The Marriage Crisis in America

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Could the marriage crisis in America be a result of unrealistic expectations?

Most couples enter marriage hoping to achieve happiness. And for each of us, that vision of happiness takes a different form. Maybe you longed to be whole or completed; to have perfect kids, and a family that everyone looks up to; to live securely and comfortably; to have someone always there so you wouldn’t feel lonely, abandoned, rejected, or sad. Your goal may have been to satisfy your sexual desires; for your mate to be the lover who would love you the way you always wanted to be loved. In other words, you expected to find your “soul mate” in your husband or wife

 It may surprise you to hear me say that your marriage is in big trouble when you pursue these goals. If happiness or finding your soul mate is the objective, you are more than likely setting yourself up for failure and possibly facing years of hurt and frustration. When the marriage does not fulfill your expectations you’ll wonder if there is something wrong with you or with your mate. Sadly, a person may often ask, “Did I marry the wrong person?”

Disappointment hits most couples shortly after the wedding because each partner begins to see faults and chinks in the armor of the other. That new husband or wife really needs some work. It appears that she is far from ready to meet all his needs and expectations. Instead of being sold out to her ideas of marriage, he came with his own goals—expecting her to be sold out to his. So your goal of finding happiness in your soul mate must be put aside until you change your spouse into the person you want him or her to be. You buy into the myth that will not die—that if your mate would change just a few key things, your marriage would be great.

 And it’s happening all around us. Marriages in America are in a horrendous mess. Although 93% of Americans rate having a happy marriage as one of their most important objectives in life, and more than 70% believe that marriage involves a lifelong commitment that should be ended only under extreme circumstances, couples marrying for the first time in the US continue to face a 40 to 50 percent chance of divorcing, with approximately two-thirds of these divorces occurring within five to seven years of marriage. Equally disturbing is that many distressed couples never divorce, remaining in unsatisfying and/or conflicted relationships. At least one researcher suggests that fewer than half of the marriages that avoid divorce can be described as truly happy.

Rutgers sociologists Dr. David Popenoe and Dr. Barbara Defoe Whitehead confirm these grim facts in their report on marriage titled, The State of Our Unions—The Social Health of Marriage in America, showing that key social indicators suggest a substantial weakening of the institution of marriage.

 Thanks to Hollywood characters and celebrities who promote the benefits of single parenthood, being a married parent is no longer viewed as the ideal for raising a family.

 Could it be that marriage has diminished to a relationship entered for the sole purpose of meeting the sexual and emotional needs of each partner? I believe that is at the heart of the problem. Today the goal in marriage is personal satisfaction. “Will my needs get met? What’s in it for me?” And the biggest question of all: “Will it be pleasurable for me?” If the marriage no longer meets the personal needs of partners, they move on to the next relationship. So what’s the solution? I’m convinced that once we understand and commit to God’s purpose in marriage instead using it for self-satisfaction, serious marriage problems will diminish greatly.

 Though it seems paradoxical, this means if you want a satisfying marriage you’ve got to forget about happiness. I don’t mean that you should want to be unhappy. In fact, I don’t think that’s possible. Everyone wants to be happy. And because we want so much to be happy, we naturally make happiness our goal and set out to find the things we think will make us happy. The problem is that happiness never comes when you make it the goal. It’s like a desert mirage. It shimmers invitingly in the sunlight until you reach it, and then poof!—it vanishes. You can’t go to happiness; happiness must come to you. And it only comes as a by-product of achieving a higher goal.

 Happiness doesn’t work as a goal, because meeting our terms for happiness depends on what happens around us. It requires just the right circumstances and the cooperation of other people. Unfortunately, those circumstances seldom align. That cooperation rarely happens. Furthermore, when a marriage is all about finding happiness, it creates dependency as we turn to our mate or require ideal circumstances to meet our expectations. And that dependency puts a heavy burden on the mate. It’s true that we do have something inside that is seeking completeness and fulfillment. We all yearn to connect to a source that can fulfill all our needs. But the problem comes when we misdirect that search toward the wrong object. Your mate is not that source. God, through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, can be the only source of happiness.

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