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January 15, 2014
Column #1,690
(second of three parts)
Answers to the Disintegration of Marriage – II
By Mike McManus

Fifty years ago President Lyndon Johnson declared a War on Poverty, proclaiming, “For the first time in our history, it is possible to conquer poverty.”

As a TIME correspondent it was exhilarating to cover the launching of Medicare, Head Start, food stamps and the first federal aid to education to help poor children. Looking back, what has been accomplished?

Percentages of those in poverty don’t appear to have changed much. In 1982 15% were below the poverty line, and in 2010 it was still 15%. Robert Samuelson, a Washington Post columnist, notes that official figures do not count non-cash payments, such as food stamps and the Earned Income Tax Credit. If included the poverty rate is only 5%.

However, the number of families headed by a single parent has tripled since LBJ. Unwed births have soared 8-fold to 41%. That’s 20 times Japan’s 2%. (No wonder Asian kids score far better academically than Americans.)

Almost none of the stories on the War on Poverty note the connection between poverty and the disintegration of marriage. However, the Heritage Foundation has reported, “Marriage drops the probability of poverty by 82%.”

Churches can do much to increase the odds that marriages will endure. Last week I urged pastors to preach that cohabitation fails in 9 out of 10 cases, either before or after the wedding.

I outlined a healthier way to prepare couples for marriage, by requiring a premarital inventory and discussing it with trained Mentor Couples. Although it is self-serving, I’d like to outline four more answers that my wife and I offer as part of our “Marriage Savers” ministry to churches:

Enrichment: All marriages run down over time and need a booster shot. Churches can use many DVD packages to help couples rekindle their love. “10 Great Dates” are sparked by a brief DVD on such topics as “Resolving Honest Conflict” or “Becoming an Encourager” that can be scheduled for 10 Friday nights. Couples watch the clip and then enjoy a date to discuss that theme. It’s fun and easy. “Love and Respect” are longer DVDs ideal for a weekend event.

Restoration of troubled marriages is best achieved by training couples whose own marriages once nearly failed, to mentor those in current crisis. Every church has couples who have survived adultery who can be trained to tell their story of recovery to a couple in current crisis over infidelity. They can share how they rebuilt trust. This is far more effective than sending couples to counselors who, according to one major study, actually increase their odds of divorce.

Reconciliation of separated couples, when one spouse wants a divorce, is best achieved with a 12-week “Marriage 911” workbook course designed to help a committed spouse grow so much, he/she attracts back an errant mate. It is taken with a friend of the same gender who is given a handbook to know what questions to ask.

Stepfamilies usually divorce at a 70% rate. However, we help churches create a Stepfamily Support Group that saves 80% of these daunting marriages.

Marriage Savers has helped more than 10,000 churches jump-start these reforms in “Community Marriage Policies,” the 230th of which was signed recently in Livonia, Michigan. Catholic and Protestant clergy gathered on the steps of the local courthouse to pledge implementing marriage initiatives outlined above to revive marriages in their churches.

Equally important, they sent couples in healthy marriages to be trained to serve as Mentor Couples to help other couples prepare for, enrich and restore marriages.

An independent study of our work by the Institute for Research and Evaluation reported that on average, divorce rates fell 17.5% in seven years for a city or county. Nearly a tenth of cities – such as Austin, Kansas City, KS, Salem, OR and Modesto, CA cut their divorce rates in half. Based on Institute estimates, more than 100,000 marriages have been saved from divorce.

In addition, the Institute estimated that cohabitation rates fell in cities with Community Marriage Covenants by one-third compared to very similar cities in each state.

Marriage rates in some cities have increased, such as Evansville, IN where Catholic Bishop Gerald Gettelfinger wrote “We are particularly proud to report that the number of marriages has risen. From 1997-2003, there were an average of only 1,143 marriages per year. But there were an average of 1,324 marriages in 2004-2005. That is a 16% increase in the marriage rate,” while the U.S. marriage rate was plunging.

Churches can reverse the disintegration of marriage – if they implement proven strategies to do so.

Sadly, few are doing so.

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