Comments on Marriage in Contemporary Culture: Five Models That Might Help Families

By Schumm, Walter R. | Journal of Psychology and Theology, Fall 2003 | Go to article overview

Comments on Marriage in Contemporary Culture: Five Models That Might Help Families


Schumm, Walter R., Journal of Psychology and Theology


Questions are answered in relationship to innovative theoretical models derived primarily from the author's teaching experiences in family theory and methodology. Implications of the models for marital interventions by local community and church leaders as well as marital therapists are discussed.

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Can you briefly describe what kind of work you are currently doing in support of Christian marriages?

Since 1979, I have been teaching about marital interaction, contemporary family theories, family research methodology (Schumm, 1993; Schumm, 2001), family intervention program evaluations, and premarital counseling (Silliman & Schumm, 1999, 2000) in the School of Family Studies and Human Services at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas. I also have served as a research consultant on issues concerning military families, especially the impact of overseas deployments and related risk factors (Schumm, Bell, & Gade, 2000; Bell & Schumm, 2000), in addition to a project on the causes of Gulf War illnesses (Schumm, Webb, Jurich, & Bollman, 2002). I have served as a consultant to Ken Canfield's National Center for Fathering (Canfield, Schumm, Swihart, & Eggerichs, 1990) and to the Army's Chaplains programs on building strong families, as well as studying intrinsic religiosity among military personnel (Schumm, 2000). During this time I dealt with many families as a senior staff officer and commander within the U. S. Army Reserve, retiring in July 2002 after more than 30 years service (Schumm, Polk, Bryan, Fornataro, & Curry, 1998). One of my career goals has been to develop visual models to explain complex issues in ways that are easier to understand. My father had a professor at the Naval Academy in 1924 who used to say that "the picture works the puzzle." That is why much of what I have to say will revolve around five simple models that I have found useful while teaching over the years. Of course, all models are simplifications of a more complex reality; therefore, these models should be starting points for discussion, not ending points.

Although models may be interesting, we should be focusing on "Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith" (Hebrews 12: 2). The models are not a substitute for professional marriage counseling or crisis counseling (Swihart & Richardson, 1987).

A number of dangers to the institution of marriage have been proposed, including cohabitation, increased religious heterogeneity, dual career issues, modern mobility, increases in the length of life, and others. Over the next decade, what do you believe will be the greatest risks to the institution of marriage? Follow up: What do you believe is the cause of high levels of divorce in the Christian community today?

There are a number of dangers to Christian marriage. In contrast to many others, my chief worry is not about the effect of "outsiders" on Christian marriage; I am worried most about the effect of "ourselves." Healthy organisms usually resist disease but unhealthy ones often succumb. In other words, I can understand why a non-believer would divorce his wife for a younger "trophy," but I am more distressed when Christians do the same thing and--more dangerously--rationalize their behavior as not only Biblically appropriate but as positively good. If we can't solve our own problems with divorce, are we not being presumptuous to tell non-believers how to solve theirs?

I have tried to develop integrated models of morality and marital interaction rather than mere lists of what is wrong. To cover the issues of dangers and the reasons for divorce, I will present two theoretical models. The first model (the "Moral Transformations" Model, see Figure 1) is about the Christian life. This model has been touched upon in a couple of previous articles (Schumm, 2001; Schumm, 2002) but is developed more fully here. Imagine a rectangle with five vertical divisions, numbered 1 through five, from left to right. …

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