I’ll be away for the weekend, helping to run a Marriage Encounter retreat, in which the First Mate and I help other couples strengthen their relationships. We’ve been doing this for ten years with Twin Cities Marriage Encounter, a tremendous organization, and we’re privileged to serve on their board as the president couple. It gives us an opportunity to build our community, as strong marriages mean strong families, and strong families create strong communities.

This past week, I’ve talked about the upcoming weekend during my daily shows in order to get people interested in it. I thought for today I’d share part of one of the talks I’ll give over the next two days as both a taste of the weekend, and to underscore why the First Mate and I chose this together as our hobby. It’s called “Crisis and Statistics,” and the numbers are stunning.

We don’t include this to scare you, but we want to give you an accurate picture of the state of marriage in today’s world. The National Marriage Project at Rutgers University report in 2001 describes a social institution under siege, and its updated statistics in 2008 clearly showed that things are getting worse. Not only did the marriage rate drop by almost half from 1960 to 2007, but also the percentage of divorced adults has skyrocketed. The percentage of divorced adult women in the US went from 2.6% in 1960 to 11% in 2007, and for men, it went from 1.8% to 8.6%. Both numbers are all-time highs.

In 2006, 64% of high-school boys and 58% of high school girls believed that living together is good practice for marriage. Cohabitation has increased in this period from 439,000 people to well over 6 million, despite evidence that couples who cohabitate are more likely to divorce. Fifty-two percent say that they see so few successful marriages that it causes them to question marriage as “a way of life.”

Marriages are less happy today than in past decades, and the damage that divorce does to children has created a vicious cycle of pessimistic expectations. From 1976 to 2004, the percentage of high-school girls who said that childbirth out of wedlock is worthwhile rose from 33 to 56 percent. Is this surprising? It shouldn’t be; an amazing 26% of American children live with a single parent. The percentage of births to unwed mothers has increased from 5.3% in 1960 to 38.5% in 2006, more than a seven hundred percent increase.

What has caused this seismic shift in our culture? For many Americans, the pursuit of individual fulfillment and individual happiness has become an obsession, almost a religion in itself. Values, once deeply held, that stressed family and community now seem hopelessly outdated. “Until death do us part” has been replaced by “as long as I’m happy”. Couples seem to be marrying for better, richer, and in health … and conveniently forgetting the other half of the vows. In fact, a few years ago, Fox reported that people have begun actually changing the vows to reflect that. A friend of ours speaks of a magazine article about a London jeweler who makes wedding bands that don’t go all the way around the finger. The message is that there is always a way out – if you’re not happy.

The First Mate has a great suggestion: try taking a walk through a local cemetery. Read the inscriptions on the markers or headstones. You won’t find any that say: “Drove a really cool car.” “She visited the French Riviera.” “His suits were all tailor-made.” “Got broadband Internet connections before everyone else on his block.” You’re going to see what people will really remember you for: “Beloved husband.” “Devoted wife.” “Loving father and mother.”

It’s all about building families, and that starts with the marriage.

That’s why we put our time and our money into Marriage Encounter. If you’d like to support this non-profit organization with a tax-deductible donation, please use the PayPal button provided. If you’d like to attend a Twin Cities Marriage Encounter, visit our website to schedule a weekend. It’s a great investment in the most important relationship in your life.

Tags: religion