Author Scott Stanley would like Americans to add something else to their list of things to do this year: Stay married.
Stanley, who has spent his career studying the state of matrimony and is one of five authors of the new self-help manual, 12 Hours To A Great Marriage: A Step-By-Step Guide For Making Love Last (Jossey-Bass, $14.95), is dismayed by the lack of commitment many couples show toward each other and their marriage.
"If you could have one thing in a marriage it's friendship," he says. "It implies being a team and having a future."
We talk to Stanley, who has been married for 21 years and is the father of two sons, about rescuing marriage in America:
What are the biggest challenges facing today's marriages?
The number one thing is ridiculous expectations. We live in a time when it is easier than ever to get out of a marriage and the people who remain are slightly less happy than they used to be.
The second thing is a failure to set commitment priorities. Early on in relationships people would move mountains to be with each other. Over time that slips away. You have to make choices to spend time together.
Can every marriage be saved?
No and not every marriage should be, especially where there is abuse involved. But many more than half can be saved and are worth saving even if the people in them don't think so.
But if the people in the marriages don't want to save them, isn't it better for everyone involved to get out rather than stay bored or even miserable?
In the 1970s, it was believed it was a mistake to stay married for the sake of the children, that it was better for everyone if the adults were happy. There has been a dramatic shift in thinking, based on years of long-term research. Even the most liberal of social scientists will no longer say that is true. Adults and children can derive most of the major benefits known to be healthy for families even from a marriage that is just OK.
Is there something today's couples could learn from those of the past, when marriages were arranged or less about romance?
Yes. It is not unusual for people to reach a point when they just aren't that happy in their marriages. But that's when the interesting choices happen. Are they going to pine away for what might have been or what else is out there or are they going to decide that they made a good choice and say, "I'm here and I'm going to make the best of it. I'm in this boat and I've decided to row."
But isn't that just common sense?
I think common sense about marriage isn't so common anymore. And for that I have to blame the media. Look at those dating shows such as The Bachelor or Average Joe. I find them fascinating and disturbing. Yes, we know the context is fake, but the thinking of the people involved isn't fake. You're hearing their true thought about manipulation and deception and winning a mate.
What about the latest publicity stunt by Britney Spears who married and then immediately had it annulled?
Actually, I'm heartened by the heat she's taking for that. I think people really do take marriage seriously and she stepped in it this time.