(My lovely bride and I celebrated our 29th Wedding Anniversary this past weekend; given that, as well as the Synod on the Family currently unfolding in Rome, it seems Worth Revisiting this post about marriage from January 14th, 2015. To enjoy the work of other faithful Catholic bloggers see Worth Revisiting Wednesday, hosted by Elizabeth Reardon at theologyisaverb.com and Allison Gingras at reconciledtoyou.com.)
Marriage is our oldest human institution, and the indispensible foundation for any successful society, and hence is a perennial topic of discussion. Just this past week I’ve run across two different articles, one from a positive perspective, the other from the negative; together, they say a lot about marriage today, which is to say that they say a lot about the challenges facing our world.
First, the good news. This is a feature article from Foxnews.com called “Seven ways to stay married” [full article here]. The author starts out by explaining that he wanted to know, “What can people do to have a happy, fulfilling, lifelong marriage?” Rather than ask the so-called experts (“psychologist or self-help gurus”), he went to the real experts: “older Americans who have been married 50, 60, 70 years and more.” What he found turns out to be not that surprising, at least the first six points (not all are really presented as “ways”): “ 1. Marriage is hard . . . 2. But marriage for a lifetime is worth it . . . 3. Marry someone a lot like you . . . 4. Think small . . . 5. Talk, talk, talk . . . 6. Stop trying to change your partner.” Number 7 looks like a new one at first: “Are we hungry?” “The elders”, our author tells us, recommend stopping to eat when a big fight is in the offing. As it turns out, the food is just a way of buying some “cooling off” time, which is another tried and true technique.
Which brings us to Exhibit B: a lifesitenews.com article called “Young men giving up on marriage: ‘Women aren’t women anymore’” [hat tip to Fr. Z; full article here]. The article draws on a survey from the Pew Research Center detailing attitudes about marriage among various people from various age groups. One section focuses on data showing that young men are growing less interested in marriage: only 29% say that having a successful marriage is one of the most important things, a six-point drop since 1997, while the number of women saying the same thing rose nine points to 37% over the same period (perhaps a reflection of the fact that women and their children suffer the brunt of family erosion more directly). There are plenty of other frightening statistics in the article; I found this one particularly alarming:: “Just 20 percent of those aged 18 to 29 are married, compared with 59 percent in 1960.” In other words, four out of five people in their prime child-bearing years are unmarried, which means they are either denying their children the enormous advantages of married parents who are committed to each other and to the family, or they are having no children at all. Those who do get married after thirty will have much less time for building a family (fertility starts declining sharply after 35, here), but a surprisingly large number of them will never marry at all, according to Pew’s own updated summary [full summary here] of their survey:
In 1960, some 12% of adults ages 25-34 had never been married. After 10 years, when that group was between the ages of 35 and 44, 7% of them still hadn’t wed. By 1980, when they were in their mid-40s to -50s, only 5% had still never married. The next cohort starting in 1970 followed a similar trajectory. However, each new cohort of young adults since then has had a higher share of never-married members than the cohort that came before it. If current trends continue, 25% of young adults in the most recent cohort (ages 25-24 in 2010) will have never married by 2030. That would be the highest share in modern history. (Pew Research: “Record Share of Americans Have Never Married” – bold mine)
We are headed into uncharted waters. In most western countries we are not producing enough babies to replace our current population as it dies, and an increasing proportion of those children who are being born are being raised outside of the framework of the traditional family, with all the well-documented implications for their own well-being and the health and stability of society as a whole. And, it doesn’t look like it’s going to get better soon: the Pew report also tells us that 67% of those aged 18-29, the prime family-building years, are off the opinion that “society is just as well off if people have other priorities than marriage and children”. This is a recipe for societal suicide.
And yet . . . I’m not ready to throw in the towel just yet. Let’s return to the first article for a moment, on the Seven Ways to Stay Married. We are told that marriage is hard, “both because of the range of stresses and problems that confront all couples, but also because of the fundamental difficulty of merging two separate and different people into one single life.” Nonetheless, for those who persevere, “It is a sublime experience, a connection to another person unlike any other relationship. The elders describe it as the experience of a lifetime.”
Now, I’m not privy to the author’s private notes, but I can’t help but suspect he’s left something out. Where do people find the strength and perseverance to stay at it long enough to merge themselves ”into one single life” with another person? In effect, to sacrifice themselves? One might almost say, to become one flesh? I find it very surprising that none of these long-married couples seem to make any mention of Faith, or relying on the help of God. Most of the long-married couples I know (not all, it is true, but most) would put those things at the very top of their list. Surely many of those who spoke to this author did the same. In any case, we know, as Psalm 127 puts it, “If the Lord does not build the house, in vain do its builders labor”, and also “Truly sons are a gift from the Lord, a blessing, the fruit of the womb”. Not only that, Jesus Christ provides us with both a model of self-sacrifice, and help in bearing our own burdens.
Just as God is the only sure foundation for individual marriages, so he is for society as a whole. Scripture tells us to be ready with reasons for the Hope that is within us (1 Peter 3:15), which means we need to be prepared to speak out on the importance of marriage and family; we also know that those who are not amenable to reason can often be swayed by the power of example, and so we need to show by our actions we honor and support marriage and family life, and that we find it a joyous, "sublime" experience. Above all, we need to pray for marriage, families, and for our society, and ask the Lord to yet again “turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers” (Malachi 4:6) and heal our wounded culture.