Chapter 1: What Measures Would Strengthen Marriage?
Chapter 1 Preface
Living together before marriage is becoming more and more common among dating couples. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 3.7 million unmarried opposite-sex partners were living together in 1994. One of the most frequently heard reasons for living together before marriage is that the arrangement is a kind of trial marriage to see if the relationship will last. Critics of premarital cohabitation charge, however, that living together before marriage does not prepare a couple for the reality of marriage. They cite studies that show, in fact, that couples who live together before marriage are 33 to 80 percent more likely to divorce than are couples who do not cohabitate before marriage. Opponents of premarital cohabitation also contend that the longer a couple lives together before marriage the more likely it is that their marriage will end in divorce.
However, some researchers maintain that in order to correctly interpret these study results, characteristics of the research subjects should be taken into consideration. James Sweet, a researcher and the author of a study that found couples who cohabitated before marriage were 33 percent more likely to divorce, explains that “the type of people who live together are likely to experience more marital disruption.” According to Sweet, people who live together prior to marriage generally come from large cities and grow up in broken homes, are less romantic and religious, and are more impatient when...
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Premarital Cohabitation Can Strengthen Marriage
A few years ago when friends Ted and Nikki started PreCana [a program that prepares engaged Catholic couples for marriage], they decided against telling the priest that they were living together. One night, as they took part in a marriage preparation exercise with other engaged couples, that conflict came to a head.
A group of about 10 couples sat around in a circle with a priest and a sponsoring married couple. In the middle was a hatful of small pieces of paper, each proposing a hypothetical scenario involving “your future spouse.”
Each person had to draw from the hat and, using their imagination and problem-solving skills, respond to the scenario described. As Nikki told the story, she picked a paper out of the hat, read it and looked at Ted terrified.
She vaguely remembers that the scenario had to do with living with your partner. She stood up and started to cry, “I can’t go on with it! We are living together; OK, we live together.” Two or three other couples stood up saying, “It’s OK, it’s OK. We live together, too,” thereby transforming the PreCana event into a therapy session for Catholics who cohabitate.
Living Together Makes Sense
I, like many of my peers, live with a partner to whom I am deeply committed. My choice to live with Jay, my fiancé, before marriage came out of deep love and respect for him. Our individual work schedules were busy, we lived an hour’s drive apart and...
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Premarital Cohabitation Does Not Strengthen Marriage
For a person with a lot of friends, I’ve attended remarkably few weddings. Many of the people I know—white, middle-class, college-educated, liberal or left wing—have chosen to live together instead.
“Why spoil a good thing?” is how one woman puts it. But for most people it’s just a way of hedging their bets. In a country where nearly half of all marriages end in divorce, people want to be absolutely sure before making that final commitment.
For those who still believe in the concept of marriage at all, living together is a kind of test run; and to the consumerist mind, which is what most of us have these days, it makes good sense. People don’t buy a car without taking it out for a spin first, do they? How can a person possibly leave the choice of a life partner to chance? Living together before marriage is the only way to be sure that the marriage itself will work.
There is, however, a fundamental fallacy in this argument, which in the age of divorce makes it difficult to appreciate. A 50 percent failure rate notwithstanding, the essence of marriage is a permanent commitment. Living together tells a couple precisely nothing about marriage because living together offers neither the rigor nor the comfort of the real thing.
Not the Real Thing
When I was in high school, I used to baby-sit a lot. I loved the children I took care of, and they loved me. I was an expert at changing diapers, settling...
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Prenuptial Contracts Strengthen Marriage
We’d been married just six months, but the atmosphere in our home was already dark with dispute, disappointment, and the fallout of prior marriages. We were such a decent, loving couple, I couldn’t believe the cloud cover we’d managed to generate.
My husband turned to me one morning after our zillionth inane argument and announced it was time to get into therapy. I said flatly, “No way.” He responded with one word that overruled me: “Contract.”
The Premarital Contract
Before we got married, my husband and I had agreed that we would get outside help for our relationship if either of us felt we needed it. This was just one condition of a written agreement that we had the foresight to create in advance of exchanging vows. Our marital agreement represents a consensus we had already reached. The purpose was to provide a vehicle to resolve any future confrontation. I had no choice the morning my husband called for therapy. I joined him in the search for a therapist who, by the way, soon got us back on track.
Every partner brings to marriage a set of values—and strong views—about appropriate roles and behaviors. Ideally, these attitudes move from background to foreground during courtship as we explore with our prospective partner how we feel about such things as sex, money, work, children, in-laws, and chores. Oftentimes, though, the marriage “contract” is not explicit, and conflicts inevitably arise:...
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Public Policy Reforms Would Strengthen Marriage
The next great American challenge is to get out of the business of merely managing the decline of the family and begin the process of rebuilding it. To recreate marriage, we have to step back from the angry couple and look at marriage in a wider context: What incentives are now in place, and what incentives does marriage require? How can we restore some traditional supports, and how can we come up with innovative ways to nurture marriage? People who wish to marry are attempting to do something—something more than merely living together until they drift apart. How can law, culture, and public policy conspire to help more Americans achieve their heart’s desire?
Do not look for or expect easy answers—a single silver bullet to slay the divorce dragon. Piece by piece, the cultural, political, and economic edifice supporting marriage has been taken down, often only half-consciously, by courts and reformers who sincerely believed they were expanding “personal choice.” Reconstructing marriage will require taking a serious, unsentimental look at a wide array of public policy decisions in the light of a new understanding of what marriage as an institution requires. . . .
Welfare policy has been discussed extensively elsewhere. To that currently raging debate I would only add this proviso: The primary goal of welfare reform should not be to save money, but to reverse the trend toward unwed motherhood. Whether they...
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Indissoluble Marriages Would Strengthen Marriage
I’ve probably been hanging around [political science professor and writer] Hadley Arkes too long. Hadley has a way of coming up with wonderful little pieces of proposed legislation whose main point is less the legislation itself than the principle it establishes or absence of sound principle it exposes. For example, he has proposed that legislation prohibiting abortions in the third trimester (after “viability”) be introduced in Congress, in order to force prochoice representatives to make arguments of some kind as to why such legislation should not pass. They surely would oppose it, but what could they give as a reason for doing so? Such a law might not save many lives in the short run— there are relatively few third-trimester abortions (“only” about 17,000 a year)— but it would be valuable because it would reveal more clearly and publicly the true foundations of the pro-choice position: radical autonomy, even to the point of destroying early, developing human life.
A similar kind of proposal has occurred to me. It’s not a proposal that is likely to have much of a practical impact. I’m not even sure that it is one we should want to press for. But I think it would be interesting to put forward, in order to reveal more clearly and publicly something that many of us know is true, but that orthodox liberals would deny. This proposal concerns not abortion, but marriage.
The proposal is this: let...
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Prohibiting Teen Marriage Would Strengthen Marriage
New annulment petitions are assigned by our judicial vicar to the tribunal judges on the first day of the month. Retrieving mine from the shelf, I know before cracking a file that at least one-fourth of my cases will involve a teen-age petitioner or respondent. In many months that percentage will exceed one-third, and in a significant number of all cases both the petitioner and respondent will have been teen-agers at the time of their wedding. That teen-age marriages are markedly prone to failure is not surprising. That modern canon law still considers a 14-year-old ready for marriage is.
Raising the Minimum Age for Marriage
Until . . . 1917, canon law had basically considered anyone above the age of 12 capable of marriage. Thus, when the 1917 Code of Canon Law raised the minimum age for marriage in the church to 14 for girls and 16 for boys, the change was greeted as an improvement that recognized that something beyond mere reproductive ability was required for Christian marriage.
But the ages established for canonical marriage at the opening of the 20th century are still considered sufficient at its close, despite the fact that numerous insights into Christian marriage have been gained during the ensuing decades, and despite the fact that, in those nations most directly affected by Canon 1083 of the 1983 code, the average age for marriage has climbed well out of the teenage years into the mid-20’s. One might think of it this...
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Counseling Can Strengthen Marriage
A phenomenally successful movement of “marriage-saving” programs is springing up across the continent, and I know firsthand the difference they can make.
Twenty years ago, a project I was working on required me to commute weekly from Connecticut to Washington, D.C. I would board the train at 2 a.m. on Mondays and try to sleep my way down the tracks. After working all week in Washington, I’d arrive home late Friday night. My wife, Harriet, graciously put up with this for months, and even had candle-lit dinners waiting for me at 11 p.m. each Friday.
About this time, some couples at church encouraged us to “go on Marriage Encounter.” My first reaction was defensive: “I’ve got a good marriage, thanks.”
“No,” they insisted, “this is a way to make a good marriage better.” To this reporter, that sounded like a public-relations line, but I kept hearing rave reviews from otherwise sensible people. So I asked Harriet if she wanted to go. “NO!” she snapped.
“Why not? We’ve been apart for months. This will be good for us.”
“We can’t afford it,” she answered. Later, the friendly couples prompting me told us our way was already paid.
“By who?” I asked.
“By people who love you.”
That impressed me, since we had only been in this church a year or so.
Falling in Love Again
With no more excuses, we set off for the site...
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Fighting Strengthens Marriage
I’ll just come right out and say it: a good fight is an essential ingredient to building a good marriage. I say it in large part because I need to hear it for myself. Like countless other married people—particularly married people who remain active in their church—marital fighting remains a taboo subject. Like confiding that one is a shopaholic or hasn’t darkened the door of a confessional in years, admitting to other married people that you and your spouse spar on a fairly regular basis takes on an embarrassed and confidential tone.
Why is that? Such silence, it seems to me, conspires to put modern-day marriages at great risk. To do my part to help dispel this conspiracy of silence, I’ve made it a personal crusade to break the ice of unacceptability in casual conversation. I like to throw into conversations the fact that my husband and I fight— and I especially like to do it in the company of folks who, like me, are relatively new to marriage. I did just that several months ago, at the conclusion of a workrelated conference, when I went out to lunch with an editor I’d just met. She and her husband had been married for only six months. “Really?” said the woman, not once but several times. “You fight about that, too? What a relief!” Fighting Is Inevitable
Maybe I use the word essential to describe a good fight because, in my experience, much fighting seems to be inevitable. A quick look at why my husband and...
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