Why is the divorce rate so high?

By Al Earley - A Religious Point of View

From the very beginning of time the importance of marriage has been proclaimed in the church because from the very beginning of time God established the desire that a husband shall leave his father and mother and join with his wife, and the two shall become one in a holy union (Genesis 2:18-25). I hear people say, “Young couples just aren’t as committed as they used to be.” I don’t agree at all. I have done well over 100 weddings, including premarital counseling with each one, and I have never done a wedding where I didn’t think both thought this would be the last wedding of their lives.

So why is the divorce rate so high? There is no question that it is easier to get a divorce today, and social pressure is much lower than in the past. But I think something else happened. I think the “rules of the game” changed in the 1960s, and we are trying to have successful marriages in a new age.

If you got married before 1960 then you got married in the industrial age. The motivations for getting married around World War II and before were simply different. Certainly you hoped you were in love. But there were strong social pressures. Women needed a man to “bring home the bacon”, be a provider and make sure the woman didn’t become an “Old Maid.” Remember the caricatured scene where Mom says to her daughter, “Why don’t you marry Johnny. He’s a good boy, and he’ll keep you from growing old by yourself. You can have children together. He will provide for you”. The daughter responds, “But mom, I don’t love Johnny.” Mom shrugs. Love is only a small part of the equation for her generation. Men needed a wife to establish the home, and give respectability to their lives, help settle them down. I call this the “Social-Survival” marriage.

That was the model my parents and their friends saw mostly in their parents. Then our country shifted to the high tech age, and its fast-pace, complexity, and computerization. With the shift has come a whole new motivation for marriage. I call this the “Companionship Marriage”. Couples today are getting married to someone they want to spend the rest of their lives with as companions, sharing the great experiences of life together. I think this is a healthy change, but requires a whole new set of skills for success, not often modeled by our parents and grandparents.

What skills? Skills like understanding, forgiveness, sharing roles, self-sacrifice, and communication to name a few. Those who have stayed married for decades have become companions, and they have learned to do these things with their spouse, even if they never saw them modeled by their parents.

It may seem like 1960 was a long time ago, but it is little more than a blink of an eye in the long history of marriage. A change this dramatic will take time for couples to develop the skills consistently. The good news is we know all we need to know about communication, self-sacrifice, and all the other skills needed for a successful companionship marriage. More couples just need to learn to integrate those skills into their marriages. Couples today need good models. If a couple will look around carefully they can find many such models in their lives. Also, there are many great books about how to develop the skills for a companionship marriage.

The most important thing I think a couple can do to have a successful marriage is become active in their church. I know as well as any minister that active involvement in the church doesn’t guarantee marital success, but the church is the only community entity that lifts up such important companionship skills as forgiveness, self-sacrifice, and unconditional love. This is perhaps the greatest reason so many couples are getting divorced, they are trying to be married without God. My experience with hundreds of couples inside and outside the church says it just doesn’t work.

One of the most important conversations a couple can have is to ask each other, “What do you believe about God?” Do you know that God forgives you of your sins when you hurt your spouse? Do you know that God forgives your spouse when s/he hurts you? Are you able to forgive and forget? I hope you will have this conversation with your spouse today!

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By Al Earley

A Religious Point of View

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