Tag Archives: divorce

Who Stays Married Longer?

It looks like people who have had less sexual partners before marriage.

There is a National Survey of Family Growth with numbers from 2006-2010 that indicates, after the first five years of marriage, almost 95% of both men and women (who had only one sexual partner – each other) were still married. That percentage dramatically declines as the number of sexual partners before marriage increases.

It’s just a correlation – it doesn’t tell us which causes which. Does promiscuity before marriage cause the union to crumble afterwards? Is being married too much of a commitment for people who were promiscuous?

But it does indicate that lasting marriages and promiscuity don’t mix well.  Marriage has always been about someone else. Promiscuity has always been about me.

300-3-married-college

Our values about sexual behavior have dramatically changed in the recent decades.  Our behaviors may not have changed that much, but the stigma associated with having sex…

  • as a teenager, still in school,
  • before marriage,
  • on a first date,
  • with a stranger, or
  • with someone of the same sex

has faded as our values (what we believe) about freedom and sexual activity have changed, especially for women. People are acting and thinking differently about sexuality because American values about personal freedom, social liberty and individuality inspire new values and come into conflict with others.

If the local Christian community can’t demonstrate and communicate effectively the reasons and rewards for marriage, faithfulness, commitment and sacrifice, values that have sustained the family will never stick. Families will continue to fragment.

The New American Family

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Research based on the latest census data indicate that the American family is no more. The dramatic changes in living arrangements, delayed child-bearing and longer singlehood mean that what we once thought of as a “traditional” family may be long gone.

But here’s something very interesting from a news report on the study:

Despite the negative changes in American families, one group has remained stable and most closely resembles what was once considered the American norm and that is the immigrant community. [This study] found that immigrants tend to be married at a higher rate, and divorce and remarry at a lower rate when compared to those born in the United States.

It seems like those on the road to becoming our newest citizens seem to look and act more like traditional Americans than even we do! Immigrants depend upon their families for so much:

  1. Economic support and launching into a new society – who but family wants me to succeed more?
  2. Remaining close in order to maintain important traditions and values during assimilation – while we’re becoming Americans, we want to keep cherished traditions from where we came
  3. Collaboration with other immigrant families from similar backgrounds for help making the social transitions – people who have come here ahead of us can help to show us the ropes. Family members help other family members.

As I think about it, what’s tragic is that we all need our families like this, still. It doesn’t matter if we are immigrants or native born. We all need help making it in the world around us. Family is supposed to fulfill that function.

More people in our country have terrible difficulty in life because their family just isn’t there anymore. Maybe we should look to our immigrant neighbors as examples?

 

Motherhood and Role Strain

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I got a great blog post sent to me this past week by my dean. It’s all about the role of motherhood these days here in America. The writer traces the ways it has been overcomplicated and presents contradictory expectations to young women and families. It’s a great read that I highly recommend:

We’ve Overcomplicated Motherhood Because We Don’t Like It

I was thinking about this article today when I overheard a celebrity on a talk show recounting the narrative of her recent courtship, marriage and birth of first child. I can’t remember if it went in that order, you know how it is these days. She said something very much off the cuff that stuck with me. She was talking about her wedding and she said something like , “we’re a modern couple so having a wedding wasn’t important to us.” I wondered what she meant by that.

Since 1960 the percentage of Americans 18 and older who are divorced or have never married has doubled (from 20% to 40%). I’m not sure that being modern means that people don’t want to get married, I think what’s happened is that young adults are afraid of failure. Marriage and all that it represents can seem like a daunting challenge, especially with the failures of their own parents’ relationship and some of the way’s it’s been overcomplicated. In a recent Pew study, 55% of American singles reported that they were not in a relationship and were NOT even looking for a partner. Over half the single population has given up on marriage (or even living together).

All of this brings me back to a concept that my sociology students were trying to learn last week. Role Strain describes the phenomenon of being overwhelmed by the expectations coming at us from a single social position we occupy, like being a mom, a dad or a spouse. Sometimes this “job” is just too much.

  • The expectations become unrealistic. Television, books, friends, and family can pressure us into believing we’ve got to get everything just right.
  • The lack of a support system often makes being a parent and/or spouse even more difficult. As our families become more fragmented we lose connection with an extended family that can provide experience and resources to help ease normal strains.

We experience role strain because we can’t physically, mentally, socially, or spiritually manage some of these expectations. These strains can come and go with each stage of a role but a feeling of strain can also persist with the everyday expectations and solitary nature of many family situations. The Overcomplicated Motherhood blog post details much about these kinds of unrealistic expectations.

It was interesting to read my young college students’ examples of role strain. Many chose parenting or being a spouse. It was discouraging to see the level of fatal and insurmountable difficulty that they imagine for their possible futures.

Americans have built an instant gratification society. we really don’t like to suffer discomfort. We don’t even like to wait too long in the drive-thru line!

No wonder marriage and family are fading. It costs much and our collective character is too weak to bear the burden.

“Motherhood is a choice you make everyday, to put someone else’s happiness and well-being ahead of your own, to teach the hard lessons, to do the right thing even when you’re not sure what the right thing is…and to forgive yourself, over and over again, for doing everything wrong.”   – Donna Ball

Too Poor to Make a Family?

poverty-660x280

A 2006 report, Charting Parenthood: A Statistical Portrait of Fathers and Mothers in America reveals some important connections between social class and family patterns.

Poor men and women were the least likely of any income group to be married, with the proportion married increasing as income increases. For example, 41 percent of poor men were married in 2001, compared to 66 percent of men with incomes at three or more times the poverty level. The marriage gap was even wider for women. Only about one in every three poor women is married, while about two of every three women with incomes at three or more times the poverty are married.

This difference undoubtedly reflects both the more advantaged backgrounds of those who marry, and the advantages of having multiple earners in the family that marriage can bring.

The percentage of poor men and women who are married has also been declining over the decade. Cohabitation is more common among poor men and women, declining markedly at higher income levels. Overall, 40 percent of all cohabiting relationships involve parents with children in the home.

There are numerous other facts, some alarming, many seemingly routine, but all ultimately describe an American family that is changing. While there are many reasons to explain current family patterns, the one that I wanted to point out here is the economic one.

Since the slow death of the great recession household incomes have still failed to rise. The number of people living in poverty and dependent upon the government for basic necessities continues to increase. Panic still plagues the middle class who are worried about jobs and taxes. These economic symptoms are causing people to organize themselves into different kinds of family patterns, new arrangements that harm today’s children and tomorrows future.

We are creating an ever widening gap between rich and poor. Our poorest citizens (with the largest birthrates) are raising children in broken families because the economy still isn’t working. These families will pay a brutal price right now as they try and manage families with children who stand a greater chance of:

  • A distorted self-identity
  • Poor health and obesity
  • Joining a delinquent subculture
  • Early exposure to sexuality and pornography
  • Lack of preparation for academic learning

But it’s our collective future as a society to which we must pay attention when we think about what’s happening now to these children.

Everyone is trying to solve the latest economic problem. We are American capitalists and the object of the game is to increase profits. There is nothing new here. But, Americans have also been very much concerned about the welfare of all our citizens, realizing that we’re all ultimately in the same boat. Raising the living standards of our neighbor actually helps us all.

As a significant segment of our population (45 million currently living below the poverty line) preparing their children for the future, it is our entire society that ultimately pays an even more terrible price.  As our leaders make economic decisions, let’s be certain to remind them that it’s our children and our future that’s really at stake.

 “Our hearts of stone become hearts of flesh when we learn where the outcast weeps.”  – Brennan Manning

 

 

Fragmented Identities

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Surely it wouldn’t take you but a minute to come up with a quick list of the most significant social experiences in your early life that helped to shape who you are becoming?

  • That birthday party
  • The fishing trip
  • Reading together before you went to sleep
  • Learning to drive
  • Christmas morning

Most of these experiences we take for granted. They were just part of the routine of our lives. The building bricks that helped prepare us for the next steps like our own marriage, college and the first job.

A recent article by Michael Barone in the National Review Online points out the social crisis that America is currently facing because our families are fracturing.

What is family fragmentation? The facts are easy to state. About 40 percent of babies born in America these days are born outside of marriage. That’s true of about 30 percent of non-Hispanic whites, more than 50 percent of Hispanics and more than 70 percent of blacks.

An American society that has destigmatized couples living together instead of marrying, out of wedlock births, divorce, and single parenthood is creating a two-tiered society. Children from these fragmented families experience:

  • less healthy lifestyles
  • poor education
  • higher rates of delinquency
  • less preparation for employment
  • little investment in college readiness

These fragmented families are mostly from a lower SES and are racial/ethnic minorities. This type of family fragmentation did not occur during the Great Depression. Fragmented families are producing an underclass that will cripple our entire society and no one is daring enough to say out loud, “your pursuit of happiness is damaging everyone else.”

Social Identity Theory helps to explain that as we construct our sense of self we are very dependent upon the social groups to which we belong. Families are the first and most important group that each of us experience as we develop our identity. Children depend upon a stable family group to provide role models that they in turn use to construct their own identity:

  • Gender roles
  • Parenting lessons
  • Spousal relationships
  • Work ethic
  • Career preparation

Families provide children with a number of essential and ongoing experiences that both build an individual identity and prepare for meaningful participation in society as adults.

We are nearing a time when a critical mass of our children will not have a stable family nor enough time together with their over-busy family. Our children’s social identity will more and more be built from experiences they have at daycare, school, after school groups, neighborhood peers and the media. There won’t be a basic foundational family experience to support or contradict the messages gained from these additional social relationships. The family experience is the essential experience for healthy identity formation.

As family life is rapidly fracturing and our definitions of what constitute a family are widening, this is not only damaging to our social structure, it will also produce individuals who are less certain about who they are and how to form healthy relationships with other people. I guess that’s good news for all the social media conglomerates.

 

 

Something is Missing

“I wonder how much of the day I spend just callin’ after you.” 
– Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

Didn’t you notice when you were a teenager and your favorite band had a knock down drag out fight and then someone left or got kicked out (depends on who’s telling the story). Typically it never seemed the same again. That original sound was gone.

Everyone always talks about Journey after Steve Perry left…Arnel is close, but…

We just had a number of deaths in our Sunday School class this past month – moms and grandmothers. There are also a number of other older family members that are frail and needing ever more attention. Families lose members as life marches onward, but it’s never without grief.

Then all of a sudden a young wife and mother who is a dear friend suddenly died. She left behind three children and her husband. They were all just starting the next phase of their lives, kids finishing high school and heading off to college.

People all around you are living in families that are missing someone. These days, according to our social trends, these are choices that people have made. Divorce, abandonment, single-parenthood, and living alone are all much more “normal” than they have ever been. When families fall apart or when they never get stuck together in the first place, something is always missing from our lives. A spouse, parent, sibling, and extended family connection are all holes that never get filled up with substitutions.

That missing piece never gets replaced.

The family is a system that accomplishes essential tasks for individual survival and for the health of our entire society. The individual members of that system; parents, children, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. all fulfill important roles.

We have never stopped needing dads. The National Center for Fathering reports this alarming trend from census data:

Children Living with Mother Only-bwh graph

  • Source: US Census Bureau, “Living Arrangements of Children Under 18″: Tables –CH-2, CH-3, CH-4. 1960 – Present. U.S.  Census Bureau July 1, 2012.

What about the costs to our entire society? The U.S. Army now reports that only 30% of 18-24 year-olds would qualify for military service. The rest, 7 out of 10, can’t qualify because they are too fat, didn’t graduate from high school or have a criminal record.  That’s a whole set of family related problems that effect our entire nation.

No system is perfect, but why sabotage it with promiscuity, divorce, single parent-hood, fatherlessness, and illegitimacy? These versions of family life don’t work very well. It’s been documented. We keep doing it because we are shopping for happiness and settling for what’s left.  Once you have children, it’s never about you again…they aren’t here to make you happy, you’re here to raise them.

 “The home is the ultimate career. All other careers exist for one purpose, and that is to support the ultimate career.”   – C.S. Lewis

Today, all I can think about are my friends who are trying to figure out how to put their lives back together as a family without their wife/mother.

greif-and-loss-in-adoption-relinquishment

I held a Jewel in my fingers
And went to sleep
The day was warm, and winds were prosy
I said, “Twill keep”

I woke – and chide my honest fingers,
The Gem was gone
And now, an Amethyst remembrance
Is all I own

– Emily Dickenson

“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted…”

 

What Marriage Are We Defending?

The Apostle Paul wrote to the Ephesian Christians and admonished the husbands to love their wives the way that Christ loved the church – by sacrificing his life for it (Eph 5:25).

The Supreme Court has heard cases regarding same-sex marriage and made a significant ruling last year.  All of the talking heads on television are all over it. Opinions are running riot through the air waves. The American public seems to have dramatically shifted in it’s opinion on the matter.

The Defense of Marriage Act is a federal law that defines marriage and limits it to a legal union between one male and one female. It was signed into law in 1996 by President Bill Clinton. It has now been ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court (5-4).

Former Secretary of State and Senator and First Lady Hillary Clinton has decided that she might want to run for president again. She’s come out and changed her position on same-sex marriage.  Of course, now that she’s going to run and the political winds have changed, former President Bill Clinton changed his mind too. That’s sort of what he’s famous for – jumping on whatever’s popular at the time. He’s a very successful Southern politician.

But what if all of this isn’t really about same-sex marriage?  What if our cultural anomie about marriage is an effect of something deeper – at the very heart of our civilization? What if we have slowly yet deliberately changed the very meaning of marriage?

What if marriage in our society has evolved from a union between a man and a woman for the purposes of…

  1. expressing intimacy and sacrifice,
  2. producing and raising children, and
  3. making a living together

,,,to something more immediate?

What if the real reason we get married today is because we are seeking emotional happiness and personal satisfaction with our own life?

Is it possible that the most important reason that I would get married today is because I am seeking fulfillment for emotional needs in my life (at least those that I am aware of right now)?

“I want to get married because of what it can give to me.”

I wonder if marriage is no longer mainly a domain of sacrifice and commitment but instead has been transformed to one of personal need fulfillment and a “happiness retreat” from the impersonal world of work.

Our culture has become so successful that we really don’t need other people for personal interaction. We just need people to show up and do their jobs. (Or so we think). What we can’t get from the drive-thru or the computer screen is love and happiness. As humans we need this, so we seek it in cohabitation and marriage. When happiness fades, we move on.

I think we’ve changed the purpose of marriage without even realizing it. So now, it makes perfect sense to base marriage, partner selection and even having children on individual wish fulfillment criteria.

“This makes me happy right now, so it must be the right thing to do.”

America is one of the few societies in the history of the world to base marriage almost solely on romantic love.

Members of a society who think and act like this are not at all concerned with the social repercussions of their behavior. Year after year I have shown classrooms of students research findings on the devastating effects of divorce on children. But over and over again these same students overwhelmingly answer “YES” to the statement “if two people are not happy together, even if they have children, they should get divorced.”

(Many of these ideas are from the late Judith Wallerstein)

I think we have to figure out what marriage means before we can even begin to debate who can be married.

[Did you know that over 40% of children in America are born out of wedlock?]

The world we live in has changed (it always does), our social institutions have changed. I’m not certain our values have kept up. Marriage and family isn’t a political platform plank. It more resembles the mortar and brick with which our civilization is built. As you look up and down your street, listen to the news, watch the elections, read the magazines, what is OUR civilization being transformed into for the next generation?

“As the family goes, so goes the nation and so goes the whole world in which we live.”  Pope John Paul II (1986)

Love American Style

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Did you see the pop culture Paltrow-Martin divorce announcement? It’s on a blog site called Goop – how appropriate.

A colleague pointed it out to me. The announcement isn’t very surprising. Sounds just like something from self-absorbed and disconnected Hollywood. You couldn’t write a better Robert Altman script filled with all the plastic stereotypes. Andy Warhol, where are you when we need you?

“They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.”  – Andy Warhol

What’s really interesting is the commentary after the announcement. Its authors are a husband wife team of doctors. He’s an osteopath. Looks like his wife is a dentist. Their commentary is all about the history, psychology and therapeutic benefits of divorce. Hmmm… They work in Hollywood and their books are recommended by celebrities.

They are introducing a new concept to the pop psychology jargon – “Conscious Uncoupling”

Here’s some of the statements in the blog post that struck me (you should read the whole thing):

The high divorce rate might actually be a calling to learn a new way of being in relationships.

Modern society adheres to the concept that marriage should be lifelong; but when we’re living three lifetimes compared to early humans, perhaps we need to redefine the construct. 

To put in plainly, as divorce rates indicate, human beings haven’t been able to fully adapt to our skyrocketing life expectancy. Our biology and psychology aren’t set up to be with one person for four, five, or six decades.

The idea of being married to one person for life is too much pressure for anyone. In fact, it would be interesting to see how much easier couples might commit to each other by thinking of their relationship in terms of daily renewal instead of a lifetime investment.

It seems ironic to say that a marriage coming apart is the cause of something else coming together, but it’s true. Conscious uncoupling brings wholeness to the spirits of both people who choose to recognize each other as their teacher.

He’s an osteopath and she’s a dentist.

Are you sure this isn’t a Woody Allen movie?

I’m a doctor, but I can’t write prescriptions. I can explain history and culture. I think I can shed some light on divorce as a social phenomenon.

  1. Divorce is an experience that we understand and construct through interactions with others like our parents, family, lovers, children, and friends.
  2. The experience of divorce is social and cannot be limited to psychoanalytic self examination.

Perhaps divorce is what it is in America today because of our fascination with the self. “Conscious uncoupling” seems to just mean that we can talk ourselves out of feeling guilty about betrayal and dishonesty with our spouse and children. Do you think guilt might have a positive purpose for us?

A society that has created self-centering values in order to train up better shoppers will slowly fall apart because there is no longer anything sticky enough to hold it tight in the storm.

If you’d like to know more
Census figures on divorce – take a look at marriage and divorce rates on U.S. maps. Divorce is declining, not because we all decided it was a bad idea, but because we’re living together first, we’re waiting longer to get married (women) and (as adults) we’re still living at home with our parents.

Divorce is on the Decline!

The good news is that divorce in America has been on a steady decline. Most of my college students believe that it is a number that’s always increasing. They tend to be very cynical about marriage.

You ought to think about two other trends as well. The rate of marriage is on the decline in our country and the percentage of couples cohabitating is increasing.

CHART

National Health Statistics Report: First Premarital Cohabitation

The fragile economy, shifting job market, and history of divorce have all contributed to making marriage a frightening proposition for many college students. Typically, people who live together before they get married have a higher chance of divorce. The immediacy of experience seems to be a risk worth taking since so much of the future is a dark mystery.

Questions That Can’t Be Ignored

“Everyone is guilty at one time or another of throwing out questions that beg to be ignored, but mothers seem to have a market on the supply. “Do you want a spanking or do you want to go to bed?” Don’t you want to save some of the pizza for your brother?” Wasn’t there any change?”   – Erma Bombeck

When Did Family Go Out of Business?

Nuclear Family Becomes Obsolete

I think what is being communicated here is that there’s still a chance for you and your children. Our society has decided to sanction (by de-stigmatizing) fatherless families, living together, and divorce (to mention a few). There are always causes and consequences. If we dismantle the family we will miss many of its taken-for-granted functions. Just because early and small studies indicate that the consequences aren’t that severe doesn’t necessarily mean that these are smart choices. Right?

What About Our Children?

My wife’s favorite television show is Parenthood. Often she is yelling at the characters on screen because of the poor decisions they are making. Don’t you talk back to your TV? What really bothers her the most is when parents put their own wants and desires ahead of the basic needs (emotional, spiritual, social) of their own children. What gets me talking back is the fact that in the television script this kind of behavior is portrayed as very normal, almost natural.

Barbara Dafoe Whitehead wrote that a significant transition occurred after WWII. Family stopped being an experience defined in terms of sacrifice and investment in others (spouse and children). Families have now been transformed into a place where the adults are supposed to find fulfillment – often at the expense of everyone else involved.

Is This The Way We Want to Live?

Students in my classes consistently vote for divorce and the hope of happiness rather than sacrifice and the health/well-being of children. Perhaps they are only reflecting their own experiences and youthful interpretation of the frightening world around them. I’m still not sure they understand the consequences of their choices.

“Alice came to a fork in the road. ‘Which road do I take?’ she asked.
‘Where do you want to go?’ responded the Cheshire Cat.
‘I don’t know,’ Alice answered.
‘Then,’ said the Cat, ‘it doesn’t matter.” 
— Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland