Marriage may already be a thing of the past in this country, partly because the high divorce rate among the baby boomer generation has led its children to approach the institution with trepidation, if not outright dread. The one-in-three divorce rate has trickled down to the younger generation with some statistical certainty: only 26 percent of twenty-somethings were married in 2008, whereas 68 percent were married in 1960, according to a 2010 Pew study, which also observed that “the young are much more inclined than their elders to view cohabitation without marriage and other new family forms — such as same-sex marriage and interracial marriage — in a positive light.”
But many are still rooting for marriage, and for those hopefuls and the people who have already committed, every year there is a truckload of Dr. Phil episodes, reality series about couples, magazines articles, and books to address concerns about how to keep it together, because maybe today’s divorcés and divorcées just weren’t Doing It Right.
The latest tome to enter the fray is Spousonomics, a book by two veteran reporters of the Wall Street Journal and New York Times released tomorrow by Random House. These ladies, Paula Szuchman and Jenny Anderson, are banking on the suffix popularized by Stephen J. Dubner and Steven Levitt of Freakonomics to make their ho-hum subject seem like it might be a fun read — a kind of He’s Just Not That Into You for people who are vaguely and legally into each other. Helping its case is a blurb from Eat, Pray, Love and Committed author Elizabeth Gilbert, which appears smack-dab on the front cover.
The authors argue that most divorce-bound marriages suffer because of financial issues, and that treating marriages like corporations (which are unfailingly great at managing money, as well as always ethical and excellent at communicating), is the key to improving a stagnating romance, or business partnership, or whatever this thing is that keeps two people procreating and feeding their cat under one roof.
The authors mined information from real married people to find the secrets to a healthy marriage, but didn’t bother too much with the romantic aspects of matrimony (which is depressing). “This is a book about marital mechanics, not romance,” writes Time in its review of the book. “We suspect our readers already love their spouses,” Szuchman told the magazine. What she means is that the secret to a happy marriage is sex, but if you don’t have that, or a job with which to busy yourself, make your marriage your job with the help of this book.
The book actually does devote some time to sex, but the authors depend on corporate lingo to illuminate what’s going wrong in 54 percent of the country’s bedrooms — the percentage that said they don’t get “enough sex” in their marriage. “When the ‘costs’ of sex go down, demand usually goes up,” Szuchman says. Who knew sex was a traded commodity?
There’s nothing really new being said here: whittle down the authors’ suggestions and all you’re left with is the same old one-word adage: communicate. With each other. Offline. Preferably face-to-face or at the very least, with FaceTime, and often. It’s translated into jargon in order to make old advice sound new — and salable. And for the marriages that only appear perfect — those that are “too big to fail” — Szuchman and Anderson have advice for those love-banks, too: so as to not become the next AIG, couples must establish “copayments” — daily compromises that “demonstrate a shared relationship burden.” Well, when you describe a marriage as a “shared relationship burden,” suddenly it doesn’t sound so bad.