The Institution of Marriage in a Changing Culture

The Changing of a Culture

The family has been the bedrock of American culture from the day the Mayflower landed and dispersed its passengers. A socialist approach to economics was quickly nixed. From time to time, there were experiments with different forms of communal living. However, the culture’s mainstay and backbone were a husband, wife, and children. The cultural turmoil of the two world wars and the invasion of the university system by the leftist-leaning elite began eroding this status quo from the 1920s forward.

The forgoing has resulted in Americans today marrying later than ever, divorcing sooner, or avoiding the institution altogether. Whereas married couples dominated the family structure in years past, only 30 percent of millennials feel that a successful marriage is an integral part of life.

As a result of this institutional erosion, more and more children are being born out of wedlock. In the 1960s, for example, nearly 95 percent of babies were born to married couples. Today, 40 percent are born to women who are either single or living with a non-married partner. Here is the current percentage breakdown I have garnered from various internet sites: married couples married—62%, single parents—26%, remarried folks—15%, and cohabitation (as if married)—7%.

Of that 62% of married folks, a large portion is accounted for by a high percentage of folks over 60. Just visit nine out of ten churches and observe the proportion of the over-60 crowd. Taking them out of the mix screws the stats even more frighteningly and accelerates the angst for the culture.

The Impact on Children

Often lost in the discussion of marital decline is a simple fact. Marriage is good for children. Countless studies have shown that children born to married parents enjoy several socio-economic benefits over those born to single parents.

Today, only about 64 percent of children live in homes with two parents who are married, representing an all-time low (Pew Research Center). Moreover, trend data shows a stark and steady decline since 1960, when nearly 88 percent of children lived with married parents. Several secular research studies concur on the following two observations.

1. A solid, intact family structure can significantly positively impact a child’s present and future well-being and offers countless benefits for adults and children.

2. Children growing up in homes where two parents who have been married continuously are less likely to experience a wide range of problems (academic, social, emotional, cognitive), not only in childhood but later in adulthood.

The Impact on Society 1

One of my associates invests many hours counseling children whose parents have recently divorced. As a result, she observes firsthand what the studies indicate. These children struggle with rejection, self-blame for the divorcing parents, and anger that grows into resentment. In addition, they absorb the opposite rather than role models of adults communicating, caring, and resolving conflict.

The professional helping community, including pastors and biblical counselors, spend untold hours working with adults who must learn to take responsibility to overcome the negative impact of their broken homes. All this takes a toll on the fabric of the culture, including everything from social relationships to economics to values and general attitudes about life.2

The Impact on the Church

Having authored a book on premarital counseling in the late 1970s, I have observed up close and personal the diminishing value of the sacredness of marriage. Over the years, the trend toward destination marriage has risen exponentially. Now, why is that a concern? It is because it represents a devaluing of marriage as the institution that God established. A wedding in the church is an acknowledgment of the importance of God being at the center of the ceremony and the marriage. Solid Christian young people have been so impacted by the cultural development and intrigue of a destination wedding that it never dawns on them that it is a one-step removal of the sacred.

Another example of cultural impact on the sacredness of marriage is its portrayal even in conservative movies. For example, I watched a film with my wife recently. The wedding was staged in a gazebo with the groom’s father, a non-clergyman, performing the ceremony. God found his way into the ritual as a one-time mention as sort of a tip-of-the-hat.

The Three-Year Itch

Statistics show that our fast-paced way of life has accelerated the timetable. Couples become frustrated with their marriage by the third anniversary. This would be the average time for the growth and development of a rhythm in their relationship. Does that mean couples will call a divorce lawyer sooner than ever? We want to hope not, but a major study shows that it is now common for married couples to become disillusioned and take each other for granted around the three-year mark—fight frequently and begin, if not already there, to ask the question, “Have I made a big mistake?” Someone I read said it used to be the seven-year itch, but now it has become the three-year itch.

Not long ago, I had such a case. I cited John Gottman’s3 four horsemen, criticism, defensiveness, contempt, and stonewalling. Before I could explain Gottman’s allusion, the husband said, “Oh, yea! Criticism, defensiveness, contempt. Checked those boxes!”

Conclusion and Implementation

Review Genesis one and two and remind yourself that marriage is God’s invention, and He gives us directions on how to conduct the relationship.

If you are a husband, ask your wife to join you for a quarterly Saturday breakfast to review the past quarter and plan the next quarter. Ask her how you have been doing as a leader, provider (that is not just money, it includes love, kindness, etc.), and protector. As a wife, respond to this leadership, be honest—speak the truth in love. An ask for his appraisal of your role as a wife.

Pray together daily. Keep short accounts of hurts—remember, repentance and forgiveness are essential and necessary Christian virtues. They keep the gears of relationships well oil.





1 A caveat here. Divorce is sometimes necessary. In such cases, the Christian community must engage with the single parent and children and provide nurturing. For example, I am aware of a large family where the Dad is a drug addict. It has been refreshing to see how their church has incorporated them. The Pastor and his wife have certainly set the pace, but the church has followed their modeling.

2 According to the U.S. Census, the poverty rate for single parents with children in the United States in 2009 was 37.1 percent. The rate for married couples with children was 6.8 percent. One researcher called marriage one of the greatest weapons against child poverty.

3 Gottman’s allusion I have found a very useful tool in determining where people are. Each one can be addressed biblically with call to repentance.

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