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Close Up: What comes after 'I do'?

5/29/2003 News media contact: Kathy Gilbert · (615) 742-5470 · Nashville, Tenn.

NOTE: "Close Up" is a regular UMNS and feature on current issues. Photographs and two sidebars, UMNS stories #301 and #302, are also available.

A UMNS and Report By Kathy L. Gilbert* By Kathy L. Gilbert*

Would you like to live longer, be happier, healthier and wealthier, and have a better sex life?

Get married.

Married people are less likely to be violent or involved in substance abuse, and they have lower rates of injury, illness and disability than singles, according to Linda J. Waite, professor of sociology at the University of Chicago and author of The Case for Marriage: Why Married People are Happier, Healthier and Better Off Financially.

But if marriage is the answer to a happier, longer life, why is the institution in so much trouble?

From 1975 to 2000, in the United States alone:
· One-third of all children were born to single mothers.
· Half of all marriages ended in divorce.
· Two-thirds of all juvenile offenders came from homes of divorce.
· Three-quarters of all African-American children were raised without fathers.

In addition, divorce rates have doubled in the United Kingdom, France and Australia in the last four decades, according to John Witte Jr., the Jonas Robitscher professor of law and ethics at United Methodist-related Emory University and director of the Center for the Interdisciplinary Study of Religion in Atlanta.

Marriage rates have dramatically decreased, while illegitimacy, domestic violence and sexually transmitted diseases have increased around the globe.

Marriage has been placed under the microscope of scholars and is the subject of numerous research papers, surveys, books and Internet Web sites. More than 70 scholars, meeting recently for a conference on "Sex, Marriage and Family and the Religions of the Book" at Emory University, shared research papers with such titles as "Happily Ever After? Sex, Marriage and Family in National and Global Profile" and "Trends in Dating, Mating and Union Formation Among Young Adults."

Revolution, earthquake and whirlwinds describe the tremendous changes sex, marriage, and the family have undergone in the past 100 years, says Rebecca S. Chopp, president of Colgate University and former provost at Emory University, speaking at the closing session of the conference.

Does marriage have a future?

Should marriage be celebrated as a community strength that makes men and women healthier and happier; abolished as a legal category that discriminates against single or cohabiting couples; maintained as a way of keeping fathers involved in childrearing; or kept as a societal control to ward off sexual chaos?

"Being married changes people in ways that make them, their children and their communities better off," Waite says during the Atlanta conference. "Marriage is a public promise to stay together for life."

But marriages today are far from unbreakable, since the "no-fault divorce revolution," argues Martha Albertson Fineman, professor of feminist jurisprudence at Cornell University.

Given this and other changes in patterns of intimate behavior and gender roles, Fineman proposes that marriage should no longer be the only such privileged legal connection. A diversity of loving and reproductive relationships exists among adults. "Family is not synonymous with marriage," she says. "Why should marriage be the price of entry into state-supported subsidies of families?"

Marriage has important implications for the father's role in the life of the family. Healthy, viable marriages encourage responsible fathering, says William J. Doherty, professor of family social science and director of the Marriage and Family Therapy program at the University of Minnesota.

"Fathering outside a good-enough marriage is an endangered species," Doherty says. "In two-parent families, father involvement is more dependent on the wife's expectations than (the father's) own."

Also, fathers are more likely to withdraw from their children if the marriage is in trouble. "Men co-parent with mothers," he explains. Ideally, fathers would provide lifelong emotional and financial support for their children and the children's mother, even if the marriage fails. But in reality, this may not occur.

"The utilitarian approach is not robust enough to ground an ethic of fatherhood," Doherty says. "We need our religious traditions to do that."

Looking for a soul mate

In a national survey conducted for Rutgers University's National Marriage Project by the Gallup Organization, young adults ages 20-29 are searching for a deep emotional and spiritual connection with one person for life.

"At the same time, the bases for marriage as a religious, economic or parental partnership are receding in importance for many men and women in their 20s," says Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, co-director of Rutgers' National Marriage Project.

"Taken together, the survey findings present a portrait of marriage as emotionally deep and socially shallow."

Survey results show:
· Ninety-four percent of never-married singles agree, "When you marry you want your spouse to be your soul mate, first and foremost."
· Less than half (42 percent) of single young adults believe it is important to find a spouse who shares their religion.
· More than 80 percent of women agree it is more important to them to have a husband who can communicate about his deepest feelings than to have one who makes a good living.
· A high percentage of young adults (86 percent) agree that marriage is hard work and a full-time job.
· Close to nine out of 10 (88 percent) agree that the divorce rate is too high and that the nation would be better off if it could have fewer divorces; 47 percent agree the laws should be changed so that divorces are more difficult to get.

What's love got to do with it?

The Rev. Sheron C. Patterson, pastor of St. Paul United Methodist Church in Dallas, calls herself the "Love Doctor." In 1995, she says, the Lord sent her a vision that has evolved into "the Love Clinic," a seminar on issues affecting dating, marriage and parenting.

"The Lord told me to go and share information about healthy relationships with the general public," she says. "There was evidence they did not know (how to have healthy relationships) from looking at the divorce rates and the domestic violence rates and the teen pregnancies rates."

The healing power and love of Jesus Christ is the answer to relationship problems, Patterson says. "People have to understand that when Jesus is in a marriage, he is the glue that keeps them together. Human beings can't love each other the right way all by themselves. He needs to be the third party in every marriage."

When asked if marriage has a future, she laughs and says yes, but it must keep up with the times. "I think marriage is going to have to continue to evolve, needs to change, is changing," she says. "Marriage as it used to be in the '50s and '40s is a dying thing, and I think it needed to die."

The old stereotypes about the "strong silent man who brings home the bacon" and "the meek, stay-at-home, take-care-of-the-house-and-kids woman" are gone, she says.

"Men have to do a lot more in a contemporary marriage. They have to understand the money is good but we need a lot more of them," she says. "In today's world, women have to think, have to be savvy. Women tend to lose themselves in a relationship, in a marriage. Women are going to have to hold on to themselves and not dissolve."

Marriage gives people two things they desperately need: stability and certainty, she says.
"People need to know that they have someone to come home to," she says. "They need to know they are loved and that there is unconditional support and love for them.

"When you cohabit there is always that fear, 'Will he leave?' or 'Will she ever marry me?' Cohabitation, although popular, is never a good idea," she says. "There are so many uncertainties and so many ways people can be taken advantage of."

Patterson says the statistics about happier, healthier married people are true.

"The deal is the media has put marriage on the low rung and made singleness the top thing. There is a perception that single folk have a lot more fun, but I think married people are having fun, they are just not getting a lot of media attention."

The church needs to start young, with second- and third-graders, in teaching people how to have healthy relationships. If the church doesn't teach them, then radio, television and films will, she warns.

"Marriage is hard work," Patterson says. "There is an illusion that if you find somebody to love, then the rest is easy. It is not. You have to work every day, even when you don't feel like working."

Standing in defense of marriage

In Tallahassee, Fla., 65 churches have joined and signed a community marriage policy. Participating churches have pledged they will stand side by side in support of marriage.

As part of the pledge, churches agree not to marry couples unless the couples go through a five-week premarital workshop. Churches must offer weekend marriage retreats, address marriage in Sunday school classes, host workshops and seminars, and pledge to set an example of good marriages in the members' homes.

Killearn United Methodist Church is "the flagship church" in the community marriage policy, according to church member Richard Albertson. Albertson is also president of "Live the Life Ministries" a local ministry in Tallahassee that is part of Marriage Savers, a national nonprofit organization founded in 1996 by Mike J. McManus.

"The Lord created marriages, and two-thirds of marriages occur in churches, synagogues and houses of worship," he says. "Clearly, we have access to most marriages, and we need to do a better job of preparing and restoring marriages."

Albertson says the divorce rate in Leon County, Florida's capital county, has dropped 12.9 percent since the policy was adopted four years ago. That's been documented by the Institute for Independent Research outside Salt Lake City, he says. "And they directly attribute it to the community marriage policy."

The divorce rate at Killearn, a 2,000-plus-member church, has dropped dramatically. Of the couples that have gone through the program in the last four years, only one or two have divorced.

"That is staggering," Albertson says. "And couples who have completed the crisis intervention program (for marriages that are in trouble) have had zero divorces."

Premarital counseling is vital. Sometimes couples, especially the men, are reluctant to commit to the counseling sessions, Albertson says. However, once they go through the program they are changed people, he says.

Albertson says he sets up a booth at bridal shows next to caterers, photographers and florists. A big poster over his booth states: "Before you tie the knot, let us teach you the ropes."

"They (young couples) are more interested in the cake, the honeymoon, what kind of food they are going to have, what band will play. They are not thinking about the marriage.

"The magic is Christ," he says. "We point them to Christ; it is all about Christ. We tell people, 'Your marriage crisis is more about you and God than it is about you and your spouse.'

"That's quite a revelation when they get their heads around that."
# # #
*Gilbert is a news writer for United Methodist News Service.

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