[FOUNTAIN]Long life isn’t a boon to couples

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[FOUNTAIN]Long life isn’t a boon to couples

Growing old together as a married couple has an expression in Korea: “Until one’s hair turns all white and snowy.”
This phrase is often heard in wedding ceremonies, but is not an easy thing to see in reality. We may be living longer these days, but that doesn’t automatically guarantee that the number of couples living 50 or 60 years together will increase.
In fact, Lawrence Stone, a distinguished historian, argued that as the average life span extends, the number of divorces increases. He notes that there were few divorces before the 19th century in the Western world because people didn’t live as long and often one spouse died before the couple felt that divorce was necessary.
Of course, religion and social stigma were important factors at the time, but when people lived a short life, they did not have the luxury of time to get a divorce. Even if a marriage was unsatisfying, there was no need for a divorce, because the spouse would die soon enough.
Stone contends that divorce now plays the same role as early death did back then as the means of breaking up marriages. In his study of marital breakdown rates in England from 1860 to 1960, he found that despite the 100-year difference, the rates were almost identical. Death was the main cause of a marriage’s end in 1860, and divorce was the top reason in 1960.
So is there an expiration date for marriages, just as there is for food?
Of course, the passion of the young, romantic days can’t be sustained forever. And extended life spans mean that those in a cold relationship will have to endure it that much longer.
Looking at the face of an already disgusted person is tough, so longevity can be stressful for an unhappily married couple. Stone’s hypothesis is that this results in higher divorce rates.
More wrinkles, less vitality but many more days left to live. What if you hate the very sight of your spouse? There aren’t many solutions: Split up and grow old separately, stay in the marriage and be resigned to your fate, or work hard in advance to keep the love from getting cold. The best option would be the third, but this solution would require a lot of effort on both people’s parts.


by Nam Yoon-ho

The writer is the leader of the family news team of the JoongAng Ilbo.
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