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Notes From a Single Mom: I Do, I Don't—Why Do So Many Marriages Fail?

Did you know more couples get married in June than any other time of year? What a superstitious bunch we are. According to American custom, getting hitched in the month named after Juno, the Roman Goddess of Marriage and Family, will ensure a life of wedded prosperity.

Traditional Native American weddings are full of time-honored customs, too, depending on the tribe. One particular custom requires the bride and groom to wash their hands to cleanse away evil and previous lovers. (I’d advise steering clear of someone whose hands looked really red and raw.) In another Native American tradition, when a younger sibling marries before older siblings, the older siblings must perform a traditional dance in a pig trough. (As if a younger sister getting married first wasn’t humiliating enough!)

But don’t be fooled by some of these customs. As far as the gods go, all was not heaven in Olympus, the mythological Wisteria Lane. Legend has it that Juno had a less-than-perfect marriage. Her husband Jupiter, Lord of the Gods, was cheating on her. (Say it ain’t so!) And while this desperate, yet godly, housewife exacted revenge on Jupiter’s lovers, she remained devoted to the sanctity of marriage and stood by her man.

But enough about the Clintons.

For better or worse, more than 50 percent of all marriages end in divorce. (In California, it’s closer to 60 percent!) Clearly, matrimony isn’t a cakewalk. Even the gods couldn’t get it right. We start out with the best of intentions, white picket fence and all. But somewhere along the way, the edges on that picture-perfect dream start to fray. And before you know it, you’re divorced with two children, writing a single-parent column and hoping for second chances.

Americans are great at solving world problems. Yet we can’t figure out how to live peacefully within our own homes. Obviously, I don’t have the answers. (Although I suspect it has something to do with marrying the right person to begin with.) So I asked the experts: “Why do so many marriages end in divorce?”

Dr. Cornelia Brentano, co-author of the book 'Til Divorce Do Us Part: Causes and Consequences of Marital Breakup for Children and Adults, says it’s a host of things. “Many people have unrealistic expectations and marry for the wrong reasons: it’s romantic, to demonstrate commitment, to have regular sex, to have a big wedding, because everybody does it.” She continues, “People also lack the skill to choose a suitable partner. Instead, we look for a cute, sexy, rich or available one.”

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That explains why Kim Kardashian’s marriage didn’t work out. But what about the rest of us?

Dr. Brentano, assistant professor in the department of psychology at Chapman University in Orange, California, has identified risk factors for divorce to help everyday folks steer clear of a doomed union:

  • Marrying before age 25
  • Earning less than $25,000/year
  • Rape: Women forced into intercourse before or during marriage
  • No religious affiliations; different religious views
  • Already having children; unwanted children
  • Divorced parents
  • Lack of education
  • Unemployment
  • Poor communication

According to the “5-Year Community Survey,” a study by the U.S. Census Bureau between 2005 and 2009, American Indians and Alaska Natives reported the highest number of divorces among ethnic groups at 12.6 percent.

The outlook isn’t promising. Yet every now and then, some people get it right. An elderly couple, holding hands, tottered into Mimi’s Café where I was noshing recently. Newlyweds after 60 years. She has Alzheimer’s and couldn’t remember what to order. After a lifetime of breakfasts together, he remembered for her. Every detail . . . down to wheat toast with jelly, no butter.

In sickness and in health. I want that someday. I want that for all of us.

Lynn Armitage is a freelance writer and enrolled member of the Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin. She plans to get it right the second time around. She welcomes your comments at: