January 8, 2014
(first of three parts)
Answers for the Disintegration of Marriage
By Mike McManus
Marriage is deteriorating in America – and churches seem indifferent to it.
There were 2.1 million marriages in 2011, but 2.4 million in 1970 when there
were only 203 million Americans. With 314 million today, there should have been
3 million marriages.
America’s congregations who perform 86% of all weddings – appear indifferent to
the marriage crisis. No Protestant denomination has issued a report on the
decline of marriage let alone suggested any answers.
To their credit the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a Pastoral Letter
on Marriage in 2009. They quote Pope John Paul II as saying that the “future of
humanity depends on marriage and the family.” And they express concern about how
“reluctant” Catholics are to “make the actual commitment” to marry.
However, in their 60-page Pastoral Letter, they do not cite the grim evidence of
that fact. In 1970 there were 426.000 Catholic marriages, but only 167,000 in
2012. That’s a stunning 61% decline – more than double the 30% decline of U.S.
Catholics at least track the numbers. The Assemblies of God, the Southern
Baptist Convention and the United Methodist Church could not tell me how many
married in their churches.
Why are they indifferent to God’s first institution?
Genesis states, “The Lord God said, `It is not good for man to be alone. I will
make a helper suitable for him.” After doing so, we read, “For this reason a man
will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become
What might be done? In this column and two future ones, I’ll suggest some
First, pastors should preach on the importance of marriage – and the risks of
the popular alternative: cohabitation. National Marriage Week (Feb. 9-16) is a
good time to start.
Last year 8 million couples lived together – nearly four times those who
married. Why? Many are children of divorce who fear marriage and hope to test
the relationship by living with a potential mate. Seems logical, but is in
I suggest pastors offer three sets of numbers to prove conventional wisdom
1. Two-thirds of those who married were cohabiting. But that’s only 1.5 million
of the 8 million cohabiting couples. What happened to the other 6.5 million?
Most broke up – proof that couples cannot “practice permanence.”
2. In our book, Living Together: Myths, Risks & Answers, we report that the risk
that women are 18 times more likely to be assaulted by live-in partners than by
a husband and are five times more likely to suffer “severe violence.”
3. Couples who live together before marriage are 50% to 61% more likely to
divorce than those who remained separate before a wedding, report two studies.
Therefore, pastors should ask, “Why live together if the couple is five times
to break up rather than marry – and more likely to divorce?”
Few cohabiting couples attend church. But many of their parents do. Pastors
could suggest they ask their cohabiting children: “Do you want a 9 in 10 chance
of breaking up before or after the wedding?”
Additionally, I have a question for clergy: Why marry couples who are living
together? Scripture is clear: “Flee from sexual immorality.” Clergy who marry
cohabiting couples contribute to the problem. They should add to their sermon on
marriage: “I will no longer marry any couples who are cohabiting – unless they
move apart for three months. That will increase the odds they will marry and
that their union will last.”
Paul wrote: “Test everything. Hold onto the good. Avoid every kind of evil.”
Cohabitation is clearly evil. But how can couples test their relationship?
In the 1990’s my wife and I pioneered the training of couples in our church for
healthy marriages by requiring them to take a premarital inventory and meet with
trained Mentor Couples to discuss 150 issues such as:
• Sometimes I wish my partner were more careful about spending money.
• When we are having a problem, my partner often refuses to talk about it.
Of the 288 couples we prepared for marriage, 58 decided not to marry. That’s a
big 20%. Studies show that such couples have the same scores as those who marry
and later divorced. Thus, they avoided a bad marriage before it began. However,
of the 230 couples who did marry in the 1990s, we know of only 16 divorces.
That’s a 93% success rate over two decades – virtual marriage insurance.
We want to have healthy marriages for our children and grandchildren.