Resources from Marriage Savers: Columns
The Issue for
Conservatives is Marriage
(First of a two part series)
Copyright © 2009 Michael J. McManus
Conservatives in Washington are lost. They do not know what issue to
How about rebuilding marriage in America?
Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation, and the godfather of Welfare
Reform has written: "If poor mothers married the fathers of their
children, nearly three-quarters of the nation's impoverished youth would
immediately be lifted out of poverty."
David Goldman reported another startling finding in the May issue of
First Things: "Consider this fact: America's population has risen
from 200 million to 300 million since 1970, while the total number of
two-parent families with children is the same today as it was when
Richard Nixon took office: at 25 million."
Why? America's marriage rate has plunged 50 percent since 1970. If the
same percentage of couples were marrying now as in 1970, there would be
3.3 million marriages a year, not 2.2 million.
What's behind the precipitous drop in the marriage rate? My wife and I
published a book last year with the answer: Living Together: Myths,
Risks & Answers. We note that two-thirds of all marriages are
preceded by cohabitation. Why? Most young people believe the myth that
they can test their compatibility by cohabiting. That is a lie that
needs to be refuted from the pulpit of every church and in every high
school and college.
Consider the numbers. In 2008, 5.8 million couples lived together. But
only 1.5 million got married. That means that three-quarters underwent
what we call "premarital divorce" which is as painful as real divorce.
Evidence? Failed cohabitation is such a searing experience, it has
diverted tens of millions from marrying at all. The number of
never-married Americans tripled from 21 million in 1970 to
60 million in 2006 while population grew only 48 percent.
What of those who do marry after living together?
According to a study by Penn State, those couples are 61% more likely to
divorce than those who remained apart. That's why the divorce rate has
risen in 36 states from 2005 to 2007 - even as the number who marry has
Thus, while cohabitation has become the dominant way male-female unions
are formed - the sad fact is that only a tenth are able to
build marriages out of it.
Cohabitation is the worst possible way to test a marital relationship.
It is not a trial marriage - but a trial divorce. The only question is
whether couples break up before the wedding or afterwards.
St. Paul wrote in I Corinthians: "Flee fornication." What is
cohabitation but fornication raised to the 10th power? What's wrong with
it? "He who sins sexually sins against his own body," the Apostle
warns. Is that wisdom not stunningly clear when 90 percent of
cohabiting couples fail to build a marriage?
In my nearly five decades as a journalist, sociology always backs up
Why are couples (most of whom call themselves Christians), living
Have you ever heard a sermon on cohabitation? I bet not. And why not?
Few cohabiting couples are in church. But there are lots of parents of
cohabiting couples who don't know what to say to adult children. What
parents need is data backing Scripture.
St. Paul outlined the answer: "Test everything. Hold onto the good.
Avoid every kind of evil" (I Thes. 5:21-22). Couples who are cohabiting
are embracing evil.
What's a better way to test the relationship? In our home church, my
wife and I created a four-step plan that we have taken to thousands of
1. Require a premarital inventory that asks couples if they agree
or disagree 150-200 statements like this: "To end an argument, I tend to
give in too quickly." The inventory gives couples an objective view of
strengths and where they need to grow.
2. Offer couples a trained Mentor Couple to discuss all of the
items over six sessions of 2-3 hours. Mentors also offer exercises to
teach skills of conflict resolution.
3. Move apart, if cohabiting. Our church won't knowingly marry
cohabiting couples. If they refuse to do so, they still get the
inventory, mentoring and skill training.
4. Stop having sex until the wedding. We show them a study that
reports a much lower divorce rate for those who are chaste. The
sexually active are two-thirds more likely to divorce. Of 60 couples we
have personally mentored, only ten were chaste when they came to us.
But of the 50 who were sexually active, 43 decided to honor God.
Result? Of 288 couples our church prepared for marriage, 55 decided
not to marry, a big 19% who avoided a bad marriage before it began.
But of 233 who married, there were only seven divorces/separations in a
Compare our 97 percent success rate with cohabitants' 90 percent failure