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For Your Marriage

Marriage Today covers current trends and research pertaining to marriage and family life in today's world.

Marriage in the News July 2009

  • Immigration reform that reunites wives with husbands, parents with children
  • Is U.S. divorce rate declining?
  • Unemployment’s crushing effects on marriages and families
  • Lessons learned on enduring love in marriage
  • Key challenges faced by U.S. bishops in defense of marriage
  • Statistics on tying the knot with someone of another religious affiliation
  • Family breakdown linked to poverty: Support urged for marriage and family


Immigration Reform That Reunites Wives and Husbands, Parents and Children

Church leaders during June expressed particular concern about immigration policies that divide husbands from wives and children from parents.

“Our fellow human beings who migrate to support their families continue to suffer at the hands of immigration policies that separate them from family members,” Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said in a June 18 statement issued on behalf of the nation’s bishops during their spring meeting in San Antonio, Texas.

Bishop John Wester of Salt Lake City called it “extremely important” June 2 that immigration barriers keeping “the nuclear family – husband, wife and child – divided are removed as soon as possible.” The bishop, who chairs the U.S. Catholic bishops’ Committee on Migration, spoke in a letter expressing support for a bill on Capitol Hill known as the Reuniting Families Act.

“Too often our current system keeps families apart for years,” Bishop Wester observed. His letter, addressed to the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., said “family reunification has represented the cornerstone of the U.S. immigration system and should remain its central tenet in the future.”

Bishop Wester said the proposed legislation “would improve the family-based immigration system by removing the annual cap on the number of visas which allow immediate family members to reunite with legal permanent residents.”

In a separate letter June 2, Bishop Wester opposed similar legislation introduced in the House because it “would provide marriage-like immigration benefits to same-sex relationships.”

Bishop Wester also participated in a June 4 meeting on migration policies held at a migrants’ center in western Guatemala. Ten U.S., Canadian, Mexican and Central American bishops, joined by two Vatican representatives, said in a statement that they are “particularly concerned with the impact of migration on the family unit.”

Families too often “are separated in our hemisphere,” the bishops said. They added, “Children all too often bear the brunt of this family separation by being left alone or by being forced to work to support a family who has lost a father or mother.”

The bishops called attention to the “organized crime syndicates” that operate along the borders of their nations and threaten migrants, as well as to “the evil of human trafficking.” Migrants, the bishops said, “continue to suffer abuse and even death as they seek to find work to support their families.”

In his statement issued in San Antonio, Cardinal George urged the nation’s leaders “to work together to fashion and enact comprehensive immigration reform legislation before the end of the year.” The U.S. immigration system “requires repair,” and “reform legislation should not be delayed,” he said.

Cardinal George said the bishops “do not approve or encourage the illegal entry of anyone into our country.” However, he continued, a humanitarian perspective upon current immigration policies leads to concern for the separation of family members, as well as for the many migrants who are driven “into remote parts of the American desert, sometimes to their deaths.”

“Only through comprehensive reform can we restore the rule of law to our nation’s immigration system,” the cardinal stated.


Is U.S. Divorce Rate Declining?

While it often is said that about 50 percent of marriages in the U.S. end in divorce, that statistic reflects the rate of divorce over a lifetime for couples who married in the 1970s, according to two New York Times writers. In a June 26 article titled “Marriage Stands Up for Itself,” Benedict Carey and Tara Parker-Pope said that “the story is different” for couples who married more recently.

The writers quoted remarks by Betsey Stevenson, who teaches at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School and studies marriage trends. Comparing the divorce rates by the 10th year of marriage among college-educated men who married during the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s “shows that divorce is becoming less common,” according to Stevenson.

While men in this group who married during the 1970s divorced by the 10th year of marriage at a rate of some 23 percent, men who married during the 1990s divorced over the same number of years at a rate of 16 percent, according to the Times article. It said divorce rates among people whose education did not extend beyond high school were higher, yet among them the divorce rate by the 10th year of marriage also was declining, from 25 percent of those married during the 1970s and ’80s to 19 percent of those who married in 1990.

Carey and Parker-Pope think that “despite strong social riptides working against” marriage, the bond of marriage is “far stronger” than many assume. Their article was written in the wake of several high-profile instances of marital infidelity reported recently by the news media. Even in such cases, the writers said, surveys indicate that in a majority of cases couples remain married “for years afterward.” The writers acknowledged that the surveys do not reveal “the private hurt and struggle” these couples face.

Speculating about possible factors contributing to an increase of longevity in marriages, the Times writers noted that men today perform more domestic tasks that once was the case, while women offer more in financial terms to the marriage. The writers said that contemporary women and men “are more likely to marry someone like themselves, with a similar educational background.” Thus, a marriage is “less about dividing economic and domestic duties, and more about shared interests and mutual happiness.”

But Carey and Parker-Pope pointed also to the importance people attribute to the investment they make in their marriage. Husbands and wives share a history together that they value and that may motivate them to survive challenges, the writers suggested – a history of children, goals, friends and community. The article also indicated that a greater number of marriage therapists now encourage couples facing difficulties to work for a period of time on reconciliation.


Crushing Effects of Unemployment on Marriages and Families

“No one is immune from the effects of the economic downturn,” retired Bishop Anthony Pilla of Cleveland said in a June 5 speech to the First Friday Forum of Lorain, Ohio. He discussed the effects of the past year’s recession on marriages, family members and others who suffer as a result from “despair, anxiety and depression.”

“Families who have never had to make any sacrifice are now wondering how they are going to pay the mortgage, the energy bill, rising health care costs, school tuition and put food on the table,” he said. Moreover, “people, who at one time envisioned a long and carefree retirement are wondering if they will ever be able to retire.”

The current economic uncertainty “impacts our self-esteem, our sense of security and our confidence about providing for our children and those we love,” said Bishop Pilla. His address focused on poverty and unemployment, and their moral dimensions.

Bishop Pilla said it is important to “take some measure of what poverty and joblessness do to family life.” He commented that “when a person’s need and right to work go unmet and unacknowledged, the consequences are both dire and predictable.”

Research verifies that in jobless family situations “there is an “increase in marital dissatisfaction,” as well as deterioration in family relations, Bishop Pilla noted. This, he added, “is especially true among younger families and those with preschool children, and it is aggravated as unemployment is extended.”

To regard poverty and employment “as mere economic or social phenomena is to miss their real significance,” for they are “assaults on men and women that crush the human spirit,” the bishop said.

Bishop Pilla believes that “nothing more graphically indicates the rise in family tensions than abusive behavior.” He pointed to research indicating that joblessness is “a crucial component in the incidence of ‘battered wives’ and abused children.”

Other measures of “family tensions in the home” include declines in school attendance and scholastic achievement. And the effects of such family tensions “live on for another generation,” he said.

A recognition of human rights and dignity lead to the conclusion that “the right to have a share of earthly goods sufficient for oneself and one’s family belongs to everyone,” Bishop Pilla said.

The church, said the bishop, “does not claim any special expertise in the political, economic or social order.” However, the church’s social teaching provides “an indispensable framework within which to make a moral analysis of today’s problems” and gives “the direction and motivation needed to work out viable solutions.”


Lessons Learned About Enduring Love in Marriage

Love is likely to endure if unconditional giving is present in a marriage, according to Robert Scuka, executive director of the National Institute of Relationship Enhancement in Bethesda, Md., a nonprofit educational corporation. “Unconditional giving” means giving to one’s spouse “without being concerned about what’s in it for me,” he said.

Scuka contributed a two-part article titled “The Secret to Enduring Love: Love Alone Is Not Enough” to the March 1 and April 1 editions of “First Years and Forever,” an online newsletter for marriages in the early years published by the Chicago Archdiocese’s Family Ministries office. Scuka is a marriage educator and therapist.

In addition to unconditional giving, marriages that endure benefit from trust and a set of relationship skills, he said.

If damage is done to trust in a marriage, “the bonds of love can be weakened or lost,” Scuka observed. It is possible for a marriage to recover from infidelity, he wrote, but the “lies and deceit that accompany infidelity” make the loss of trust “challenging to overcome.”

He advised spouses to preserve trust “with your life” and never to do anything they “cannot be 100 percent open about with your spouse.”

The set of relationship skills needed in marriage encompasses “the ability to express oneself without criticizing or putting down your spouse,” along with “the ability to empathize with your spouse” deeply and to “show understanding” in such a way “that your spouse feels understood,” Scuka said.

Relationship skills like these, he wrote, “can be learned in well-designed premarital and marriage education classes.” But he noted also that older couples increasingly turn to marriage education to increase their odds of having “a marriage of love that endures.”

Consciously or unconsciously, marriages operate either in a “me versus you” mode or in a “you and I are in this together” mode, according to Scuka. In the first of these modes, marriage is approached as a “zero-sum game” where one spouse wins and the other loses. Spouses operating in the second mode believe that unless they both win, they both will lose because there is no in-between.

Scuka said it is fear that drives the “me versus you” approach to marriage — the fear on a spouse’s part of losing something important to him or her. But love is the basis for the “you and I are in this together” approach to marriage, but it is “a form of love different from romantic love.”

Instead, this form of love reflects “the desire to give voluntarily and unconditionally to enhance the well-being” of one’s spouse and “to nurture the marriage,” said Scuka. Read the full article (click on “ENewsletter”).


Key Challenges Faced by U.S. Bishops in Defense of Marriage

Affirming church teaching on marriage is a challenge for the U.S. bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee on Defense of Marriage, said its chairman, Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Ky.

In a status report he presented June 18 to the U.S. bishops during their national spring meeting in San Antonio, Texas, Archbishop Kurtz said the challenge in meeting the bishops’ priority focus on marriage stems from the quick rate at which states and courts have been taking up legislation to legalize or prohibit same-sex marriage.

Strengthening marriage is one of five priorities approved for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops by the nation’s bishops in November 2008. The other four priorities are faith formation and sacramental practice; the human person’s life and dignity; cultural diversity in the church; and the promotion of vocations in the church.

Archbishop Kurtz told the bishops in San Antonio that the key points of emphasis for the ad hoc committee at this time are that marriage inherently is related to the sexual differences and complementarity of men and women; that marriage is for the good of children, who are “a great good of marriage”; that marriage is a unique bond reserved to men and women by nature; and that same-sex marriage has negative effects on religious rights.

Same-sex marriage is legal in six U.S. states at this writing: Massachusetts, Iowa, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine. New Hampshire added its name to this list June 3 when Gov. John Lynch signed a law approved by the state legislature.

However, Archbishop Kurtz pointed out, other states are considering such laws or a range of other laws “allowing everything but marriage” and giving new legal rights to civil unions. In addition, measures under consideration in other places would allow recognition of same-sex marriages from another state.

Archbishop Kurtz said church teaching on the “truth, beauty and goodness” of marriage between one man and one woman is “a received truth, not something we arbitrarily create.”


Statistics on Tying the Knot With Someone of Another Religious Affiliation

While fairly high percentages of married people in the U.S. tend to be married to someone of another religious affiliation than their own, quite high percentages of Catholics, Mormons and Hindus marry someone of their own religious affiliation, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life noted June 4.

The Pew Forum called attention to statistics from its 2008 “U.S. Religious Landscape Survey” showing 27 percent of married people in the U.S., or nearly 3 in 10, are married to someone who does not share their religious affiliation. However, it added, that statistic rises to 37 percent, or nearly 4 in 10, if marriages between two people of differing Protestant denominations are included.

Sixty-three percent of married Protestants in the U.S. are married to someone from their own denominational family, said the “Landscape Survey.” Yet, it added, “81 percent of all married Protestants are married to other Protestants.”

The Pew Forum’s survey said Mormons and Hindus in the U.S. “are the least likely to marry” someone outside their faith. In fact, 90 percent of Hindus and 83 percent of Mormons are married to other Hindus and Mormons.

In third place on this list were Catholics. According to the 2008 survey, 78 percent of Catholics are married to another Catholic. Fourteen percent of Catholics are married to Protestants, and 5 percent are married to someone who is religiously unaffiliated, the survey said.

The Pew Forum statistic on marriages of two Catholics differed somewhat from the statistic reported in 2007 by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, based at Jesuit-run Georgetown University in Washington. In its “Marriage in the Catholic Church: A Survey of U.S. Catholics,” CARA reported that 72 percent of married Catholics have a Catholic spouse; younger Catholics were slightly more likely to have a non-Catholic spouse.

The Pew Forum agreed that “young people are more likely to be in religiously mixed marriages as compared with their older counterparts.”


Family Breakdown Tied to Poverty: Support Urged for Marriage and Family

“If we are serious about reducing poverty, especially children and women in poverty, we must address the effects of family breakdown,” according to a research report issued June 3 by the Institute of Marriage and Family Canada. “There is a correlation between family breakdown and poverty,” including the feminization of poverty, the institute said.

Titled “Private Choices, Public Costs,” the report was released during a Parliament Hill briefing in Ottawa. Long-term plans to eradicate poverty should include discussions of family and marriage, the institute insisted.

The institute is a social-policy research center and think tank. It is an arm of Focus on the Family Canada, an affiliate of Focus on the Family, a U.S. Christian organization.

The report calls for “the creation of a culture that supports married parents.” It expresses hope that its findings will prompt government “to nurture strong families through improved public policy.”

“Clearly, the greatest harm done by family breakdown lies in personal suffering,” the new report says. At the same time, research points to a link between family structure and poverty, it comments. “Ignoring the facts of family breakdown and the relationship to poverty is in practice a way of saying we don’t care about poverty alleviation,” it adds.

A key goal of the report is to measure “the cost of family breakdown to the public purse in Canada.” This cost, it says, “is almost $7 billion annually.” Cutting family breakdown in half “would save $1.78 billion annually,” the report says.

Of course, it notes, “measuring the damage [of family breakdown] in dollars and cents doesn’t diminish the emotional harms of family breakdown that don’t carry a price tag. However, it is one way to reach those who blindly declare that family structure doesn’t matter.” The institute urges readers of its report “to reconsider the value currently placed on family today, without pointing fingers.”

The report does not intend to suggest that “family breakdown can be entirely eradicated,” it explains. However, one hope is that increased awareness of the link between family breakdown and poverty will garner support for efforts to support marriage and family in ways that reach beyond public aid. The report states:

“We hope that future generations might be able to make well-informed choices about family, reducing not only their dependence on government, but more important, the estrangement, emotional chaos, loneliness, instability and suffering that accompanies failing families.”

About the author
David Gibson served for 37 years on the editorial staff at Catholic News Service, where he was the founding and long-time editor of Origins, CNS Documentary Service. David received a bachelor’s degree from St. John’s University in Minnesota and an M.A. in religious education from The Catholic University of America. Married for 38 years, he and his wife have three adult daughters and six grandchildren.