The Divorce-Proof Marriage: Does It Exist?

Why couples should be up-front now to avoid surprises later

Humorist Erma Bombeck once wrote, "Marriage has no guarantees. If that's what you're looking for, go live with a car battery." Indeed, with today's divorce rate hovering around 50 percent, it's natural to be worried that your union won't last -- especially when one or both of you come from a divorced home. So what's the secret to making it work? Is there such a thing as divorce-proofing your marriage   -- and can it be done before you even get engaged? One couple set out to discover the truth for themselves. Here's what they found.

Liz Lewis, 27, associate director of video promotion at Warner Brothers Records in New York City, has been dating Tyson Haller, 29, radio promotion director at Virgin Records, for over four years. While she was growing up, Liz's parents fought constantly, and they divorced when she was 18. Tyson's parents split when he was a year old. Since neither Liz nor Tyson had a strong role model of a healthy marriage, they wanted to be sure they got it right. Their strategy? Ask questions (lots and lots of them) up front. Armed with a copy of Don't You Dare Get Married Until You Read This! The Book of Questions for Couples: Over 500 Points to Ponder Before You Live Happily Ever After, from Love and Sex to In-Laws, Exes, and Dirty Laundry by Corey Donaldson (Three Rivers Press), they spent whatever free time they could find together going page by page, question by question. And over the course of a few months, they addressed each of their concerns. Liz says, "Marriage is serious. We wanted to move our relationship to the next level, and we decided that these questions might lead us to things we hadn't thought about but should be aware of."

After all, the threat of divorce looms large for many of today's brides- and grooms-to-be. And according to a study by Jay D. Teachman (Childhood Living Arrangements and the Intergenerational Transmission of Divorce), parental divorce has a significant effect -- a 38-percent increase -- on the likelihood that the children will divorce. But that doesn't mean every child of divorce is promised the same fate. "Some couples who are children of divorced parents have an even better chance at a good marriage because they know how painful divorce is and don't want to make the same mistakes," says Dr. Brenda Shoshanna, author of Zen and the Art of Falling in Love (Simon and Schuster). "They are often willing to put in more effort to make things work ."
Liz and Tyson recently got engaged during a trip to Pennsylvania's Pocono Mountains. Liz believes the time commitment involved with answering the questions in Don't You Dare Get Married was an invaluable investment in their long-term happiness as a couple. She found every chapter of the book worthwhile, especially the chapter on religion, which is a complicated matter in her relationship. "Tyson comes from a churchgoing family; his dad is actually a minister," Liz explains. "I come from a split-religion home where my mother is Catholic and my father is Jewish. As a result, we had very different views on how to incorporate religion into our children's lives and whether or not to baptize them. But the basis of a good marriage is two people who really care about each other and are willing to tough it out, even when they don't agree." She says that discussing each issue -- no matter how challenging or emotionally draining -- made her confident that she and Tyson would be able to work through the problems they encounter in years to come.

But she also acknowledges that marriage is always a leap of faith to some degree. Dr. Shoshanna agrees: "Even if the person is perfect for you when you wed, change is inevitable. Each will grow, possibly in different ways. It is not what happens that counts as much as how they both handle it. A good relationship involves attention, quality time, communication  and play. When both are on the same page in this area, that is the best way to 'divorce proof' a marriage."

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