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Staying Hitched Is Smart

Studies indicate higher education is a factor in longer-lasting marriages.

Recently Ron and Debbie Jansen traveled to a local Amish tourist spot outside their hometown of Canton, Ohio, to explore, dine, and unwind. It had been a rough three years for the couple as they dealt with an onslaught of family and health issues, and they needed to get away to strengthen each other as a couple.

The Jansens regularly take such jaunts in order to strategize their goals, work through disagreements, or just relish in their relationship. Ron served as caregiver for his mother who died at the beginning of the year. Debbie’s father died in July, and she now is concentrating on full-time caregiving for her mother.

“We’ve always gotten along and enjoy being with each other,” says Debbie, who is a family counselor. “I love Ron as much today as I did when we first got married. He sees me for who I am, accepts me, and encourages me to be better.”

That sounds romantic — even more so when it comes after 42 years of marriage.

The couple believe the secret to their relationship has to do with their faith, perseverance, and college education.

While Christians always have known that faith plays a vital role in a couple’s commitment to maintain a long-term marriage (one continuing more than 20 years), studies indicate that a couple’s education level is a factor as well. Pew Research Center recently released findings suggesting a strong link between higher education and marriages that endure.

Researchers discovered that 78 percent of college-educated married women will remain married more than 20 years, as opposed to just 40 percent of high school-educated women. And 65 percent of more-educated men can expect to stay married, compared to 50 percent of men with lesser formal learning. The study also affirmed that couples who cohabitate before marriage are less likely to stay together for the long haul.

The Jansens, who have three grown children, Ken, Amie, and Jamie, believe that this has been the case in their relationship. Both hold bachelor’s degrees from Evangel University, where they met during their senior year. One trait that drew them to each other was that they could talk openly about their differences with a goal toward understanding each other.

“I appreciated that Debbie had an opinion and could articulate it,” says Ron, a retired logistics manager for Roadway Express. “Neither of us felt threatened by the other’s opinions. We could talk sensibly and logically. We still use the skills we learned at college to connect with each other.”

Gary R. Allen, corporate chaplain for the Assemblies of God National Leadership Resource Center, believes those communication skills are nurtured and better developed when couples have individually pursued higher learning. These marriages tend to be stronger because the couples have learned how to gain information as well as the ability to process that information into “life values and family systems,” explains Allen, who has been married 51 years to his wife, Arlene.

Throughout the course of his pastoral experience, Allen says he found that those with higher education tended to do better in their marriages because “they appreciated a process of working through their struggles. They valued knowledge over simply how they felt about something.”

The study’s findings also don’t surprise Marilyn Abplanalp, president of the Alliance for Assemblies of God Higher Education.

“With education, an individual’s sphere of life has been enlarged,” says Abplanalp, who has been married 45 years to her husband, Robert. “Their interests in other areas take them outside of themselves and give them a broader worldview.” That’s important to bring into a marriage to keep it from getting stale, she says.

Learning how to communicate and to respect another's perspective encourages couples to remain married, as does the actual process of completing their education and earning their diplomas.

“When you attend college, no one else does your work for you,” Ron says. “You have to commit to putting in the time and effort in order to reach your goal.” He believes that same perseverance also gives people the strength to stay committed in married life, helping them hang in there when the going gets tough.

Another reason for the school-marriage link is that, because these couples generally marry later in life, they tend to be more settled, mature, and financially stable. They know more of who they are and what they want.

“They realize that happiness is not found in another person, but rather in mutual achievement, so they tend to choose more wisely,” Allen says. And because they have more financial resources available, they can “direct those toward mutual activities and meaningful acquisitions” that build into a marriage rather than just for an individual, he says.

Does this connection mean that couples who haven’t gone to college are doomed to live in potentially weak and hopeless marriages? Abplanalp is quick to suggest otherwise, insisting that education isn’t a panacea or guarantee that a person’s marriage will stay strong and healthy.

“Ultimately, anybody who is interested in listening, truly communicating, and loving someone for who they are, rather than trying to change them will go far in their marriage,” she says.

Pictured: Debbie and Ron Jansen

Ginger Kolbaba

Ginger Kolbaba ( www.gingerkolbaba.com) is a speaker and author who lives in the Chicago area. She is the author of Your Best Happily Ever After and co-author of Breakthrough: The Miraculous True Story of a Mother's Faith and Her Child's Resurrection.