The American divorce rate today hovers at about 50 percent. It’s not much better in other industrialized countries, many of which have divorce rates of around 40 percent.
If that weren’t bad enough, almost 40 percent of births in the United States are children born out of wedlock. To add monetary insult to moral injury, these unwed mothers are costing U.S. taxpayers a staggering $112 billion a year in welfare, health care, education, criminal justice, other federal, state and local government programs and lost tax revenue, according to an April 15, 2008, Associated Press report.
Clearly marriage and family—the basic building blocks of a civilized, moral, functional society—are in trouble.
Times have changed. So have our values. This all seems so normal to most affluent societies, yet divorce and family breakdown damage not only the couple, but also children, relatives and friends. Given both time and pressures from all directions, the divorce rate may rise even higher, and families might well become even more fragmented.
A change in marriage expectations
Obviously marriage and the family are in trouble. But why? Where and how did it start?
It helps to understand how courtship and marriage have evolved. Up until about a century ago, courtship was expected to lead to a marriage that produced children to provide enough labor to help the family succeed. Times were tough, and many hands were needed to provide security and sustenance.
In the early 20th century, courtship formalized and focused more on romantic love than filling the needs of security and companionship. Parents still controlled the courtship environment, often requiring their sons and daughters to court in the parlor while they listened in an adjacent room.
World War II saw a shortage of men and an increase of automobiles; courtship and dating went public with minimal super-vision. Dating values changed even more. Today young men and women believe that it’s normal to engage in sexual activity before marriage, and parents either ignore it or apathetically accept it.
No matter the century, most human beings have not understood what infatuation or love is. It’s helpful to understand our psychological and physiological makeup.
Is it infatuation or love?
In your marriage, have you ever said,”I still love him (or her) but I’m not ‘in love’ anymore”? Has your “I do” become “I don’t”? What happens to bring about such change? Why do those initial strong feelings that once attracted you to the other person so often fade away with time?
Dr. Patricia Love, a noted family and marriage therapist and relationship consultant, wrote an inspiring and practical guide that can teach couples how to improve and recapture the feelings and attraction they once had. Her 2001 book The Truth About Love describes the functions physiology and psychology play in creating lasting love.
There is a big difference between infatuation and love, she notes. “The brain is an incredible creation; it begins working long before your birth and doesn’t stop until you fall in love,” she writes somewhat tongue-in-cheek (p. 28).
Dr. Love then discusses infatuation, triggered by the “love molecule” or love cocktail. “The infatuation syndrome is truly an example of Mother Nature at her finest. All the predictable behaviors that accompany the falling-in-love experience are brought on by a naturally orchestrated, drastic change in brain chemistry,” she observes.
“When you meet a strong candidate for love, your limbic system is flooded with a powerful chemical concoction—so powerful that scientists now believe that the euphoria of infatuations is a bona fide, altered state of consciousness. Symptoms include a delightfully positive attitude, increased energy, decreased need for sleep, and loss of appetite. Sound familiar? It’s clear that what we call being in love could also be called being under the influence” (pp. 28-29).
Dr. Love describes how the “love cocktail” can overpower the amygdala—the brain’s inhibition center—which warns you that what you are about to engage in is not smart and you could get hurt. “But the amygdala is no match for this hormonal hurricane,” she explains (p. 29).
The resulting full-blown infatuation knows no fear, even to the point of ignoring alarming qualities in a person that could cause marriage problems for years to come. This isn’t love, Dr. Love points out, but rather infatuation. There is a big difference between the two.
Although there are other aspects to consider as to whether a marriage is right between two well-meaning people, the “love cocktail” is a very heady drink to imbibe at the outset, overpowering otherwise obvious signals that can shipwreck a marriage.
To summarize: Infatuation is momentary, driven by emotions. True love, which includes a respect and genuine liking for another person, endures because it is driven by a genuine concern for the well-being and happiness of the other person.
Many people, failing to understand this, either enter marriage unprepared or, when those emotions later begin to fade away, decide their spouse wasn’t “the right one” after all and choose to end their marriage.
The moral breakdown of the family
As marriage goes, so goes the family. And as goes the family, so goes society and civilization.
Today’s media are often a terrible influence on marriage and family, feeding us a steady diet of hedonism and amorality (see “Before You Turn on the TV”). Too often media teaches us that bad is good and good is bad (Isaiah 5:20-21 Isaiah 5:20-21 20 Woe to them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!
21 Woe to them that are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight!
American King James Version×).
Many television situation comedies make light of marriage and family. They promote promiscuity, one-parent families, young men and women living together before marriage and same-sex relationships, among other things.
Our television sitcoms have evolved from the moral 1950s comedy series Father Knows Best to salacious sitcoms like Sex and the City, about four New York female friends who constantly gossip about their sex lives.
Such distorted views warp many people’s thinking when it comes to marriage and family. Many marriage and family problems stem from selfishness, misunderstandings and an unforgiving heart. Marital and family problems develop because human beings too often demand their own way and want it now. Still there is hope. But it takes dedicated effort and cooperation to build a happy family, as Daniel and Susan discovered.
A rocky marriage faces a test
Daniel and Susan had been married for 15 years when they suddenly discovered their marriage and family were no longer happy and secure. They hadn’t realized the effort it would take to maintain their original commitment. Within four years of their marriage, they were blessed with a baby boy and girl. But their ideal of marriage and family began to get lost along the way.
Daniel made his job the number-one priority in his life. Susan, meanwhile, was consumed by the time and effort the children took. Finally Daniel and Susan realized they had to change what they were doing if they were to improve their marriage and family.
First they agreed to stop arguing. Daniel reexamined his priorities and determined to like his job but love his wife. Susan resolved to love her husband and also her children. By prioritizing their marriage and family, they created a win-win environment for all.
Second, they determined to enjoy life together —as a family unit, not separately. They began looking for positive and good things in each other, overlooking the negative.
Though still not perfect, soon life for the entire family was much better. They’ve come to realize that the human condition was never meant to be without troubles, and they’re better prepared to cope.
Daniel and Susan breathed new life into their marriage. They cultivated the romance they shared at the altar and renewed their mutual respect gained over 15 years.
Hope for fractured families
Daniel and Susan certainly aren’t alone. Marriage and family problems come in all shapes and sizes. But much help is available too. Such books as Dr. Phil McGraw’s Family First (2004) and Stephen Covey’s Living the 7 Habits (1999) strive to promote good individual, family and marriage values.
Developing a good marriage and reinforcing good family values are usually uphill struggles. Most people are unwittingly influenced by modern media and the culture around them to accept all kinds of bad ideas. It’s simply what naturally happened when our societies replaced God and His Word with “anything goes” or subjective, “whatever seems right” philosophies.
Authors McGraw and Covey take a courageous stand in a world racing toward hedonism. You might want to read their books on how to improve your marriage and/or family condition. But be forewarned that their advice for your success demands personal effort on your part.
How can your family flourish?
What are some practical dos and don’ts you can apply to strengthen your marriage and family?
1. Be more selfless and less selfish. All marriages and families experience selfishness. That’s because each of us is selfish to some degree. You could say that we are naturally “wired” to be selfish to preserve and protect ourselves.
Problems develop when we desire something that we shouldn’t have and we indulge ourselves in that desire. This overextends our normal selfishness that can protect us. Still, we can control our selfish desires with God’s help (Romans 8:5-14 Romans 8:5-14 5 For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit.
6 For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.
7 Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.
8 So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God.
9 But you are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.
10 And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness.
11 But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwells in you.
12 Therefore, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh.
13 For if you live after the flesh, you shall die: but if you through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, you shall live.
14 For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.
American King James Version×).
Daily prayer and Bible reading can fill our minds with godly examples and ideas. Whatever we put into our minds and hearts is what we’ll think about, and that can determine how we treat each other (Proverbs 23:7 Proverbs 23:7For as he thinks in his heart, so is he: Eat and drink, said he to you; but his heart is not with you.
American King James Version×). Only God, through His Spirit
in us, can help us overcome excessive selfishness (1 Corinthians 2:12-15 1 Corinthians 2:12-15 12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. 13 Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teaches, but which the Holy Ghost teaches; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. 14 But the natural man receives not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness to him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. 15 But he that is spiritual judges all things, yet he himself is judged of no man.
American King James Version×).
2. Marriage and family require sacrifice and service. According to the Bible, the very best life one can live is filled with sacrifice and service (John 15:13 John 15:13Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.
American King James Version×; Matthew 20:26 Matthew 20:26But it shall not be so among you: but whoever will be great among you, let him be your minister;
American King James Version×; Luke 6:38 Luke 6:38Give, and it shall be given to you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that you mete with it shall be measured to you again.
American King James Version×). In a world of plenty, where many of the basic human needs are filled to some degree, this may sound crazy and archaic. Why sacrifice when you don’t need to?
Now we’re right back to the first point and human nature. We were designed to want and enjoy peaceful, happy relationships with others. But that lasting peace and happiness cannot come without effort on our part (James 3:18 James 3:18And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.
American King James Version×). The most powerful, mature and wisest act in the world is that of sacrificial service. Because of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice, humanity can be saved and live forever (John 3:16-17 John 3:16-17 16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. 17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.
American King James Version×).
In 100 Simple Secrets of Great Relationships, psychologist David Niven gives us practical and down-to-earth guidelines on what scientists have learned about relationships and how we can use them. On the subject of personal sacrifice he shares this:
“We recognize that having a long-standing healthy relationship is an achievement … It is certainly not always easy, and the rewards are not always immediately apparent, but sacrificing your immediate preferences and being committed to sharing, caring, and listening are mundane but heroic steps toward your lifetime relationship goal” (2003, p. 1).
In truth, if you want to enjoy your marriage and your family, you must serve others, which also sets a good example for everyone.
3. Stop doing anything that harms your marriage and family. If you want to make your marriage and family better, you must first stop doing anything that’s harming them. Continuing the bad stuff produces only pain, suffering, resentment and anger.
The weaknesses we succumb to are symptomatic of our human nature (Romans 7:15-23 Romans 7:15-23 15 For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I.
16 If then I do that which I would not, I consent to the law that it is good.
17 Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwells in me.
18 For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwells no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not.
19 For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.
20 Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwells in me.
21 I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me.
22 For I delight in the law of God after the inward man:
23 But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.
American King James Version×). Each bad habit we unconsciously or unwillingly develop through repetition “carves a rut” in our thinking, one that’s very hard to avoid again under similar circumstances.
The Bible tells us we can overcome evil with good (Romans 12:21 Romans 12:21Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.
American King James Version×). The idea here is to replace bad habits with good ones. That translates into overcoming—through God’s Spirit and His written truth.
4. Husbands and wives should be lovers. Perhaps you’ve heard the proverbial story of the husband who thought that when he told his wife he loved her at the altar that was good enough. He thought she should remember that time and not expect him to repeat it.
Needless to say, such an approach doesn’t cut it in the long run. Human beings need reassuring all the time. We are not robots. The wife’s need to hear her husband tell her he loves her and appreciates her never fades, ever. The same holds true for the husband. He constantly needs reassurance that he’s needed and respected, though he might appear to need no one. If he has a pulse, he needs attention. If she has a pulse, she needs attention.
Send her flowers. Call her and encourage her. Honor her with a candlelight dinner accompanied by romantic music. She’ll appreciate it; so will you. Wives, don’t forget to encourage your husbands; they need to know they are honored and respected.
5. Parents must dedicate themselves to creating a happy family. What parents invest into their families is usually what they’ll get out of their families. If you show respect and love to your children, that’s probably what you’ll get in return. If you yell, curse, scream and threaten your children, your children likely will yell, curse, scream and threaten others, and maybe you.
Physically, there’s no closer relationship than family, other than marriage. When a marriage is happy, the family is usually also happy.
View your children as future members of God’s family. Parents are stewards of God (see Luke 16:1-12 Luke 16:1-12 1 And he said also to his disciples, There was a certain rich man, which had a steward; and the same was accused to him that he had wasted his goods.
2 And he called him, and said to him, How is it that I hear this of you? give an account of your stewardship; for you may be no longer steward.
3 Then the steward said within himself, What shall I do? for my lord takes away from me the stewardship: I cannot dig; to beg I am ashamed.
4 I am resolved what to do, that, when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses.
5 So he called every one of his lord’s debtors to him, and said to the first, How much owe you to my lord?
6 And he said, An hundred measures of oil. And he said to him, Take your bill, and sit down quickly, and write fifty.
7 Then said he to another, And how much owe you? And he said, An hundred measures of wheat. And he said to him, Take your bill, and write fourscore.
8 And the lord commended the unjust steward, because he had done wisely: for the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light.
9 And I say to you, Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when you fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations.
10 He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much.
11 If therefore you have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches?
12 And if you have not been faithful in that which is another man’s, who shall give you that which is your own?
American King James Version×), looking after and loving His future sons and daughters (2 Corinthians 6:18 2 Corinthians 6:18And will be a Father to you, and you shall be my sons and daughters, said the Lord Almighty.
American King James Version×). For now, we as parents have the privilege to love and train them.
God created the marriage relationship and the family that comes from that unique relationship. The Bible tells us that we should rear our children in God’s way of peace and happiness (Deuteronomy 6:6-7 Deuteronomy 6:6-7 6 And these words, which I command you this day, shall be in your heart:
7 And you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise up.
American King James Version×; Ephesians 6:4 Ephesians 6:4And, you fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
American King James Version×). Happy families come from happy marriages. Parents with happy families are dedicated to that end.
6. Parents should set aside time for family discussions. When was the last time your family sat around the table or in the living room discussing important topics each family member faces each day? Some families enjoy uplifting discussions during the evening meal as they eat together.
If you want a healthier family, schedule specific times each week when the entire family can be involved in open discussions. Sit around the table and interact with each other about this most important group activity on earth, making your family the best one possible.
Family discussions can only improve your present condition, if you make up your mind to bring peace and happiness to your family. Act now. Set aside special times for open and reassuring family discussions.
7. Turn off the TV, take a walk or read a book. Ever wonder where peace in the home went, or has it always been noisy and confusing? Is that all you’re used to?
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), children in the United States on average watch about four hours of TV a day—well over double what the AAP recommends. It further recommends that children under age 2 should have no TV, computers or video games at all. During the first two years of a child’s life, when brain development is critical, TV can interfere with the learning, exploring and interacting that help young children develop necessary skills.
Some television can be a good thing— in moderation. Preschoolers, for example, can get assistance learning the alphabet on education-oriented programming. Older children can learn about such things as wildlife and the world around them on nature shows. Parents can keep up with current events and learn a great deal through watching science and history programming.
Most teens today have never been without a TV. They cannot imagine what life is like without it. Television programming has been their teacher—along with video games, some of which, like TV, depict graphic violence, sexual themes, consumption of illegal drugs and profanity.
Such influences can create a rebellious spirit in your child. (One father said that when his nephew, whom he took in during difficult times for the teen, refused to obey him in the home, he took away the most important thing he could find—his door. That worked for them.)
Turn off the TV and take a walk together. Listen to the birds sing and think and talk about God and His creation. Turn off the TV and pick up a book instead. Try reading the Bible daily. Give your cognitive processes a break. Fill your mind with something moral and healthy.
The future of your family is up to you
If you want to improve your family’s future, put these helpful tips to use. Never lose sight of the fact that God created marriage (Genesis 2:23-24 Genesis 2:23-24 23 And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.
24 Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall join to his wife: and they shall be one flesh.
American King James Version×; Mark 10:6-9 Mark 10:6-9 6 But from the beginning of the creation God made them male and female. 7 For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and join to his wife; 8 And they two shall be one flesh: so then they are no more two, but one flesh. 9 What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder.
American King James Version×) and that He is creating a divine family He wants you to be part of (Hebrews 2:10 Hebrews 2:10For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.
American King James Version×; 1 John 3:1-2 1 John 3:1-2 1 Behold, what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knows us not, because it knew him not. 2 Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it does not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.
American King James Version×; Revelation 21:3 Revelation 21:3And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.
American King James Version×).
His Word, the Holy Bible, details the path to marital and family blessings. But it is left for you to apply the instructions that make this all possible. Begin today to do your part to restore the disappearing family! GN