Like The Sabbath
Marriage Was Made For Man
Not Man For Marriage
Strange title, I know, especially coming from a minister but religion and marriage are just as different as church and state and shouldn’t be managed as one.
You can be religiously happy without being married. You can be married happily without being religious. You can be married on one day, with no interest in religion, and become very religious later.
But, it has proven particularly difficult for an excessively religious person to marry only within the strict guidelines of their religion and be happy for a life time. The marriage might last for a life time but the happiness fades. Sometimes the marriage falls apart. According to Barna, even the Catholic divorce rate is high (28%).
One team from the University of Chicago, led by Linda J. Waite, did a study on unhappy marriages which suggested that many couples who stuck it out during the bad times reported their marriages happy five years later. The report also suggested that those who divorced were generally no more happy than those who didn’t.
However, an article at Religious Tolerance points out that part of the motivation to stay together was religious indoctrination so we can’t be sure from the U of C study whether the couples were happy with the marriage or the personal development in their lives individually in spite of the marriage.
Religion-influenced marriages may be more likely to stay together but are these couples happy or forbearing? Religion has added layers of adhesive to the institution’s external side but not much to sustain it on the inside. So religion’s legacy might be stated as: “married unhappily ever after.”
Although religion and religious people have served many good purposes, interfering with marriage is obviously not one of them.
Admittedly, it would be illogical to suggest all non-religious couples are happy. Marriage is easily mangled, religion or not. And it is also true that happiness in any marriage will never be absolute. It isn’t easy to get it right.
The problems that cause breakups don’t mysteriously appear all of a sudden decades after the wedding. They lurk quietly in the background from the start and over time grow intolerably huge if not managed well.
Kind of like warts. Small at first, growing over time and eventually getting painfully in the way. And we all have them.
However, my focus is not the problems that cause break ups but religion because religion tends to be dismissive toward such problems which in turn adds another dimension of difficulty to married life. Instead of admitting up front that relationship problems can be deal killers the focus is limited. Only the permanence of marriage is addressed and the possibility of a break up is treated as if it could never happen. Head-in-sand stuff.
Like snake oil pedaled by traveling salesmen, marriage is presented as a fairytale elixir to all relationship dreams for this life with implications for the next.
What religion fails to acknowledge are the problems induced by marriage that arise only after the ceremony, maybe years after. One study done at UT Austin found these problem areas begin to surface during the first two years of marriage and foreshadow breakups as far off as 13 years later. Unfortunately, when the problems become glaringly obvious, some religions never allow them to trump the vows.
Psychologists tell us that divorce is one of the most traumatic human experiences. It rates right up there with the death of a loved one or the loss of a limb. And, again, religious conservatives use this information to support the theory that divorce should never happen.
But is this trauma caused only by the divorce? Shouldn’t religion be blamed for part of the problem since they historically have proven unable to accept this unhappy experience and therefore haven’t been there for people when it happens?
Shouldn’t we also attribute part of the trauma to the culturally negative attitudes, encouraged by religion, that leave divorced couples stigmatized?
Knowing that religion and culture are against you before you start makes it stressful just thinking about a divorce never mind getting one.
Society is much more accepting today and divorce numbers have increased but maybe the 1 in 2 divorce rate isn’t a sign of more marriages going wrong but an indication that people are taking advantage of a more forgiving culture to correct poor marriage choices.
In the past more people stayed in their marriages but were they happy? Were they really committed to each other or just afraid of public responses toward divorce? Maybe it was less painful to stay in a difficult marriage than to dissolve it and in that light the 1 in 2 rate may be better than we thought.
If speculations about behind the scenes morality during the Victorian Age are even partly true it wouldn’t be a stretch to suggest that the number of extramarital affairs were indirectly proportional to the number of divorces.
And looking around today you find that some of the strongest and happiest couples are second marriages. Go figure!
Religious leaders aren’t bad people and they aren’t saying evil things. The problem is they paint only half the picture. I think marriages would have a better chance of lasting if couples were told up front that marriage can be very hard to get right. It isn’t always easy to find the right partner in the first place and even when the partnership fits well you can’t know ahead of time how each person will react to the ups and downs of family life or to each other when things go south.
For these reasons it would do us well to consider some of the fail-points in the religious approach to marriage. And maybe consider removing all the add-ons religion has imposed on the wedding and the relationship. [Read more…]