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Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Stable Marriages Benefit Everyone

Marriage Savers, Inc.
This was published as an Open Forum piece in today's Daily News-Record:

In a recent issue of Time magazine Belinda Luscombe cites research that shows that people in even average marriages enjoy better health, live longer and report greater satisfaction with their lives than do most who are divorced or who choose to remain unmarried.

But our marriage numbers are declining. There were only 2,077,000 official marriages in the US last year—fewer than in 1970 when the population was only 203 million. In Harrisonburg and Rockingham County there were 955 wedding licenses issued and 474 divorces granted last year, and our annual marriage numbers have remained flat over the past two decades, even though our population has increased over 25% during that time. 

Of course, this doesn’t take into account the increasing numbers of couples hooking up and breaking up in unofficial and unregistered ‘marriages’. And sadly, these relationships, according to Dr. W. Bradford Wilcox, Senior Fellow at the Institute for Family Studies and a Professor at UVA, are even "less stable, have less trust, less sexual fidelity, more violence, and are five times more likely to break up than homes with intact, married parents."

Thus the case for maintaining marital fidelity and family stability is strong, both for the partners involved, for their offspring, and for the entire community. Having said that, we know stable relationships require a lot of realistic thinking and tons of hard work. 

For starters, writer Alain de Botton, in a piece in the May 28, 2016, New York Times Sunday Review, urges us to give up the popular romantic myth that there is someone out there who can meet our every expectation and satisfy our every need. 

“We need to swap the Romantic view for a tragic (and at points comedic) awareness that every human will frustrate, anger, annoy, madden and disappoint us — and we will (without any malice) do the same to them… But none of this is unusual or grounds for divorce. Choosing whom to commit ourselves to is merely a case of identifying which particular variety of suffering we would most like to sacrifice ourselves for.”

This kind of shift in our thinking, he believes, offers the best hope for couples staying together, resulting in the acceptance of the fact that “The person who is best suited to us is not the person who shares our every taste… but the person who can negotiate differences in taste intelligently… Compatibility is an achievement of love; it must not be its precondition.”

More people may be getting that, in that the divorce rate among the college educated, at least, is lower and is actually falling, according to columnist Michael McManus of Marriage Savers, Inc. He says their divorce numbers have dropped from 15% in the 1970s to only 11% two decades later, and cites studies that show, interestingly, that the divorce rate is highest, at 36%, among high school dropouts. 

What can a community like ours do to support stronger and more stable marriages? 

One attempt launched in Harrisonburg and Rockingham County in 1998 and renewed a decade ago was something called a “Community Marriage Policy” in which local congregations formally agreed to the following:

 • Expect couples wanting to get married to have been acquainted for at least a year.

 • Guide engaged couples through an intensive marital preparation process involving individual or group educational sessions dealing with religious, financial, relational and intimacy issues and utilizing some form of premarital inventory.  

 • Promote premarital chastity and faithful marital relationships.

 • Encourage enrichment opportunities to strengthen existing marriages and provide intervention and support for marriages in distress.

 • Train mature married couples to serve as mentors to engaged couples, to newlyweds, and to those experiencing marital difficulties. 

 • Cooperate with other congregations and agencies to share resources and to create a positive climate in which all marriages are helped to succeed.

As a pastor, family counselor and grandfather, I would love to see area congregations renew their commitment to something like this. Anything we can do to add to the number of people who are in supportive and stable relationships will strengthen and bless our community for generations to come.
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