Surprising fact: For every five married Pinoys, there is one who is separated or divorced
THE SHELF LIFE OF HAPPY marriages in the US is now three or so years, shorter than previously thought. Couples divorce on their third year of togetherness, or on their sixth year.

Sociology Professors Kelly Musick (University of Southern California) and Larry Bumpass (University of Wisconsin-Madison) found this to be the ?dominant pattern, or typical experience? of married and unmarried American couples living together.

Their findings were derived from a representative sample of almost 9,700 couples from across the US over a six-year period.

Unfortunately, there is no similar study in the Philippines and no available data on how long happy marriages last and what happens next.

But what might a Filipino couple, newly wed or just started living together, experience?

Disillusionment

Maribel Dionisio, a popular marriage and family expert in Quezon City, says the three-year bliss is usually just one year to most, and that couple troubles ?can begin on their very first night.?

The New York Times quoted Prof. Bumpass as saying that some of the couples they studied had reported being ?unhappy? even at the wedding reception.

Dionisio explains that, usually, the Pinoy couple?s first year is blissful and their second year is when disillusionment sets in.

?So you can tell after the first two years of marriage if the couple will make it,? she says.

If they stay together, they may go through a period of despair while trying to resolve their conflicts, and may seek counseling for help.

?But, sadly, sometimes, there is nothing counseling can do to save the marriage,? she adds.

Dionisio is also seeing an increase in the number of couples breaking up these days after being married for only three years or less.

The latest census data (2000) disproves the notion that married Filipinos stay married for life, despite the religious value placed on marriage by a predominantly Roman Catholic people.

Lina V. Castro of the National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB) says census data puts the number of Pinoys who identify themselves as separated or divorced to one percent of 57.1 million.

Seemingly a small percentage, equivalent to only 558,023 individuals, but when compared to the total count of married citizens, which is 26.1 million, an interesting fact is revealed: For every five married Pinoys, there is one who is separated or divorced.

No divorce law

Philippine laws provide broken marriages the options of legal separation or marriage annulment. But the country remains without a divorce law, one of only two in the world, the other being the Republic of Malta.

Dionisio admits she prefers helping Pinoy couples prepare for, rather than fix, their broken marriages, strongly believing that most marital problems could be avoided or minimized, ?if couples invested a lot of time preparing, not so much for the wedding, but for the marriage.?

She prescribes a four-weekend program of self-discovery followed by another two-weekend session with a marriage counselor. In addition, she wants the three-unit course on marriage and family offered in colleges to be expanded to a full 24-unit course.

Dionisio has co-authored a book, ?I?ve Been Dating, Now What?? for young adults, and regularly conducts seminars on how to prep for marriage, to help make prospective couples understand and embrace the ?real issues in marriage.?

Those issues include, primarily, getting married with unrealistic expectations, says Janice Levin, a Boston marriage therapist, in a radio interview on National Public Radio. A lot of couples, she says, get married or live together expecting their romantic love to last forever. But, of course, it never does.

Levin adds that replacing romantic love with attachment, as in treating each other as a best friend one can?t do without, is the key. She also advises completely against having children just to save a troubled marriage. She believes marriage must come first before kids.

E-mail the author at jimrim9@gmail.com.