Editor's Note: The following article appeared in Washington Watch, June, 2000, printed by the Family Research Council (http://www.frc.org) and is reprinted with permission. The Family Research Council offers a complimentary introductory packet to those who would like more information about the organization (801 G Street NW, Washington, DC 20001; 1-800-225-4008).
If we look at divorce statistics, it is easy to get the wrong picture. Almost by default, we assume the man leaves behind a long-faithful, if older, wife who sacrificed to help him and their children. Usually, we envision a relationship with a younger woman who is all too willing to help him spend the wealth originally intended for his family to complete the picture. Such stereotypes are there for a reason. Too frequently, they represent the case. Would it surprise you, however, to learn that only 25 to 30 percent of all divorces are initiated by the husband? That means that the majority of marriages end as a result of the wife's action. Do you know that, years later, more men than women mourn the break up of their marriages even if the husband initiated the divorce? Therapists who work with troubled marriages often say that if the woman wants out, she's made up her mind and there's no changing it. Men are much more amenable to recommitting to their families and trying to fix the problem.
While initially counterintuitive, this trend has long been in the making. Barbara Dafoe Whitehead notes in The Divorce Culture that, as early as the 1970s, women were more likely to express a liberal understanding of marriage and divorce than men were. Today, they are aggressively acting out those liberal sentiments.
Divorce laws made splitting up families easier, but the intellectual class has been a willing accomplice to familial destruction. Before the arrival of Dr. Laura Schlessinger, there was hardly a self-help book to be found that didn't tell women that divorce might be good for them. If you were dissatisfied with your married life, you owed it to yourself and your children to start again. Never mind the vow taken before God and witnesses that you would stay through thick and thin. The important thing was self-fulfillment. If your husband wasn't meeting all your needs, it wasn't because you were asking too much. It was because you had outgrown him--or so goes the mantra.
The opinion that it was better to move on, even if to spare children from unhappy circumstances, was based on shaky science, however. Now, having studied the devastating effects that divorce has had on children for more than a generation, we know better. Study after study demonstrates that children of divorce suffer tremendously. They do worse academically, are more prone to delinquency, are more vulnerable to the appeal of substance abuse, are more likely to bear a child out of wedlock, and are less equipped to enter marriage themselves. It is time to do some hard thinking about how to stay married, even when times are tough. It is time to revisit the idea of love as a matter of commitment and obligation rather than merely as a warm fuzzy feeling.
Demographers predict that more than half of all marriages entered into since the 1970s will end in divorce. More than one million children a year watch their families torn apart. Thanks to no-fault divorce, marriage has become, in the words of Maggie Gallagher, "one of the few contracts in which the law explicitly protects the defaulting party at the expense of his or her partner." That strips all legal protection from the marital union, making it easier for spouses to selfishly focus on themselves rather than on their obligation to their families. Not surprisingly, more women entered the labor force after no-fault divorce reforms were passed that protected them and their earning potential in the event of a marital break-up. Making divorce more legally difficult is not the total answer, however. Our heart-attitude toward the marriage commitment needs changing as well.
To expect another human to be responsible for our personal fulfillment is too much. Only God has the capacity to complete our lives. He should be the third part to any marriage. June, the traditional month of brides, seems an appropriate time to think about focusing our eyes, not upon ourselves, but upon the families we form through marriage.
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