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For Better: The Science of a Good Marriage by Tara Parker-Pope - Book Review

Updated on January 5, 2012

Did you know that the commonly cited 50% divorce rate is overly inflated to reflect a certain generation married before the modern concept of gender equality and the "soul mate marriage"? Did you know that your choice of pronouns during an argument is a pretty reliable indicator of your marriage's divorce risk?

In For Better: The Science of a Good Marriage, Tara Parker-Pope analyzes decades of research on marriage and relationships to reveal some surprising insights into just which marriages are remaining successful and why. Recommended for just about any adult looking for a healthy relationship.

For Better starts out by upending the most common perception of marriage: that over half of marriages are headed for divorce. According to the numbers, a generation of folks who married in early decades, times when marriage before the age of twenty was the rule rather than the exception, when children arrived after just a few short years, and when wives stayed home to cook and clean are the ones who are having most of the divorces these days.

What's the real secret for a lasting relationship?
What's the real secret for a lasting relationship? | Source

As it turns out, if you or your spouse have a college education, if you are over the age of twenty-five when you tie the knot (or better yet over thirty), if you are on your second marriage (but not your third or fourth!) or if your parents have stayed together over the years, you are much more likely to have that lasting, lifelong marriage you dreamed of when you said "I do." As high as a 90% chance of success!

Beginning with these startling statistics, Parker-Pope elucidates what marriage researchers have discovered about modern marriages in easy to understand, everyday language. She examines both the factors that appear to help couples stay together for the long haul, as well as some common predictors of divorce (snoring is a bigger problem than you might think!)

The book is peppered with fun quizzes to help readers identify their commitment style, argument style, and preferred modes of intimacy. These are not your average Cosmo quizzes, but have been developed by marriage researchers and therapists. All in all, the book is a fun, interactive experience, without the condescending or patronizing tone that is often found in the self-help genre.

Parker-Pope keeps commentary to a minimum, sticking to the research available and interpreting it for the reader. It's not a testament to her own personal beliefs on marriage, (she even admits to having a failed marriage herself), but a helpful compendium of data, research, statistics, and varied opinions from many diverse couples, including gay and lesbian couples, who've had varying degrees of marital success and failure.

Ultimately, the book won't tell you how to fix your marriage. It won't tell how how to be the ideal partner, or exactly what to look for in a mate. What it does do, however, is break down common goals that prove to be the hallmarks of a healthy relationship, in ways that seem attainable and achievable, as well as providing sound advice for the common pitfalls we all encounter along the way: arguments, childrearing, fading sex drive, lack of intimacy, job stress, and the age old battle over household chores.

Most surprisingly, the book tells you that the most successful marriages aren't the ones that are free of arguments and conflict. In fact, those couples who report very low levels of conflict and claim to fight rarely were actually at a higher risk for divorce. In actuality, it is the couples that have managed to find ways of weathering the inevitable storms that come out on top.

For Better great resource for just about anyone: currently married, whether the relationship is good or bad, thinking about marriage, or just looking for a little insight into just which attributes of a relationship tend to promote the longest staying power and overall satisfaction. Two thumbs up from this engaged gal!


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