- The Washington Times - Monday, February 10, 2014

Don’t let the naysayers wilt the Valentine’s Day flowers: Most young men and women in long-term relationships say they are very satisfied — and very much in love — with each other.

In a world dominated by news of hookups and breakups, these results offer a pleasant surprise, said sociologists Elizabeth Wildsmith and Jennifer Manlove, who recently published their findings in a brief for Child Trends, a nonpartisan research center.

Young couples gave high marks to their relationships regardless of whether they were married, cohabiting or dating, the researchers said. “That’s very encouraging,” Ms. Wildsmith said.

The data come from a unique source — roughly 1,500 heterosexual couples, ages 18 to 26, who were part of the “Romantic Pairs” subgroup in the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (ADD Health), which has followed the same massive group of youths since high school.

To be included in the “Romantic Pairs” sample in 2001 and 2002, participants had to have been in their relationships for three months or longer and have a partner who was also willing to answer questions about their relationship satisfaction, commitment, permanence and love.

This unprecedented sample size and participation — getting answers from both people in a relationship — underscored the importance of the main finding, which was that “the vast majority of young men and young women feel very positively about their relationships,” said the ChildTrends brief, published in December.

For instance, asked whether they “love their partner a lot,” young married couples felt strongly about their partners, with 94 percent of husbands and 96 percent of wives saying yes. Among cohabiting and dating couples, love was also very strong, with 82 percent to 91 percent of partners answering in the affirmative.

In addition, more than 80 percent of husbands and wives said they were “very satisfied” with their unions. Couples in cohabiting and dating relationships were also positive, with 70 percent to 75 percent saying they were very happy with each other.

The U.S. divorce rate, which peaked in the mid-1970s, has been trending down since then. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Vital Statistics System, the country’s divorce and annulment rate for 2011 was 3.6 for every 1,000 people, down from 4.0 in 2000.

True believers

Such levels of bliss may confound people who think love, American-style, has become so chaotic and insensitive that not even Cupid’s arrow can fix it.

But it’s not a shock to two wives who regularly blog about love, life and marriage.

“Yes, you can find your soulmate, and yes, you can be successful within the institution and the construct of a committed relationship and a marriage,” said Christen BeBee, an Ohio educator who started her blog, YoungMarriedAndHappy.com, after her 2010 marriage to Brock BeBee.

She often uses capital letters to say “AND happy,” because “that’s the most important part.”

“The whole purpose of MarriageConfessions.com is to celebrate marriage,” said Katie Brown, who has written her blog since her 2008 marriage, when she and husband, Chris, were both 22.

The blog — which is read by a lot of single, college-age women — has happy, funny stories and candid entries about “the challenging times,” said Mrs. Brown. “I get more responses with the good [entries] than I do with the bad,” she said. The negative stories draw out other personal confessions, “but with the good, I get a lot of ‘I want to see this in my own marriage, my own family.’”

As might be expected, the ADD Health data confirmed that when it comes to attitudes on commitment and permanence, young spouses scored the highest.

Cohabiting couples also showed solid attachment — 83 percent of women and 70 percent of men said they were dedicated to their partners, and 67 percent of women and 57 percent of men said they believed their cohabiting relationships were permanent.

Among dating couples, 70 percent of women and 63 percent of men said they were very committed to each other, but less than half — 48 percent of women and 42 percent of men — thought their relationships would last forever.

Still, Ms. Wildsmith and Ms. Manlove said they were surprised and pleased to see both genders express such positive attitudes about their relationships. The media tend to focus on relationship woes, but here — at least within established relationships — “we have this portrait of more committed relationships,” said Ms. Manlove.

The researchers did not explore why they found such sanguine findings but suggested that growing up around stable marriages, homes and communities are likely factors, as well as receiving relationship and marriage education.

Patty Howell, president of Healthy Relationships California, said men and women benefit when they are exposed to practical information associated with loving relationships and marriage.

“We’ve got valuable, life-changing skills” that can be taught and shared with couples, she said, noting that her organization issued a June report on the many positive results it collected from some 17,000 people who took one of its 18 relationship and marriage education courses in the past five years.

“The fact that we know we can really help couples succeed in their relationship together” is encouraging, said Ms. Howell. “As young couples gain access to these classes, it really helps build [their] confidence that we, as a young couple, can make it together.”

The ChildTrends findings of high levels of commitment in marriage ring true to Mrs. Brown. “Knowing that that commitment is there” means that “whatever happens, we will still be here together, we just have to figure it out. And that does bring an immense peace and happiness with it,” she said.

Mrs. BeBee, who married when she was 24 and her husband was 26, said young people should seriously consider the value and benefits of finding partners and marrying earlier in life.

Some young people want to focus only on their careers, she said, but “I don’t think you should settle for the information or portrayal that you deserve less than what God has for you, especially when it comes to love and marriage. I really think that with faith and tenacity you can achieve both in life.”