In the Voronezh Region, just as all over Russia, the number of divorces and the age of marriage are increasing. The reasons why people start a family are changing as well. How is the institution of marriage transforming? At what age do women in the region prefer to give birth? Are the stereotypes about the roles of men and women becoming a thing of the past? Are there any recipes for overcoming family crises? Read about all of it in the RIA Voronezh article. The experts here are family psychologist Mikhail Shcherbakov and the head of the Regional Civil Registry Office Marina Severgina.
Mikhail Shcherbakov, family psychologist
About the chances of a successful acquaintance
“Today, for many people it’s hard not so much to start a family as to simply to meet someone. On the one hand, there is a lot of opportunities for contact: dating sites, social media, instant messengers. You can take out your phone from your pocket and communicate with whoever you want at any moment. At the same time, people have less and less common ground in real life. In public transport and in public places, everyone is in their phones, immersed in their own world.
But the problem is not only in the gadgets. For some, it is difficult to get into a new relationship after a painful break. Or maybe their parents used to argue a lot, so they had grown to believe that relationships were a little about pain since they were kids. Low self-esteem, shyness, constraint, self-doubt, and fear of failure get in the way too. This is especially true for men. Of course, it is the woman who creates a relationship at its initial stage: she sends a signal on a non-verbal level and the man sort of scans the space and senses that she can be approached. But if he is afraid of failure or does not read the signal, the acquaintance may not take place.
Of course, failure is always a blow to self-esteem. Some can cope with it easily, but for others, it is lasting emotional stress. But a refusal does not at all indicate that there is something wrong with you. You must increase the number of attempts - this increases the likelihood of them being successful. Besides, approaching someone does not mean an immediately created couple, an invitation to a date: you can just chat.
The chances of a successful acquaintance can also be increased by expanding the areas of your interest. If all we have is work and home, we can only meet someone at work or on the way home. But if a person has many hobbies, he or she will definitely meet a soul mate in one of the corresponding groups.”
About the "growth of awareness" and common law marriage
“We conducted a survey among people of three generations: young people about 30 years of age, their parents and their grandparents. We asked them how much time had passed from meeting each other to marriage and from marriage to the birth of a child. It turned out that the representatives of the older generation in many cases got married less than a year after they had met, and the child was often born nine to ten months after marriage. There was a clear connection: marriage - children.
Today, young people push marriage and the birth of their first child closer to 30 years - both men and women. Such a decision is driven by both the economic element - the desire to make it in life - and the growth of awareness when entering a marriage. The so-called common law marriage is very popular, and although it is often demonized, a chance to live together before getting married can save you from making many mistakes.”
About the "husband is the provider, wife is the housekeeper" stereotype
“The society in Russia has always been patriarchal: men worked and provided for their families, women ran the household and took care of children. The mentality of people changes slowly. Very recently, three years ago, we conducted a study from which we concluded: Voronezh residents believe that a man’s success is based on material attributes – an apartment, a car, his salary. And a woman’s success is perceived through her family: a well-kept household, comfort, well-fed and well-raised children.
But if the woman’s domain is family, does she control everything in it? No! The social stereotypes still convey the dominant role of men, even in family relationships. And this is despite the fact that the position of women in society has long changed and today both women and men can obtain everything they need for living independently, provide for themselves and raise their children. That’s why they have to redefine the reasons to get married. People no longer want to create relationships just because society is pushing them to, or because “the clock is ticking”, or to make it economically easier for themselves, or to have support in everyday life.”
About family crises and “ignorant” conflicts О семейных кризисах и «неграмотных» конфликтах
“A married couple goes through several crisis points, and they can be foreseen. The first crisis occurs during the very first year of family life. The newly created couple is two dissimilar people with two different scripts who need to make one single film. They borrowed the elements of their scripts from each of their families and their environments, and now they must work out a new model of their life together – their own one.
Unfortunately, this does not always work. Often, one of them begins to hog the blanket considering his or her own model to be the only correct one, and this battle can be destructive. In the first crisis year, many newlyweds get divorced unable to withstand the tough adaptation process. In addition, the acute state of falling in love and the euphoria come to an end, and without these pink glasses, many of the partner’s shortcomings become noticeable. Some couples break up simply realizing that they are not suitable for each other. This is very person-specific: one person will hate me for my habits, another one will adore me for them.”
“But if couples understood how to get around conflicts, in many cases everything could be different. During a quarrel, hormones are released into the blood causing hormonal imbalance. When the heart rate exceeds 100 beats per minute, the adrenaline does not allow for an adequate assessment of the situation. There is no room for a rational, balanced decision. It takes at least 20 minutes to calm down. But instead of taking a break, people start escalating the quarrel, recalling old grievances and deepening the conflict. Many do not understand how their behavior looks from the outside, they may even think that they are not yelling but simply explaining, trying to communicate their point of view. And it is not until you show them the scenario of the conflict and analyze all their steps that they start seeing their mistakes. You can teach them to deal with emotions, take timeouts in times of emotional outbursts and only then continue the conversation.
Five to nine years is another crisis threshold. The marriage enters a period of stagnation, a decreased level of emotionality and mutual importance, the grudges keep accumulating. But such couples can be helped as well.
About the causes of divorces
“The causes are most often psychological and they can be different at different stages of marriage. There were fewer divorces literally just two generations ago. Divorces were not customary: at first, they were discouraged by the Church, then by the ideology of the Soviet state that tried to strengthen the social units in every way. Even at the mundane level, divorce was condemned. But this does not mean that relationships were better or married people were happier. They simply had much less opportunity to end a failed marriage.”
About helping families on the verge and after a divorce
“I’m often visited by couples on the verge of a divorce. Before coming to me, they usually have already tried many reconciliation options: they tried to make peace with each other and with themselves, read the relevant literature, participated in webinars, listened to the advice of relatives and friends. But it is not clear how to put all this information into practice. We need services that would help families, and not only psychologists but also family counselors, advisors.
We talk very little about the examples of happy marriages. It is scandals and divorces that are discussed all the time. Instead, we need to talk about how the couple overcame difficulties, built their everyday life, managed the family budget, how they created a relationship in which they both feel comfortable.
It would be very useful to have a psychological assistance office within a civil registry office. When people file for divorce, they have a month to think it over. During this time, family therapy can help them save the marriage. And if it already can’t be saved - there are many such cases too - we need to help the spouses get through the divorce more easily. After all, divorce is in second place in terms of stress after the death of a loved one. This breakup impacts both people, even if they do not show it. This is why we need to give them the resources, skills, and tools to help deal with this stress.
It is also important not to carry the negative experience on to the next marriage. It is not uncommon for the next marriages to be unsuccessful because people go down the same road again, copy the same mistakes. They can be prevented if analyzed.
About domestic violence
“In our country, victims of domestic violence have not been protected in any way, the police often ignore their complaints. Even the battery section of the law implies just a fine, as for some misconduct. The law on domestic violence is long overdue because domestic violence is very common – it’s just that it is often hidden and often takes different forms. This is not always just sexual or physical abuse. Some are being oppressed psychologically - insults, humiliations, ridicule. Often there is financial pressure: the wife is on maternity leave and must account for every ruble that her husband gives her. If the apartment belongs to her husband, he can say: “Where will you go? Who will take you in?” He can instill the feeling of guilt, worthlessness, and insecurity into the victim. Often this lasts for years and only surfaces when some egregious incident occurs. Moreover, we often blame the victim, we start analyzing whether she had provoked the rapist - though if someone steals a wallet sticking out of one’s pocket, no one wonders if its easy accessibility mitigates the thief’s guilt.
What we need is not just a law on protection against domestic violence but a whole range of measures in support of the victims. The experience of other countries should be studied with the involvement of public organizations, psychologists, and child protection agencies. The victim of violence should clearly know where to turn and what help she can receive: shelter, livelihoods, psychological and legal support. The law should not become another bolt screwed into the consciousness of a person who does not accept it. It is time for us to abandon the childish standpoint with someone standing above us and telling us what we cannot do. Why can't we ourselves realize that we cannot, for example, beat children?
It is often asked why the victim does not leave the aggressor. In many cases, a woman believes that she can re-educate a man, rearrange him. Or maybe she thinks that love comes with habit. And so she waits, she abides, she lives in this distorted reality. But the truth is there are no insoluble situations: you can find a job, rent a place, send the child to kindergarten. There are plenty of opportunities, but a woman suffering from violence often does not see them. She is depressed, she has low self-esteem, so her consciousness is narrowed. The task of psychologists, volunteers, social services is to help her see her opportunities.
The aggressor can be influenced in many ways, down to the restraining order prohibiting him from approaching the victim, living with her in the same apartment, calling her. At the same time, we must ensure that a person cannot be set up, slandered, and kick out of the house based on speculation. Otherwise, next to the law on domestic violence we will have to adopt a law in defense of those who will have suffered from it.”
Marina Severgina, Head of the Civil Registry Office of the Voronezh Region
About marriage registration and single mothers
“The absence of divorces in pre-revolutionary times was not at all an indicator of the well-being of a family. And it’s not at all bad that today the process of divorce is controlled neither by public opinion or by party organs, as it was before. Divorce is simply the result of family failure. At the same time, we cannot say exactly how many couples do not register their marriages at all. We tried to conduct such an analysis by focusing on the number of children born out of wedlock, but this figure is not indicative: it remains at approximately the same level from year to year. This means that the number of women who are ready to give birth and raise a child alone is always the same in percentage terms. And it depends primarily on the woman’s psychological state.
In general, the number of marriage registrations depends directly on the number of young people at a marriageable age. Right now, the generation of such young people is not numerous, so the indicator is decreasing: fewer couples go to the registry office. This figure will decline until 2025 when children born during the birth rate rise will become grownups.”
On birth rates and the drawbacks of the late birth of first-borns
“When in 2007 the state began to pay maternity capital allowance, there was a surge in birth rates. As soon as financial support is brought into action, there is always a rise, then a slight decline. When new support measures are introduced, we see a new rise.
For example, in 2007 there were 21 thousand births, in 2008 - 22 thousand, in 2009 - 23 thousand. When in 2012 the regional maternal capital was added - over 100 thousand rubles - the birth rate had increased to 24- 26 thousand children a year. But this works only for stimulating the families who are ready to raise two or three children at most. Families that are ready to raise five to ten children always are of the same certain percentage: such devotion is characteristic only for people with a certain psychological mentality who have a great disposition to motherhood. The main thing for women to have a choice: to raise six children or to become then next Sofya Kovalevskaya.
Starting from 2020, the federal maternity capital will be paid for the first child too - 466 thousand rubles. This is decent support, practically the size of the first mortgage installment. Many women postpone the birth of their first child precisely because of a lack of funds. And this is not too good both for physiological reasons and in terms of demography: after all, the later the first child is born, the less hope there is that there will be next.”
About student families
“Today, female residents of the Voronezh Region give birth to the first child at the average age of 26.5. Employers are reluctant to accept university graduates: they know that such an employee can go on maternity leave. Or they put an illegal, but nonetheless common condition: not to plan motherhood for three years. That’s how we get a delayed birth almost at the age of 27. The farther, the later: in 2004, 3.7 thousand women gave birth at the age of 18 to 24, in 2018 - half as much - 1.6 thousand.
Since I am on the Demographics Coordination Council under the Governor of the Voronezh Region, I am concerned about the situation with children in student families. Given that Voronezh is a university city, we can have many such families. And a young woman who has graduated from a university already as a mother has a better chance of finding a job. In my opinion, one of the acute measures for supporting such families can be organizing children's daycare groups, right in student dormitories. After giving birth to a child, a female student can switch to individual training, but she still needs to be absent for exams, tests, and giving her an opportunity to leave the baby even for two or three hours is significant support.”