Saturday, September 29, 2007

Yea for Marriage

Maybe you read the statistics that said fewer marriages were making it to their 25th Anniversary these days. Divorce is up, marriage is out and all that.

Turns out the statistics were wrong. Or to be more precise, that study had a major flaw – about 10% of the marriages it studies had not been married long enough to have reached their 25th anniversary yet – they still had another six months or so to go. Once they did (the study took place in 2004), turns out MORE marriages are lasting longer. Marriages today are MORE STABLE than they have been in decades. Yippee!

If you want, you can check out the article in today's NY Times.

So, whatever modern times have done to marriage, you can rest assured they have not killed it. It's different, that's true. People are marrying later (my father was 23 when he married – I was 30). But then, marriage has always been an evolving state. Never in our history has it meant just one thing.

Here are some examples of what I mean. Once, marriage meant one man, several women. The bible certainly shows many instances of that, and even today there are some cultures where polygamy is common. Once, women were seen as property or at best as junior partners. It was only in our church's 1928 prayer book that we removed the word "obey" from the bride's wedding vow.

And don't think the two-income household is something new. It was actually only the 50s and 60s that saw women staying home as a reaction to the return of men from World War II and a desire to get back to "normal." Problem is, the normal they created after the war had never existed before it. More women worked (albeit in different jobs) in the 20s and 30s than in the 50s. Added to that is the fact that many more households were farms where everybody worked equally to earn one family income.

Oh, and did I mention those good old days when people quite often just skipped over the whole marriage deal? Throughout history there has been something called common law marriage – that is, a marriage without any legal documentation or ceremony. It used to be the norm in Europe until the Council of Trent. It is still legal in several states here in the U.S. All it takes is for the couple to say, "We're married." In some places there is also a minimum amount of time for them to have lived together first.

When couples come to me for pre-marital counseling, we talk a bit about the history of marriage, of how our country was once a haven for young men and women who had run away from marriages they did not want back in "the old country," how it is easy to get into a marriage, traumatic to get out of one, and hard work to stay in a healthy loving marriage. Amazingly enough, most of them go ahead with it.

Yes, you get those who mess up or don't take it seriously and end up in divorce. But my sense is that most of them are in it for the long haul, prepared to do the work and usually up to the task. More than fifty percent of those marriages make it despite a harsh economic climate and a society that works hard at keeping people too busy for family time. More marriages stay together longer today than thirty years ago. That's good news worth celebrating.