I’ve been making pretty good progress with my WIP, the third and final story of Phoebe’s escapades. This is the book where Phoebe marries her hero, and I want to show why she waited until book three, instead of tying the knot in book one. I’ve been writing mostly just the action scenes first and tying in some feelz afterwards, trying to connect the themes and show why Phoebe and Chase are meant to be.
In this trilogy, Chase is divorced from a marriage that he rushed into, and now he wants to rush into this one with Phoebe, too. Phoebe wants to wait. And I want readers to know that just because Phoebe wanted to wait doesn’t mean she doesn’t think Chase is the perfect guy for her.
What can I have them do for each other, say to each other—or say to other people—that shows their commitment? I’ve been struggling with this, not because I can’t have them do things for each other (the “air conditioner” test, as we like to call it—the perfect gift that Shane brings Agnes in Agnes and the Hitman), but because I need these actions to be stronger and more convincing than they were in books one and two. I want readers to believe in the success of their marriage.
It turns out that science can predict divorce. No one can say with 100% certainty that a marriage will fail, but social scientists can take a pretty good stab at it. Couples doomed for failure share commonalities.
- Getting married in your teens or after age 32
Phoebe is 25, and Chase is 32. Whew! Dodged a bullet there. According to the social scientists, the best time to get married is when you feel ready and when you’ve found someone you think you can spend a lifetime with. Thank you, Phoebe!
However, couples who marry in their teens or their mid-30s or later are at greater risk for divorce than couples in their late 20s and early 30s. The risk is especially high for teenage couples, but after age 32, your odds of divorce increase by about 5% every year.
Some research shows that among heterosexual couples, the odds of divorce increase with the age gap between spouses. A 10-year age difference makes them 39% more likely to divorce.
- Having a husband who doesn’t work full-time
In my book, not a chance. Chase is an overachiever and he’s made a bundle off the sweat of his brow. But it’s not a couple’s finances that affect their chances of divorce, but rather the division of labor. Among couples where the husband doesn’t have a full-time job, there’s a 3.3% chance of divorcing the following year, compared to 2.5% among couples where the husband does have a full-time job. Wives’ employment status, however, doesn’t much affect the couple’s chances of divorce. Doesn’t matter to my guys: Phoebe’s an overachiever, too.
- Not finishing high school
More than half of marriages of those who didn’t complete high school end in divorce, compared with 30% of marriages of college graduates. This may reflect that lower educational attainment predicts lower income, which in turn predicts a more stressful life. And stress reduces the chances of having a productive, happy marriage.
Not gonna happen for my kids. Both Phoebe and Chase finished college. Phoebe’s still paying off her school loans, but that’s another story.
- Showing contempt for your partner
Some relationship behaviors predict divorce with scary-high accuracy:
- Contempt: Seeing your partner as beneath you.
- Criticism: Turning a behavior into a statement about your partner’s character.
- Defensiveness: Playing the victim during difficult situations.
- Stonewalling: Blocking off conversation.
My people are good here. Both my characters are pretty impressed by the other.
- Being overly affectionate as newlyweds
Couples who divorced seven or more years after they married were, as newlyweds, giddily affectionate, displaying about one-third more affection than did spouses who were later happily married. Evidently those who begin marriage in romantic bliss are particularly divorce-prone because they can’t maintain the intensity. Marriages that start out with less “Hollywood romance” usually have more promising futures.
Not to worry with my two. They’re affectionate, but right now they’ve got a house full of company, and it’s all they can do to snatch a minute to be alone together.
- Weathering daily stress
Stress is tough on a marriage. (See point #3.) Seemingly trivial experiences like forgetting an appointment or missing the bus create tension between spouses. The accumulation of everyday stress is a more relevant divorce trigger than falling in love with another person, partner violence, or even a specific major life event.
Well, my guys are having major daily stress. They’ve got a houseful of company, one of whom is a Russian hacker trying to defect. And now they’ve got a Russian assassin after him, and by extension, all of them. So it’s not all rose petals and gravy at their house. On the other hand, they’re handling it pretty well. And they’re trying to get the defector turned into the FBI. Damn that government shutdown.
- Withdrawing during conflict
Either partner can shut down rather than discuss something difficult, but a recent study found that husbands are much more likely to engage in this behavior. “Withdrawal behaviors” predict higher divorce rates. And couples that engage in “demand/withdraw” patterns—that is, one partner pressures the other and receives silence in return—are less happy in their relationships.
Yeah, my guys don’t do this. They both approach their problems in a heads-on way.
- Describing your relationship in a negative way
In talking in groups, the way partners talk about their relationship or each other demonstrates the strength or weakness of their marriage and can predict their likelihood for divorce. The measures include:
- Fondness for each other
- “We”-ness: How much each spouse emphasizes unification in the marriage
- Expansiveness: How much each partner elaborates on what the other says
- Disappointment in the marriage
- How much the couple describes their marriage as chaotic
Phoebe is having trouble with “we-ness,” although her concerns are mostly about money (she’s in big debt). She’s having trouble accepting an idea of shared resources. Also, they don’t elaborate on what the other says. So far, they each let each other speak their piece and that’s it. Otherwise, they’re pretty good on these fronts.
Where to go from here
How does my pair stack up? I think pretty well. They have some areas that aren’t great by these measures. On the other hand, what’s a couple without a conflict? Now all I have to do is translate these concepts into the daily details of my characters.
Getting right on that.