When I’m doing premarital counseling, the two books I recommend and require reading out of are Shaunti Feldhahn’s couplet: For Women Only and For Men Only. The books are built on her study of thousands of men, women and teenagers in the area of friendship, romance and marriage. Of the many powerful commodities she lists that make a great marriage, the easiest one for any couple to acquire is simply HOPE!
But it is this very thing that is sadly lacking today! The first way we have failed the next generation looking at marriage is to let them grow up thinking that attaining and sustaining a great marriage is a myth, or so utterly rare that no one should ever expect to win the “great marriage lottery.”
After 12 years of research Feldhahn concludes that a pervasive sense of pessimism about marriage today is actually a leading cause of bad and failing marriages. She says,
“If a struggling couple believes, ‘yeah, this is tough, but weren’t going to make it,’ they usually do. But once people start to think otherwise, they all too soon employ the logic of futility: if the ship is going to sink anyway, why bother working so hard to bail it out? That poisonous doubt – which is really about the possibility of marriage working in general – gets into our minds years before we approach the altar.”
You might think that acquiring marriage-hope requires saintly amounts of faith and Pollyanna positivity. You might thing hope is harder to get than say, new communication skills, or listening skills, or changed behaviors in the areas of patience, parenting, money management, or training your husband how to remember a 3 item shopping list! (My wife knows nothing about that…).
No, actually, hope is the easiest of marriage tools to get because it involves something as simple as knowledge. Yes, the facts. Based on the evidence, we need a new bumper sticker: Great Marriages Happen. I hear the doubting Thomas’s out there: that's not what I've heard! I know, right? So let the debunking begin:
- ½ OF ALL MARRIAGES DO NOT END IN DIVORCE! Yup, that’s a myth. According to the Census Bureau, 71% of people are still married to their first spouse! Yes, divorce rates are higher for second marriages, and demographers still go with a 40-50% rate. But these are projections that we’ve never actually hit. So while nobody knows exactly what the national divorce rate is, based on many factors for all marriages, it is likely in the 31-35% range.
- REAL CHRISTIANITY MAKES A HUGE DIFFERENCE. We’ve all heard that the national divorce rate is the exact same inside and outside the church. Depressing! And untrue. Yes, in an old Barna research poll, the divorce rate was the same for people who mark “Christian” on the survey as those who did not. But as you might guess, marking Christian on a survey says nothing about your spiritual and marital practices. When you re-run the numbers factoring in just one critical marriage support – regular church attendance – the number drops precipitously. 27%! Run the numbers for other practices of serious Christians, like family prayer, regular family time (even meals) together, attendance at a small group and the divorce rate becomes so small as to be almost negligible. Think about that! If Christians are divorcing as frequently as pagans it’s only those who choose to LIVE like pagans.
- MOST MARRIAGES ARE HAPPY. Married people are happier than singles, research has repeatedly shown. This fact shouldn’t be used to disparage the single life, but it should be used to confront a growing problem in the church. Singles are increasing opting for serial monogamy or cohabitation, accepting the cultures dictums about marriage: marriage kills the magic, marriage is the end of sex, marriage is unnatural, marriage is slavery, etc. Shaunti cites the research that debunks all this in her book, The Good News About Marriage.
- SMALL THINGS MAKE A HUGE DIFFERENCE. If you thought that a great marriage was built on rare things like Herculean self-control, or Yoda-like powers of discernment, think again. Feldhahn’s research shows in 20 or so areas, she shows the massive difference little things make. For example, saying thank you and using honoring language to husbands was present in 78% of happy marriages and 23% of unhappy ones. Also, using verbal and physical signs of assurance for wives, like taking her hand or regularly, sincerely calling out her beauty was present in 77% of happy marriages, 18% of unhappy ones.
Check out her book here http://www.shaunti.com/research-good-news-about-marriage/link-to-book-page/ and all the shocking and happy statistics. Imagine being able to tell a young couple, your children or yourself in hard times, that most marriages make it, most marriages are happy ones, that great marriages are formed with simple habits, and that church makes a huge, positive difference.
That would inspire something very simple and powerful in everyone – HOPE.