What Makes Marriage Heaven or Hell

By Roger Dobson and Jojo Moyes | The Independent (London, England), August 2, 1996 | Go to article overview
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What Makes Marriage Heaven or Hell


Roger Dobson and Jojo Moyes, The Independent (London, England)


Tolstoy once said: "All happy families resemble one another, but each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." Psychologists evidently disagree; they are seeking 200 newly-wed couples in order to discover what makes a happy couple and why so many apparently perfect marriages quickly spiral into unhappiness.

The couples will be tracked by government-funded academics for three years to see how the relationships change under pressure from all sides, from relatives and friends, to housework and money. The unlikely research has never been more pertinent, with more than four in 10 marriages ending in divorce, at a huge financial and emotional cost to those involved.

Professor Frank Fincham and a team from the University of Wales, Cardiff, will study relationships between the newly-weds with the aim of improving pre-marital counselling by signposting the pitfalls.

"We know very little about the development of a marriage and what happens to couples in the early years of marriage. If we understand what is happening, we can do a better job with pre-marital counselling because we can tailor the counselling to what we know," he said yesterday.

The team, who received a pounds 144,120 grant from the Economic and Social Research Council for the work, will ask why newly-weds are happy, how they stay happy and what kinds of problems creep into the relationship.

In 1993, the latest year for which figures are available, 299,200 couples said "I do" - at an average cost of pounds 11,500 - and 165,000 said "I don't" - at almost the same cost. Family breakdown costs the country more than pounds 4bn a year in benefits, lost tax, legal and health bills.

In 1993, 23 per cent of marriages that ended in divorce had lasted less than five years. This suggests that many couples were unprepared for marriage, that their expectations were unrealistic, or that they faced particular pressures, such as parenthood.

The rising divorce rate is a significant factor in the doubling of single households in the past 15 years. There were 6.8 million last year - a figure predicted to rise to 8 million by the end of the decade. This coincides with research showing that people living alone tend to be younger, richer and happier with their lives.

Yesterday also saw the release of new figures from Relate, the marriage guidance organisation, which suggest that whereas most divorces take place between years five and nine, most couples who turn to counselling are their tenth year of marriage.

The average age of clients who come for counselling is 37 for men, and 34 for women - roughly 10 years after the average age for marriage.

"Our hypothesis is that it's to do with the arrival of children in a relationship.

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