Wiping Out Weeds (WOW) from the Marriage Garden

Are you having doubts that your spouse is the one for you? It might be the case for some but chances are your marriage is poisoned by “toxic marriage habits”.

In this article, Wendy Hernandez shares 10 toxic marriage habits that wedded couples need to stop NOW!

1. The failure to express appreciation for your partner.

We all crave validation and acknowledgment. Most of us want to hear it from the person we love the most: our husband or wife. Lack of positive expression in our partnerships makes people feel as though they are being taken for granted. After months or years of feeling unappreciated, it is not uncommon for someone to stop “trying” to please their partner or to look for appreciation elsewhere.

Say, “Thank you,” “I love you,” and, “I appreciate you,” regularly.

2. The failure to support the dreams of your partner.

People often have fond memories of their relationship’s infancy. During the dopamine-infused newness of a courtship, people talk about their dreams, all of which seem magical. Unfortunately, when the “hot and heavy” wears off, reality hits.

People begin to see the world and their partners more critically. Individuals forget how dreams are precious and that they must be treated with care. Partners tear down the hopes and ideas of their beloved other.

This is painful, and it is damaging. Suppression of a person’s dreams could be evidenced by lack of expression in the relationship. Coincidentally, that is the next toxic marriage habit on this list.

3. Lack of expression in and about the relationship.

It should go without saying that communication is a must in every marriage. Without being able to articulate fears, injuries, hopes, and desires with one another, partners become disconnected. Individuals should allow one another the freedom to express themselves without constant fear of judgment, drama or conflict. The free flow of ideas and communication is the circulation that gives your relationship life.

4. The absence of self-confidence and self-love.

The healthiest relationships are borne of two secure, confident and aware individuals. When one or both people in a marriage suffer from a lack of self-love, jealousy and insecurities often manifest in the relationship. These two things are marriage habits that are potentially deadly for any union. If you want to eliminate jealousy and insecurity, focus on loving and accepting every part of who you are first.

You are perfect.

5. Complacency in your self-care and behavior.

As time passes in a relationship, people get more relaxed and let things go. This can get discouraging for a husband who loves seeing his wife get gussied up for work every day. It can wreak havoc on a couple’s sex life when health issues crop up because of the failure to eat right and exercise.

Whether you have been married two years or twenty, keep on top of your game. Do this not just for your partner, but for you! It feels better to do, act and be the best person you can be. It will do wonders for your marriage, too.

6. Wanting tit-for-tat.

At different points during every marriage, one partner will have to pick up the slack for the other one. This is why they call marriage “a partnership.” Understand that if your husband or wife is not giving as much as you would like, there will come a point when he or she will be picking up your slack. Don’t always insist on receiving tit-for-tat when you think you have gone above and beyond in the relationship.

Let your partner ride a little bit. Look forward to the day when the favor will be returned.

7. Forgetting to let your partner in on your plans.

Nothing can make a relationship go sideways faster than forgetting to get your husband or wife on board. By failing to clue your partner in on your dreams, goals or lunch dates, you could leave them feeling abandoned, excluded and caught off guard. All of these things lead to resentment, anger and disconnection.

You don’t have to ask for your partner’s permission. You can ask for your partner’s support. You only need to let your partner in on what it is you want to do and where you want to go for lunch…and in life.

8. Making your partner your last priority.

Your kids are a top priority. So is your work. So are you. And…so is your partner.

How do you balance all of these things? That is the million dollar question, friends. Anyone who is in a marriage is negotiating that answer, especially if there are kids involved.

You won’t always balance everything perfectly. Acknowledge that fact. The most important thing to remember, however, is to not forget about your partner in this list.

Talk with your partner about how overwhelmed you feel. Come up with ideas on how you each can make the other feel like a “priority” with all these competing interests pulling at you. Express how much you mean to each other.

9. Letting the physical intimacy in your relationship dwindle.

Life gets busy. People feel exhausted. They forget to look in their partner’s eyes, kiss passionately, hold each other and just touch. This lack of physical intimacy can lead to the feeling that a partner doesn’t love you.

Physical intimacy with someone you love is healing for the soul. It strengthens (and helps maintain) the bond between two individuals. Keep the intimacy alive in your relationship.

Practice touching one another. Read books to help keep the fire burning. See a counselor if you are out of touch or need help getting started again.

10. Failing to dig deep with your partner.

Without relationship evolution, your marriage will die. Remember that if you want to strike relationship gold, you have to be willing to dig deep with your partner. Issues and conflict are your opportunities to burrow into the soul of your beloved, plant new seeds and continue to grow together.

Approach change in your partner and relationship with the wondrous eyes of an explorer. By doing this, you will continue to discover new things every day. This will keep you out of a relationship rut and in something that is fresh, changing, and always exciting.

These toxic marriage habits are subtle and are sometimes silent. Left unchecked for too long, they will kill your marriage. Make it a regular habit to look at yourself and how you could make yourself better for you and your partner. By doing this, you reduce the chances that the habits will take hold and cause havoc in your heart and home.


Marriage 2.0

I was listening to a presentation by Liza Shaw, a Marriage and Family Therapist, given on TEDxHickory. From her practice, she discovers that a marriage relationship typically lasts 10-30 years and then breaks down. In order to help marriages thrive and last longer, marriage needs an upgrade. In this presentation she deconstructs old ideas of marriage and suggests new ones as replacements for the old.
The following is a combination of her comments and mine.
The first is “People who love each other shouldn’t hurt each other”. No one wants to be hurt especially by people they love the most. If we operate on the assumption that hurt is bad in a marriage, then we would only last as long as we can endure the pain. It is like saying “Don’t drive on ice. Ice is bad”. But driving on ice is as inevitable as getting hurt in a relationship. Accept the fact that you will get hurt and you might as well get prepared for it.
The other is “Happy people always compromise”. How many times have we been told this? But, how many of us feel great when we walk away from a compromise? Hardly anyone. I say, “Don’t compromise”. Compromise leads to “turn-taking”. Today, I compromised; tomorrow will be my turn. But what if your turn does not come? You will be resentful, and resentment is not a gift for your spouse. Instead of compromise, seek a solution that both will agree on.
“My partner and I will fulfil all of each other’s needs and make each other happy.” Why would I put the power for my fulfilment outside of myself. This notion is quite insane, really since each of us are responsible for our own fulfilment. It is common to hear couples complain, saying, “I’ve been giving, and giving. When will it be my turn to receive?” Who are you concerned about when you have such thoughts? You. Being self-centred feels awful but being selfless is rewarding and empowering. “Happiness is a byproduct of True Contribution”.
“Never go to bed angry.” You might have believed it and have given this advise to others yourself. But consider this: “Just go to bed.” There is a part of our brain called the amygdala that controls our flight or fight response. Some are more inclined to “fight” while others are inclined to withdraw. The advise to “go to bed” is not telling you to ignore the problem or sweep it under the carpet. But it is the way to calm down till you and your spouse are able to resolve it amicably.
“It takes 2 to make a marriage work.”Many couples enter into marriage believing that their spouse will change over time or that one partner would be able to change the other. This has led to disappointment and resentment. If only they had understood that “It takes one to change – YOU.” You are the only one that you are in control of. If there is one person you are able to effect change in, it is you.

The Evolution of Divorce

W. BRADFORD WILCOX Published on National Affairs Issue Number 1, Fall 2009

In 1969, Governor Ronald Reagan of California made what he later admitted was one of the biggest mistakes of his political life. Seeking to eliminate the strife and deception often associated with the legal regime of fault-based divorce, Reagan signed the nation’s first no-fault divorce bill. The new law eliminated the need for couples to fabricate spousal wrongdoing in pursuit of a divorce; indeed, one likely reason for Reagan’s decision to sign the bill was that his first wife, Jane Wyman, had unfairly accused him of “mental cruelty” to obtain a divorce in 1948. But no-fault divorce also gutted marriage of its legal power to bind husband and wife, allowing one spouse to dissolve a marriage for any reason — or for no reason at all.

In the decade and a half that followed, virtually every state in the Union followed California’s lead and enacted a no-fault divorce law of its own. This legal transformation was only one of the more visible signs of the divorce revolution then sweeping the United States: From 1960 to 1980, the divorce rate more than doubled — from 9.2 divorces per 1,000 married women to 22.6 divorces per 1,000 married women. This meant that while less than 20% of couples who married in 1950 ended up divorced, about 50% of couples who married in 1970 did. And approximately half of the children born to married parents in the 1970s saw their parents part, compared to only about 11% of those born in the 1950s.

In the years since 1980, however, these trends have not continued on straight upward paths, and the story of divorce has grown increasingly complicated. In the case of divorce, as in so many others, the worst consequences of the social revolution of the 1960s and ’70s are now felt disproportionately by the poor and less educated, while the wealthy elites who set off these transformations in the first place have managed to reclaim somewhat healthier and more stable habits of married life. This imbalance leaves our cultural and political elites less well attuned to the magnitude of social dysfunction in much of American society, and leaves the most vulnerable Americans — especially children living in poor and working-class communities — even worse off than they would otherwise be.


The divorce revolution of the 1960s and ’70s was over-determined. The nearly universal introduction of no-fault divorce helped to open the floodgates, especially because these laws facilitated unilateral divorce and lent moral legitimacy to the dissolution of marriages. The sexual revolution, too, fueled the marital tumult of the times: Spouses found it easier in the Swinging Seventies to find extramarital partners, and came to have higher, and often unrealistic, expectations of their marital relationships. Increases in women’s employment as well as feminist consciousness-raising also did their part to drive up the divorce rate, as wives felt freer in the late ’60s and ’70s to leave marriages that were abusive or that they found unsatisfying.

The anti-institutional tenor of the age also meant that churches lost much of their moral authority to reinforce the marital vow. It didn’t help that many mainline Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish leaders were caught up in the zeitgeist, and lent explicit or implicit support to the divorce revolution sweeping across American society. This accomodationist mentality was evident in a 1976 pronouncement issued by the United Methodist Church, the largest mainline Protestant denomination in America. The statement read in part:

In marriages where the partners are, even after thoughtful reconsideration and counsel, estranged beyond reconciliation, we recognize divorce and the right of divorced persons to remarry, and express our concern for the needs of the children of such unions. To this end we encourage an active, accepting, and enabling commitment of the Church and our society to minister to the needs of divorced persons.

Most important, the psychological revolution of the late ’60s and ’70s, which was itself fueled by a post-war prosperity that allowed people to give greater attention to non-material concerns, played a key role in reconfiguring men and women’s views of marriage and family life. Prior to the late 1960s, Americans were more likely to look at marriage and family through the prisms of duty, obligation, and sacrifice. A successful, happy home was one in which intimacy was an important good, but by no means the only one in view. A decent job, a well-maintained home, mutual spousal aid, child-rearing, and shared religious faith were seen almost universally as the goods that marriage and family life were intended to advance.

But the psychological revolution’s focus on individual fulfillment and personal growth changed all that. Increasingly, marriage was seen as a vehicle for a self-oriented ethic of romance, intimacy, and fulfillment. In this new psychological approach to married life, one’s primary obligation was not to one’s family but to one’s self; hence, marital success was defined not by successfully meeting obligations to one’s spouse and children but by a strong sense of subjective happiness in marriage — usually to be found in and through an intense, emotional relationship with one’s spouse. The 1970s marked the period when, for many Americans, a more institutional model of marriage gave way to the “soul-mate model” of marriage.

Of course, the soul-mate model was much more likely to lead couples to divorce court than was the earlier institutional model of marriage. Now, those who felt they were in unfulfilling marriages also felt obligated to divorce in order to honor the newly widespread ethic of expressive individualism. As social historian Barbara Dafoe Whitehead has observed of this period, “divorce was not only an individual right but also a psychological resource. The dissolution of marriage offered the chance to make oneself over from the inside out, to refurbish and express the inner self, and to acquire certain valuable psychological assets and competencies, such as initiative, assertiveness, and a stronger and better self-image.”

But what about the children? In the older, institutional model of marriage, parents were supposed to stick together for their sake. The view was that divorce could leave an indelible emotional scar on children, and would also harm their social and economic future. Yet under the new soul-mate model of marriage, divorce could be an opportunity for growth not only for adults but also for their offspring. The view was that divorce could protect the emotional welfare of children by allowing their parents to leave marriages in which they felt unhappy. In 1962, as Whitehead points out in her book The Divorce Culture, about half of American women agreed with the idea that “when there are children in the family parents should stay together even if they don’t get along.” By 1977, only 20% of American women held this view.

At the height of the divorce revolution in the 1970s, many scholars, therapists, and journalists served as enablers of this kind of thinking. These elites argued that children were resilient in the face of divorce; that children could easily find male role models to replace absent fathers; and that children would be happier if their parents were able to leave unhappy marriages. In 1979, one prominent scholar wrote in the Journal of Divorce that divorce even held “growth potential” for mothers, as they could enjoy “increased personal autonomy, a new sense of competence and control, [and the] development of better relationships with [their] children.” And in 1974’s The Courage to Divorce, social workers Susan Gettleman and Janet Markowitz argued that boys need not be harmed by the absence of their fathers: “When fathers are not available, friends, relatives, teachers and counselors can provide ample opportunity for youngsters to model themselves after a like-sexed adult.”

Thus, by the time the 1970s came to a close, many Americans — rich and poor alike — had jettisoned the institutional model of married life that prioritized the welfare of children, and which sought to discourage divorce in all but the most dire of circumstances. Instead, they embraced the soul-mate model of married life, which prioritized the emotional welfare of adults and gave moral permission to divorce for virtually any reason.


Thirty years later, the myth of the good divorce has not stood up well in the face of sustained social scientific inquiry — especially when one considers the welfare of children exposed to their parents’ divorces.

Since 1974, about 1 million children per year have seen their parents divorce — and children who are exposed to divorce are two to three times more likely than their peers in intact marriages to suffer from serious social or psychological pathologies. In their book Growing Up with a Single Parent: What Hurts, What Helps, sociologists Sara McLanahan and Gary Sandefur found that 31% of adolescents with divorced parents dropped out of high school, compared to 13% of children from intact families. They also concluded that 33% of adolescent girls whose parents divorced became teen mothers, compared to 11% of girls from continuously married families. And McLanahan and her colleagues have found that 11% of boys who come from divorced families end up spending time in prison before the age of 32, compared to 5% of boys who come from intact homes.

Research also indicates that remarriage is no salve for children wounded by divorce. Indeed, as sociologist Andrew Cherlin notes in his important new book, The Marriage-Go-Round, “children whose parents have remarried do not have higher levels of well-being than children in lone-parent families.” The reason? Often, the establishment of a step-family results in yet another move for a child, requiring adjustment to a new caretaker and new step-siblings — all of which can be difficult for children, who tend to thrive on stability.

The divorce revolution’s collective consequences for children are striking. Taking into account both divorce and non-marital childbearing, sociologist Paul Amato estimates that if the United States enjoyed the same level of family stability today as it did in 1960, the nation would have 750,000 fewer children repeating grades, 1.2 million fewer school suspensions, approximately 500,000 fewer acts of teenage delinquency, about 600,000 fewer kids receiving therapy, and approximately 70,000 fewer suicide attempts every year (correction appended). As Amato concludes, turning back the family-­stability clock just a few decades could significantly improve the lives of many children.

Skeptics confronted with this kind of research often argue that it is unfair to compare children of divorce to children from intact, married households. They contend that it is the conflict that precedes the divorce, rather than the divorce itself, that is likely to be particularly traumatic for children. Amato’s work suggests that the skeptics have a point: In cases where children are exposed to high levels of conflict — like domestic violence or screaming matches between parents — they do seem to do better if their parents part.

But more than two-thirds of all parental divorces do not involve such highly conflicted marriages. And “unfortunately, these are the very divorces that are most likely to be stressful for children,” as Amato and Alan Booth, his colleague at Penn State University, point out. When children see their parents divorce because they have simply drifted apart — or because one or both parents have become unhappy or left to pursue another ­partner — the kids’ faith in love, commitment, and marriage is often shattered. In the wake of their parents’ divorce, children are also likely to experience a family move, marked declines in their family income, a stressed-out single mother, and substantial periods of paternal absence — all factors that put them at risk. In other words, the clear majority of divorces involving children in America are not in the best interests of the children.

Not surprisingly, the effects of divorce on adults are more ambiguous. From an emotional and social perspective, about 20% of divorced adults find their lives enhanced and another 50% seem to suffer no long-term ill effects, according to research by psychologist Mavis Hetherington. Adults who initiated a divorce are especially likely to report that they are flourishing afterward, or are at least doing just fine.

Spouses who were unwilling parties to a unilateral divorce, however, tend to do less well. And the ill effects of divorce for adults tend to fall disproportionately on the shoulders of fathers. Since approximately two-thirds of divorces are legally initiated by women, men are more likely than women to be divorced against their will. In many cases, these men have not engaged in egregious marital misconduct such as abuse, adultery, or substance abuse. They feel mistreated by their ex-wives and by state courts that no longer take into account marital “fault” when making determinations about child custody, child support, and the division of marital property. Yet in the wake of a divorce, these men will nevertheless often lose their homes, a substantial share of their monthly incomes, and regular contact with their children. For these men, and for women caught in similar circumstances, the sting of an unjust divorce can lead to downward emotional spirals, difficulties at work, and serious deteriorations in the quality of their relationships with their children.

Looking beyond the direct effects of divorce on adults and children, it is also important to note the ways in which widespread divorce has eroded the institution of marriage — particularly, its assault on the quality, prevalence, and stability of marriage in American life.

In the 1970s, proponents of easy divorce argued that the ready availability of divorce would boost the quality of married life, as abused, unfulfilled, or otherwise unhappy spouses were allowed to leave their marriages. Had they been correct, we would expect to see that Americans’ reports of marital quality had improved during and after the 1970s. Instead, marital quality fell during the ’70s and early ’80s. In the early 1970s, 70% of married men and 67% of married women reported being very happy in their marriages; by the early ’80s, these figures had fallen to 63% for men and 62% for women. So marital quality dropped even as divorce rates were reaching record highs.

What happened? It appears that average marriages suffered during this time, as widespread divorce undermined ordinary couples’ faith in marital permanency and their ability to invest financially and emotionally in their marriages — ultimately casting clouds of doubt over their relationships. For instance, one study by economist Betsey Stevenson found that investments in marital partnerships declined in the wake of no-fault divorce laws. Specifically, she found that newlywed couples in states that passed no-fault divorce were about 10% less likely to support a spouse through college or graduate school and were 6% less likely to have a child together. Ironically, then, the widespread availability of easy divorce not only enabled “bad” marriages to be weeded out, but also made it more difficult for “good” marriages to take root and flourish.

Second, marriage rates have fallen and cohabitation rates have surged in the wake of the divorce revolution, as men and women’s faith in marriage has been shaken. From 1960 to 2007, the percentage of American women who were married fell from 66% to 51%, and the percentage of men who were married fell from 69% to 55%. Yet at the same time, the number of cohabiting couples increased fourteen-fold — from 439,000 to more than 6.4 million. Because of these increases in cohabitation, about 40% of American children will spend some time in a cohabiting union; 20% of babies are now born to cohabiting couples. And because cohabiting unions are much less stable than marriages, the vast majority of the children born to cohabiting couples will see their parents break up by the time they turn 15.

A recent Bowling Green State University study of the motives for cohabitation found that young men and women who choose to cohabit are seeking alternatives to marriage and ways of testing a relationship to see if it might be safely transformed into a marriage — with both rationales clearly shaped by a fear of divorce. One young man told the researchers that living together allows you to “get to know the person and their habits before you get married. So that way, you won’t have to get divorced.” Another said that an advantage of cohabitation is that you “don’t have to go through the divorce process if you do want to break up, you don’t have to pay lawyers and have to deal with splitting everything and all that jazz.”

My own research confirms the connection between divorce and cohabitation in America. Specifically, data from the General Social Survey indicate that adult children of divorce are 61% more likely than adult children from married families to endorse the notion that it is a “good idea for a couple who intend to get married to live together first.” Likewise, adult children of divorce are 47% more likely to be currently cohabiting, compared to those who were raised in intact, married families. Thus divorce has played a key role in reducing marriage and increasing cohabitation, which now exists as a viable competitor to marriage in the organization of sex, intimacy, childbearing, and even child-rearing.

Third, the divorce revolution has contributed to an intergenerational cycle of divorce. Work by demographer Nicholas Wolfinger indicates that the adult children of divorce are now 89% more likely to divorce themselves, compared to adults who were raised in intact, married families. Children of divorce who marry other children of divorce are especially likely to end up divorced, according to Wolfinger’s work. Of course, the reason children of divorce — especially children of low-conflict divorce — are more likely to end their marriages is precisely that they have often learned all the wrong lessons about trust, commitment, mutual sacrifice, and fidelity from their parents.


Clearly, the divorce revolution of the 1960s and ’70s left a poisonous legacy. But what has happened since? Where do we stand today on the question of marriage and divorce? A survey of the landscape presents a decidedly mixed portrait of contemporary married life in America.

The good news is that, on the whole, divorce has declined since 1980 and marital happiness has largely stabilized. The divorce rate fell from a historic high of 22.6 divorces per 1,000 married women in 1980 to 17.5 in 2007. In real terms, this means that slightly more than 40% of contemporary first marriages are likely to end in divorce, down from approximately 50% in 1980. Perhaps even more important, recent declines in divorce suggest that a clear majority of children who are now born to married couples will grow up with their married mothers and fathers.

Similarly, the decline in marital happiness associated with the tidal wave of divorce in the 1960s and ’70s essentially stopped more than two decades ago. Men’s marital happiness hovered around 63% from the early 1980s to the mid-2000s, while women’s marital happiness fell just a bit, from 62% in the early 1980s to 60% in the mid-2000s.

This good news can be explained largely by three key factors. First, the age at first marriage has risen. In 1970, the median age of marriage was 20.8 for women and 23.2 for men; in 2007, it was 25.6 for women and 27.5 for men. This means that fewer Americans are marrying when they are too immature to forge successful marriages. (It is true that some of the increase in age at first marriage is linked to cohabitation, but not the bulk of it.)

Second, the views of academic and professional experts about divorce and family breakdown have changed significantly in recent decades. Social-science data about the consequences of divorce have moved many scholars across the political spectrum to warn against continuing the divorce revolution, and to argue that intact families are essential, especially to the well-being of children. Here is a characteristic example, from a recent publication by a group of scholars at the Brookings Institution and Princeton University:

Marriage provides benefits both to children and to society. Although it was once possible to believe that the nation’s high rates of divorce, cohabitation, and nonmarital childbearing represented little more than lifestyle alternatives brought about by the freedom to pursue individual self-fulfillment, many analysts now believe that these individual choices can be damaging to the children who have no say in them and to the society that enables them.

Although certainly not all scholars, therapists, policymakers, and journalists would agree that contemporary levels of divorce and family breakdown are cause for worry, a much larger share of them expresses concern about the health of marriage in America — and about America’s high level of divorce — than did so in the 1970s. These views seep into the popular consciousness and influence behavior — just as they did in the 1960s and ’70s, when academic and professional experts carried the banner of the divorce revolution.

A third reason for the stabilization in divorce rates and marital happiness is not so heartening. Put simply, marriage is increasingly the preserve of the highly educated and the middle and upper classes. Fewer working-class and poor Americans are marrying nowadays in part because marriage is seen increasingly as a sort of status symbol: a sign that a couple has arrived both emotionally and financially, or is at least within range of the American Dream. This means that those who do marry today are more likely to start out enjoying the money, education, job security, and social skills that increase the probability of long-term marital success.

And this is where the bad news comes in. When it comes to divorce and marriage, America is increasingly divided along class and educational lines. Even as divorce in general has declined since the 1970s, what sociologist Steven Martin calls a “divorce divide” has also been growing between those with college degrees and those without (a distinction that also often translates to differences in income). The figures are quite striking: College-educated Americans have seen their divorce rates drop by about 30% since the early 1980s, whereas Americans without college degrees have seen their divorce rates increase by about 6%. Just under a quarter of college-educated couples who married in the early 1970s divorced in their first ten years of marriage, compared to 34% of their less-educated peers. Twenty years later, only 17% of college-­educated couples who married in the early 1990s divorced in their first ten years of marriage; 36% of less-educated couples who married in the early 1990s, however, divorced sometime in their first decade of marriage.

This growing divorce divide means that college-educated married couples are now about half as likely to divorce as their less-educated peers. Well-educated spouses who come from intact families, who enjoy annual incomes over $60,000, and who conceive their first child in ­wedlock — as many college-educated couples do — have exceedingly low rates of divorce.

Similar trends can be observed in measures of marital quality. For instance, if we look at married couples aged 18-60, 72% of spouses who were both college-educated and 65% of spouses who were both less-educated reported that they were “very happy” in their marriages in the 1970s, according to the General Social Survey. In the 2000s, marital happiness remained high among college-educated spouses, as 70% continued to report that they were “very happy” in their marriages. But marital happiness fell among less-educated spouses: Only 56% reported that they were “very happy” in their marriages in the 2000s.

These trends are mirrored in American illegitimacy statistics. Although one would never guess as much from the regular New York Times features on successful single women having children, non-marital childbearing is quite rare among college-educated women. According to a 2007 Child Trends study, only 7% of mothers with a college degree had a child outside of marriage, compared to more than 50% of mothers who had not gone to college.

So why are marriage and traditional child-rearing making a modest comeback in the upper reaches of society while they continue to unravel among those with less money and less education? Both cultural and economic forces are at work, each helping to widen the divorce and marriage divide in America.

First, while it was once the case that working-class and poor Americans held more conservative views of divorce than their middle- and upper-class peers, this is no longer so. For instance, a 2004 National Fatherhood Initiative poll of American adults aged 18-60 found that 52% of college-­educated Americans endorsed the norm that in the “absence of violence and extreme conflict, parents who have an unsatisfactory marriage should stay together until their children are grown.” But only 35% of less-educated Americans surveyed endorsed the same viewpoint.

Likewise, according to my analysis of the General Social Survey, in the 1970s only 36% of college-educated Americans thought divorce should be “more difficult to obtain than it is now,” compared to 46% of less-educated Americans. By the 2000s, 49% of college-educated Americans thought divorce laws should be tightened, compared to 48% of less-­educated ­Americans. Views of marriage have been growing more conservative among elites, but not among the poor and the less educated.

Second, the changing cultural meaning of marriage has also made it less necessary and less attractive to working-class and poor Americans. Prior to the 1960s, when the older, institutional model of marriage dominated popular consciousness, marriage was the only legitimate venue for having sex, bearing and raising children, and enjoying an intimate relationship. Moreover, Americans generally saw marriage as an institution that was about many more goods than a high-quality emotional relationship. Therefore, it made sense for all men and women — regardless of socioeconomic status — to get and stay married.

Yet now that the institutional model has lost its hold over the lives of American adults, sex, children, and intimacy can be had outside of ­marriage. All that remains unique to marriage today is the prospect of that high-quality emotional bond — the soul-mate model. As a result, marriage is now disproportionately appealing to wealthier, better-­educated couples, because less-educated, less-wealthy couples often do not have the emotional, social, and financial resources to enjoy a high-quality soul-mate marriage.

The qualitative research of sociologists Kathryn Edin and Maria Kefalas, for instance, shows that lower-income couples are much more likely to struggle with conflict, infidelity, and substance abuse than their higher-income peers, especially as the economic position of working-class men has grown more precarious since the 1970s. Because of shifts away from industrial employment and toward service occupations, real wages and employment rates have dropped markedly for working-class men, but not for college-educated men. For instance, from 1973 to 2007, real wages of men with a college degree rose 18%; by contrast, the wages of high-school-educated men fell 11%. Likewise, in 1970, 96% of men aged 25-64 with high-school degrees or with college degrees were employed. By 2003, employment had fallen only to 93% for college-­educated men of working age. But for working-aged men with only high-school degrees, labor-force participation had fallen to 84%, according to research by economist Francine Blau. These trends indicate that less-educated men have, in economic terms, become much less attractive as providers for their female peers than have college-educated men.

In other words, the soul-mate model of marriage does not extend equal marital opportunities. It therefore makes sense that fewer poor Americans would take on the responsibilities of modern married life, knowing that they are unlikely to reap its rewards.

The emergence of the divorce and marriage divide in America exacerbates a host of other social problems. The breakdown of marriage in ­working-class and poor communities has played a major role in fueling poverty and inequality, for instance. Isabel Sawhill at the Brookings Institution has concluded that virtually all of the increase in child poverty in the United States since the 1970s can be attributed to family breakdown. Meanwhile, the dissolution of marriage in working-class and poor communities has also fueled the growth of government, as federal, state, and local governments spend more money on police, prisons, welfare, and court costs, trying to pick up the pieces of broken families. Economist Ben Scafidi recently found that the public costs of family breakdown exceed $112 billion a year.

Moreover, children in single-parent homes are more likely to be exposed to Hollywood’s warped vision of sex, relationships, and family life. For instance, a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that children in single-parent homes devote almost 45 minutes more per day to watching television than children in two-parent homes. Given the distorted nature of the popular culture’s family-related messages, and the unorthodox family relationships of celebrity role models, this means that children in single-parent families are even less likely to develop a healthy understanding of marriage and family life — and are therefore less likely to have a positive vision of their own marital future.

Thus, the fallout of America’s retreat from marriage has hit poor and working-class communities especially hard, with children on the lower end of the economic spectrum doubly disadvantaged by the material and marital circumstances of their parents.


There are no magic cures for the growing divorce divide in America. But a few modest policy measures could offer some much-needed help.

First, the states should reform their divorce laws. A return to fault-based divorce is almost certainly out of the question as a political matter, but some plausible common-sense reforms could nonetheless inject a measure of sanity into our nation’s divorce laws. States should combine a one-year waiting period for married parents seeking a divorce with programs that educate those parents about the likely social and emotional consequences of their actions for their children. State divorce laws should also allow courts to factor in spousal conduct when making decisions about alimony, child support, custody, and property division. In particular, spouses who are being divorced against their will, and who have not engaged in egregious misbehavior such as abuse, adultery, or abandonment, should be given preferential treatment by family courts. Such consideration would add a measure of justice to the current divorce process; it would also discourage some divorces, as spouses who would otherwise seek an easy exit might avoid a divorce that would harm them financially or limit their access to their children.

Second, Congress should extend the federal Healthy Marriage Initiative. In 2006, as part of President George W. Bush’s marriage initiative, Congress passed legislation allocating $100 million a year for five years to more than 100 programs designed to strengthen marriage and ­family ­relationships in America — especially among low-income couples. As Kathryn Edin of Harvard has noted, many of these programs are equipping poor and working-class couples with the relational skills that their better-educated peers rely upon to sustain their marriages. In the next year or two, many of these programs will be evaluated; the most successful programs serving poor and working-class communities should receive additional funding, and should be used as models for new programs to serve these communities. New ideas — like additional social-marketing campaigns on behalf of marriage, on the model of those undertaken to discourage smoking — should also be explored through the initiative.

Third, the federal government should expand the child tax credit. Raising children is expensive, and has become increasingly so, given rising college and health-care costs. Yet the real value of federal tax deductions for children has fallen considerably since the 1960s. To remedy this state of affairs, Ramesh Ponnuru and Robert Stein have proposed expanding the current child tax credit from $1,000 to $5,000 and making it fully refundable against both income and payroll taxes. A reform along those lines would provide a significant measure of financial relief to working-class and middle-class families, and would likely strengthen their increasingly fragile marriages.

Of course, none of these reforms of law and policy alone is likely to exercise a transformative influence on the quality and stability of marriage in America. Such fixes must be accompanied by changes in the wider culture. Parents, churches, schools, public officials, and the entertainment industry will have to do a better job of stressing the merits of a more institutional model of marriage. This will be particularly important for poor and working-class young adults, who are drifting away from marriage the fastest.

This is a tall order, to say the least. But if our society is genuinely interested in protecting and improving the welfare of children — especially children in our nation’s most vulnerable communities — we must strengthen marriage and reduce the incidence of divorce in America. The unthinkable alternative is a nation divided more and more by class and marital ­status, and children doubly disadvantaged by poverty and single parenthood. Surely no one believes that such a state of affairs is in the national interest.

Correction appended: Paul Amato estimates that, if the United States enjoyed the same level of family stability today as it did in 1960, the United States would have approximately 70,000 fewer suicide attempts every year, not 70,000 fewer suicides, as was originally stated in this article.

W. Bradford Wilcox is the director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia and a senior fellow at the Institute for American Values.

Redefining Marriage Would Put Kids of Heterosexuals At Risk

Originally post on Public Discourse on April 15, 2015 by Gene Schaerr

The metamorphosis of marriage from a gendered to a genderless institution would send the message that society no longer needs men to bond to women to form well-functioning families or to raise happy, well-adjusted children. That would be bad news for children of heterosexuals on the margins: the poor, the relatively uneducated, the irreligious, and others who are susceptible to cultural messages promoting casual or uncommitted sex.

During oral arguments in Hollingsworth v. Perry—the Supreme Court case involving California’s Proposition 8—Justice Kennedy asked a very important question: In its potential impact on children and society, wouldn’t imposing same-sex marriage on unwilling states be akin to “jumping off a cliff” and subjecting the nation and its children to whatever unseen dangers might lurk at the bottom?

According to a group of 100 academic marriage scholars, Justice Kennedy was right to be concerned about the harmful social effects of such a redefinition of marriage—especially on the children of heterosexuals. In fact, according to an amicus brief recently submitted in the pending Supreme Court marriage case that I filed on behalf of those scholars, the results of such a ruling could well be catastrophic. As the brief demonstrates, based on data from nations and US states that have adopted same-sex marriage, it is reasonable to predict that, over a generation, a forced redefinition of marriage would produce at least a 5 percent reduction in heterosexual marriage rates. That would result in an increase of nearly 1.3 million never-married women, and an increase of nearly 600,000 functionally fatherless children.

But why would redefining marriage reduce heterosexual marriage rates? Is it really plausible that the marriage of a lesbian couple might cause a heterosexual young adult next door to forgo marriage altogether? According to the marriage scholars’ brief, mandatory same-sex marriage would create a substantial risk of reduced heterosexual marriage rates—not because of individual same-sex marriages, but because the institutionalization of same-sex marriage necessarily requires replacing the gendered “man-woman” definition with a genderless “any qualified persons” definition. And that change from a gendered to a genderless understanding would undermine some of the key, secular norms that, among other things, encourage heterosexuals to marry.

The Man-Woman Understanding of Marriage Benefits Society and Children

Marriage is a complex social institution that, like all social institutions, regulates and encourages certain human behaviors.(Tweet this) Without effective social institutions, no amount of law and law enforcement can make a society function properly. Marriage reinforces particular values and actions that benefit society, both broadly and individually. As Professor Amy Wax has observed: “Marriage’s long track record as a building block for families and a foundation for beneficial relations between the sexes suggests that ordinary people desperately need the anchor of clear expectations, and that they respond to them.” Or, as the Sixth Circuit put it, at least some citizens “may well need the government’s encouragement to create and maintain stable relationships within which children may flourish.”

That is why states have traditionally supported man-woman marriage, an institution that has historically and universally been linked to procreation, marking the boundaries where sexual reproduction is socially commended. This underlying message helps achieve a principal purpose of marriage: any children born will have a known mother and father who have the responsibility to care for them. Even ancient Greek and Roman societies understood this. Despite encouraging same-sex intimate relations, they limited marriage to man-woman unions.

Of course, marriage provides benefits to adults as well. But these are secondary to the main purpose of an institution that, in the words of revered psychologist Bronislaw Malinowski, is “primarily designed by the needs of offspring, by the dependence of the children upon their parents.” Indeed, as the religious skeptic Bertrand Russell candidly observed, “But for children, there would be no need for any institution concerned with sex.”

From this purpose—ensuring the care of any children born to man-woman unions—flow several specific secular norms, norms that are “taught” and reinforced by the man-woman definition and understanding of marriage:

1. Biological Bonding and Support: Where possible, every child has a right to be reared by and to bond with her biological father and mother. And every child has a right, whenever possible, to be supported financially by the man and woman who brought the child into the world.

2. Gender Diversity: Where possible, a child should be raised by a mother and a father who are committed to each other and to the child, even where he cannot be raised by both biological parents.

3. Postponement: Men and women should postpone procreation until they are within the committed, long-term relationship of marriage. This is alternatively called the “responsible creation” or “channeling” norm.

4. Valuing Procreation/Child-Rearing: Within the protection and stability of marriage, the creation and rearing of children are socially valuable.

5. Exclusivity: For the sake of their children, men and women should limit themselves to a single procreative partner.

All of these specific norms are grounded in and support the more general norm ofchild-centricity: Parents and prospective parents should give the interests of their children—present and future—equal if not higher priority than their own.(Tweet this)

Common sense and social science show that these norms provide immense benefits to children, their parents and society. In short, children generally do best emotionally, socially, intellectually, and economically when reared in an intact home by both biological parents.(Tweet this) More specifically, as the brief documents in detail, compared to any other family structure, children raised by their biological, married parents are less likely to commit crimes, experience teen pregnancy, have multiple abortions, engage in substance abuse, suffer from mental illness, or do poorly in school. They are also more likely to support themselves and their own children in the future. No other parenting arrangement comes close (on average) to that of a child’s biological, married mother and father.(Tweet this)

This is true because of the power of the norms stemming from man-woman marriage. For instance, biological bonds between parents and their child deepen their investments in their relationships with each other and with the child. Further, having both a mother and a father provides crucial gender diversity for a child’s social and emotional development. As famed anthropologist (and atheist) Margaret Mead noted: “One of the most important learnings for every human child is how to be a full member of its own sex and at the same time fully relate to the opposite sex. This is not an easy learning; it requires the continuing presence of a father and a mother.”

Vibrant child-centricity and biological support norms lead to less physical and sexual abuse, neglect, and divorce. And parents who embrace the procreative exclusivity norm are unlikely to have children with multiple partners—a phenomenon that leads to social, emotional and financial difficulties for children and their mothers. Similarly, people who embrace the postponement norm are less likely to have children without a second, committed parent—another well-established predictor of psychological, emotional and financial heartache.

On the other hand, a culture that largely rejects the social value of creating and rearing children jeopardizes a society’s ability to reproduce itself. It is thus not surprising that some courts have deemed man-woman marriage “the fundamental unit of the political order … [for] the very survival of the political order depends upon the procreative potential embodied in traditional marriage.”

Removing the Man-Woman Definition Would Create Enormous Risks

Since the law can alter social institutions and therefore alter social norms, removing the man-woman definition of marriage creates enormous risks to society, especially to the children of opposite-sex couples.

Even proponents of same-sex marriage admit the impact would be profound. Yale Law Professor William Eskridge, a long-time advocate of same-sex marriage, conceded that “enlarging the concept to embrace same-sex couples would necessarily transform [the institution of marriage] into something new.” And in an article titled “Retying the Knot,” same-sex marriage architect E.J. Graff exulted that

Same-sex marriage is a breathtakingly subversive idea . . . [If it ever] becomes legal, [the] venerable institution [of marriage] will ever stand for sexual choice, cutting the link between sex and diapers.

By cutting the link between sex and children that is embedded in the traditional man-woman definition, such a redefinition would undermine each of the associated secular norms of man-woman marriage, to the detriment of the nation’s children.

For example, by embracing a vision of marriage in which the gender of parents is irrelevant, the state sends the message that a child does not need or deserve both a father and a mother. This destroys the gender-diversity norm, and saps the biological bonding and support norm. Likewise, cutting the link between “sex and diapers” in marriage eviscerates the postponement and procreation norms, with fewer children born within marriage, and fewer children born overall.

This “breathtakingly subversive” metamorphosis will not affect all equally. It will especially influence heterosexual men, who generally need more encouragement to marry and have children than women. The metamorphosis of marriage from a gendered to a genderless institution conveys to men (and women) that society no longer needs men to bond to women to form well-functioning families or to raise happy, well-adjusted children. And that message is especially likely to be influential among those on the margins: the poor, the relatively uneducated or others who are highly influenced by cultural messages promoting casual or uncommitted sex.

The weakening or destruction of these norms would result in fewer marriages, more procreation out of marriage, and a higher percentage of children raised in a home without both parents—usually without a father. The consequences would be stark and disastrous: more childhood poverty; increased psychological and emotional problems; more teenage pregnancy; poorer performance in school; higher amounts of substance abuse; more youth committing crimes; and more girls undergoing abortions.

Courting the Collapse of Marriage

If all of this seems too theoretical, one must only remember the no-fault divorce revolution, and the destruction it left in its wake. Only with the benefit of hindsight can we clearly see that no-fault divorce fundamentally altered the institution of marriage, making it more adult-centric and reducing marriage rates along the way. The divorce culture, which started at the margins, has now penetrated the institution of marriage to its core. And the collapse of marriage among the poor in our inner cities reveals how susceptible the institution is to legal alteration, and how devastating its demise can be for children. Like a fragile ecosystem, the institution of marriage did not spring into being overnight, but it can be irreversibly damaged in a hurry.

Evidence from states and nations that have legalized same-sex marriage confirms the danger that redefining marriage poses to children of heterosexuals. For example,statistical analysis of experience in the Netherlands—the first nation to legalize same-sex marriage—showed, after controlling for other factors, that the nationwide annual decline in opposite-sex marriage rates for Netherlands women aged eighteen to twenty-two went from 2.8 percent to 7.8 percent—a net decline of 5 percent. When the population was further subdivided, the net decline in the marriage rate was even greater among some populations: a decline of 31.8 percent for young women in the four largest (and least religious) urban areas, and a 13.4 percent decline for young women who were born in the Netherlands.

Descriptive data from other nations and American states where sufficient multi-year data are available show similar results. Since legalizing same-sex marriage, Canada’s and Belgium’s opposite-sex marriage rates dropped 4.3 percent and 7.7 percent, respectively. Spain has witnessed its opposite-sex marriage rates plummet 36 percent since the year it simultaneously legalized same-sex marriage and liberalized its divorce laws. And in the United States, Vermont (5.1 percent), Connecticut (7.3 percent), Massachusetts (8.9 percent), and Iowa (9.2 percent) have all seen opposite-sex marriage rates decline in the wake of legalizing same-sex marriage.

Of course, correlation is not causation. But correlation in harmony with theoretical predictions, past experience, and other causal analysis (see the Netherlands study), gives cause for grave concern.

Even a 5 percent drop in marriage rates in the United States over the next thirty years would have deep and dire consequences. The logic is simple: fewer women marrying means fewer children born, more children born out-of-wedlock—and indeed, more children aborted. Conservatively estimating that only half of that 5 percent increase in the number of unmarried women would result in women whonever marry, this means that there would be 1.275 million more women who never marry and almost 600,000 more children who will be born outside of marriage. This would result in as many as 1.75 million children who will never be born, including about 900,000 who will be aborted. That’s a big deal.

On the other side of ledger, same-sex marriage proponents argue that the above-mentioned benefits of marriage to children are needed for the 240,000 children currently being raised by same-sex couples in the United States. But first, that number is only one-third of one percent (0.33 percent) of the nearly 74 millionchildren in this country. And second, it is not clear that the benefits to children from man-woman marriage will automatically transfer to the children of same-sex couples if those couples can legally marry. Man-woman marriage and same-sex marriage empirically differ in a host of ways. And the one study to look at the differential impact on children of married versus unmarried same-sex couples showed that children were actually worse off  when the couples married.

In sum, man-woman marriage needs not redefinition, but reinvigoration. And all of us, especially the Supreme Court, would do well to heed the warning of G.K. Chesterton that “nobody has any business to destroy”—or even to substantially modify—“a social institution until he has really seen it as an historical institution.” Chesterton continued:

If he knows how it arose, and what purposes it was supposed to serve, he may really be able to say that they . . . are purposes which are no longer served. But if he simply stares at the thing as a senseless monstrosity that has somehow sprung up in his path, it is he and not the traditionalist who is suffering from an illusion.

Far from being a “senseless monstrosity,” the institution of man-woman marriage has endured throughout human history because it has been shown to bring enormous benefits to children. Given the risks that a redefinition would bring—especially to children of heterosexuals—that decision should be left to the States and their people, and should not be imposed upon them by an unelected Supreme Court.

Gene Schaerr, a married father and grandfather, is a Washington, DC attorney specializing in Supreme Court, appellate and pre-appellate litigation.

Marital Differences: Resent or Reconcile?

by David Kan

A perturbed husband once lamented in the therapy session, “David, I don’t understand why is she still so uptight over the extra-marital affair I had a few years back? I had shown genuine remorse and she claimed my misdeed is forgiven. Yet she still harbors on the matter whenever a dispute or quarrel breaks out. The emotional distance between us is not bridging up!”

As couples, we have had our share of conflicts and some of our disagreements have not been pretty.

Since every marriage has its tensions, it isn’t a question of avoiding them but of how you deal with them. The husband in mention needs to realize that more important than the act of forgiveness which the wife had expressed is the process of reconciliation to be undertaken jointly to bring about complete marriage restoration. Conflict can lead to a process that develops oneness or isolation. You and your spouse can choose how you will act in managing marital differences.

Rather than allowing the marriage to teeter on the edge of brokenness, here are pointers on how we may chart out the reconciliation route in dealing with marital conflicts :

1. Check your motivation. Will your words help or hurt? Will bringing this up cause healing, wholeness, and oneness, or further isolation?

2. Check your attitude. Loving confrontation says, “I care about you. I respect you and I want you to respect me. I want to know how you feel.” Avoid ‘bull-dozing’ mode of communication of personal attacks, criticism or humiliation on your spouse especially in public.

3. Be mindful. This includes timing, location, and setting. Don’t confront your spouse, for example, when he is tired from a hard day’s work, or in the middle of settling a squabble between the children.

4. Carefully consider your part in the problem- While it may be satisfying to blame everything on your mate, playing the victim, this is usually a very simplistic appraisal of the issues. What do you bring to the situation? What are you really like to live with?

5. Be sensitive to where your spouse is coming from. What’s the context of your spouse’s life right now? Collaborative effort involves consideration of each other’s viewpoint and emotional well-being.

6. Listen to your spouse. Seek to understand his or her view, and ask questions to clarify’

7. During the discussion, stick to one issue at a time. Don’t bring up several. Don’t save up a series of complaints and let your spouse have them all at once.

8. Focus on fixing the problem instead of your partner. Marriage relationship is about empowering each other with understanding, trust and forgiveness, not pinning your spouse down.

Cultivating a good marriage is a process of working in harmony with one another and investing efforts to make good personal differences which will open up the high road of love and joy.

If you need help in strengthening your marriage or relationships, please do not hesitate to contact us for counselling/therapy sessions.

David Kan is the Co-Founder, Programme Director and Senior Family Counsellor of Family Life First (FLF), a non-profit Voluntary Welfare Organisation (VWO) set up since 1996 providing family life education cum counselling services and marital enrichment programmes to the community-at-large. He holds a Masters degree in Organizational Psychology and a Professional Diploma in Human Resource Development and Training. He is a certified Seminar Director and Counsellor of ‘PREPARE/ENRICH’, a diagnostic couple relationship assessment inventory tool, a qualified & licensed practitioner of Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® (MBTI®) psychometric personality profiling tool and accredited practitioner of Positive Parenting Program. He is also a registered clinical supervisor with the Australian Counselling Association’s College of Counselling Supervisors and an accredited member- certified master supervisor level of the Association of Psychotherapists & Counsellors (Singapore).