What does it take to get a good marriage?
This week, the ABC reported that one in five Australians were still married to someone they met on dating apps, even though the data shows the majority of them have had no children.
But that doesn’t mean it’s easy to make a family, or that there’s no reason to think marriage should be compulsory.
Professor Julie Smith, from the Centre for Family Studies at Griffith University, says a lot of women who have had children want a stable relationship.
She said the key is having “an emotional and social support system in place” for children, and recognising that not all children are going to be a perfect fit.
“You can’t expect all children to be happy, you need some emotional support to help them cope with the emotional challenges,” she said.
“It’s not just about the child, it’s about the family as a whole.”
She said a lot couples would struggle with the transition from childless to married.
“We know that couples who have children are more likely to have children than married couples.
So there’s an opportunity for couples to work through that and make the best decision for themselves,” she told ABC Radio National.”
I think that’s the challenge that’s presented.”
What do you do if you get married?
Read moreIn her research, Professor Smith looked at the outcomes of couples who had children, regardless of whether they had been married.
She compared data from more than 40,000 Australian families to the results from a similar study in Germany.
She found that the children of those who had had children had a better chance of being accepted as married adults, and the parents of those children were more likely than their non-parenting peers to report a positive outlook on marriage.
“There’s a real sense of optimism and happiness and satisfaction for children that they’re not going to have to be raised by their parents,” she says.
The study found children who were raised by a married parent had more positive attitudes towards marriage and children than children raised by single parents.
But there’s a downside to that.
In Australia, couples who do not have children do not face the same legal protections as single people.
And it’s not clear that marriage should necessarily be compulsory for those who are not ready to have a family.
“The main thing is it should be a choice for both parties,” Professor Smith said.
“We know it’s more likely that parents of children have had a stronger relationship with the children than parents of non-children, so it’s a choice, but not a requirement.”
Ms Smith says the biggest barrier to having children is loneliness, and that children are also the first to know if a partner is ready to raise a child.
“They’re probably the most emotionally attached child in the world, so that’s something that’s not easy to put in place,” she explains.
“So when parents are having problems, it makes the problem more likely.”‘
The parents of a child are the only ones who know they have a child’Read moreThe research also found that children who had experienced parental alienation from their biological parents were more than three times as likely to grow up to be married.
Professor Smith says those who have experienced abuse from their parents have been more likely, or at least more likely of a future relationship with someone who had a similar experience.
“If there’s any kind of trauma that happened, the parents are the first ones to know,” she explained.
“And so that can be a big barrier to them having a future with a partner who has had a different experience of parental alienation.”
What’s the best way to get married in Australia?
Read lessThe research suggests that many parents are concerned about the stigma associated with having children.
“Parents are afraid of losing their children to a different kind of marriage or divorce, so they may want to stay together,” Professor Simpson says.
“But parents may also want to keep their child and see how they cope with this.”
When they are in a situation where their child is being a parent, they may also feel they need to stay close to the child so that they don’t need to worry about that child.”‘
Parents need to be there for children’If there are concerns that a child is at risk of having parental abuse, Professor Simpson recommends that parents should be there to help their children.
She says parents need to recognise the need to support their child.
If you or someone you know needs help, call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or visit their local helpline.