on marriage in the first place.

Okay, let’s get the bad news out of the way first. But really, it’s not news. In any given year, one in six marriages fail. The risks of having your first marriage come to an end at any time before you do are often cited as being “fifty-fifty.” In short, there’s one chance in two that you’ll lose at marital love’s gaming tables. In short, half of all novice brides and grooms crap out at romantic roulette.

Apparently there are even worse odds for failures by failures. Two out of three second marriages die before the death of a partner. Three out of four third marriages fold, and so on.

The good news is fairly scant. All of these odds are calculated based on slippery statistics. Nobody can track large enough populations for a lifetime to determine these stats with any precision. So they’re developed by inference. The means by which folks do so is too arcane to discuss here. But there are a couple of hidden bright spots for you to consider.

For one thing, the marital failure rate has been declining for at least two decades. There seem to be several reasons for this. One reason isn’t all that reassuring: as living together has become an acceptable alternative lifestyle rather than the contractual commitments required by marriage, those who might be “high risk” candidates in effect “opt out” of any approach to the marital casinos. Better reasons also deserve consideration, among them the increasing tendency for those who still choose to marry to do so at a later age than in earlier periods. More maturity apparently fosters more discretion, and thus improves the odds of success. Also, the increasingly oppressive requirements for higher household incomes that only two earners can generate have apparently encouraged greater fidelity, or at least a reduced inclination to pay the price of divorce.

The second bright spot is hardly ever mentioned in discussions of these odds. But the fact that remarriage to ex-spouses occurs in anywhere from one divorce case in twenty to one in ten means that the real rate of first marriage failures for good and all time may actually be just 45%. So the odds of having your first marriage persist till you perish may actually now be better than even.

Feel better now?

So what does all of this mean for you? Well, if you’re already married, you probably already know better than any bookmaker what the odds are of your marriage surviving might be. Are you happily married? Do you think your spouse is, too? If you answered “yes” to both questions, the odds are better than average that your relationship will endure. If you answered “no” to either question, perhaps you’d best seek some marital counseling. As everyone now knows, the price of divorce in emotional and financial terms can be devastating.

And if you’re still single, I’d urge you not to take these daunting statistics as indicating that commitment is never going to be worth the risks. Ask any happily married couple to explain to you all of the benefits that their relationship brings them. You may be surprised and pleased at how many reasons they give you, and how long it takes to explain – once they get over giving each other a good natured ribbing about all of their complaints first.

Simply put, I think in the end the simple answer is that if you wish to have kids, and raise them in a stable, secure and loving environment, the best way to do that is within the bounds of a conventional marriage. If you’re still frightened by that prospect, and you’re over the age of thirty, it may say something about the person you’re thinking of marrying, and your subconscious fears about their ability to sustain a commitment.

Final rule: if you value continuity in marriage, keep away from wedding those three time losers. The odds of success with them are just too slim for a wager.

Yours truly: Mike “I only had one shirt to lose” Riley

A dozen years ago, I wrote a book on recovering from lost loves. Two years later, the publishing giant Random House issued a new version, titled How to Heal a Broken Heart in 30 Days. Ever since then, this edition has stayed near the top of the sales rankings for books of its kind. Over one hundred thousand readers have used its counsel, in any of seven different language translations. Its persistent popularity led one Random House editor to call it “a minor classic.”

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