THE BLOG
09/17/2014 04:07 pm ET Updated Nov 17, 2014

What Do Women Want From Love and Marriage?

Most observers agree that marriage in the US has been changing. Over the last fifty years, there has been a quiet shift in the landscape of family life in America. Approximately 50 percent of adults over age eighteen marry; this number is compared to 72 percent in 1960, according to The Pew Research Center. The medium age at first marriage has never been higher for brides (26.5 years) and grooms (28.7 years) according to this report.

Other adult living arrangements -- including cohabitation, single-person households and single parenthood -- have all become more prevalent in recent years. For women under thirty, most of their children are born outside of marriage. In addition to the reduction in couples marrying in the U.S., more than half (53 percent) of children born to women under thirty are born to women who didn't get married, although many of them reside with their child's father.

In spite of a notable rise in the perception that marriage's best days are behind it and a declining marriage rate, demographers predict that at least 80 percent of Americans will marry at some point in their life. Divorce is certainly not an easy decision, hard on children, and emotionally and monetarily taxing. Therefore, it is important to consider this question: What do women want from love and marriage?

It's clear that women themselves are ambivalent about commitment and marriage but some of their basic wants and needs range from emotional and financial stability, companionship, to love and caring. And it is true that many women crave commitment because it makes them feel safe and secure.

Recently, some authors have encouraged women to set high standards and yet try to predict whether their perspective marital partner will be a keeper. In a recent article for Salon by Tracy Clark-Flory, she interviews Lori Gottlieb who discusses her controversial book Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough. Gottlieb says she's been misread and doesn't encourage women to settle. Instead, she advises women to set high standards but to be willing to compromise. She says:

I think that you need to think that the person you're marrying is Prince Charming, just as he needs to think you're Princess Charming. Even though in reality we know that everybody makes compromises. There's no such thing as a perfect person, and that sounds so obvious and so something that one learns when they're a teenager but it doesn't play out in the way that people date as adults.

In the 1950's and 60's the gold standard of marital success was a "companionate marriage." The essential feature of this type of union is teamwork and achieving life goals -- like running a home and raising a family. In Marriage, A History, author Stephanie Coontz concludes that today "people expect marriage to satisfy more of their psychological and social needs than ever before." Consequently, the reasons behind saying "I do" have changed dramatically, thereby increasing the chances that women are more likely to cohabitate or decline marriage altogether.

Today, women want a partner to share a deep love, communication, and to have great sexual and emotional intimacy. They desire growing together and are more likely to consider divorce if they believe that their partner is holding them back. In fact, two thirds of divorces are filed by women in America. Many studies show that daughters of divorce have more than double the divorce rate compared to counterparts raised in intact homes.

With cohabitation on the rise, marriage seems to be less of a necessity. Living together without a legal commitment has become more acceptable in our culture. Yet many people continue to see marriage as desirable and believe that it is a worthy goal. Studies show that marriage is good for us -- promoting better sleep, and both physical and mental health. Understandably, an unhealthy marriage can work against one's well-being.

Perhaps the first step in considering commitment and marriage is adjusting your expectations. There is no such thing as a perfect partner or soul mate. You might want to ask yourself this question: Is there something about the way my partner treats me that makes me a bigger and better person?

One of the central premises of Mira Kirshenbaum's book Is He Mr. Right? is that chemistry is the best way to figure out if someone is right for you. Surprisingly, she's not just talking about sexual chemistry -- it also encompasses the feeling that you enjoy being around someone and have a great time.

5 Dimensions of a healthy chemistry:

1. You feel comfortable with each other and it's easy to get close. In other words, you can be vulnerable and share innermost wishes and feelings.
2. You feel safe in the relationship. This means that your partner doesn't have significant mental health issues, can take care of himself, and is not emotionally or physically abusive.
3. It's fun to be together. You enjoy spending time together and have some common interests.
4. You have real affection and passion for each other. This is where sexual chemistry comes in and it should go hand and hand with affection.
5. There's real mutual respect, admiration, and acceptance of differences.

Remember that you can't establish intimacy without vulnerability. Learning to trust and honestly share concerns and feelings with your partner will help to foster healthy communication. With greater awareness, you can enhance the probability of experiencing long-lasting partnerships. If you recognize the forces that shape you, and visualize the type of relationship that helps you to flourish, you'll be on your way to creating a new story for your life.

Marriage need not be the institution that defines us as individuals. That being said, many people still seek lasting commitment, often in the form of marriage. This can be a healthy desire if we bring realistic expectations to it. The task then, is to create loving relationships that are healthy and lasting. The following tips may help you on your journey for love:

• Going slowly and allowing your relationship to develop over time will decrease your risk of divorce. Expect rough patches and practice the art of patience and forgiveness.
• Discuss your future with your significant other and determine if you are on the same page. This will lessen the risks of breakup -- especially if you live together before marriage, according to Meg Jay, author of The Defining Decade.
• Avoid making a long-term commitment before the age of twenty-six. You'll enhance your chances of finding lasting love if you know yourself and have established a solid identity.
• Attempt to pick a partner with a similar background and interests. Couples who have vast differences in these two areas have an increased risk of divorce.
• Strive to make a commitment to a partner who you have both chemistry and compatibility with -- both contribute to a satisfying long-lasting relationship.

Even in the twenty-first century, when ideas about the nature of modern families have changed, many notions about marriage remain the same. Relationships, whether they last three months or three decades, can provide their participants with the love, understanding, and intimacy they need at the time.

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