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How to stay married

Ericka Andersen | Old truths emerge from new data

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How to stay married
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Ingrained in the minds of most U.S. millennials is one statistic about marriage: 50 percent end in divorce. While that statistic is outdated (the divorce rate is lower than it’s been in 50 years), the rate of marriage has reached record lows as well. Thus, the lower divorce rate alone may not inspire much new confidence for spouses-to-be. 

Millennials may ask, what is the formula for a lasting marriage? In a culture that celebrates self-fulfillment—rather than sacrificial love—how can Christians guard against the pitfalls of relationship sabotage?

A few key ingredients can make all the difference. Faith-based upbringing, relative youth at the age of marriage, and avoiding cohabitation are three of the most important factors in stifling a potential split. New research from the Institute for Family Studies finds that religious couples married in their early 20s, without living together first, are least likely to divorce. 

Sadly, this triplet of factors is less common than ever—even among Christians. Pew Research found that 58 percent of white evangelicals found it acceptable to cohabit if a couple plans to marry. While that qualifier may help people feel better about their views, it doesn’t play out positively in reality. In research among women, IFS found that cohabitation led to a 15 percent higher chance of divorce.

This is bad news, not just because of the personal devastation that divorce brings, but also for the unintended consequences it has on children, mental health, and long-term economic stability. Let’s also keep front and center that these arrangements are an affront to Biblical commands governing sexuality and marriage. Living against God’s pattern for human relationships always leads to personal and cultural despair.

Meanwhile, children of divorce often have extremely traumatic responses, including the need for psychological help, physical health problems, anxiety, depression, and a higher likelihood of suicide and molestation. They also often marry other children of divorce, and those marriages are more likely to end in divorce as well. Broken families also suffer more economically, making child poverty 80 percent more prevalent in such households. 

How we educate ourselves and the next generation about the meaning of marriage—and what it takes to sustain one—is of vital importance. 

Marriage may be a personal matter in one sense, but the choices we make have a public effect and serve a larger purpose. Thus, how we educate ourselves and the next generation about the meaning of marriage—and what it takes to sustain one—is of vital importance. 

An increasingly post-Christian culture finds it laughable to save sex for marriage, much less forgo cohabitation—but the Bible doesn’t mince words on this. In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul urges marriage for those with a “temptation to sexual immorality,” adding, “It is better to marry than to burn with passion.” Additionally, the union of marriage symbolizes God’s relationship to the church. When the Israelites stray from God, they are deemed “adulterous” and “faithless.” Like God’s relationship with His people, monogamy within marriage is His intention for Christian men and women in partnership with one another. 

And it makes sense, given the way marriage statistically safeguards our families, the economy, and civil society. Just as God created the Earth and our bodies with brilliant design, He fashioned families and relationships in such perfection. The moment we deviate from His perfect plan, everything starts to fall apart. 

IFS also found that those with the lowest rates of divorce were raised in religious homes. Thus, one of the very best ways to prepare a person for a successful marriage is to instill within them Christ-centered values, like love, sacrifice, and humility. 

Christians must teach our children that marriage is more than just paperwork that temporarily ties one person to another. It is a sacred symbol of God’s love for us—in sickness and in health, in weakness and in strength, in wealth and in poverty. It is a spiritually binding contract with God at the center, as each man and woman surrenders his- or herself daily to the other. In the hardship of surrender comes unconditional love and acceptance. 

“We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe,” writes Tim Keller in The Meaning of Marriage, “Yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.”

No matter what the marriage and divorce rate for the culture at large, Christians always can buck the trends. We don’t live according to the rules of the world, and as this data shows, there are proven steps we can take to increase the odds of a longer, happier marriage.

Ericka Andersen

Ericka Andersen is a freelance writer and mother of two living in Indianapolis. She is the author of Leaving Cloud 9 and is currently writing a book on women and faith to be released in 2022. Ericka hosts the Worth Your Time podcast. She has been published in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Christianity Today, USA Today, and more.


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