You don’t have to be a sociologist to know that half of marriages end in divorce, that most couples have idealistic expectations about love, and that the grey drudgery of day-to-day existence kills any chance of preserving a passionate, romantic relationship. But you do have to be a sociologist to know that none of these statements is necessarily true.
Romantic relationships in Finland are going strong. Väestöliiito’s research professor and sociologist Osmo Kontula has studied Finnish sexuality and relationships for decades. He knows that most of the people who have tied the knot end up living with their partner until they die.
"Over 90 percent of people in romantic relationships report that they love their partner very much. Four out of five people who are married are happy or somewhat happy. The same is true for common-law partnerships," Kontula says.
The claim that half of marriages end in divorce is open to interpretation. The figure comes from comparing the number of marriages in one year with the number of divorces. These statistics are not comparable, however, as divorcing couples representing any number of marriage years.
"It is much smarter to look at the long term to see how many marriages end in divorce. That's where we get the probability that a marriage will end in divorce, which is 39 percent at the moment,” Kontula says.
Divorce is easy, so marriages are happy
If close to 40 percent of romantic relationships end, is that an indication of general level of satisfaction in marriages overall? Well, yes it is.
Divorce used to be difficult to come by in Finland: it required a court visit, a guilty party had to be found and both parties had to agree to it. Finland overhauled its Marriage Act in the 1980s, after which time it was enough for party to want the split.
"Comparing what people said about marriage before and after the legal reform gives us an interesting result. Once divorce became easier, statistics showed that the number of happy marriages began to improve," says Kontula.
These days people enter into relationships freely, inspired from a sincere desire to do so and a common understanding. No one does it out of duty or honour any more.
Now that divorce has become easy, it is possible to leave bad relationships. Yes, there are many divorces, but those couples that stay together do so for a good reason – they are happy.
A simple recipe
The world is full of magazines and books that claim to offer the secret to a happy relationship. Finnish relationship expert Kontula says the recipe most quoted in Finland is nothing that everyone doesn’t already know.
"They feel as if they are loved and that their partner appreciates them. Trust is also really important: that people feel as if they can share their concerns and are understood. As a list of requirements, it’s hardly miraculous or unheard of."