Revitalizing the Institution of Marriage for the Twenty-First Century: An Agenda for Strengthening Marriage

Revitalizing the Institution of Marriage for the Twenty-First Century: An Agenda for Strengthening Marriage

Revitalizing the Institution of Marriage for the Twenty-First Century: An Agenda for Strengthening Marriage

Revitalizing the Institution of Marriage for the Twenty-First Century: An Agenda for Strengthening Marriage

Synopsis

Offers policy recommendations, research agendas, and educational and legal directives aimed at strengthening marriage as an institution.

Excerpt

Linda J. Waite

As a society, we are basically conflicted about marriage. On the one hand, we say that having a happy marriage is an important personal goal. On the other hand, we say that it shouldn't matter if other people do not want marriage for themselves. We say that it is fine if single people have sex, but not fine if either of them is married to someone else. We say that people should be able to have children when they aren't married, but not fine if our daughter does it. Almost all of us say that our marriages are very happy, but almost half of us divorce at least once. Understandably, then, we are ambivalent about making divorce more difficult.

What's going on here? I believe we have been naive. Sold a bill of goods. Misinformed. We have accepted myths about marriage that are based on fantasy or politics, not on facts. We have allowed these myths to permeate our culture, the messages we send to others, the choices we make, and those we encourage others to make. The following six myths and our belief in them do a lot of damage.

1. Marriage is just a piece of paper. It's how you feel that matters, not whether you signed a form in a government office, according to this myth. Getting married makes no difference to your relationship, how it develops, or how long it lasts. So why bother? Not true. Getting married, making a public, legally binding promise—to stay together forever, to support each other, to be faithful—matters. It makes relationships more likely to last and so a better “investment.” Promising to stay together allows partners to grow together, support each other, and count on that support. Religious beliefs and values undergird marriage for many couples, giving the union support . . .

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