Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Is There Hope for the American Marriage? - TIME'S latest article on marriage and divorce

Wow. TIME magazine has an unusually insightful article up at the moment about marriage and divorce in America. It's all in light of things like Mark Sanford blathering on public TV about his affair and Jon & Kate's very public divorce. The article is surprisingly conservative in its view of marriage and family. Not totally conservative of course, but surprising for TIME magazine.

For instance, when author Caitlyn Flanagan talks about recent public adulteries and divorce, she's unusually blunt in calling out the selfishness that caused them and the pain and "squalor" that they result in. Because divorce hits close to home for most people, it's rare to hear someone in the secular world bluntly face the statistics about the effect of divorce.

There is no other single force causing as much measurable hardship and human misery in this country as the collapse of marriage. It hurts children, it reduces mothers' financial security, and it has landed with particular devastation on those who can bear it least: the nation's underclass.

Flanagan notes the effect of divorce on kids, which is pretty common knowledge. It seems to me that in middle-class USA wealthy families attempt to keep divorce civil and hope that it affects their kids as little as possible. After all, the kids still have plenty of money, a good education, and both parents present in their lives. It apparently doesn't matter - the statistics don't change at all when you look specifically at divorces within a higher income bracket - kids still react to having their families torn apart, regardless of how civilly this is done.

On every single significant outcome related to short-term well-being and long-term success, children from intact, two-parent families outperform those from single-parent households. Longevity, drug abuse, school performance and dropout rates, teen pregnancy, criminal behavior and incarceration — if you can measure it, a
sociologist has; and in all cases, the kids living with both parents drastically outperform the others....

The consequences for more-affluent kids tend to be far less devastating than for poor ones; they are less likely to become teenage parents and high school dropouts. But children of divorced middle-class parents do less well in school and at college compared with underprivileged kids from two-parent households. It's dismissive of the human experience, says Blankenhorn, to suggest that kids don't suffer, extraordinarily, from divorce: "Children have a primal need to know who they are, to love and be loved by the two people whose physical union brought them here. To lose that connection, that sense of identity, is to experience a wound that no child-support check or fancy school can ever heal."

Flanagan also gets down to the heart of the issue and says that obsessing about high-profile divorces really does nothing to help the problem. We've got to look at the expectations and motivations we as a culture have for marriage in order to really understand why we have such a high divorce rate. At church on Sunday the topic at the Jr. High ministry was divorce, and I asked my table full of girls why they thought so many people divorce in our country. Their answers were typical - they think people get married too quickly or too young or for the wrong reasons. When it boils down to it, people assume that when they find themselves in a difficult marriage, they must have made the WRONG choice to begin with.

If marriage is FOR romance and love, then it is indeed nearly a guaranteed failure and I'm not surprised that our divorce rate is high. If romance is the motivation to marry, then no wonder people are pushing cohabitation and indeed it may be the better route to take. That's not to say that marriage is romance-less, but doing life with another human being pretty much guarantees that the partnership will not always be easy or romantic. It will be like life - unexpected, filled with bumps in the road, and ultimately redemptive if you do it well and are guided by the Spirit of God.

Leave it to country music to provide me with the perfect lyrics to illustrate my point here. Brad Paisley's song "If Love Was a Plane" always cracks me up.

Imagine now, the pilot's voice,

on the intercom right before we leave the
sayin, folks thanks for flyin with us, but theres a 6 in 10
chance we're goin' down.

But that's the strangest thing about this
even knowin' our chances are small.
We line up at the gate with
our tickets,
Thinkin' somehow we're different,
I mean, after all...

We're in Love.
Look at us go,
Now what in the world could go
To hell with the odds, we'd rather not know,
If love was a plane,
Nobody'd get on.

Ultimately I disagree with Flanagan's last paragraphs, where she suggests that marriage should really be for children - to raise the next generation of healthy, good people to change the world and take care of us. I suppose my view of humanity as being fallen from what we were originally made to be makes me think that we are too selfish for this to be the goal of our marriages. Very few people are ultimately able to stay in a marriage JUST for their children when it is painful and difficult to stay in and could potentially be easier to get out. I'd say people that say they're staying in marriages for their kids generally mean that it's easier just to ignore each other then to disrupt their life patterns with a divorce. Ultimately still selfish reasons.

What really are the reasons for marriage? Love, children, civil society? I can give my own opinions, which are distinctly informed by my faith. I'd say it is a God-given institution that gives us companionship - we are truly not made to be alone. It's made for love -notice I say love rather than romance, because romance is fleeting but love requires a commitment through times when emotion wears thin. Ultimately it's a reflection of a God who by nature is not alone - the eternally self-giving Trinity pictured in humanity.


Jaimie said...

Great post.

Alida said...

Great post... thanks for sharing your thoughts with us!!

This Heavenly Life said...

This was wonderful! I think about these things all the time, but I couldn't have put my thoughts into words as well as you did with this post. Well done.

I was especially interested about your discussion with junior high girls who mostly thought that divorced couples had picked the wrong spouse in the first place. I never thougt of it in those terms - but that's exactly what I think most people assume. And if it's only a matter of making the right choice, they must assume that you should keep trying until you get it right. A shame. Especially when what I believe is that you should keep trying with your first spouse, and make sure you DO get that right. It's too important.

There's a billboard in my town for a lawyer's office. It lists two words and a phone number, in huge block letters: Easy Divorce. This makes me sad and angry every time I pass by.

Ake said...

I agree, great post. Aaron was saying to me the other day that he read a story in a book, that seems relevant to this. The author (Selwyn Hughes I believe) is a marriage counsellor. A woman comes to him because she and her husband are seeking a divorce and she wants to do it in a 'healthy' way - as much as possible. He probes, and asks her what is going on with the marriage. "Well," she responds, "for a start, we both agree that we are incompatible. We didn't realise this when we got married." After some discussion it becomes apparent that she sees no way to redeem the marriage, because, having realised that she and her spouse are incompatible, there seems to be nothing that anyone can do except help them to part respectfully. The counsellor seems hesitant to agree, though, and she asks him, "Don't you think it's a problem that we're incompatible?"
He responds, "No, I think that's why you need marriage. I think that two people get married because they're incompatible. If we were completely compatible then we wouldn't need to commit to each other, because we'd stay together without the commitment."

It turns it on it's head; shocking that such a point is so shocking. Profound though, it really did make me think.

Annie Peterson said...

Great post!

Not that I've been married, but I think of one of marriage's main objectives as being a picture of the church and Christ -- the union He bought so that we could be His...we are getting closer to that day all the time!

Also, when it comes to how God can use a's such a chance to live in the unity the Lord has -- and when people live in unity, there is crazy authority and power...authority and power that will spread the fame of the Lord in the earth!

I didn't actually read the article, but from what you said... I find it so interesting that the author came to children as the main objective of marriage! I think she's onto something, and, in a way, right! It was God's command to marriage -- to be fruitful and multiply. So she may not have the right understanding of why, but I think she's got somewhat of the right idea!

Anonymous said...

In Malachi Chapter 3, God tells us that he hates divorce (and a man covering his wife in violence). It also tells us why he created two to become one flesh - because He wants Godly offspring.

Yes, marriage is for children.

Kacie said...

Interesting - a number of people think marriage is for children. Wasn't the original creation of a woman for a man because "it is not good for man to be alone"? Then the command to fill the earth and raise godly offspring are consistently given, but it seems to me that that is a command rather than the main purpose.

I guess I point to a Trinitarian God whose fundamental being is in a self-giving community. The creation of man is consistent with His being - the constantly giving and receiving love naturally flow into the creation of man, who is loved and is meant to love in return.

I think that just as marriage is a picture of the Trinity, a mutually loving and mutually sacrificial marriage will naturally flow out of itself into a greater family with children, who again are loved and love in return (except for of course the invasion of sin into the equation, but still redemption ultimately prevails for those who follow the Lord).

to use the other scriptural metaphor, marriage is a picture of Christ and the Church, and in that metaphor the main relationship is between Christ and the Church, and the natural outgrowth is to GO and to spread the Hope of Christ....


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