February 20, 2015 by Alex Johannigman
Yesterday marked the issuing of the first legal gay “marriage” license in Texas, which has sparked predictable reactions from liberals and conservatives who are claiming that it is everything from a historic step forward in the fight for equality to a mortal blow to the health of marriages and families. But beneath the mix of excitement and worry, there are much more concerning trends that are impacting the health of marriages and families in the United States that we don’t talk about near as much. Same-sex attracted men and women make up a tiny percentage of the population to begin with, and even within that population they are less likely to want to get married than the general public. Rather than focusing on the impact that a small group of people getting legal recognition of relationships that are already happening anyway, if we want to fix the problems with marriage, lets focus on the bigger problems that are leading to significantly more broken households.
1. We unfairly expect our partners to complete us
Who hasn’t heard phrases like “she is my other half” or “he completes me” to describe a significant other? We rightly feel like we are not completely fulfilled while we are single. Unfortunately, many turn to another person to fill that void that only God can fill. This mindset contributes to the high levels of divorce and low levels of marriage which I’ll get to in a minute. We correctly recognize that our partners aren’t perfect, that they fail, that they don’t completely satisfy us. But then we incorrectly interpret that as a sign that we shouldn’t commit (or remain committed) to them.
Marriage doesn’t exist to complete us, to fix everything that is wrong with our lives, and to give us lives of bliss. That will never happen… on this world. We are made to be completely fulfilled in heaven, not on earth, where we can live with our God and our creator. The sooner we recognize that the sooner we can view our partners as imperfect people to be loved as best we can rather than our personal saviors.
If we want to truly love someone, we need to already have a healthy sense of self-mastery and self-possession. Matthew Kelly writes in his book, The Seven Levels of Intimacy:
But in order to love, you must be free, for to love is to give your self to someone or something freely, completely, unconditionally, and without reservation. It is as if you could take the essence of your very self in your hands and give it to another person. Yet to give your self-to another person, to an endeavor, or to God- you must first possess your self. This possession of self is freedom. It is a prerequisiste for love, and is attained only through discipline.
This is why so very few relationships thrive in our time. The very nature of love requires self-possession. Without self-mastery, self-control, self-dominion, we are incapable of love…
The problem is we don’t want discipline. We want someone to tell us that we can be happy without discipline. But we can’t…The two are directly related.(1)
This brings me back to my very divisive post last year about why I loved the finale of How I Met Your Mother. It was an uncomfortable reminder that when one or both people in a marriage lack discipline or self-mastery, they’re going to have trouble, even if they feel like they “complete” each other.
2. We’ve accepted no fault divorce as the norm
We live in a throw-away culture. When something is not working, rather than fixing it we go to the store and buy a new one. And that mindset seems to be impacting how we view marriage. Most of us get married to someone we really enjoy spending time with, hopefully more than any one of our other friends. But that emotional, subjective version of love rarely lasts, and once it dies, we’re ready to move on to someone else. Some of the most common rationales for no fault divorces are “irreconcilable differences” or an “irreparable breakdown of the marriage,” which translate to “we don’t get along very well” or “we don’t like spending time with each other as much as we used to.”
We’ve forgotten (or more likely, never really learned) that authentic love is an objective act of the will, not a subjective emotion that comes and goes. It is a decision to put someone else’s good before your own. That’s why we include the line in most weddings about “in sickness and in health, for richer or poorer, till death do us part.” That’s why the church often defines love in the words used first by St. Thomas Aquinas: “To love is to will the good of another.” Although this is an unpopular view, that means that if you really love your spouse and your children, their good comes before your own.
Some Republican lawmakers are justly criticized by Democrats for fighting against gay “marriage” on the grounds of “defending the sanctity of marriage” when they themselves are on their second, third, or fourth marriage. While Jesus was clear about marriage being between a man and a woman, he had an equally, if not even more direct teaching about divorce right after that:
“Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
“Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”
Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”
3. We have a destructive lack of commitment
This attitude about marriage is being passed down to the next generation, which now is getting married at a lower and lower rate. While divorce rates have been thankfully going down since they peaked in the early 80s, that is mostly due to the marriage rate dropping at an equally rapid rate.
Not only are fewer people getting married, but more of the children of the millenial generation are being born out of wedlock than within marriage, a trend that is most alarming among those without a college education. This means more children than ever are being raised in single parent homes, or in cohabiting two-parent homes with less stability than their peers with married parents, which is associated with a number of negative outcomes including higher risk of suicide, earlier and more frequent sexual activity, poor academic performance, higher rates of criminal activity, and gender identity issues, which should serve as a reminder that strong marriages and strong families create a healthier society.
4. We’re hooked on pornography
Recent statistics estimate that “about 64-68% of young adult men and about 18% of women use porn at least once every week. Another 17% of men and another 30% of women use porn 1-2 times per month.”
Why is this an issue? For starters, The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers now reports that 56% of divorce cases involve one party having “an obsessive interest in pornographic websites.” Several studies have found that partners of porn users often report feeling loss, betrayal, mistrust, devastation, and anger when they learn that the other half of their committed relationship has been using porn. Many show physical symptoms of anxiety and depression. Research has found that after men are exposed to pornography, they rate themselves as less in love with their partner than men who didn’t see any porn. On top of that, another study found that after being exposed to pornographic images, people were more critical of their partner’s appearance, sexual curiosity, sexual performance, and displays of affection.
Porn is quite literally killing love and weakening the bonds between partners.
5. We’ve made sex casual and loveless
At this point, I’m as sick as you are of talking about and hearing about “50 Shades of Grey,” but its popularity shows that a significant portion of our population thinks that sex which is based on a relationship of mutual use rather than self-giving love is sexy and worth spending $10 at the movie theater to watch. Sex has become about what I get out of it, the physical pleasure that I receive, rather than about what I can give to another person and how I can bring them joy and happiness. In the darkest of situations like we (hopefully didn’t) see in “50 Shades of Gray,” that use comes from harming another person, the exact opposite of loving him or her.
Sex, and all forms of tenderness between people, is most fulfilling and genuine when it is accompanied with a greater sense of responsibility and love of another person. Pope St. John Paul II wrote in “Love and Responsibility”:
There can be no genuine tenderness without a perfected habit of continence, which has its origin in a will always ready to show loving kindness, and so overcome the temptation merely to enjoy put in its way by sensuality and carnal concupiscence. Without such continence, the natural energies of sensuality, and the energies of sentiment drawn into their orbit, will become merely the “raw material” of sensual or at best emotional egoism. (2)
6. We’ve been convinced that children are a burden and that life is not a gift
Artificial contraception has become widely used in our culture because we see it as a way to escape the “burden” of parenthood. We view taking the pill like taking a medicine to keep us from contracting the “disease” of pregnancy, and using a condom like putting on a rubber glove before touching someone who is infected with a virus. Definitely the type of imagery you want when you’re being intimate with someone you care about, right?
Those who have an openness to life and instead decide to use natural family planning to either achieve or postpone pregnancy have cited a number of positive benefits including open communication, and a stronger bond. I’m not a huge fan of viewing NFP like many do as “marriage insurance” due to the estimated divorce rate of between 2-5% since there are probably many other factors at play (NFP users on average probably also have some other things going for them like increased emotional and spiritual maturity, self-control, and strong religious beliefs and practices which are linked to lower divorce rates), but after talking to a few people who practice it, it’s easy to see how it benefits the stability of a marriage.
“According to John Paul II, when spouses deliberately reject the possibility of parenthood through the means of artificial birth control, the fundamental character of their sexual relationship changes dramatically. Instead of being a union of persons, in which the spouses are at least open to expanding their love by becoming partners in parenthood together, contraceptive sex moves their marital relations in the direction of becoming merely a “bilateral” relationship of enjoyment, with no other purpose than to be used as a means to pleasure. Instead of being viewed as a co-creator of love, the spouse now is seen primarily as a partner in a pleasurable experience.” (3)
7. We view abortion as a solution to a difficult situation
I could write (and have already written) a lot about why abortion is immoral and takes a human life, but one effect of abortion that few people talk about is the impact it has on the relationship between the mother and father of the child who is killed in the womb.
For most couples, an abortion causes unforeseen problems in their relationship. Post-abortion couples are statistically more likely to divorce or separate. Many post-abortion women develop a greater difficulty forming lasting bonds with a male partner. This may be due to abortion related reactions such as lowered self-esteem, greater distrust of males, sexual dysfunction, substance abuse, and increased levels of depression, anxiety, and volatile anger. Women who have more than one abortion (representing about 45% of all abortions) are more likely to require public assistance, in part because they are also more likely to become single parents. (4)
Another compilation of the impact of abortion on interpersonal relationships showed that “After an abortion, the rate of marital breakups and relationship dissolution is anywhere from 40 to 75 per cent, often related to the breakdown of intimacy and trust. In addition, many women experience depression, guilt, and anger related to feelings of having been let down by their partner which, in turn, lead to communication problems and, frequently, sexual dysfunction. If their partners have manipulated or coerced them into having an abortion, women tend to feel angry and betrayed, and men, typically, feel a loss of control and pride especially if they were not consulted.”
It’s easy to throw stones at and point out the planks in the eyes of those who support or participate in same-sex “marriages,” but we have to admit that there is a lot of work that also needs to be done to recover the sanctity of marriage and preserve the health of families which we have a lot of direct control over that has nothing to do with men wanting to “marry” other men and women wanting to “marry” other women. Let’s think about ways that we can show greater love to those in our lives and support the families, especially the struggling families, who we know personally.
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(1) Matthew Kelly, The Seven Levels of Intimacy: The Art of Loving and the Joy of Being Loved. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005
(2) Wojtyla, Karol. Love and Responsibility. Farrar, Straus & Giroux. 1981
(3) Sri, Edward. Men, Women and the Mystery of Love. Servant Books, Cincinnati, 2007
(4) Shepard, et al., “Contraceptive Practice and Repeat Induced Abortion: An Epidemiological Investigation,” J. Biosocial Science, 11:289-302 (1979); M. Bracken, “First and Repeated Abortions: A Study of Decision-Making and Delay,” J. Biosocial Science, 7:473-491 (1975); S. Henshaw, “The Characteristics and Prior Contraceptive Use of U.S. Abortion Patients,” Family Planning Perspectives, 20(4):158-168 (1988); D. Sherman, et al., “The Abortion Experience in Private Practice,” Women and Loss: Psychobiological Perspectives, ed. W.F. Finn, et al., (New York: Praeger Publ. 1985), pp98-107; E.M. Belsey, et al., “Predictive Factors in Emotional Response to Abortion: King’s Termination Study – IV,” Social Science and Medicine, 11:71- 82 (1977); E. Freeman, et al., “Emotional Distress Patterns Among Women Having First or Repeat Abortions,” Obstetrics and Gynecology, 55(5):630-636 (1980); C. Berger, et al., “Repeat Abortion: Is it a Problem?” Family Planning Perspectives 16(2):70-75 (1984).