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Did you know that more individualized marriages are more stable, particularly when couples are married longer?

August, 2017

Nowadays, people tend to expect a high level of emotional closeness and fair communication from their marriage, while simultaneously emphasizing the importance of keeping a great deal of personal autonomy. It has been proposed that the emergence of so-called individualized marriages explains increased divorce rates. People’s expectations regarding emotional gratification from a partnership would be unrealistically high, flexible roles and frequent bargaining processes would erode relationship quality and more personal autonomy would decrease costs to dissolve a marriage.

ISS researchers Nicole Hiekel and Michael Wagner analyzed the link between marital practices grasping the degree of individualism within a marriage and dissolution risk using data of the German Family Panel (pairfam). Approximately 3,000 men and women who were married to their partner in the first year of data collection (2008) for a duration between one and twenty years had been observed during the subsequent seven years of their marriage. During that period, every eighth marriage had been dissolved.

The yet unpublished study shows that individualized marital practices are widely diffused in the analyzed sample. Married women and men in Germany report a high degree of emotional closeness (intimacy), personal freedom (autonomy) and fair discourse in conflict situations (democracy). Such individualism within marriage is partly related to separation. Spouses who report a higher level of intimacy exhibit a strongly reduced risk of separation. This association is even stronger in long term marriages. Higher levels of autonomy are not related to dissolution risk. Spouses, whose conflict discourse is characterized by higher levels of democracy, hence large absence of dominance and permissiveness have a reduced risk of marriage dissolution at later years of their marriage. These results suggest that couples with individualized marital practices have more stable marriages because they successfully practice mutual appreciation both in harmonious and conflict situations, and particularly so at later years of their marriage.