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Resources from Marriage Savers: Articles

Marriage Savers Answers 25 Tough Questions

by Mike McManus

  1. What is the evidence that half of marriages are ending in divorce?

    Demographers are projecting the number of divorces in the future from the present trend. The comparison that has stood since 1973 is that there is one divorce for every two marriages. For a quarter century! For example, in the latest year with data, there were 2,244,000 marriages and 1,135,000 divorces. The odds are, those numbers will continue. Yet it is also true, as the Barna Poll reported, that only a quarter of Americans have ever been divorced. How is that possible? Clearly there are millions like me who married 30+ years ago, who have a small chance of divorce. When I was growing up I did not know any friends whose parents were divorced. Now more than half the kids in any classroom have had the experience. I am not the person to argue with about this, but the demographers, like Dr. Larry Bumpass at the University of Wisconsin who says that if separations are included, the divorce rate is 60%.
  2. How does the U.S. divorce rate compare to other nations?

    America's divorce rate is double that of France or Germany and three times that of Japan, nations where few people are religiously active in contrast to the U.S. Only England has a divorce rate comparable to the U.S., and that only since 1996.
  3. How much has the divorce rate grown?

    Divorces tripled from 1960 (390,000) to 1979, then leveled off. There were 1,181,000 divorces in 1979, and 1,163,000 in 1997, a drop of only 1.5% in 19 years. Divorces should have come down much more since the marriage rate fallen precipitously, as noted below. One result: the number of divorced, unremarried people has soared from 4 million in 1970 to 19.3 million in 1997. This is the fastest growing segment of the population, even though more than two-thirds of divorces end in remarriage!
  4. What has happened to the marriage rate?

    The marriage rate has plunged. It fell 43% since 1960, from 148 marriages per 1,000 people to 87/1,000 in 1990. The marriage rate continued to fall to 83/1000 in 1998. For example, the number of marriages fell in a single year from 2,384,000 in 1997 to 2,244,000 in 1998.
  5. How much has cohabitation increased?

    The number of unmarried couples living together has soared ten-fold since 1970:There were only 430,000 couples cohabiting in March, 1960 and a staggering 4.2 million doing so in March, 1998. The Census estimate of 4.23 million couples cohabiting was taken in March, 1998. Cohabitation lasts only 1.3 years on average. By December of that year probably another 2 million were doing so. So the number cohabiting in a year is probably 6 million couples, nearly triple the 2.24 million who married in 1998. Cohabitation has become the dominant way men and women in America begin their relationships -- not marriage. According to Dr. Linda Waite of the University of Chicago, "Recent figures show that almost two-thirds of young adult men and women chose to cohabit first rather than marry directly." The pattern is taken into the church. In dozens of cities, hundreds of pastors tell me the majority of couples coming for a church wedding are living together.
  6. Is cohabitation popular with the general public?

    Yes. Remarkably, 55% of Americans believe it is a good idea for couples to live together before they marry, according to a Wirthin Poll for the Family Research Council in 1997 This is evidence that movies and TV have transformed America into a post-Christian age. Even 45% of those who attend church regularly agree that it makes sense for couples to cohabit first! Isn't that evidence that pastors have avoided the issue, and are as culpable as Hollywood? Wirthin reports that 26% of adults cohabited and 3% are doing so at any moment.
  7. Why is cohabitation is a double cancer of marriage?

    For millions, cohabitation is the substitute for marriage. The number of never-married adults has grown from 21 million in 1970 to 46.5 million in 1998 while the national population grew only 28%. Thus, the number of never-married people increased by 25 million in a generation. The percentage of men and women aged 35-39 who have never married has tripled since 1970. A Wirthin poll found that 43% of all single women have cohabited. Obviously, many women believe that living together is a step toward marriage. They are sadly mistaken. This is one role they cannot audition for.
  8. Should "trial marriages" be called "trial divorces?"

    Absolutely. Most cohabiting couples break up before marriage or afterwards. At least 40% of couples living together do not marry. "Marriages that are preceded by living together have 50 percent higher disruption (divorce or separation) rates than marriages without premarital cohabitation" according to the University of Wisconsin's National Survey of Families and Households. Instead of half of marriages ending in divorce, 75% do so. Thus, out of 100 cohabiting couples, 40 break up before the wedding, but of the 60 who do marry, 45 will divorce within ten years. That leaves only 15 intact couples after a decade. Few who live together seem to know the odds of failure. In John 4, Jesus was critical of the woman at the well who was living with a man who was not her husband. Here is secular evidence he was right. Yet have you ever heard a sermon on cohabitation?
  9. What percent of American adults are married?
    Only 56% of U.S. adults are married today, up only 1% from the lowest percentage ever recorded according to the Census Bureau.
  10. How many million children have seen their parents divorce?

    One million American children have suffered from divorce every year since 1972, or about 30 million children over the last three decades. Half of them will witness a second divorce before aged 18. Some will see many cohabitations, and as many as two to five marriages by parents.
  11. Are children harmed by divorce?

    Yes, profoundly. Dr. Judith Wallerstein, who tracked 60 divorcing families for 25 years, writes in Second Chances: Children feel intensely rejected when their parents divorce: "He left Mom. He doesn't care about me."

    Dr. Wallerstein was "surprised to discover that the severity of a child's reaction at the time of the parents' divorce does not predict how that child will fare five, ten and even fifteen years later....Girls seem to fare much better psychologically than boys. A sleeper effect in females surfaced of troubles they are experiencing now at entrance into young adulthood (which) came as a complete surprise. Girls who have never been betrayed or abandoned by a lover fear betrayal and abandonment...Many find maladaptive ways to cope. Some take many lovers at one time. Others seek out older men who are less likely to betray a younger woman." Many cohabit rather than wait for engagement.

    "Ten years after divorce, close to one-half of the boys (now 19-29 years old) are unhappy, lonely, and have few, if any lasting relationships with women...One out of three young men and one of ten young women between the ages 19 and 23 at the ten year mark are delinquent, meaning they act out their anger in a range of illegal activities including assault, burglary, arson, drug dealing, theft, drunk driving, and prostitution," wrote Dr. Wallerstein.

    Even 25 years after their parents' divorce, their adult children say, "My childhood ended with my parents' divorce." Of the 60 fathers, 57 remarried and stopped child support when their children reached 18. Few of the children attained college or graduate education of their affluent fathers. (However, fathers underwrote the college education costs of their stepchildren and their children from a second marriage but rarely their own children from a first marriage.) Most of those offspring had difficulty bonding to someone of the opposite sex. There was much cohabitation and few lasting marriages.
  12. How many children live without their fathers, and what is the impact on children?

    In 1960, 7 million children were living without their fathers. Today the number has soared to 24 million, according to the National Fatherhood Initiative. Nearly two-fifths of all kids live in homes without their father. Of those children, more than half have never been in their father's home, and 40% have not seen them in at least a year. Never in the history of the world has there ever been such an abandonment of children by their fathers!

    Impact Increases for Decades: Dr. Wallerstein recently re-interviewed children of divorce 25 years after the divorce. Her conclusion is chilling: "Adults get over divorce, but unlike adults, children's suffering does not reach a peak at divorce. The impact increases over time, throughout the first three decades of life and in all developmental stages."

    The impact is calamitous:
    1. Teen Suicide: As divorces tripled, teen suicide rates tripled. Broken homes contribute to three of four teen suicides and four of five psychiatric admissions.
    2. Poverty: Many kids are pushed into poverty. Children whose fathers left experienced their 1985 income fall from $2,435 a month to $1,543 four months later, a 37% drop. Since 1970, child poverty grew by 42 percent. Isabel Sawhill, of the Urban Institute says, "The rapid growth in the number of children living in single-parent families can explain virtually all of the growth in poverty among children since 1960."
    3. Out-of-Wedlock Births: Children growing up with only one parent -- compared to kids with both parents -- are three times more likely to have a child out of wedlock, 2.5 times more likely to be teen parents, and twice as likely to drop out of school or become delinquent.
    4. Prison: Of juveniles or young adults serving in long-term correctional facilities, 70% did not live with both parents when they were growing up.
    5. Future Divorce: When children of divorce marry, they are much more likely to experience divorce themselves. Why? "They more often escalate conflict and reduce communication" with a spouse than those from intact homes.
  13. Are Adults also harmed by divorce?

    Yes, in the vast majority of cases, according to Dr. Wallerstein:
    1. In two-thirds of the former couples, one partner is unhappy, lonely, anxious, depressed and financially precarious ten years after the divorce.
    2. In 25% of the couples, both former partners are worse off, suffering from loneliness and depression.
    3. In only 10% of the cases do both former partners reconstruct happier, fuller lives after a decade.
  14. What percent of second marriages fail?

    Sixty percent. So how long are people who are initially happy after a divorce, and remarry, remaining happy? There are no greener fields. We need to learn how to make the marriages we are in be successful.
  15. Do divorced people live shorter lives?

    Yes, divorced men are twice as likely as married men to die in a given year from heart disease, stroke, hypertension and cancer, four times more likely to die in auto accidents and suicide, and are seven times more apt to die from cirrhosis of liver and pneumonia. Divorced women are two to three times as likely to die of all forms of cancer as married women. The impact of divorce on health "is like starting to smoke a pack of cigarettes a day," says Dr. David Larson, President of the National Institute for HealthCare Research.
  16. How many of those on welfare were married, or still are, but are separated?

    According to Census, "Socioeconomic Characteristics" March, 1995. More than half (52%) of welfare recipients were once married!
  17. Is the church part of the problem?

    Absolutely. Three-fourths (76%) of all marriages are blessed by the church, and Gallup reports that in 1999, seven of ten of all adults were members of a church or synagogue, and 43% attended services weekly. Yet for a generation, half of new marriages failed. Clearly the church has access to most couples, but has not used that access to prepare couples for a lifelong marriage, to deepen the marriages of couples in the church, or to save the troubled ones. In fact, few pastors have ever preached a sermon on divorce. Based on my unscientific polling of clergy in dozens of cities, not one pastor in 50 has preached on cohabitation. Sadly, most churches and synagogues are "blessing machines" or "wedding factories" grinding out weddings on Saturday with little thought about whether they would succeed or not. Yet the Wirthin Poll indicates that 55% of Americans believe that churches can do the MOST to promote strong, healthy marriages. Yet sadly, either churches have never considered that to be their role, or have abandoned it.
  18. Is there good news about marriage?

    There is new, powerful evidence that marriage is of enormous benefit to both men and women. In a sense, it is the opposite information noted above about divorce's negative impacts. Married couples have better health, longer lives, much greater wealth and greater happiness than those who are single for whatever reason. Oddly, this is news in our culture. Again, secular evidence backs up Scripture. "The Lord God said, `It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.'" Genesis 2:18
    1. Yes! There's Good News at Two Levels. First, Marriage Is Key To:
      1. Health, Long life
      2. Happiness
      3. Wealth
      4. Life: A woman aged 48 who is married has an 87% chance of living to age 65; but a divorced woman's odds are only 67%. A married man at age 48 has an 83% chance of living till age 65, but a divorced man has only a 63% chance of survival!
      5. Happiness: Married people are twice as likely as those who are single for whatever reason to say they are "very happy." Some 38% of married couples say they are very happy, compared to 14% of divorced men and 18% of divorced women, about 21% of the never-married, and an average of 18% of the separated.
      6. Wealth: A married couple in their 50's in 1994 had net assets of $132,000. But a divorced person, $33,600; surprisingly, a never-married person, only 35,000; the separated, only $7,600, according to Linda Waite of the University of Chicago.
    2. Marriage Savers Is Helping Bring Down the Divorce Rate:

      Furthermore, there is great hope for bringing down the divorce rate of any church or community. Churches have pioneered answers that are saving marriages by preparing couples better for marriage, strengthening existing ones or restoring troubled marriages. Some "Marriage Saver Churches" have nearly eliminated divorce! Christ Lutheran Church in Overland Park, KS, a church of 1,500 people, has not had a divorce in three years except two couples who walked off without telling anyone they were in trouble. For a profile of six Marriage Saver Congregations, click here.

      While relatively few churches are taking these steps, it is possible to persuade groups of clergy - typically 30 to 300 pastors, depending on a city's size - to come together across denominational lines to adopt these reforms and thus agree on a strategy to roll back America's marital darkness by creating a "Community Marriage Policy." In at least 25 cities, divorce rates have plunged as a result. For example, divorces have fallen by 30% in Modesto, CA, the first city to adopt a Community Marriage Covenant(r) in 1986. Newer cities are getting better results. Divorces plummeted by a third in Kansas City, KS and El Paso in only three years - and by 17% in Chattanooga in only two years. By contrast, as noted above, U.S. divorces have come down only 1.5% in 13 years.
  19. How big is Marriage Savers? What has been its impact?

    Marriage Savers is not a giant institution with dozens of staff people. We are my wife and me, Rev. Larry Ballard, our Mid-west Regional Director, Rev. Del R. Palmer, our Southern Regional Director, a secretary plus dozens of volunteer leaders around the nation. Yet we have been able to help 140 cities, as of April, 2001, to adopt a "Community Marriage Policy(r). We do know the results our work in 28 cities. Some 32 of them have had a drop in the divorce rate 10-100+ times more than the US rate. One remained the same and two saw an increase in the number of divorces. See our memo on the Web site: Note particularly my report comparing the one-third decline of divorces in Kansas City, KS and its suburbs compared to Kansas City MO where divorces actually increased at the same time. Why? No clergy were organized on the Missouri side of the river, and the press coverage was targeted at Kansas readers.

    Robert Rector, of the Heritage Foundation, said there are enough results from enough cities which adopted Community Marriage Policies, that "It is up to the critics to prove McManus wrong."
  20. What is "Retrouvaille?"

    Retrouvaille (pronounced Ret-roo-vie, a French word for Rediscovery) is a weekend retreat that has been attended by 60,000 deeply troubled marriages. "Back-from-the brink" couples whose marriages once nearly failed, tell participating couples how the Lord helped them save their marriages. They donate their time for a weekend to help other couples make it. Participating couples, after hearing an inspirational story, are asked to write to each other for ten minutes on specific topics, such as "What do I have difficulty in talking to you about, and how does that make me feel?" After writing, couples return to their motel rooms to read each other's reflection and to talk about them in private. The result? Retrouvaille routinely saves four out of five troubled marriages! This is the exact opposite of what happens when going to a therapist, in which couples spill their stories to someone who does not know them, at a high cost with typically low results. Call 800-470-2230 to talk to the nearest Retrouvaille and ask what their results have been.
  21. How else can marriages be saved?

    The most important answer can be summed up in one sentence: In every congregation, there are couples in strong marriages who could be of help to other couples, but have never been asked, inspired or trained to come alongside another couple, and be helpful. We call these couples who can help save marriages, "Mentor Couples." Their marital backgrounds differ. Some have been in a solid, happy marriage for 15-40 years, and could help prepare couples for lifelong marriages. Others have had marriages that nearly ended in divorce, who really could be of help to those now considering divorce. And some couples in second marriages with stepchildren, have truly created "blended families" who could help others to do so.

    In short, Mentor Couples can help other couples:
    1. Avoid a bad marriage before it begins
    2. Prepare for a life-long marriage
    3. Strengthen existing marriages
    4. Restore 80% to 90% of the worst marriages
    5. Help 70% of the separated to reconcile
    6. Enable four out of five stepfamilies to be successful
  22. How can Mentor Couples help prepare couples for a life-long marriage?

    Couples considering marriage or who are engaged can be given a premarital inventory that can predict with 80% accuracy who will divorce. Nationally, more than 200,000 couples a year take a premarital inventory. Of that number about one tenth break their engagements! Studies show that those who break an engagement after taking a premarital inventory - have the same scores as those who marry and later divorce. That's how a bad marriage is avoided before it begins.

    If the premarital inventory is administered by a Mentor Couple, who have more time to give than the pastor, about 15% of couples break up before the wedding. At my church we trained 52 Mentor Couples who worked with 262 couples preparing for marriage. Of that number, 40-50 broke their engagement before there was a marriage. But of the 220 who did marry, we know of only six divorces in eight years. That is about a 3% failure rate. So we can say to couples who marry after our marriage preparation, "We can say with 95% certainty that if you marry, you will obtain `marriage insurance' here."
  23. Can Mentor Couples Save Troubled Marriages?

    Yes. The best example is a proven reform called "Marriage Ministry." It began at an Episcopal Church in Jacksonville, FL when Rev. Richard McGinnis asked this question, that any pastor could ask, "Are there any couples here whose marriages were once on the rocks, but who have come off of them, and whose marriage is now being healed?" Out of 180 people in church that day, ten couples met with him. He told them, "I am overwhelmed trying to save all of the troubled marriages in this church. I prayed and asked God what to do. What came to me was that just as Alcoholics Anonymous helps ex-drunks to overcome their addiction -- there might be "back-from-the-brink" couples who could help those now considering divorce, to save their marriages. Would you be willing to at least share with each other and my wife and me how the Lord helped you to save your marriage? Seven couples agreed to do so. Within five years, they had worked with 40 couples considering divorce, and saved 38 marriages! This Marriage Ministry has now been planted in 25 churches. And they are saving nine out of ten marriages! (Compare that to therapists who often save only a fifth of troubled marriages.) For example, First Assembly of God of Rockford, IL has trained 14 couples who have weathered life's storms, who have helped restore more than 100 deeply troubled marriages, losing only four to divorce. To read more about this, see a memo on "Six Model Marriage Saver Congregations." Or read Chapter 10 of my book, Marriage Savers: Helping Your Friends and Family Avoid Divorce.
  24. What is a Marriage Savers Congregation? How can my church become one?

    A Marriage Savers Congregation trains a network of Mentor Couples to help other couples be successful. They put a "safety net" under every marriage, virtually eliminating divorces in a local congregation.

    You can learn how to put a safety net under every marriage by coming to a National Training to Create a Marriage Savers Congregation that we hold twice a year. The charge is as little as $210 for a pastor and up to three couples. And that includes $110 worth of materials. For example, attendees will receive our new 182-page Manual to Create a Marriage Savers Congregation and meet the marital pioneers who created the most successful mentoring programs for every stage of marriage.Visit our Church Training page for details/
  25. What is the background of Mike McManus?

    I am a former TIME correspondent and have been a syndicated columnist for 23 years. My "Ethics and Religion" column is syndicated by The New York Times. I research everything that I write about, and provide secular evidence that Scripture's guidance on morality, marriage and divorce makes practical sense. As a speaker, I persuaded the clergy of Modesto, CA to adopt America's first Community Marriage Policy(r) in 1986. My wife, Harriet, and I created Marriage Savers in 1996 to devote full-time to helping churches and communities bring down the divorce rate. We now travel together visiting 20-30 cities a year, training both pastors and Mentor Couples to launch proven Marriage Savers reforms.

A Final Word

These are brief answers to complicated questions. The final answers, which offer the most hope, are very condensed. We urge readers to learn more from our website or call us at Marriage Savers: 301 978-7105.