Review: Vivien Horler
Marriageology – the art and science of staying together, by Belnda Luscombe (Oneworld/ Jonathan Ball)
There is not much fairytale magic about marriage in South Africa.
In 2016, according to Stats SA, a total of 25 326 marriages ended in divorce. And almost half – 44.4% – of those divorces took place within 10 years of the wedding. Most happened between five and nine years afterwards.
In one case I know of, the couple divorced well before her parents had paid off the wedding.
As we’ve read in dozens of self-help books , marriage has to be worked at, but what exactly does that mean?
Belinda Luscombe, an Australian living and working in New York, has written about and researched marriage for Time magazine for more than 10 years and has picked up some useful information. She has interviewed therapists, sociologists, demographers and researchers, read many studies, journals and books. And she got married.
Luscombe says there is no bigger, riskier or more intimate decision a human can make than to say “this is the person with whom I’m going to spend the bulk of my breathing time. This is the person with whom I’m going to create more humans. This is the person whose welfare I will now take into consideration in almost any decision I make. This is the person whose fortunes will affect mine, whose jokes and stories I will have to hear as long as I still have hearing, whose shoes will always be in my bedroom closet, whose hair will forever clog my drain.”
In the course of her research she has isolated what she calls the six challenges all married or committed couples have to try to master: familiarity, fighting, finances, family, fooling around (with each other and others), and finding help.
The problem with familiarity, she says, is that it’s what is left when all the early relationship excitement has burned away. It is in many ways wonderful, but can lead to boredom, frustration and beyond.
Then there’s fighting. Couples will always fight, but have to do so in such a way that they still want to be together afterwards. As therapists say, what people fight about, such as money, children and untidiness, is less important than how they fight.
Finances as a category are pretty self-evident, but Luscombe points out that concern about money strikes at the essence of people’s fears and hopes and desires. So a partner messes with that at their peril.
Each of these “F” challenges gets its own sensible and witty chapter.
Marriage is a challenge, but it’s good for you. At a time when it is probably easier than ever before not to be married, particularly for women, studies have found marriage has many benefits, “especially in the Three Bs: body, bank and bed”.
“People who are happily paired with another live longer and are healthier, richer and more satisfied with their life, in the main, than people whose relationships don’t last. Their kids are more likely to thrive. They have (on average) more sex.”
You don’t have to be married or even in a couple relationship to find value in Luscombe’s book. We’re all in relationships of one kind or another, and to have a contented life we need to be rubbing along with each other with the least friction possible.
The book will also make you laugh, and it’s hard to fight when you’re laughing.