Friday, February 28, 2014

The Cost of Marriage

I was interested in the recent  Globe and Mail article about a study on marriage which found that if you are married you are more likely more prosperous:

A new study released today by the Ottawa-based Institute of Marriage and Family has crunched the Canadian numbers using Statistics Canada data, and found a pattern similar to the United States. The marriage gap has widened by income. In Canada, couples in the highest income bracket are the most likely to be married, or living common-law – and have pretty much the same marriage rates as their counterparts in 1976. Middle and low-income Canadians have seen their marriage rates fall in all age groups, with low-income Canadians the least likely to be married in 2011. Canadians are “split into haves and have-nots by marriage lines,” the report concludes.

It makes sense, doesn't it? When we are married we share costs and, hopefully, goals. When we get un-married it costs us, big time, as many of you have learned. This isn't a moral judgment that not being married or getting divorced is bad. Nor does it point to singlehood being an unfortunate or inferior state of being. You just won't be as well-off.

It got me thinking (doesn't everything?) that mainline churches such as the United Church are lousy at supporting marriage. We're so worried that we will seem judgmental of those who are divorced or single that we keep our traps shut about marriage to the extreme. It's weird. We do marry people, and married folk make up the majority of most congregations. Hey we are open to marrying two guys or two gals as well. But we act as though the institution doesn't exist except when we announce a significant anniversary or upcoming nuptials.

 Yet in many conservative churches they gush enthusiastically about the covenant of marriage and even encourage couples to have lots of sex as long as it with each other. They say goofy things about men being the heads of households, but is that worse than saying nothing at all? Surely we could see marriage as being a justice issue in that healthy (not endured!) marriages have positive outcomes.

While we do speak of marriage being covenantal and sacramental in nature, history shows us that until less than a hundred years ago marriages were about practical partnerships which could include romantic love, not the other way around. I visited a couple last year about to celebrate their seventieth wedding anniversary. She told me that marriage means a lot of sacrifice. I smiled and said "to you mean compromises?" She looked me in the eye and said "no, I mean sacrifices!" I laughed. She didn't.

Should we offer more honest and practical talk on marriage? What about seminars and events to support marriages? Wife Ruth is trained as a marriage and family counselor so we have done marriage seminars in congregations a couple of times, but not for a while.Should we subsidize marriage counseling the way some churches do?


Judy Mcknight said...

I was blessed to be in a pretty healthy, happy marriage for 23 years - I will always be grateful for those years with my late husband... but I think a lot of marriages today are not so lucky - finances, relating, juggling schedules and tasks, communicating, learning how to be respectful , loving and supportive, day in and day out, is not always easy - and we don't know everything about our partners when we first decide to take that leap... I have seen a lot of marriages flounder because of poor counselling (especially in churches) which does not deal with the very practical issues of living together ... sex and silver are of utmost importance - and I am not sure we humans will ever get it all right! But I still believe being married to a loving, caring, committed spouse is better than being alone... but being alone is better than being with the wrong person! How do we know ...???? The dilemma!

roger said...

I feel that there is a place for churches to offer marital support, whether it's classes, counselling or anything else that can help couples have a healthy and happy marriage. With the divorce rate so high, why not take a proactive approach?

With the emotional fallout and the huge impact divorce has on children, the church would be providing an important service to its congregation.

Judy Mcknight said...

Roger is right - but it would take a full time staff member to offer this counselling service in a church setting - one with lots of experience and compassion , and skill...(and one who is able to recognize when a marriage should NOT be saved, too). Most churches expect the minister to do this - as well as visit the sick, preach, teach, attend all kinds of concerts and meetings, Presbytery, etc ... churches need to put $$$$ where the needs are .

David Mundy said...

Come to think of it, I have married for 38 years to a marriage and family counselor who is looking for employment...

Judy Mcknight said...