Providing a Catholic framework on the truth and meaning of sexuality, love, and family

Why So Disillusioned About Marriage?

by Vicki ThornWhat has happened to marriage? Everywhere we look these days, marriage seems maligned. A recently published Pew Study does not paint a pleasant picture for the future of marriage, and the Nov. 18 issue of TIME Magazine has a major story on the supposed demise of the institution.According to the study, nearly 40% of us think marriage is obsolete. Pew reported that 44% of those under 30 believe marriage is heading the road of the dinosaurs – extinction! And slightly more than half of the respondents said marriage was not relevant to achieving respect, happiness, career goals, financial security or a fulfilling sex life.And yet, we Americans have one of the highest rates of marriage, and remarriage in the world. 70% of respondents thought marriage was worth trying, with only 5% of them saying they didn’t want to get married. When it came to raising children, more than 75% said “it’s best done married.”Another article in TIME last year described the situation this way:An increasingly fragile construct depending less and less on notions of sacrifice and obligation than on the ephemera of romance and happiness as defined by and for its adult principals, the intact, two-parent family remains our cultural ideal, but it exists under constant assault. It is buffeted by affairs and ennui, subject to the eternal American hope for greater happiness, for changing the hand you dealt yourself. Getting married for life, having children and raising them with your partner — this is still the way most Americans are conducting adult life..” This was said in an article in TIME in 2009.All this came to mind when a close friend with a wedding approaching shared deep distress at the experience of a marriage preparation event.  While the communications techniques that were taught in the weekend event were very helpful to her and her fiancé, the couples presenting the seminar caused disillusionment. To quote my friend, the message she took away was, “Marriage sucks, and somehow you have to survive it!” Even the clergyman involved was not helpful. There was no joy, no hope, no blessing discussed – just soldier on and be brave, and you’ll get through it.I Googled “marriage is wonderful” and mostly found programs and books devoted to improving marriage. Then there was the H. L. Menken quote: “Marriage is a wonderful institution, but who would want to live in an institution.”  I found a question –  “My marriage is wonderful but I am thinking about cheating. “ It was a ways in before I found a couple of personal blogs about the gift of marriage. I searched for “marriage is terrible” and quickly plunged into personal accounts and struggles. I searched “marriage sucks,” and page after page of angst poured out!What has changed in our culture to cause such an impact on our experience of marriage?For one, media has shaped our expectations in very real ways, as we’ve gone from early TV programming that depicted married couples to broken families, step families and “alternative” families. On one hand, we’ve been set up to have unrealistic expectations of a partner and of a marriage that will all be endless romance – a message pragmatically countered by people like Lori Gottlieb, who in her book Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough,  counsels women to lay aside their dreams of Prince Charming. On the other end of the spectrum, we are inundated by the message of disillusionment in marriage, such as in the show “Desperate Housewives.”We have treated our children as little prince and princesses, as is detailed by Jean Twenge in her books  Me Generation  and The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement.  If it’s all about me, trying to live a married life becomes impossible.We have many young adults who are the adult children of divorce, and in spite of all the hype about children being remarkably resilient, they are now telling their stories. They don’t trust marriage. They are ill equipped to make a partner choice and are predisposed to have a marriage fail. Having not seen a marriage thrive, they are often cynical about the institution itself.Cohabitation has exploded, with some referring to it as trial marriage, and if it falls apart, the heartache lingers even without the marriage license. In the meantime, partners are more likely to experience partner abuse, infidelity, less satisfying sexual intimacy and have less family support.  A negative experience of cohabitation, then, can sour a future marriage.And where are the extended families who gave us support in the past – those couples who grew old together with grace, and would take a younger, struggling couple aside to offer advice and love? We have a shortage of examples to look to in understanding “in good times and in bad.” It’s lonely as a married couple in today’s world.Perhaps we should begin to speak about marriage as an adventure; not something for the faint of heart. Such an image may capture a deeper sense of what marriage is really about and call us to a higher good. An adventure is defined as a wild and risky undertaking, filled with dangerous yet exciting experiences. Certainly all of those can describe the phases of marriage, which require courage, sacrifice and even suffering.  It’s an adventure undertaken by two people joined by love, supported by grace and journeying together.  Enough of the warm, fuzzy, romantic image. Marriage is for those who are brave and willing to engage life and love with another person, until death do they part. That sounds exciting to me! And I’ve lived it for almost 40 years. pastedGraphic.pdf(The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Headline Bistro or the Knights of Columbus.)

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