By Michael T. Ross, M.D. & Mike McManus
Marriage is the vibrant center of the common good. At a time when systemic disintegration of marriage has created a crisis of global proportions, marriage remains the most valuable and cost effective resource for a family, a community and for a nation.
Community Marriage Policies answer a vital need for our times. To understand how communities can reverse this modern plague of broken humanity and heal ourselves, we need to understand just what is happening to us.
See how the city of El Paso, Texas, has been transformed by Marriage Mentor Ministry.
The marriage crisis has seven key elements:
1. Marriage is plummeting: The marriage rate has plunged 54% since 1970. If the same percentage of couples were marrying now as in 1970, there would be over a million more marriages annually – 3.3 million marriages instead of 2.2 million. “Since 1972, the number of marriages celebrated in a Catholic Church has fallen 60 percent,” said Sheila Garcia of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.[i] In Michigan, the overall marriage rate for all population groups, has plummeted 35% since 1990, 14.4% in the past five years, and 18% in metropolitan Detroit. Only 9.2% of Detroit households are married couples with a minor child.
2. Divorce remains sky high: About half of all new marriages end in divorce. There have been 46 million divorces since 1970 involving 92 million spouses and hurting 44 million children. That represents 136 million parents and children or about 43.4 % of the US population. During this same time period, Catholic annulments soared from 338 in 1968 to 50,000 in 2002.[ii] Considering that divorce also hurts the grandparents, more and more as they age, and aunts, uncles and cousins of those directly affected, it becomes clear what a social holocaust divorce represents for our entire nation. Adults from divorced families cohabitate and divorce more. They marry and practice a faith less.
3. Cohabitation is replacing marriage: The number of unmarried couples living together has soared 18-fold from 430,000 in 1960 to 7.6 million today. Many couples living together say they are in a “trial marriage.” That myth is dispelled in Living Together: Myths, Risks & Answers by Michael and Harriet McManus. Nine out of ten are actually in a “trial divorce.” The only question is whether they will break up before or after the wedding.
Although two-thirds of marriages are of cohabiting couples, only 20% or 1.5 million of 7.6 million cohabiting couples marry. So, four of five suffer premarital divorce, often involving minor children. And a 2003 study estimated that those who marry after cohabiting are 61% more likely to divorce than those who remained apart.[iii]
A more recent study in 2012, said it was less severe but significant: “Looking at 20 years duration, women who had never cohabited with their first husband had a higher probability of marriage survival (57%) compared with women who had cohabited with their first spouse before marriage, regardless of whether they were engaged when they began living together (46% and 45% respectively). The result: 90% of couples who begin their relationship with cohabitation will break up, either before the wedding or afterward in divorce.
4. Unwed births soar: Out-of wedlock births jumped from 5% of births in 1960, to 10.7% in 1970 to 41% in 2010, or from 224,000 to 1.7 million children from 1960-2010. Out-of-wedlock births climbed approximately 1% annually through 2003, though the rate of growth has slowed in recent years. For women aged 30 and below, 53% of their babies are born out of wedlock. Cohabiting couples are as likely to have a child under 18 as married couples (41% vs. 46%).
5. Children grow up without both biologic parents: This is the new norm. Nationally, only 46% of teenagers live in homes with married biological parents. For African American children, only 17% grow up in intact, married homes. Married couples with children account for fewer than one in four households – down from one half of 1960 homes according to a March 2007 Washington Post article citing the Brookings Institute. This is the lowest ever recorded by the census.
According to the Michigan Family Forum, less than 30% of Detroit children under 18 live with both biological parents. In Michigan’s Benton Harbor, this figure is only 17.9 percent. Children growing up in single parent homes are highly likely to be poor, and to be at high risk in nearly every measure of well being and performance from mental and physical health, school performance, sociopathy, employability and likelihood of conceiving out of wedlock children and never marrying.
6. The law supports the fall of marriage: Though the collapse of marriage profoundly hurts the common good of the society at large generating huge costs, including breakdown in morality and civil order, our lawmakers, the legal community, government, and society’s key systems favor and reward divorce, cohabitation, single parenting, out of wedlock births, and unstable, new age families over intact traditional marriage and family. Where is the logic and common sense in this chosen social order and reality here in America? We are the wealthiest, most privileged nation—land of the free, home of the brave—where information, truth and choice could not be more plentiful and teaching and awareness of right and wrong more available.
Dr. David Popenoe, co-founder of The National Marriage Project and emeritus professor of sociology at Rutgers University, eloquently states what is at stake for marriage in America:
“If the family trends of recent decades are extended into the future, the result will be not only growing uncertainty within marriage, but the gradual elimination of marriage in favor of sexual liaisons oriented to adult expressiveness and self-fulfillment. The problem with this scenario is that children will be harmed, adults will probably be no happier and the social order would suffer”.
7. The faith community remains silent on the crisis of marriage. Marriage is God’s first institution. It is the heart of the common good and the hope of the faithful. Yet, few clergy substantively address the threats of cohabitation and divorce to marriage, children and the long-term viability of their houses of worship. Nor do clergy or faith organizations have a plan to strengthen marriage in their faith community let alone the public square. Al Mohler, Jr, President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary has said:
“Without clear leadership from the pulpit, the issue of divorce has simply fallen through the cracks of church life, and many congregations effectively ignore divorce in their midst, as well as all the tragedy and brokenness that follow.” [iv]
However, to their credit, the Southern Baptist Convention, America’s largest Protestant church, issued a paper in 2010, “The Scandal of Southern Baptist Divorce,” It urged the denomination to confront “the spiritual wreckage left in our Southern Baptist churches by our own divorce rates and our silence about the same.” The report acknowledged that the states “where Southern Baptists predominate in number often have higher divorce rates” than other states. The report urged pastors to “proclaim the word of God on the permanence of marriage and provide enrichmdent opportunities,” and to help those in troubled marriages to seek “reconciliation.”
The Community Marriage Policy® or Community Marriage Covenant®
Marriage Savers has developed a proven answer to these trends. It has helped the clergy of 229 cities and counties (by January 2012) to adopt a Community Marriage Policy® (or, as some clergy call it, a Community Marriage Covenant®). The goal is to assure life long marriages and strong, stable families throughout a given community. Clergy join together across different religions, denominations and racial lines in a city or county and sign a covenant to make healthy marriages a priority in their congregations. Specifically, in Community Marriage Policies® (CMPs), religious leaders pledge to train Mentor Couples to help other couples at every stage of the marital life cycle to strengthen their marriages using five key strategies.
A Five Point Plan for Healthy, Intact Marriages
1. Offer four to six months of marriage preparation that includes a premarital inventory with processing of results by a trained mentor couple. The couple teaches skills of communication and conflict resolution along with biblical principles for marriage success and offers at least two post-wedding mentoring sessions.
2. Enrich all existing marriages with an annual retreat conducted at each house of worship. For example, “Ten Great Dates” invites couples to come for 10 Saturday nights to watch a 20-minute DVD on a theme such as “Resolving Honest Conflict” or “Becoming an Encourager”, and then have a date to discuss the issue. Numerous marriage enrichment events spark discussion with a new DVD, Fireproof, a movie that profiles the healing of a troubled marriage.
3. Heal hurting marriages in crisis by training couples whose own marriages once nearly failed, to mentor those in trouble, a strategy that saves 80% of marriages. Why not match up a couple, for example, who survived adultery, with one in crisis over infidelity? Couple A can say to B, “We know adultery breaks trust. We have been there, but we have restored our marriage. Let us tell you how you can do so too.”
4. Reconcile couples in advanced breakdown with a workbook course, `Marriage 911,’ taken with a person of the same gender who meets weekly for 12 weeks to help the spouse wanting to save a marriage, to grow so much she or he attracts back their errant mate in more than half the cases.
This is a powerful strategy for cultural transformation because it strengthens marriages, families, children, congregations, and communities all at the same time. Applied across a large region or state, the Community Marriage Policy will have far-reaching, salutary effects on the population, its economy and upon the social problems plaguing communities as it lowers divorce and cohabitation rates while increasing marriage (See Box for detail).
This approach could be augmented by a reform of No Fault Divorce that adds Responsible Spouse Guidelines[v] that remove divorce incentives from the law and encourage couples to reconcile or work out mutual consent agreements. Legal and religious leaders assert that mutual consent agreements alone could cut the divorce rate fifty percent. (See How to Cut America’s Divorce Rate in Half: A Strategy Every State Should Adopt, a 101-page book by Mike McManus.)
Marriage is the common good. Community Marriage Policies answer a vital need.
See how the city of El Paso, Texas, has been transformed by Marriage Mentor Ministry.
Dr. Michael T. Ross is an emergency physician and healthcare communications consultant whose marriage law reform proposals have been considered by the Michigan Legislature. Dr. Ross is founder and president of Defending Our Fathers House, a 501c3 leadership group whose mission is to establish the legal and institutional integrity of marriage and family.
Mike McManus is President of Marriage Savers, which has worked with 10,000+ clergy in 229 cities to adopt Community Marriage Policies that have reduced divorce rates an average of 17.5%, cut cohabitation by a third, and increased marriage rates. He also writes a syndicated column, “Ethics & Religion.”
[i] Nancy Frazier O’Brien, Catholic News Service, Feb. 29, 2012.
[ii] Kenneth Jones, Interview by Fred Haehnel, Una Voce America Director, June 2003 in Una Voce America, cited in Free Republic.com: http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-religion/925806/posts
[iii] Claire M Kamp Dush, Catherine Cohan and Paul R. Amato, “The Relationship Between Cohabitation and Marital Quality and Stability: Change Across Cohorts?” Journal of Marriage and Family 65 (August 2003): 503-549.
[iv] Al Mohler, Jr, “No-Fault Divorce–The End of Marriage?” Al Mohler Commentary, June 9. 2006, http://www.albertmohler.com/2006/06/09/no-fault-divorce-the-end-of-marriage-2/
[v] Ron Grignol and Michael T. Ross, “Broken Family Law: Guidelines and Fixes,” FCS Quarterly, Summer, 2011, pages 39-43