Marriage often brings two people together from very different backgrounds, tastes and desires and then places them in such close proximity that every detail and flaw will eventually show. The great challenge in marriage is to live joyfully with the one you love. Ecclesiastes 9:9. That can be a tough assignment for most when it seems that everything works against love in our relationships. Under incredible stress, it’s easy to drift apart ever so slowly and even unintentionally. Yet, few things in life are as rich, as meaningful and as important as a good marriage.
However the “till death do us part” of the marriage vow rings increasingly ironic. We have an epidemic today in America where at the very least, if current trends continue, 66% of all marriages this year will end up in a separation or a divorce. We know that 200,000 new marriages each year end before the couple’s second anniversary.1
Equally startling as the predictions and statistics, is the fact that less than one-fifth of all marriages in America are preceded by some kind of formal marriage preparation. And since three out of four marriages in the United States are blessed by a member of the clergy, columnist Michael McManus has come to call churches “blessing machines.”2
Think about it. Most engaged couples prepare more for their wedding day than they do for their marriage. The millions of bridal magazines that are sold each year can testify to that. They are filled with information about wedding ceremonies and honeymoons, but rarely have a sentence on marriage itself. Most marriage experts agree that divorce is an epidemic and choking our society. For too many of today’s new couples, marriage has become “till divorce do us part.”
Why do these couples get married?
Many of them marry because they believe that the institution of marriage or the actual event will take care of their deep pressing personal problems. Marriage will not do that! It actually can provide more problems and more challenges. To think that all of a sudden a marriage will fix a person’s low self-esteem, or that it will mean being less lonely, or that it will create a deep, highly developed purpose for life, then marriage will be a disappointment. That’s why approximately half of all the divorces will happen within two or three years after the wedding. Couples are disillusioned because marriage didn’t solve their personal problems.
Counselors and ministers need to become familiar with the most typical reasons for divorce, as well as researching the most typical reasons that make up a great marriage. Those reasons should be as solid in their heads as their own telephone number. When the counselor or minister begins to see major red flags in their premarital counseling, they need to say to the couple, “it looks as if your relationship is not working well and perhaps now is not the time to get married.”
Counselors have often been afraid that they will offend someone, so the truth does not come out in the open. Researchers say the chances are five in ten that a marriage will end in divorce. If one or both partners are still teenagers, they say the odds for divorce are even higher. If either partner witnessed an unhappy marriage at home, the odds increase again. If one or both partners come from broken homes, the odds rise yet higher. If either partner has been divorced, the odds soar again. If there has been regular sexual involvement before marriage, or if either or both partners abuse alcohol or drugs, the odds sky rocket.
Working in pastoral counseling and with family ministries since 1970, we have seen countless couples fall in love, get engaged, marry and hope for the best. However we have also witnessed our fair share of wedding bell blues, marital separations, divorces and fractured families. For this reason we have been motivated to develop a manual to help prepare couples for marriage by laying a solid foundation.
The manual is called, “NOW and FOREVER.” We encourage both the male and female to write in their own manuals and then come to together to discuss what they have written. We also administer the Taylor-Johnson Temperament Analysis test to help couples see their strengths and weaknesses ahead of time so that they can work together on trait assignments with a Bible-based Taylor-Johnson Temperament Analysis Assignment Manual. These resources can be ordered on the web site LoveTakesTime.
Healthy relationships find their strength in God. “By wisdom a house is built and through understanding it is established; through knowledge its rooms are filled with rare and beautiful treasures” (Proverbs 24:3-4). A house is built on understanding and on knowledge and that is the purpose of the “NOW and FOREVER” Preparing for Marriage Manual. Couples can lay a positive foundation for their marriage by building understanding and knowledge through the use of marital inventories and communication exercises to discover the “rare and beautiful treasures” of their marriage relationship.
Harvey and Kathy Corwin write from the Pacific Northwest.
1. National Center for Health for Health Statistics
2. M. McManus, Marriage Savers (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994