Articles from the September 1997 Unification News

The Emergence of a Marriage Culture

Diesa Seidel

Diesa Seidel is 17 years old and attending high school in Red Hook. This is a paper she wrote for her English class. Her parents Dietrich and Elisabeth are from the 74 Couples Blessing (in New York 1977).

We now live in a culture which believes the need for marriage and family is a thing of the past. From the nineteenth century industrial revolution to the late twentieth century sexual revolution, the need for a vision of marriage has been crucial to society. As times change, so do our values. The question arises whether it is an acceptable change. However, are we happier now than we were fifty years ago, or is America on a moral decline?

One aspect of change which has affected our standard of living is the misunderstanding of personal fulfillment. Lifestyles have become more and more hedonistic, which is reflected in our contemporary culture of self-gratification. The well-being of the whole is now second to well-being of the individual. How can a community work together if everyone is only interested in his/her status? How can a marriage be successful if the husband and wife only care about their individual happiness? Thus, the foundation of prosperous societies are stable marriages within them.

Another factor which has changed marriage culture has been the declining value of the institution itself. Whether one takes the secular or religious point of view, the outcome is the same. The vows which are taken reflect a lifelong commitment; however, there are exceptions. From 1900 to 1992 there was a 700% increase in divorces, 56,000 to 1.2 million. Other statistics show that within six months of their marriage, 50% of newlyweds begin to doubt the marriage will last, 39% report weekly big fights, and 4% have separated for at least one night. How can modern society find time to strengthen families in its hectic technological uprise? Now that divorce is accepted as an easy way out of commitment, can Americans ever regain the responsibilities necessary for a valued lifestyle?

These changes produce a lack of obligation and dedication in many fields of life (not only marriage), which results in a low self-image and a pessimistic outlook on life. To restore the present condition of the marriage institution, it will take a selfless attitude and unconditional devotion to that one spouse.

Most people would agree that marriage expectations and traditions have altered during the years. The chart demonstrates marriage in changing times.

By interpreting the chart above, marriage life has become less and less valuable. Not only has it begun to lose its high moral standing, but it has also begun to diminish completely. In 1960, for example, 243,000 children were living with a single parent who had never married; by 1993, this figure had risen to 6.3 million. National studies have confirmed that between 1970 and 1995 the percentage of married couples with children dropped by a third, but single-parent families nearly doubled. The need to change our present practice of marriage is urgent.

Does marriage lead to a more fulfilling life? Many liberals have argued that marriage is an outdated formality, and is nothing more than a convenience, to avoid the censure of society, for example. If two people are willing to commit their lives to each other, then marriage is unnecessary. Obviously these thinkers have misinterpreted or have not fully understood the concept of marriage. If this train of thought holds true for America, what lies ahead for the future? Are we living up to standard?

According to "The Family in America," some Russian communist groups eagerly experimented with alternatives to marriage and family. This emphasizes the point that successful married life is crucial for the well-being of a nation. Will we enter the new millennium with absurd family living conditions? How can we change the present apathy toward this institution?

Marriage is a very practical institution which recognizes and makes allowances for human failings. Simply living together without benefit of marriage does not provide the security of knowing that this is forever. The most important factor about marriage is that it is a community building act from the very beginning. Living together, on the other hand, implies that the relationship is nobody’s business but one’s own and has no community blessing to go along with it. Single couples tend to feel quite alone when problems arise in their relationships, since the community may feel it is none of its business. However, the striving for individualism in American culture has brought people to believe that it is a sign of weakness to admit that we need others. If we can accept marriage as a community event, surpassing our selfish ideals would be an easier task.

In an interview in the Washington Times, Tiger Woods and his parents Earl and Tida expressed their beliefs in the importance of family life. "Your priority is the welfare of the child first. Who he is and what is going into making him a good person has priority over making him a good athlete. The cement that holds all of this together is not love, because love is a given. It is respect and trust. Parents figure they don’t have to earn diddly from a child. That’s not true". This shows how important it is for parents and children to work together throughout various circumstances in life. It also emphasizes the importance of keeping everything in perspective, and always having a clear goal. Tiger Woods, the winner of three straight U.S. Amateur titles and three straight U.S. Junior Amateur titles, was obviously the player of the future. Woods became the youngest man to win the Masters with his record-breaking 18-under par performance on April 13. Unquestionably, without the full support of his father and mother, Tiger Woods could not have been as successful as he is today.

Recently statistics have shown that 12 to 18 months after the divorce "family after family are still in crisis, their wounds wide open.... Their symptoms were worse than they had been immediately after the divorce.... It would have been hard to find any other group of children-except, perhaps, the victims of a natural disaster-who suffered such a rate of sudden serious psychological problems" (Wallerstein). Children ages 19-23 of divorced families have surprised researchers with how scarred they have become from their own parents’ divorce. They implied how divorce was the single most important cause of enduring pain throughout their lives, as well as telling us time and again of how much they needed a family structure, guidance for moral behavior and so forth.

The following points are from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development:

1. Divorce is the leading cause in childhood depression.

2. 75% of adolescent patients at chemical abuse centers are from single-parent families.

3. Every 78 seconds a child attempts suicide; every 90 minutes, one succeeds.

4. 63% of youth suicides are single-parent children.

5. 70% of teenage pregnancies are single-parent children.

6. 75% of juveniles in youth correction facilities are from single-parent families.

Martin Luther and Pope John Paul II called the family "the school of love" and "the school of peace" respectively. Pres. Bill Clinton, in his 1996 State of the Union address, stated: "Our first challenge is to cherish our children and strengthen America’s family. Families are the foundation of American life. If we have stronger families, we will have a stronger America." If stronger families are the key to a successful nation, then how do we make them? First of all, the experiences which form our character take place in the family. Without a stable relationship between their father and mother, it becomes extremely difficult for children to learn teamwork harmoniously with each other as brothers and sisters. Many children from broken marriages tend to find it difficult to form a stable marriage; some find it difficult even to hold a steady job.

Another survey concluded that Americans value lifelong marriage and parenthood less than they did a generation ago. After a divorce, the children tend to remain with their mother. Thus, it seems that the relationship between child and mother would strengthen; however, the mother-child bond is also weakened as a result of divorce. About 50% of all children who were close to their mothers before divorce remained equally close after divorce. Nicholas Zill’s studies have found other long term effects, such that family disruption strongly affects school achievement. Children in disrupted families are nearly twice as likely as those from intact families to drop out of high school.

Another problem which results from the failure of marriage is that of the teens who end up on the streets. When they run away from home, they are usually not running away from a healthy home. Robert W. Sweet, Jr. of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, stressed the importance of family background.

As we can see, today’s marriage institution needs rebuilding. More and more people have realized the crucial importance of a successful marriage, and the responsibilities they must pass on to their children. Since today’s marriage is badly wounded, society is full of instability. This creates a need for reversing the cultural trend of attacking the institution of marriage. The Council on Families in America urges the public to participate in a national discussion on "recreating a marriage culture." (Marriage in America: A Report to the Nation, March 1995, p. 5) From political leaders to all-star athletes, the emphasis on having a strong family remains the same in all areas. Whether it be to strengthen the nation of just to feel supported in everyday life, the family plays an enormous role in the development of our lives.

More and more psychologists and other researchers have begun to realize how the effects of dysfunctional marriage (or divorce) on children have been underestimated. As Albert Schweitzer put it, "Man must cease attributing his problems to his environment, and learn again to exercise his will-his personal responsibility in the realm of faith and morals."

It is this agenda of an internal change of human beings which will be the driving force for creating a marriage culture. In its essence, it is a change of the human heart from selfishness to unselfishness.

Can America increase the levels of its standards? What would America be like without broken families, out-of-wedlock childbirth, divorces, and stepparents? Would we be living in the same type of society? We may continue to deny the effects of family disintegration, but the evidence is overwhelming that strong families will improve American society as a whole.

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