Spouse School: Finding Marriage Role Models

Excerpted from The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce

Adults raised in intact families have been to "marriage school" alongside their academic learning. By the time they reach adulthood, they figure they're as prepared as they will ever be to build their own family. They have watched their parents carefully, observing them in many moods, in different settings at different times, in sickness and in health. They have seen them use humor in tense situations to tide them over and watched them read each other's moods and body language to distinguish a minor upset from an incoming storm. One colleague, Paul Amato from Pennsylvania State University, has proposed that the main difference between adults raised in intact families and those in divorce is that the latter lack social skills. But it's more than social skills. Those raised in an intact family understand the marriage's context. They know that to make a marriage work amid today's pressures, you have to keep it front and center in your mind at all times. Nobody wanted a marriage just like their parents. There are big generational differences. All of the men and women in the comparison group wanted a freer, more equal relationship than their parents had, even if it meant more arguments. They all expected that the wives would work, which made a huge difference in their roles and especially in their parenting. But the children raised in intact marriages used their parents' marriages as a model that they could shape to their liking. They did not doubt the very existence of a happy marriage, even if their parents failed to attain it. The lack of observations and memories of a working marriage is a serious handicap for children of divorce in learning to live closely with another person and striking the balance that both need. It's like becoming a dancer without ever having seen a dance.

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