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02/13/07 12:00AM By Mary Barrosse-Schwartz
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(HOST)Tomorrow is Valentine's Day and commentator Mary Barrosse Schwartz is thinking about the factors that contribute to lasting love.

(BARROSSE) Love. Whether we are in a couple or not, our culture puts the topic front and center on Valentines Day. As the Frank Sinatra song goes: Love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage. But marriage has gotten a black eye in the last few decades. It is commonly thought that only half of all marriages survive.

But this dim outlook on marriage survival is based on decades-old misconceptions. Back in 1979, projections were made that half of all marriages would end in divorce, but this was misleadingly based on the total of divorces in a year as compared to the number of marriages, and the divorce rate was measured by total population.

So this led to high divorce assumptions. Indeed many researchers believe today that the rate back in the late seventies was probably never more than forty-one percent for men, and thirty-nine percent for women.

Since then, there are indications that the divorce rate has actually been falling. What statistics are currently available show some interesting trends that those of us who'd like to see our marriages survive would do well to heed.

While the myth of half of all marriages ending in divorce is false, the myth of the seven year itch is true. It isn't surprising that through the first seven years, higher stress of early careers and young children can challenge a marriage, and that there is a corresponding higher divorce rate for the early years. If a couple can make it to seven years and one day, their marriage has a higher statistical likelihood of lasting.According to a University of Virginia study, a high level of shared commitment also makes marriages last. It makes sense since commitment can create mutual trust and high emotional attachment.

And high emotional engagement by husbands is cited as another factor that makes marriages last longer. This is a key factor in how happy the woman is in a marriage. I guess that shouldn't surprise us. As far as traditional marriages and the division of household duties, research shows that it doesn't matter so much who does the housework, as long as there is a sense of fairness around division of domestic work.

So, in terms of raw statistics you can help your children have longer, happier marriages by encouraging them to wait to wed until after age twenty. As adults, we can also help our children by modeling happy marriages ourselves, since that makes our children's marriages more likely to survive. We should teach our sons to be engaged emotionally with others, and we should make sure our daughters are well-educated. All of those factors will help our children's marriages survive. I guess if we're lucky enough to have a special person to love on Valentines Day this year, we should think about recommitting ourselves to making our marriages and relationships even better. And not just by presenting roses, chocolates, and valuable jewelry - although that's nice too - but instead, with deeper emotional engagement.

Mary Barrosse Schwartz is a children's advocate and consultant living in East Dorset.

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