This hasn’t been a good week for marriage. From Jon and Kate Gosselin’s divorce, to South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford’s infidelity, to the embarrassing exploits of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berluscon, the headlines have been a painful reminder of how troubled modern marriages can be.
As I’ve mentioned before, I personally think it is counterproductive to spend time and money trying to mess with the constitution so that it restricts the rights of U.S. citizens under the banner of “protecting the sanctity of marriage,” especially when heterosexual couples face a divorce rate that hovers between 45 and 50 percent. The truth is, gay couples make up a very small percentage of the population. Regardless of your position on homosexuality, when you consider the numbers, it becomes clear that gay marriage would have very little effect on an “institution” that we heterosexuals have done a fine job of screwing up on our own.
Now, I’m no expert, but I have a feeling that our time, our money, our sermons, and our political activism would be better spent combating those things that are actually threatening marriage in this country and around the world. Here are a few things that came to my mind:
1. Materialism. I don’t know about you, but for me it is genuinely a struggle to remember that I don’t need more stuff to be happy. We live in a culture that constantly blurs the lines between necessity and pleasure, and so it should come as no surprise that what couples argue about the most is money and spending. If I had to name the one vice that I think has done the most damage to the reputation of the Church and the family over the past 100 years, it would be greed. And I struggle with it as much as anyone else. It’s so sad to think that marriages are ending every day over things like credit cards and fancy cars, McMansions and model airplanes – things we don’t even need to be happy.
2. Entitlement. Also linked to America’s culture of greed is our pervasive sense of entitlement. Entitlement is what leads men to think they “deserve” a mistress after a hard week at work and women to think they “deserve” a new wardrobe that will break the family budget. When there’s an argument, both parties feel they “deserve” an apology, and when apologies are not given, someone often will feel they “deserve” to be happy by getting out of the marriage.
3. “It’s all about the kids.” One thing that struck me about the Jon and Kate interviews was how often the couple said, “It’s all about the kids.” “It’s their house,” Kate said at one point. “I work for the kids,” she said at another. “I have to do what’s right for the kids,” Jon added. “We do the show for our kids,” they both said. By making our children the center of our lives, we are 1) teaching them to be selfish and entitled, and 2) neglecting the importance of prioritizing our marriages. Sure the Gosselin kids have matching clubhouses and cute clothes and constant activities and memories from expensive vacations, but now they don’t have a strong marriage to look up to...which is one of the greatest gifts parents can give their children.
4. Sexual repression. I love that Christians are beginning to talk more openly about sex, because for many years sex was treated as something dirty and sinful. In fact, I’ve known more than one Christian couple to break up early in their marriage because of major sexual repression issues that stemmed from the guilt associated with sex. I think progress is being made in this area.
5. Sexual exploitation. On the other hand, on TV and in movies, sex is often made into little more than a joke. Now, like most people, I enjoy a little sexual humor every now and then (Chaucer and Shakespeare certainly incorporated it into their work!) but when sex is treated as nothing but an animal instinct or bodily function, it loses its mystery and sacredness and gives us one more excuse to approach relationships with an attitude of consumerism.
6. Hypocrisy. Not to belabor the point, but high-profile pastors and politicians who preach incessantly about “family values” would do well to observe their own rules. Their hypocrisy triggers cynicism, and cynicism triggers despair.
What would you add to the list? What are some other things that actually threaten the sanctity of marriage?