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5 common themes among marriages that last

I’ve been photographing weddings since 2008, and I love seeing my social media streams filled with beautiful children from these marriages. I don’t buy into the 50% divorce rate statistic that gets tossed around, because divorce rates are highly dependent on level of education attained and race (Bureau of Labor and Statistics, 2013). In fact, the BLS study showed that those with a bachelor’s degree or higher will likely have a 30% divorce rate. The same cohort study also showed that divorce rates stabilize after about 10 years of marriage. To the best of my knowledge, only 3 of the 100+ couples I have photographed (both engagement and wedding shoots) in the 8 years I have been in operation, have ended in separation / divorce, and maybe another one or two who didn’t make it to the wedding ceremony. That means that I’ve witnessed a much higher rate of strong, committed relationships, than the national average.

As a wedding photographer, I have a special window during which I get to know two people quickly in a personal way. Part of the experience of working with me is that I get to know my couples as individual, passionate people, who meet each other and then unfold into a Love Story. I’d like to share with you some characteristics that I think are the key – the glue – to a lifetime of commitment. I’ve also unearthed some photos from when I was better known as Shang Chen Photography.

1. They have parents in committed marriages – particularly when growing up

For the sake of keeping family photos far from awkward, I ask all my brides and grooms to tell me if their parents are alive, and if their parents are still married to each other. The majority of my couples have parents who are both alive and still married to each other. As much of our cognitive and behavioral development happens when we’re younger, it is no surprise that children who witness a committed marriage when growing up are more likely to enter committed marriages themselves. In fact, this 2008 Journal of Family Psychology paper showed that as long as the parents stayed together – even if they fight – increases the confidence their children would have towards marriage itself.

2. They share values, even if they do not share interests

When I was younger, I thought that the more similar 2 people are, the more likely they would marry. Well, my husband could not be more different than I am. That led me to a curiosity – are people on the road to marriage more likely to be the same, or different? As I learned about my clients, I found that they were more likely to share values, but not interests. For shared values, I am referring to fundamental basics – the meaning of life, family, the purpose of work, kids / no kids. That makes sense, as the decision to get married calls all those values into question. When my clients are religious, they tend to share a same level of commitment to their religion. When it comes to interests, many of my clients are opposites. One person tends to be loud, the other quiet. One is more organized than the other. They will overlap on two or three things – travel and food tend to be popular – but then greatly differ. One person might love video games, while the other one dives into baking. This convinced me that sometimes the best relationships are ones where opposites attract.

3. They let themselves be changed by love

While I do not ask it directly, I do learn that my clients’ Love Stories changes them. More often than not, I would read phrases such as, “Before I met my fiance, I would never __________”. “With him, it was the first time I would do _______ more frequently”. I’ve since deduced that the Love Story leads each individual to evaluate their own shortcomings or areas for improvement, and in order to stay committed, they become changed. This doesn’t mean that one enters a relationship to change another person – that doesn’t end well. Instead, one enters a relationship with the open mind that they will be changed as a result.

4. They surround themselves with strong community

I really like watching bride and grooms greet and hug their guests at their weddings. Through the non-verbal communication, I can see how strong these bonds have been and how they will continue going forward. Strong marriages, as I’ve learned, are not formed in isolation. While this doesn’t necessarily mean that the couples need to have hundreds of friends, or that these relationships need to be very public (many of my clients are very private), or that they have to be best friends with their parents. However, when I meet the whole community at the wedding, I can tell that the bride and groom are getting their strong community from somewhere – parents, siblings, family, friends, community – and they tap into this community consistently through good and bad times.

5. They make their time together count

A common theme among clients in strong marriages is that they share a litany of inside jokes. A certain look, a whispered phrase, a little dance, these couples find ways to make each other laugh that I would never be able to – nor aspire – to get them to do myself. I call these the keys to unlocking the love in the relationship – moments that are personal and completely their own. I originally wrote the title for reason #5 to be “they spend a lot of time building the relationship” when I realized that I photographed a lot of long distance relationships. I was in one myself. So it wasn’t so much the amount of time, but the quality of that time together. Remember what I said about shared values, not necessarily shared interests? When these strong couples are together, they focus on their strengths – shared interests and hobbies – or they gently develop one another in something they’re not good at. That time spent together, over time, becomes their unique Love Story.

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Based in NYC | photographer of celebrations of love and life | champion of helping everyone see the beauty I see in them

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