Professionals say long engagement leads to long marriage
June 12, 2010 at 7:15 p.m.
Couples walking the aisle during this traditional wedding month hope they are stepping into lifetimes together.
It's hard to say whether a long engagement or a running leap will give them a better shot at growing old together.
"It really is kind of an undefined area - what is the optimum time (of engagement)," the regional director of a statewide marriage and relationship program said.
Jason Greene definitely recommends long engagements over short ones, for couples who want long marriages. So do other experts interviewed for this story, though none produced numbers or studies to back their gut feeling.
And results at home may vary.
Some couples marking golden anniversaries can look back on lightning fast engagements, and some who divorce within a year were engaged long enough to know better.
"Evaluation of the individual couple is essential," said Greene, project director for 23 counties in the Twogether in Texas (get it?) program. "Each couple is different in their own right. There's always going to be somebody that supersedes what the statistics are going to say."
What happens during the engagement has a greater impact on length of marriage than how long the engagement runs, he acknowledged.
"It's more of a sequence than a time frame," Greene said, citing a Twogether Texas curriculum sequence of trust, rely, commit, THEN touch. Marriages risk failure when dating couples give that last step an unwise promotion, he said.
"Generally, folks that date for a short period of time and move on together and get married, they have not given themselves time for a good foundation," Greene said. "One thing we see in East Texas, is there's a sense of obligation to at least get married to make things right."
A long engagement just makes sense, sociologist Davor Jedlicka said.
"You can't say the duration of the courtship doesn't make a difference," the University of Texas at Tyler professor said. "That's true, if everything is equal, you have a better chance of weeding out (someone)."
Jedlicka, who teaches a marriage and family course at the Tyler campus, said people are motivated to keep putting their best foot forward indefinitely.
"It takes time for the true self to appear," he said. "And people have a tremendous ability to present themselves to others in a way they are not."
The professor dismissed the premise that people of the World War II generation felt a stronger societal pull to stay together. That influence might have existed, he said, but it was an element that was overpowered by the mobility that increasingly characterized post-World War II America.
"That's another variable which is different today," he said. "People move much more. The farther away they get from their home environment, the more likely they are to divorce. The farther they are from their communities, the weaker their motivations (to stay together)."
Longview marriage and family therapist Phil Armour agreed one recommendation won't apply to all couples, though he added that longer engagement have a better chance of winning the marriage marathon.
"In general, I would recommend the longer engagement," said Armour, a licensed marriage and family therapist who sometimes counsels couples in the state Family District Court in Longview. "For one, you can get a sense of that particular person in different environments over time. People are particularly good at putting their best foot forward. And over time, you see the true nature."
Couples have more opportunity to distinguish personal peeves from unresolveable issues over time, Armour said.
"And it gives you a chance decide what you can live with and what you can't live with," he said. "No matter who you pick, you're going to have a certain set of unresolveable issues."
Armour lamented the lack of a proven formula that applies to all couples.
"Oh, I wish I could pinpoint it," he said. "Just, in general, I would say, 'quality,' a sense of commitment to each other or an ability to forgive and let go of past hurts."
Greene agreed, saying the closest he could come to one key to long marriage is in the word, motivated. People have to remain in an engagement attitude after saying their I Do's, he said.
"You do, you do," Greene said, likening marriage to those careers that require continued education credits. "Many professionals have to keep licenses. Mechanics have to keep up with certification. If you look at the word, 'love,' it's a verb. It's an active word."
Meanwhile, he advised engaged couples to go long.
"We have a year that has four seasons in it," Greene said. "You should give the dating relationship at least four seasons."