In his book, American Marriage in the Early Twenty-First Century, Andrew J. Cherlin gives a very insightful examination of marriage in the United States and some comparisons to the rest of the developed world. Some of the bad trends, such as births to unwed mothers, have actually gotten worse, now about 40 percent according to Governor Romney’s No Apology. Cherlin shows the dramatic increase in particular statistic as follows: 1950—4 percent, 1970—11 percent, 1990—28 percent, 2003—35 percent (p. 35).
Cherlin explains that while marriage is still “…the most common living arrangement for raising children…that children, especially poor and minority children, are increasingly likely to grow up in single-parent families and to experience family instability.” (p.33)
Marriage is near and dear to my heart as it is to most Americans despite the high failure rate, about 50 percent according to Cherlin (p.45). Cherlin uses the term “marriage metabolism” to describe how Americans marry at a high rate in comparison to other developed nations, but at the same time have a higher divorce rate, thus having the highest ,by far, “…marriage metabolism of any of the developed countries in question.” (p. 45)
I really liked Cherlin’s description of the types of marriages and how they have evolved. Up until the early decades of the twentieth century, “Institutional marriage” prevailed (p. 40). This was where the husband was the “unquestioned head of the household” (p.40). Thankfully, that evolved into a “Companionship marriage” which included companionship, friendship and romantic love. This form of marriage is still alive now. But another form of marriage has developed; that of “Individualized marriage,” where each partner seeks to maximize their potential and develop themselves. (p. 40,41).
I believe that the ideal marriage is a combination of the companionship and individualized marriages. Perhaps I just want to have it all, like many Americans. I believe personal growth is important and is a lifelong task as far as financial matters and most everything else in one way or another. But personal growth within a marriage certainly doesn’t preclude companionship, friendship and romantic love. To the contrary, we all need and want love.
We all need to seek wisdom, and having a soul mate can facilitate this pursuit. Positive values such as “empathy, truth, honesty, justice, cooperation, peace, compassion…creativity” and love are so essential in marriages. (How to Achieve a Heaven on Earth, p.295).
There are aspects of marriage and divorce that Cherlin didn’t address. I believe one of the reasons for the lack of marriage eligibility and divorce is the lack of fitness in mind, body and people’s connection to their little piece of God. In general, people are more attracted to others who are physically fit. Sound spiritual values can strengthen a couple’s bond through hard times, such as the loss of a job or loved one.
Love can be blind, but education, financial literacy and means, fitness, sound values; these and so many other qualities trump passing fancies of fast turnover relationships that Cherlin points out.
Like most Americans, I believe life is much better when one has a sound, loving marriage. Wisdom is an ingredient in the mix that is often overlooked, but it is something that can be the key to the survival of any marriage. Of course, this is much easier said than done. But whoever said seriously that marriage was easy? Long-term married couples that I have known say that “You have to work at it.” Thus, wisdom and perseverance, along with a strong sense of loyalty, can build a sound marriage; one that not only endures, but thrives.