Is the Marriage Arrangement at Fault?
SINCE marriage troubles have descended like an avalanche in recent times, some wonder: Is the marriage arrangement itself at fault? Should it be abandoned as unsuitable for our day?
Well, if a machine operator ignores the designer’s instructions and abuses the machine until it breaks down, is the designer at fault? If on a long trip an automobile driver ignores his road map and gets lost, is the map maker to blame?
No, the misuse of something does not mean that it is no good. Who is usually at fault? The one who misuses it.
Is this the case with the marriage arrangement? What do the facts show? Has abandoning marriage for other styles of living proved to be better for people? What has happened to the children from broken homes, and to society in general?
What the Record Shows
History shows that when marriage and family broke down, so did the entire moral climate of the society. The end result was not improvement, but more trouble. Whole empires have crumbled when people did not work to preserve marriage and the family.
In our own time the bad effects are especially damaging to the more innocent, the children who have been the victims of marriage breakdowns. In the West African country of Ghana, a report says of many children from broken homes:
“The children of such homes are the worse off. They never get wholesome parental care; they are neglected, unloved, uncared for and nobody is really concerned with what they do. They become truants right from infancy and retrogress . . . to hardened adult criminals, always fighting against the law.”
The absence of a caring father works a hardship on the whole family, particularly on young boys who need his firm guidance and support. For example, in one American family the father’s work took him away from home for weeks at a time. As a result, his three-year-old son became hyperactive, usually getting up 10 or 11 times a night to call for his father. His mother observed that when the father was at home the boy slept peacefully until morning and was much better behaved. She stated: “This little boy needs his dad. He goes to nursery school a couple of days a week and the teachers can tell when [his father] is home. It’s that obvious from his behavior.”
While it is generally acknowledged that children are worse off when parents do not get along, or obtain a divorce, or are away too often, what about adults? Are they better off getting swept away by the modern trend toward divorce, separation, ‘open marriage,’ living together without marriage, or communal-type ‘marriages’?
There is great pressure now in many lands just to give up on a marriage when problems appear. Family Circle magazine reports: “A profusion of books and articles is making the argument that lasting commitments aren’t viable, that the risks involved in splitting up are manageable and that people’s personal selves are likely to thrive on dissolution.”
Is that the case? Is the way to a ‘thriving’ personality a marriage breakup? For a certain percentage of people who may be conditioned in that way, this could appear to be so. But not for the vast majority.
More typical is the experience of a woman who separated from her husband and began making the rounds of singles bars to ‘have fun’ and to meet new people. In time these temporary acquaintances proved shallow and unsatisfactory. Most of the men were interested only in sexual encounters.
This woman said of many of the divorced or separated people that she met: “I’ll never forget how lost those souls seemed. How lost I felt. These are real unmarried people. Marriages don’t seem to work any more, but there’s a new lost generation that grows bigger every day. Because the truth is that unmarriage doesn’t work either.”
“Unmarriage doesn’t work either.” That is a conclusion becoming more evident after analyzing the results of several decades of skyrocketing divorce and separation. The realization has set in with an increasing number of people that life is not satisfactory for most persons without someone who cares, someone to care for, someone to count on, someone with whom to share sympathy, kindness and problems.
Many find that after the novelty wears off, the newfound freedom to indulge one’s whims without accountability to a partner has not brought the benefits anticipated. It is not proving to be the way to a ‘thriving’ personality.
Since marriage between two people has so often failed, and loneliness is undesirable, some have recommended the alternative of ‘group marriages,’ or communal living, where each individual is allowed to have several partners. Do these work better than traditional marriages?
One Tennessee commune of over 1,000 inhabitants experimented with “multi-marriages.” Later, a member of the commune said: “It didn’t work. The ordinary problems everybody has only multiplied.” He observed that the married couples soon “ran for privacy,” and that single persons often asked the married ones: “Can we be like cousins living with you so we can have a family, too?”
It may seem attractive at first to try to escape the problems of marriage by alternative life-styles such as group marriages. But an individual cannot escape from human nature. Sooner or later, this has to be confronted and coped with. And the farther a person gets away from the way humans were designed to interact best with others, the more difficult life becomes. This is particularly so with regard to intimate love between a man and a woman, and parental affection for children.
Bernard O’Brien of a Kansas City family and children’s agency states: “Jealousy is just as alive in any kind of experimentation as it was in grandma’s time. When you come right down to it, there is hardly anyone who can stand to share a loved person.” Why is this the case? Simply because we were created to feel that way.
In another commune, when children were born to a couple the communal-type arrangement “fell apart” in their minds. They could not share the intimate love of father, mother and child with others. The father observed: “Becoming a father simply blew away all communal notions.” They heeded the very strong desire to have their own ‘nuclear family,’ with father and mother at the center, surrounded by their children.
An ‘open marriage’ is where married persons agree to permit each other to have outside sexual encounters—adultery is the word for it. About six years ago the book Open Marriage, by Nena and George O’Neill, became a best seller. They recommended outside sexual relationships in marriage, saying that these could be ‘rewarding and meaningful’ for some couples, enhancing their marriage. Did it work out that way?
After years of keeping track of actual experiences, the authors now admit that it did not work out that way at all. Just the opposite took place. They found that those who practiced this adultery became very unhappy with each other. The longest any of them stayed together after beginning an ‘open marriage’ was only two years. They concluded: ‘Open sex was such a flop.’ As a result, the authors have published another book issuing a “new call for sexual fidelity” as bringing the greatest happiness to marriage.
Regarding ‘open marriage,’ Canadian marriage counselor Ed Bader remarked: “Every couple we know of who went the open-marriage route busted up—without exception.” And psychologist Larry Cash of that country also observed: “Open marriage, the idea that married people can be perfectly free sexually and emotionally, is a farce. In my 10 years of counseling, I’ve never seen one that could work. It might be a noble idea, but human nature isn’t ready to handle it.”
But is it really a “noble idea”? Not at all. It is totally contrary to the way we humans are constructed emotionally and mentally. We want faithfulness from a loved one, not adultery. The intimate relationships provided by marriage cannot be shared with outsiders without damaging or destroying the marriage. Indeed, what the recommenders of such “alternate” marriage styles are finding out is what the Creator of marriage long ago had written for our information: “Let marriage be honorable among all, and the marriage bed be without defilement.”—Heb. 13:4.
Importance of Commitment
There is something else that many who have experimented with variant life-styles have found out. It is that, without a commitment such as marriage brings, it is human nature not to try so hard to solve problems. Nor is there the security, especially for women.
Many women are discovering that, living largely in a man’s world, life is far more difficult without the security that comes from marriage ties. They find that it is emotionally very disturbing for them to have a relationship where the man says, in effect, ‘I just want you for a while, and when I tire of you I’ll change you for a younger model.’
Good Housekeeping magazine asked its readers: “Do you think that living together without marriage helps form a more permanent relationship, [or] detracts from a more permanent relationship?” A certain number answered in favor of life together without wedlock, but more than 10 times as many readers said that not being married detracted from a permanent relationship.
Not unusual is the experience of one couple, as reported by the Toronto Star. Living together without marriage, they found that they still “had fights about everything,” and that living together brought the same problems as marriage. Without the marriage commitment, however, they always felt that they could leave. But did this help them to get along? No, it hindered them from trying harder to solve problems. Then they got married. Afterward, they observed: “Since we’ve married we’ve been trying harder not to have fights. We’re both making an effort. We’re committed so there’s no sense fighting about it. Before, we used to always threaten to break up, but we don’t seem to do that now.” They found that the commitment made them work harder at marriage.
Similarly, McCall’s magazine carried an article entitled “Why Liberated Women Are Getting Married.” It noted: “We have worked hard for self-fulfillment, and it’s been well worth our while. But recently many of us have made a surprising discovery: Something vital is still missing.”
What was missing? A couple who got married after living together explained: “The truth is, it wasn’t enough to just live together. We want structure in our lives. We decided we liked the idea of commitment.” McCall’s added:
“Ah, Commitment! It is a word so old it sounds new, and more and more people are looking for a chance to apply it.
“We seem to have come full circle. We have been on a romantic quest for the last 15 or so years, pursuing happiness, testing all the options. We have tried, or at least talked about, open marriage, no marriage, having children without marriage, trial marriage.
“Finally, after all the shambles of social change, we seem to be deciding that commitment is impossible without self-fulfillment, but self-fulfillment is incomplete if it is achieved without attachment. . . .
“So in ten or 15 years of testing romantic possibilities we have found that we missed the core of permanence. We have found that open relationships are possible only if you don’t care about the other person.”
The satisfying of emotional needs through marriage even plays a part in living longer. Insurance companies have long recognized that unmarried persons run a greater risk of dying prematurely than do married persons. For instance, death rates in the 15- to 64-year age group of divorced males were from two to six times as high for every major cause as those of married males. Psychologist James Lynch of the University of Maryland School of Medicine concludes: “Loneliness can damage, if not break, the human heart.”
It is not surprising that such findings have surfaced in recent years. They were to be expected, really, since the marriage arrangement is not something that just “evolved” for the convenience of people. Marriage was originated by the Creator of man and woman. And since God made humans, he knows in what relationships they will be most successful. When they do their part within the framework he has established, the best results will be produced.—Gen. 1:26-28; 2:18-25.
For expressing human love between a male and female, for security and permanence, and for raising children, there is no substitute for marriage.
NO, IT IS NOT MARRIAGE THAT IS AT FAULT. PEOPLE WHO USE IT WRONGLY ARE BASICALLY AT FAULT.
Therefore people who want to be content should not be stampeded by erroneous philosophies into trying to find ways of degrading or eliminating marriage, as though it were to blame. The search needs to be for finding ways to work for its improvement and preservation, ways of helping to solve marriage problems.
But if marriage was designed for man and woman, why has there been such a breakdown in our time? What is wrong?
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How does your absence affect your child?