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As marriage researchers and writers, we never get tired of witnessing extraordinary marriages – married people who are, as the song goes, "still in love after all these years." And the fact is, as a couple that has been married for nearly 45 years ourselves, we are always in search of the "secrets of success."  

As we are working on completing our newest book, we discovered that we really needed to interview a few more couples in Southern Italy – that part of Italy where the divorce and separation rates have increased at only one-half of the rate of Northern Italy.  In the broader sense, we set out to determine the state of contemporary marriage in Italy.

Like their Northern European counterparts, the Southern Italians have seen an increase in their divorce and separation rates, increases in alternative family structures, and transformations in the very nature of the extended family – a longtime hallmark of Italian family life.

Italians are having fewer children (one of the lowest birth rates in the world) and getting married later in life (27 on average for women; 30 for men).   It is also clear that Italians are getting married less frequently, achieving their independence from their family later in life, and having children at older ages than the previous norm.

The very nature of marriage and family in Italy – this very Catholic country where 85% profess to religious – is clearly changing.  One notable change has to do with weekly churchgoing.  Today, only about 25% of Italians admit to going to church at least once a week.  Which might explain why, even though the Catholic faith frowns on divorce and separation, in modern Italy the divorce rate keeps creeping up nonetheless.

But there are also some continuing positive trends.  For example, Italian families still have strong ties across the generations.  One scholar noted that Italian families still retain "strong intergenerational solidarity" which allows for a social structure of support for childcare, dealing with health issues, providing for financial assistance when needed, and the like.  The sense of family "connectedness" is still an important institution in Italy, probably much more so than in the rest of Europe and in the USA.

While the very nature of marriage in Italy is changing, the secrets of marital success are apparently not.  And that's a good thing!  Let us explain.

We conducted four interviews on this trip and, not surprisingly, we have gotten amazing reaffirmation for what makes for a great marriage in Italy and around the world!

On our second day in Italy, we interviewed Paolo and Luciana in paradise!  We met up with these two lovebirds at our hotel in Napoli and spent about eight hours with them throughout the day.  During our interview with them we discussed their marriage and the changing state of marriage in Italy.  Paolo and Luciana have been married for 33 years and reaffirmed all of the characteristics of successfully married Italian couples.  Their responses to our structured interview put them at the top of the list for great marriages.  Suffice it to say, their marriage is amazing.  They affectionately nicknamed us Dr. Carlo and Dr. Liz.  We loved them!  It was a fun day.

We followed our interview with Paolo and Luciana on subsequent days with Lorenzo and Regina, Gino and Arianna, and Enzo and Maria.  They taught us a lot about love and marriage Italian style, and reminded us once again of the pervasiveness of the characteristics that make for successful marriage across cultures and continents that we described in our recent book, Building a Love that Lasts:  The Seven Surprising Secrets of Successful Marriage (Jossey-Bass/Wiley, 2010).  

In the end, a marriage is between two human beings, not between a culture or a country and a person.  While cultural trends are reflective of changes in general within a country, it tells us very little about the marriage between two people.  

As it is elsewhere around the world, a successful marriage reflects an accumulation of having done the simple things day in and day out in a relationships between two people in love.   Whether you find a successful marriage in Italy, in the USA, or elsewhere in the world, the formula for creating a great marriage is the same.  That is the lesson we learned once again in Italy.

Love well!  Arrivederci, Roma!

By Dr. Charles D. and Dr. Elizabeth A. Schmitz

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