It’s no secret that marriage in America is floundering. Whether it’s divorce, cohabitation, or unfaithfulness, corrosive influences throughout the culture are leaving fewer intact, healthy marriages all the time. New data from Pew Research shows that roughly half of American adults are married — a record low. As we mentioned in a recent article, this unprecedented swell in the single population has far-reaching economic and demographic consequences. But what can couples who’ve already tied the knot or who plan to do to increase their likelihood of success? To answer that, we need to understand how this situation developed.
These days, young people frequently delay marriage. As John Stonestreet noted recently on BreakPoint, “by the time the shrinking cohort who do decide to become brides and grooms reach the altar, they’re already flirting with 30.”
According to Pew’s numbers, cohabitation and single-parent homes are also near an all-time high. Once, bearing children out of wedlock was seen as a personal and social catastrophe. Today, it has become a way of life. Marriage, for many Americans, is now just one among the many options for building a family. As Christopher Ingraham writes in The Washington Post, many millennials are simply opting to move in together rather than risk repeating their parents’ messy and heartbreaking failed marriages. Leaving an apartment, he says, is far less stressful than revoking wedding vows.
That leads to the most obvious and discussed cause of America’s surplus of singles: divorce. Ingraham reports that age-adjusted statistics for divorce in America show a significant increase of 40 percent since the 1970s — a reversal of previous inadequate data that showed a declining divorce rate. But what’s behind the trend?
In a study creatively titled “What Happens in Vegas Doesn’t Always Stay in Vegas,” researchers at the University of Virginia’s National Marriage Project found that the way couples “conduct their romantic lives before they tie the knot is linked to their odds of having happy marriages” afterward. The study’s authors noted that although the vast majority of couples today sleep together before marriage, it’s those who’ve slept with multiple partners before their wedding day who are most at risk for divorce. The bad news? Seventy-seven percent of those who have premarital sex fit this description.
It turns out, then, that the lives Americans live as singles have a dramatic impact on the health of their future marriages. But there are other factors that reliably predict wedded bliss from marital mayhem. Another study from Emory University reveals some of these surprising barometers.
Bigger, more expensive diamonds on engagement rings, found researchers, correlate with a higher likelihood of divorce. Likewise, the more expensive a couple’s wedding, the more likely that it portends a short marriage (although weddings with lots of guests accompany good marriages).
Not surprisingly, the data also shows that couples who regularly attend religious services dramatically cut their risk of divorce. But interestingly, those who darkened the doors of sanctuaries only occasionally (the Christmas and Easter types) had the highest divorce rate — higher even than irreligious couples.
The common thread in all these findings seems to be intentionality. When two people enter marriage committed to one another, surrounded and supported by friends and family, and investing in what really matters (rather than trappings), they tend to stay together. And with marriage in America in worse shape than it’s ever been, Christian couples and congregations have a duty to model an alternative.
Scripture is filled with instructions and examples of what lasting marriage looks like and how Christians should treat their spouses. Jesus reiterates his design and intention for making two people one in Matthew 19:4. “What God has joined together,” he warned, “let no man separate.” And in Ephesians 5, the Apostle Paul gives perhaps the most famous Christian teaching on marriage, calling the institution God’s crowning symbol of Christ’s relationship with his Church.
In light of this, Christian couples have a pressing duty to buck the decline of marriage in America. Our story must not be written in sad statistics. Below, you’ll find links to resources equipping families and church leaders to strengthen marriages present and future.
- Intentionally Married, Happily Married | John Stonestreet | BreakPoint | October 20, 2014
- Divorce Is Actually on the Rise, and It’s the Baby Boomers’ Fault | Christoper Ingraham | March 27, 2014
- A variety of materials on Marriage & Relationships | Focus on the Family
- Marriage Savers
- Preparing for Marriage, study guide | Family Life Today